These days, Xiu Xiu, known for creating wildly-divergent explorations of sound and intense lyrical imagery, is made up of founder Jamie Stewart, longtime collaborator Angela Seo and newcomer David Kendrick, formerly of Devo and Sparks and a host of other acts. This version of the band, said mainstay Stewart, is the perfect incarnation of the project, be it in the studio or on the road, which is where Xiu Xiu will spend a decent chunk of 2023.
They’ll be out in support of the band’s latest work, “Ignore Grief,” released in early 2023, an album that sees Stewart and Seo trading vocals, with both exploring some of the heaviest material a listener could imagine.
Of the album, “Slant Magazine” says, “Xiu Xiu has always been at home in moral and artistic in-betweens, their sound strewn somewhere across the stylistic continuum of abrasive, artsy rock music. But on “Ignore Grief,” the thematic and aesthetic nook they’ve carved out often feels lurid and unpleasant, with few moments of tenderness to alleviate its crushingly hideous atmosphere.”
“Under the Radar,” meanwhile, adds that “The premise of” Ignore Grief” leaves a sparser breadcrumb trail than any Xiu Xiu album preceding it. Themes of suicide, generational trauma, neglect, death, possession, and psychosis aren’t sleekly forged within pop structures, like on the excellent “Angel Guts: Red Classroom.” This is predominantly shapeless, cinematic music that is unleashed upon your senses like some fetid blight. The vocals of Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo—who take on separate vocal duties—sound perpetually trapped within these discordant hauntologies, chronicling ‘staggeringly horrendous events that occurred to people close to the band over the past two years,’ according to the band themselves.”
While not light stuff, this material allows fans a chance at true catharsis in the live setting. This time out, even Stewart’s wanting to feel some of that release from the live setting, happy with not only the musicality of his bandmates, but the social ties that bind them.
“Finally, we have a good lineup,” Stewart said matter of factly. “It’s been a long time. Angela started touring with the band in 2010 and that had some life changes that didn’t always make her touring possible. She was always involved, deeply involved with the records and during the videos, but now she’s able to tour again. I’m really excited about that. And then David Kendrick, who I used to play with when I was a teenager, he’s joined the band and he’s played with Devo and Sparks and the three of us get along socially very, very well. And, you know, we’re friends outside of being in the band. This is my favorite lineup ever and I’m really excited to go on tour. I really don’t like touring and this is the first time that I have looked forward to touring in my life, entirely because of the opportunity to play with them.”
Xiu Xiu, as fans might expect, are a group that’s not necessarily the standard-issue band,
incorporating a host of unique sounds in the studio. Some of them can be replicated precisely on stage with original instrumentation, while others are brought to life via samples or through reinterpreting the source recordings.
In the live context, Stewart’s preferred mode of operation owes to time spent on the road with Swans, whose Michael Gira taught him that one of the world’s most-powerful bands plays with nothing more than a single, white palette onstage.
Kindly explaining the obvious on the topic of Xiu Xiu’s direct approach to concerts, Stewart said “We don’t really need a lighting crew because we prefer incredibly simple lighting and we’re very specific about that. On one hand, it’s just practical. I’m super allergic to any kind of smoke or Mister Fog, so we just can’t have any in the room at any time when I’m in there or it ruins my throat. Then on the other hand, I can’t see in the dark, like at all. My eyes are almost totally blown out by direct light. So we have to have a lens that’s really bright and we just tend to sort of slowly shift through one monochrome to another.
“The other part of that is what I got from Michael,” he said. “We got kind of a makeover from someone who just has a bright white light for the entire time. They don’t change in any way. He had mentioned that, you know, if you’re not playing well enough and you need a lot of visuals, then you should probably practice more, you know, if you need that to make a show of it. And I don’t think that’s the case for everybody, but it made me really not want to be dependent on visuals in order for the show to potentially be fulfilling for the people who came, in addition to my, you know, feeble, physical, practical requirements.”
Experimenting with machines, with toys, with anything that could make sounds has been a hallmark of Stewart’s life. He recalls that his father was an early adopter of ProTools, a person who actually worked in production with the software.
This was a time, Stewart said, “way before it was a common sort of consumer program. I had some in-kind, Frankenstein, put-together version of ProTools. At one point after my dad had died I needed to get some service done. I took it to a ProTools place and they were all incredibly amused at the setup I had because they said it shouldn’t work because some of the stuff was like he basically had stolen from his work to give to me. So it was like prototypes that they made like, you know, two copies of this were in the box, but they never made it commercially available. I thought it was really pretty funny that I could get it to work at all.
“I have a lot of collections in music and outside of music,” he added. “All kinds of fuzz pedals, different kinds of synthesizers. I never had a guitar collection, but certainly the things around guitars.”
Fans, if they’ve not already, would be well-served to check out YouTube, where Stewart, over the course of quite some years, has appeared in several, super-watchable videos. Be they detailing his studio setup or curating must-hear cuts, the artist’s impeccable taste in experimental music and sound creation is second to none and his examination of his art and that of others both whip-smart and amusing.
With his chops and knowledge and charisma, one could guess that Stewart and his music might occasionally be the target of, say, a soundtrack producer. That would be the wrong guess.
Xiu Xiu’s music is for the album on which it appears, not a video game, not an art house flick, not a commercial campaign of any sort.
The Berlin-based Stewart said, “ I mean, it comes up occasionally. Not that often. I mean, ehh, we’re not all that famous. And we also have a reputation for being a little bit unpalatable sometimes. So I think that kind of prevents more commercially-based people from approaching this, which I’m fine with, because there’s really few things in that world that I would be all that interested in doing. And I’m going to, again, sound like kind of an ass, but I do mean this: music is extraordinarily important to me, and I’m sorry to use these words, but it is a sacred pursuit. And the songs are about – not in every case, but largely about – extraordinarily personal things. And, you know, to recontextualize it’s about maybe one of the worst things that ever happened in my life. So to pay for something like that is… I don’t know. It’s for me the absolute antithesis of what music is about.”
Xiu Xiu plays Lodge of Sorrows on Sat, Apr 15 at 8:00 p.m. For more information visit THIS LINK