Monday, January 02, 2006

Xiu Xiu Interview

Interview with Jamie Stewart, Jherek Bishoff & Sam Mickens
Conducted @ The Blackbird (Portland, Oregon) Fall 2002
Photos & Text by Dan Cohoon

Sometimes sad songs are the only songs that make you feel any better. Sometimes angry songs are the only songs that make you happy. The summer 2002 I listened to Xiu Xiu: Knife Play almost non stop. It is one of those dark summer records that haunt you for years after. I sat down with the fine folks in Xiu Xiu and was pleasantly surprised that they were not all doom and gloom. They were pleasant, even funny. -Dan Cohoon

Cover Art for Chapel of Chimes Posted by Picasa
Dan Cohoon: How long has Xiu Xiu been together?
Jamie Stewart: Xiu Xiu has been a band for two years, of this November and Sam & Jherek have been in the band since the beginning of this last tour for about a month.

DC: You incorporate lots of different genres in your music. Did you set out to do that?
JS: Having disparate elements to exist in the band wasn't totally an intellectual process initially. It is hard to say. There are three kinds of main influences and I would be interested in maintaining those three influences. It wasn't the plan innately. There is defiantly gay house music. Then there is death obsessed 80's British pop and then there is modern classical and experimental electronics and free jazz stuff. Those are the three types of music I listen to most. (pause) I am totally not answering your question. Just make up an answer. You might want to ask Sam & Jherek what their plans are. They are going to be writing stuff also.

Xiu Xiu @ The Blackbird 2002 (Portland, OR)
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: How is the songwriting divided up? Are you the main songwriter?
JS: That used to be the case. But you might want asks them what their plans are for influences for the future.

DC: What influences do you see the band taking on?
Jherek Bishoff: I am personally really into modern classical, free jazz and experimental things. I like 80's Britpop
but I am not well versed in it. I am interested in what will happen when we start writing songs together. I write stuff that is like lots of chords and lots of melodies and sub-melodies to it. Jamie does too. I was talking today how lots of his stuff is that lots of his chords are real simple and what is going around it is very complex, whereas my stuff is more chord oriented. For me it is going to be interesting to see what is going to happen.
Sam Mickens: I think all those elements should stay in Xiu Xiu. I can imagine there being more organically weird stuff, acoustically weird stuff, as opposed to just computer music. There is lots of that in the recordings but I can see that being taken even further.

DC: As far as playing what is your set up on stage?
JS: Assload of stuff. Anything that is heavy, uncomfortable to carry and inconvenient to tune is what we use. That is sort of the criteria that if it is a pain in the ass to use on stage we are going to use it. Harpsichord, Sousaphone, Pipe Organ, Pump organ...
SM: Stalactite Organ.
JS: We have this wire that is 7,000 miles long that we have nailed to a post here and nailed to a post at our apartment that we also put contact mics on…Bombs sometimes.

DC: For people that write really depressing music. I don't see you guys as that depressed. Is the song writing out of an abstract experience or is it personal?
JS: It is very, very definitely personal. All of the stuff is about real stuff that has happened to people that are close to us or stuff that has happened to us specifically. I am really mostly irritated by and completely uninterested artistically in things that are not totally realistic. I really don't see the point in making something up I… guess. That makes me sound like a total dick. Any music that I have ever listened to that has been really; really important to me is music that defiantly seems to be about somebody's singular and real experience. It would feel bad to me to make up a song about finding a bloody sock. It just seems totally pointless, because music is something that is totally physical and totally emotional. Making something up in that sphere seems to be the wrong thing to do.

DC: We just had the Electroclash tour come through town. To me that whole genre of music is really empty and something that I just can't get my head around. I don't get it. You were also influenced by the dance music of the 80's. I was never really happy in the 80's and I don't really have good associations with that type of music.
JS: With the exception of Peaches everyone who is making that type of music is like 20. So its not really people who had direct contact with what the music was about at that time. Any one who is doing the recurrent subgenre like Gang of Four stuff is people who were not alive at the time. They are looking back at it in a kind of fond way as opposed to something at the time had very real political and emotional feelings. If I look back at say Petula Clark it seems really campy and cute to me. But I am sure at the time she really meant every syllable of “Downtown.”

DC: How do you feel about nostalgia?
JS: As a genre of music?

DC: There seems to be with the whole 80’s recurrence a group of people who are definitely exploring the same thing. Your take on it is different from 99% of what is going on. The rest of them are very campy and light, whereas you guys are taking the darkest elements of it.
SM: I don't know if it is such an issue in Xiu Xiu of looking back at the 80's. A lot of that music has had a tremendous effect on all of us. As far as the dance music elements in Xiu Xiu, it is more about being that music, being in the club and all the feelings that go into that. As opposed to the craft of electronic music or the nostalgia of music that used to sound like that.

Xiu Xiu @ The Blackbird 2002 (Portland, OR)
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: Like the physical?
JS: Dancing at clubs is a tremendous influence on Xiu Xiu, just all the mixed feelings that go into that. You get this hyper euphoria from dancing for a while and then you get super, super, super insanely depressed. (Interrupted by sound man telling them they can set up) It is about going to dance clubs right now. It is not about looking back at all. It is a very current real experience. How great it is and how depressing and sad it can be.

DC: How did you get into music?
SM: For me as a kid I listened to lots of middle age pop music with my mom, then crazy really hard core punk stuff and heavy metal and rock stuff from my brother (Pop stuff like the Beatles and the Staples). At 12 or 13 I got into jazz and pretty much right away got into experimental jazz and later on experimental classical.
JB: It is really similar for me. My first tape was MC Hammer. My dad was really into experimental music. He bought me a Rahsaan Roland Kirk and was like; this is what you should really listen to. I was immediately blown away by it. So I listened to that along with MC Hammer, the Beatles from day one. I got even into death metal for a while. Then I got into jazz and experimental jazz & classical.
JS: Big fucking surprise: the first record I had was a Beatles record. When I was in 9th grade I started listening to a lot of dub and reggae. I was obsessed with the radio growing up. But that was the first genre of music that I was into. In high school I was super crazy, crazy into Goth. I never really listened to rock particularly (specifically I never really was into metal or anything like that). At that time I really got into field recordings of different indigenous music. I never really knew if it was good or bad in that type of music. I never really thought too much about it. And then I got super into industrial and stuff like that. In my early twenties I started getting into A Love Supreme. In the last three or four years I got really into avant-classical stuff. I got into house music and stuff like that in the last two or three years. Where I lived for the last couple of years there were a lot of pirate radio stations that played a lot of dance music.

Xiu Xiu @ The Blackbird 2002 (Portland, OR)
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: You kind of already sort of answered this question: where do you see Xiu Xiu going?
SM: I think we all share a mutual interest in experimenting with songs that are built up less with the computer and prerecorded less with the computer and based more on unusual instrumentation and unusual parts.
JS: Having that stuff but still having it be pop songs.
SM: Hopefully Xiu Xiu will be able to integrate more and more experimental influences while staying completely pop.
JS: I am personally interested in doing more...taking the different influences we have more, but doing them more extremely in explicit kind of ways. Like doing stuff that is more dance or more experimental or more pop. I am definitely interested in having like half the Xiu Xiu songs be good pop songs that you can play on guitar by yourself with kind of dissonant and experimental sounds. Then do stuff that, although it has singing and stuff, you could never play by yourself on your guitar by your window when it’s raining.

Xiu Xiu
Absolutely Kosher
5 Rue Christine
Kill Rock Stars

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