With frontman Jamie Stewart at the helm, American art-pop mavericks Xiu Xiu have fashioned a ten-year career out of wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Albums like Fabulous Muscles, Fag Patrol and 2010’s Dear God, I Hate Myself delved into the furthest reaches of the queer experience with Stewart’s trademark lyrical honesty. And as we found when speaking to Stewart ahead of next month’s Australian Xiu Xiu tour, Stewart’s frankness doesn’t end with his lyrics.
Star Observer: Xiu Xiu’s new record Always is the first album you’ve made where you haven’t been solely responsible for the lyrics – what made you decide to change the songwriting process this time around?
Jamie: At the time we were working on the record, there were band members who have since shown their true colors as pointless assholes who were primarily songwriters. I have never been precious nor proprietary about songwriting. If something is good and someone is willing to insert it under the Xiu Xiu awning, I am thrilled to be able to sing or play on it. Good music is good, regardless of the source; why fight that?
Star Observer: Always also turns the lyrical focus outwards after the very personal Dear God, I Hate Myself. Was that a conscious decision?
Jamie: No, but after inspection, it seems to have been quite subconscious. More than in years, I am not happy with my life nor with who I am and not writing about that life was a way to avoid what would have been difficult and incredibly heavy introspection. Avoiding this and hiding from it by writing about other people almost exclusively is causing more problems. I have a feeling the next record will be incredibly personal for reasons of self preservation.
Star Observer: Always contains songs about abortion, American marines murdering a teenaged boy for sport, divorce, child molestation, Haiti – dark, often political stuff. Do you think a song can change the world?
Jamie: Not in great strides, but maybe in some small way it will lead one to thinking about these topics, which may in some small way lead to someone thinking about how to lead a more empathetic life.
Star Observer: In the past, different Xiu Xiu band members have come and gone, sometimes quite quickly. Now Angela Stewart’s been settled into the band for a few years, has it changed the dynamic?
Jamie: To my great sadness, it doesn’t look like she will be able to tour much, if at all, anymore. She is pursuing a career in civil rights litigation; far be it for me to protest this. But it does break my heart. Angela did teach me to play harder and more aggressively than I ever had and her opinion as to what is bullshit and what is real is invaluable.
Star Observer: What is it about the relationship between yourself and Angela that works, where other band relationships haven’t fared so well?
Jamie: Well Angela works hard, is talented, cool, can deal with touring and does not give up. For the most part people have left to the band to pursue other parts of their musical lives which I think is great. However, in the last year I have to fire five people for playing like shit and/or for being assholes. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, JERKS!
Star Observer: It’s been 10 years now since the first Xiu Xiu album. We recently spoke to Patrick Wolf, who celebrates the same 10-year anniversary this year, and he said it’s made him want to take stock and revisit a lot of his earlier music. Do you have any similar urges?
Jamie: Did you know that Patrick Wolf hates my guts? I have no idea why. We have never even met. No, I have no desire to look back ever. The point of music is to try and push oneself further and further up the impossible hill of the muse. One owes to a listener who has been kind enough to stick around for 10 years to avoid being boring and resting on your laurels.
INFO: Xiu Xiu play Oct 17 – Good God, Sydney; Oct 18 – Powerhouse, Brisbane; Oct 19 – Gasometer, Melbourne. Always is out now. www.xiuxiu.org