Music & clubs

Genre-benders: Xiu Xiu

INTERVIEW! American experimental group Xiu Xiu brings their wondrously varied arrangements to town Thursday (May 4 at Heimathafen), before settling in Berlin for a residency this winter. We caught up with frontman Jamie Stewart before the big show.

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Photo by Jose Da Silva

Last seen covering Twin Peaks at Silent Green, Jamie Stewart and his band Xiu Xiu return to Berlin with their new album Forget

As prolific as they are difficult to classify, Xiu Xiu has a catalogue that can only be defined by its ruthless dynamism and relentless emotional fervour, with releases spanning industrial to post-punk to folk, and collaborations with the likes of Merzbow, Grouper, and Michael Gira. They hit up Heimathafen on May 4 before settling in Berlin for a residency this winter. 

What brought you to combine genres from throughout your career on Forget?

Nothing other than just trying not to try, essentially. We worked on it for longer than we had worked on any other record, and after maybe 20 months of pre-planning hadn’t yielded anything, it became a matter of not thinking at all, and allowing it to just to let it be what it was going to become. [Laughs] I guess it just arrived from the black hole of wherever music comes from.

What drives this consistent sonic reinvention?

Essentially just being a rabid music fan. Everyone in the band has a lot of musical interests, and by an incredible stroke of luck we’ve had an opportunity to explore them, and one would be a fool not to take up those opportunities.

From 2006’s Tu Mi Piaci to 2013’s Nina to last year’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, how do you go about reinterpreting others’ works?

We don’t really think of them as reinterpretations, so much as acts of gratitude. The point is not to take a song and say, “Okay, how can we barf Xiu Xiu all over this?” The point is to examine a piece of music in as many different possible ways and think of a way to say thank you, by becoming very intimately involved with it. We approach any work of art that is of any importance to the idea of the band with a level of extreme, almost unhealthy intimacy.

You’ve collaborated with David Lynch and plenty of other artists.

Well, there have been a lot, and they’ve all been fairly different, but they’ve all been people that we admire greatly or are great friends with. I mean, the opportunities to work with somebody that you can get your mind exploded by because they’re so talented is obviously extraordinary. They require almost no reflection to say ‘yes’ to when they come up.

Your music is often focused on suffering… how do you crystalize that emotion in your work?

It’s a difficult one to put into words. If one writes about what has actually happened, then the emotion around those events has the potential to come through. It’s an act of documentation – all the emotion comes out just by being based in the facts, unfortunately. [Laughs] Working on music is fun; writing lyrics is not. It’s not really cathartic, it’s more a way of coping, a place to put those experiences. But they don’t go away. They just exist in a space of construction rather than destruction. 

You’ve also written a few books of poetry, specifically haikus.

But I approach writing poems and haikus very differently from music, insofar as I write poetry because I find it enjoyable. It’s a release from working on songs, or writing lyrics, both of which are incredibly rewarding, but by no means relaxing. Doing haikus, I’ll just sit on my porch with my cat and let my mind go where it’s going to go. But when I’m writing lyrics I’m thinking deeply and pointedly about horrible things that have happened, which all the while requires an extraordinary amount of concentration. Being that immersed in something horrendous is not exactly like getting drunk and playing video games. [Laughs]

What’s next on the docket?

We’re working on starting the next record, and we’ll probably be devoting most of this summer to that. After that, we’re doing a residency in Berlin with Vaginal Davis and Susanne Sachsse at Silent Green through November and December, so that’s most of the year!