A Good REASON to be Alive

March 29, 2017
4 mins read

In this volatile Trump-dominated world, virtually all artists have become activists and antagonism is common creative currency. But what of those sonic experimentalists who’ve always made confrontation a way of life? Would Jamie Stewart, frontman for Bay Area-formed noise-pop act Xiu Xiu, attract more attention now if he released albums and songs with titles like Dear God, I Hate Myself, “I Luv Abortion” and Angel Guts than he did five or 10 years ago? How do a man and a band responsible for such acerbic, gender-fluid and doom-drenched dissertations on family, politics, sex, lovelessness and suicide, fit in to today’s intersectional economy of ideas?

Good questions, and none with easy answers. That’s been the point of Xiu Xiu since the beginning: Ambient folk, industrial clash and noisy New Wave can often lead to more disorientation than emotional clarity, but there’s also a softly damaged dreaminess that’s highlighted on Xiu Xiu’s latest album, FORGET.

Even though he promised not to, Stewart talked about the record in scathing detail with Folio Weekly, offering a disarmingly friendly and sweetly engaging mien to counteract the gloomy, gut-wrenching goth pop he’s specialized in for 15-plus years.

Folio Weekly: You’re performing interpretations of the music from cult TV show Twin Peaks at the Sleeping Giant Film Festival at Sun-Ray Cinema here in Jacksonville. How does such a venue allow you and Xiu Xiu to operate differently?

Jamie Stewart: We’ve played several film festivals before, and people tend to enter those types of shows with a different mentality than a club or bar shows. People tend to view our performance through a cinematic lens, and that leads us to play in a slightly more dramatic way. We also become more aware of the visual aspect of what we’re doing, which we never think about it in a club.

Xiu Xiu’s new album is called Forget, and the calligraphy on the front spells out the words “We forget.” What were you hoping to forget with the creation of this sonic document?

To be broad and not too personally specific about it, the thing that’s appealing about the word “forget” and the concept of forgetting is that it works in an inherently dualistic way. It can be an extraordinary release, finally forgetting something that has been plaguing you. Not to contradict what I just said about not being too personally specific, but I have an incredibly obsessive personality—I get extraordinarily stuck on negative things, and any time I’m able to forget them, I feel freed. Conversely, forgetting a positive feeling, or a loved one’s face, or a time in your life where you felt more at ease than you currently do, that’s the plague of forgetting. Forgetting is almost like a Greek god that both plagues and blesses humanity. That’s the idea that colored the record and made it different from every other Xiu Xiu record, which have been about holding on to or focusing on specific things. This one was about letting go of those things. Taking things less literally. Maybe delving into the subconscious more.

Do you think that’s necessary in these politically and socially unhinged times?

Considering the current political situation, human frailty is getting a kick in the gut and someone pissing in your face. I wonder if over the next four years there will even be any regard for human frailty.

Many critics have called Forget Xiu Xiu’s poppiest and most accessible album in years. Did you do that out of any responsibility for the more casual Xiu Xiu listener?

God, no! People consider “Wandering” a pop song, but I think it’s a catchy song with a dancey beat that’s not constructed in any way like a pop song. We were trying to get that song to sound like a Joe Meek song—Joe Meek was a British producer in the ’50s and ’60s who essentially invented spring reverb, echo and the excessive use of compression. He created this very particular, overly melodramatic, but really beautiful nascent early rock ’n’ roll sound that was very fey. That’s what we were going for. But the motivation to be accessible only leads to shitty music.

You’ve chased down so many disparate musical influences in the last few years: an album of Nina Simone covers, a reworking of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, a reimagination of Mozart’s The Magic Flute … Does that come from your aforementioned obsessive personality?

It’s a very simple and lifelong love of music. To us, all those things seem connected, but to others they don’t. Several years ago, we had a booking agent who flat-out asked if we were trying to destroy the band. To me, we’re doing the opposite: We love music so much, and we’re taking the opportunity to do new and challenging work. Not to be maudlin about it, but that’s a good reason to be alive. Music is an impossible thing to finish or grasp. There’s no way to do it right, to reach the end, or to really succeed—there are an infinite number of permutations and possible associations to make. The temptation to explore that is too great, even if while being explored those permutations or associations might seem baffling or impossible. Music is the first example of culture in humanity. It defines who we are as a species.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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