2014 Artist Survey: Xiu Xiu | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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2014 Artist Survey: Xiu Xiu

Jamie Stewart on Breaking His Toes, Performing in a Whale, Mark Kozelek, Beetlejuice, and Racism in America

Jan 28, 2015 Artist Surveys 2014
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For Under the Radar’s 12th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2014. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2014 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2014 print and digital issues for answers from alt-J, Camera Obscura, Chromeo, The Dears, Death From Above 1979, Deerhoof, The Drums, The Flaming Lips, Glass Animals, Hookworms, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, Ought, Owen Pallett, The Rosebuds, Strand of Oaks, Teleman, Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs, Warpaint, Woman’s Hour, Wye Oak, Zola Jesus, and others.

Here are some answers from Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu.

Top 10 Albums of 2014

1. Lawrence English: Wilderness of Mirrors

2. Swans: To Be Kind

3. Zola Jesus: Taiga

4. Owen Pallett: In Conflict

5. Father Murphy: Croce

6. Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita

7. Grouper: Ruins

8. Dirty Beaches: Stateless

9. Pharmakon: Bestial Burden

10. Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused

What was the highlight of 2014 for either you personally or for the band?

This year was/is curiously difficult and curiously fantastic: biz failures, health problems, biz successes, therapy, interesting travel, political terror, dog attack, trying drugs, finding a skull on the grass. As I am still reeling from it and in the midst of what will determine what it is and it will be, it is hard to pin down a single zowie! event. BUT! One night I did find myself sitting on a couch next to both Michael Gira and Peter Sotos.

What was the low point of 2014 for you?

I have gotten the distinct impression that people are tired of hearing about my low points, why bore you further with this until our next record comes out? This is at least low and dumb: getting in a fist fight over a parking space at Trader Joe’s and breaking two of my toes in the process. I did, however, complete my shopping afterwards, and I did end up with the parking spot.

What are your hopes and plans for 2015?

In 2015, my hopes and plans are to work on original music for a TV show I like, to try and play as a side man in a couple bands I like, produce an album or two, write and record a new Xiu Xiu l’anti-chef-d’oeuvre, play a biennial or two, do something related to the music of Twin Peaks, write a percussion piece for the group mantra, try and get better at music generally and to compose and play music for an opera with my hero, Vaginal Davis.

U2’s new album was downloaded for free into millions of users’ iTunes accounts without their permission. Was it a wonderful gift to music fans or an invasive action that devalues music? Also, which artist, other than you, deserves to have their album automatically downloaded to half a billion people more than U2?

Fuck this bullshit. A giant company that purports to be “different,” and for you to think “different” has invaded and jizzed in your property with something it has decided that you must like. What assholes! At times, I can be a U2 fan, but on principle cannot listen to this fucking callow shallow wallow of a forced groupthink.

Did you take part in the ice bucket challenge? If not, why not? Grimes declined due to animal testing issues, was the grief she got for that deserved?

Until this moment, I did not know what this was, that is why not. However, the Internet informed me, at least, about Grimes’ position and WHY THE FUCK DOES ANYONE CARE IF SHE DID THIS OR NOT? She has a sensible political belief and she stood by it and then made a donation to something positive and not insane that she does believe in that does not contradict her ethics. Maybe donate more of your own money to the ALS and stop looking at Tumblr so much?

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri opened up a new national dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. Do you think anything will actually change because of it?

There was no new dialogue about this, there was a renewed dialogue about this. Unarmed black people murdered by white cops in America has been happening since 1619. As for this changing: history, history, history, history.

What’s your craziest theory for what happened to the missing Malaysian Air flight?

Does the unknowable death of 298 fellow Earthlings need to be reduced to “the craziest theory?”

Mark Kozelek was criticized in 2014 for insulting his audience (calling them “hillbillies” for talking during his set) and for making fun of The War on Drugs when their sound bled over to the stage he was playing. What responsibility do performers have to be respectful of their audiences and fellow bands?

There are a few issues here. A) Yeah, calling anyone a hillbilly is jive, especially from stage. What is the point of hassling people in an audience? Play your best and do it again the next day. B) Who the fuck wants to deal with any bands’ music bleeding over into yours when you are trying to play? I have never understood why a festival or club organizer would be so dim, greedy, deaf, thoughtless, provincial, uncivil, or myopic to not consider how this makes things suck for anyone trying to listen to a band, let alone for a band trying to play. C) Mark Kozelek has been making records long enough that I think he has the right to express his educated opinion, whether or not one agrees with him. He has been around longer than probably 90 percent of current music writers, and no one is bitching about most of them saying inane, pointless, and idiotic things about bands and writing with the offal hanging out of their under-cultivated and under-exposed asses all over the Internet. D) It is intensely aggravating that there is this false preciousness about bands existing in this sacristy of “art and effort” and no one should say what they really think about them. Most bands SUCK HORRIBLY and are incredibly stupid. Why pretend otherwise? It does not make music better when people create a phony oasis for crap and garbage.

“Weird Al” Yankovic was back in a big way this year. If he were to lampoon any one of your songs, which one would you want it to be? What would the “Weird Al” version’s lyrics be about?

We have a song called “I Broke Up.” I think it would nice to have a “Weird Al” version of it called, of course, “I Toke Up.” This could also work with a song from the same record entitled “Anne Dong.” Which could be, of course, why wait for it, “Anne Bong.” The subject matter, I believe, is clear from the titles. As a kid, the first band I was in was called The Lime Green Leisure Suits and we were heavily influenced by “Weird Al.” Changing the Styx song “The Grand Illusion” to “The Grand Fart.” And Caralee McElroy and I saw “Weird Al” play at the Puyallup County Fair in 2003 and he DESTROYED in a not ironic way. He was incredibly good.

Which common criticism of your music do you most agree with?

I wholeheartedly agree that we are racist, sexist, nihilist, classist, fascist, dull, melodramatic, and safe.

What’s the most uplifting or heartwarming fan interaction you’ve ever had?

We are astoundingly lucky to have the people interested in our band that we have. Everyone we have ever toured with has said we have the best audience of anyone they have played with. In Wisconsin, a woman came to a show and said she had leukemia and had a prognosis of two months to live, and that this was going to be the last show she would ever see. This was obviously not uplifting, necessarily, but it made me dig in harder than I ever have and made me hope harder than I ever had that a show we played was uplifting for her.

What’s the topic no one asks you about in interviews that you wish they would? Conversely, if you could get journalists to stop asking you one question, which would it be?

I would like to hear the question: “Guano?” I would like to stop hearing the question: “Guana?”

Who from your youth (such as a former bully, an unrequited love) do you most hope pays attention to the fact that you’re now a successful musician?

Oh, holy cats, NO ONE! The most mortifying experience in the world is having someone you thought was a fucker from 15 years ago come up to you after a show and say, “Hey, remember me? You guys were sort of okay, the show was too long.” More than anything, I want to start over and never remember anything or anyone from before January 1, 2015.

Which musician or celebrity did you most have a crush on as a child or teenager?

Girl: Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice.

Boy: Beetlejuice.

Which subject do you wish you paid more attention to in school?

Clearly I wish I paid more attention in choir.

What was your first concert experience like (who did you see and who did you go with)?

It was David Bowie (pretty cool) and it was with my mom (not so cool).

In 2024, as part of the Mars One program, four people might be sent to Mars with no hope of ever returning to Earth. Are they completely crazy or brave? Would you ever consider such a thing

They will be the last humans alive, probably. I would do it. But I will do anything.

Which Golden Girls character are you most like?

The Grim Reaper.

What advice would you give to a musician who is writing and recording a follow-up to a critically acclaimed and successful album in terms of dealing with the pressure and delivering an album that meets expectations?

It is never in one’s best interest to become mired in expectations. There are very few bands of any respectable note that have worked to meet expectations and had serious, long careers. How many records do you truly love and that changed your life were what you expected? That lived up to your preconceived fantasy? That were clearly trying to (BARF) get over? Living up to an unknowable, amorphous expectation is inherently fake and no one wants to be dealt or deal with a pile of fake diarrhea when they are trying to be touched and changed by music. Be honest and generous about what is important to you in music and life, live up to that pressure instead.

If you could travel through time, which historical event would you most like to alter the outcome of and why?

I would like to alter the outcome of the Industrial Revolution. Why? So humanity does not end in an environmental apocalypse in 2050.

What was your most disastrous haircut experience?

My most disastrous haircut experiences were every time I, as a preteen, brought in an issue of BOP magazine to my geriatric barber and pointed to a photo of Nick Rhodes [of Duran Duran].

When you can’t sleep, what worry is most likely to be keeping you up at night?

Lately, fear of ghosts have been keeping me awake. No joke. This is perhaps the most bovine development of my life thus far.

Which unique location on Earth would you most like to perform in (for examples, the top of the Eiffel Tower or at the North Pole)?

I would most like to play in the belly of a whale and have the audience be Jonah and only Jonah. What would cetacean stomach acid do to your synth? How would it sound in there? Would Jonah boo? Would a person from the 8th century BCE be into Xiu Xiu or would they be more like, “Where is the lyre, man?”

What out-of-date technology do you most miss?

I miss the pillory!

In 2014, what was the best movie you saw, book you read, comic book you read, video game you played, and/or TV show you watched?

Werner Herzog, A Guide for the Perplexed.



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February 3rd 2015

Wow that question about the Malaysia flight was a touch insensitive, no?

Mark Redfern you stupid shit.