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Xiu Xiu – Far From Vanity, Close To The Touch

Apparently some of the earlier listeners of Xiu Xiu (and perhaps current) have had severe reactions to hearing them play: both positive and negative. By tendency, those who instigate rapid change in the boundaries of music can be misunderstood. Stemming from a rich San Francisco music community, many of the band’s friends and supporters appear on their albums from Deerhoof to Hella. If anything has changed for Xiu Xiu over these past few years is that they have begun to collect more fans.

“There’s definitely more people that come to the shows and . . . we get heckled less,” shares Jaime Stewart, the leader and vocalist for the band, “…which is good.”

Xiu Xiu’s music takes your hand and pulls you over serene hills, on to frightening jagged mountains, and back home for a tumultuous emotional roller coaster ride. They use unique percussion instruments embedded in a quirky song structure that has classical tendencies (and not solely because of their string section) strummed along with simplistic guitar progressions. On top, Jaime’s voice takes us on many turns…albeit a very honest journey with little to no restraint: the sheer intensity of emotion he omits while singing is powerful. Intentional? Yes…so it seems. As he details in our interview, there’s been conscious changes in direction towards honesty within Xiu Xiu’s musical expression.

Kaffeine Buzz: Can I ask you about your dad? I read somewhere about him being a record producer…how long did he do that for?

Jaime Stewart: He was in bands from the early 60’s through the early 70’s, and then he was a session guitar player for a couple of years. Then he started producing records in the early 70’s and he did that himself ‘til the late 80’s and started working in . . . making um . . . music equipment, I guess…recording equipment.

KB: In terms of his music, were you always aware of what he was doing? Did you spend the time respecting it or did you remove yourself from what he did?

JS: Well he and I didn’t really have, I mean he and my mom were together but I didn’t really ever spend any time with him whatsoever, I mean any serious time with, until I was well into my 20’s. This is just sort of difficult to explain…I just sort of had the kind of classic father on a pedestal situation, with a father I didn’t really know particular ‘til I was older. I mean I knew that he was in the music groups and I knew that he had done some really, really beautiful and successful records and…but I didn’t really know very much about him. Only one, two of the songs I heard on the radio periodically that he has worked on…I haven’t really been able to listen to the records. But now largely just because he died…and then before because it was too many weird associations and stuff. I learned a tremendous amount from him and I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t, I don’t, have a lot of respect for what he was doing musically but it was just our family situation was so….messy…that it was really difficult to have it be a normal part of my life.

KB: In retrospect, was there anything you took away from listening to what he did or the vague impressions he might have left on you?

JS: It’s not so much from listening to what he did because I didn’t really, haven’t listened to what he did but he talked to me about music a couple of times and it has been totally defining for me and…um…it’s sort of geeky to talk about but it was really important.

KB: Well you now what honestly that’s all I’m interested in is geeky stuff so if it’s about game boy or this kind of shit this is all I care about so you really stop calling it geeky cause this is what I like…

JS: When I first started getting serious about playing music in my early 20’s he would ask me why I wanted to play music, and I didn’t really have a good answer for doing it. He said the reason to play music is to touch people…and that has since become our motivation for doing it. And you know, sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t, but hearing that when I was first starting to play was, I think, one of the most important things I had heard about music ever.

KB: Yea, because even if it’s not conscious in every moment, it’s in the background and at least you have your intentions focused…

JS: Yea . . . I mean it is, exactly, it becomes about playing for somebody and making something for someone else to get something out of . . . rather than doing something out of vanity or doing something or doing something out of trying to be cool.

KB: Right, trying to build yourself up. When you say you got serious in your 20’s what was the conscious defining idea that you were like okay: something shifted for you what was that?

JS: Um, (sighs), I actually (laughs) had to go to my shrink about this. I was going to social work school at the time, and I had just got my first social work job. But I had always played in bands, and I wanted to play in bands, and was kind of finding myself being really conflicted about it. I mean, it’s easy to justify your existence as being something “good” when you’re working as a social worker, but it’s a little more difficult to do when you’re in a band. So I felt sort of guilty, like I had this job that I knew was good for planet earth. You know, but I wanted to be doing something a little bit more self-justified, so I had to talk to my psychologist about this and he said that anything you can completely put yourself into is the right thing to be doing.

KB: How old were you around that time?

JS: I was twenty-five.

KB: Well actually that’s really moving.


KB: It is! Because a lot people get wrapped up in these little ideas of what they think they need to do as opposed what really motivates and moves them, which is much more monumentally explosive, and changes things much more rapidly when there’s emotion and true feeling behind it than just obligation.

Are lyrics therapy to you? It is just getting out emotions. I mean I can make some guesses about when I try to hear what you’re saying. Are you just working with the moment, or are you trying to tell somebody something or is it all over the place?


KB: Or is there no intention?

JS: No, no there very definitely is. Because you said that you have an idea about what it is I’m a little bit hesitant to say what it is for me.

KB: Well everyone does.

JS: Well, no, and I think that’s really good, but I’m just am really hesitant what it is for me because I don’t want to color what that is for somebody else.

KB: Well in terms of your own efforts when you’re literally sitting down and saying “I’m gonna write a song”

JS: Oh I gotcha…sometimes it’s about just clarifying what the situation is…it’s not really particularly cathartic, I mean in terms of being therapeutic you know like, “oh I feel better after doing it.” But I guess it’s kind of difficult to describe, to put into words…there’s a very certain feeling attached to it but it’s hard to really say what it is. I mean, the point is to document real things that are going on in my life and in my families life and the life of the people in the band and in politics. But what that’s really like while it’s happening is hard to put into words.

KB: So you definitely direct it towards certain people or situations?

JS: Oh yea yea…all of them.

KB: Very intentional. So more like statements within the songs…


Xiu Xiu will be in town twice this summer first this Friday, July 1 for an all ages show at the Larimer Lounge and again (at the same venue) on August 26th.


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