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Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu

An Interview

SF Station took the company Ark for a brief trip to Seattle to talk with Jamie Stewart, the lead member of Xiu Xiu, a slightly experimental new kind of pop band originally established in the bay area. Xiu Xiu has been aggressively striking up interest with savvy music listeners throughout the world. Jamie talks with us about when he officially decided to give music a go, Norwegians, and other things.

SF Station (SFS): So, I see you recently played a show for AIDS Orphans. Do you want to tell me how you first became aware of this issue?

Jamie Stewart (JS): After I'm done with band stuff I'm sure I'll go to graduate school and plan on working on the question of AIDS and developing countries. So it's certainly an issue that's close to my heart.

SFS: I remember seeing you recently and there were just two people in the band, do you usually have more people touring with you?

JS: Live, it's just two people, but recording there is a lot of people involved...

SFS: I see your vocal work being quite transferable, border wise, into an international or global sound that enables you to be much more approachable by audiences outside of the U.S. Do you notice a different kind of reception from audiences when your touring overseas?

JS: We've only done one really short Japanese tour and a really extensive European tour. Definitely, it's interesting that in Europe it [the reaction] seems to depend regionally; in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and in Russia they are insanely enthusiastic. Then Germany and England it seems to be kind of like people are here; like people are very supportive and into it but not like insane! It seems to be like playing shows here, which always go well but there not like out of control or whatever.

SFS: It's almost as if you're riding a pulse that has long been left dormant in many adults' lives. Not child-like but of a refined notion of a truer understanding of certain root feelings we all may have had once but tend to ignore. I can't help but use Crank Heart as an example of this. Do you see that lack in people or do feel like you're bringing that out at all, or...

JS: I think the only thing we're really consciously trying to do is just write about real things that are going on in the lives of the people of the band, and we've been really vocal about saying repeatedly in interviews that we're writing about real things. So I think that if people know that it makes it easier to relate to it really specifically and really personally. I know that the original impetus for doing that was that the bands I knew that were doing that were ones I were finding were really really important to me and to Cory who was the person I started the band with. So it was something we decided to do consciously for that reason. I mean it's difficult to say for me necessarily if it's successful I mean because we're obviously involved in it and not listening to it objectively, but just based upon my previous experience as a listener to other bands it potential would make sense, but, because we're writing about real stuff it might be easier for people to attach themselves to it.

SFS: I'm not here to disintegrate the importance of your songs or your lyrics, but 'I love the Valley, Oh!' in particular what Valley are you referring to?

JS: Right, the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles where Andrew grew up.

SFS: When did you first find music being a form of self-expression in your life?

JS: I started playing in bands when I was about 14 but I don't think I became really really serious about it until I was 25. I was going through college and studying social work but I think deep inside I really knew I wanted to work on music instead. I talked to my shrink about it and I talked to my professor about it and they both pretty much gave me the same answer which was 'you really need to do what feels the most real for you today, you know are you going to be a real half ass social worker?' which I was, I mean not because I was not trying to a good job but I was just really distracted by music. So once I'm finished doing pop and touring orientated kinds of music then I'm sure I'll probably focus more on that again cause that's still something I want to do, obviously its difficult to do if your on tour 6 months a year.

SFS: So where do you consider home to be then?

JS: Good question, I don't know. We've lived in Seattle for almost two years but I'm moving back to the bay area in November. I would probably say there, just cause my family is there now, but I didn't grow up there. That's funny you should bring that up, because it's been something that's been on my mind a lot lately. Certainly wanting to find where that is. I don't know if that's just getting slightly older or just having moved so much in the past few years I'm not sure.

SFS: What do you think about some of the artist's coming out of the Bay Area?

JS: All of my oldest friends live there and, luckily for me, are involved in all my favorite bands. Seven Year Rabbit Cycle, I'm really excited about, Good for Cows, Deerhoof, Yellow Swans, Stink. There's a lot of really great bands but those are the ones that I'm really significantly touched by and I think are doing the most creative things right now.

SFS: Yeah, especially Deerhoof is going somewhere...

JS: Yeah, they really literally changed my entire life. Craig the drummer is responsible for getting us on a good label and has been a really big inspiration. Seven Year Rabbit Cycle has people who use to be in Deerhoof for their first couple of records and now they're doing other stuff. The sound is different but the energy and commitment to doing interesting things is similar. You should check out Good for Cows though.

SFS: Good for Cows?

JS: Yeah go see 'em live, they will melt your mind. So good.

SFS: Are they currently doing a lot of stuff in the Bay Area?

JS: They live in the East Bay but they play in and around the Bay Area all
the time.

SFS: I wouldn't normally refer to old interviews but you were once quoted as saying that you may want to see Xiu Xiu become an 'Anti-Tank Gun'. In a way I can see that, just being at your show, and someone repeating what your shirt stated -- 'Fuck Bush' -- and your promotion of sites that highlight political awareness...

JS: There's definitely something creeping into our music more and more. I think as I had said before that our original mission is to write about real things that were going on in our lives. Obviously as the current political situation becomes more traumatic and more violent and more invasive you know that's not a whole lot different than things going on in your personal life. It's definitely something coming up more. Yeah, ugh.

SFS: Did you get a chance to see the Debates?

JS: I was a little freaked out to watch them, I had listened to the commentary a lot but I figured if I watched them I would get too tense.

SFS: Just after 90 minutes, too much?

JS: Being horrified by what an idiot ... both of them are. I obviously I don't have any sort of strong positive feelings for Kerry. Obviously on some things he has a different stance than Bush but he's not interested in ending the war in Iraq particularly. Luckily he's pro-choice which is good and more interested in social programs than Bush. I definitely want Kerry to win over Bush but it's not like I'm super excited about him winning...

SFS: Yeah, It seems Kerry has a point when he asserts that he'll attempt at a truthful leadership role for America but there's only so much truth that can be given, do you think it's possible for any president to be completely truthful about all situations that may arise? It seems kind of altruistic or something but maybe it's just a general statement on his part.

JS: I don't know, I hope, I mean I definitely think he'll be a better president than Bush, but I do not think that he will necessarily really positively change the direction of the war on terrorism particularly. I hope so, maybe, I don't know. It's really stupid and obvious to say but (Bush) has just done a phenomenally hideous job of contributing to the destruction of the earth. I mean anyone could do a better job I just wish it was somebody better qualified than Kerry.

SFS: I think a lot of people feel that way.

JS: I'm sure, I think its an obvious thing to say but I think you're right.

SFS: This is a more broad question. If you had to choose between being a pilot, a flight attendant, or a passenger in first class what would you choose?

JS: I don't know it depends where we're going.

SFS: Hmm. let's see, Norway.

JS: Interesting, possibly a flight attendant. I think people from Norway are pretty attractive and you'd get a chance to interact with all of them.

SFS: Do you think that most people fear death?

JS: Oh yeah, I think its impossible not to.

SFS: So you don't think there's any way to conquer that fear?

JS: I don't think there's any reason to conquer it really. I think that the only reason to conquer your fear of death is if it is getting in the way of keeping you from, this is really goofy but, if its getting in the way of you living your life. Fearing death can be as much of an inspiration for living your life well as it can be as for having you be paralyzed by that fear. You know, if you know your going to die you gotta fuck it and push yourself into a good job, in what you want to be doing a good job at. If it keeps you being so freaked about doing things you should be worried about it.

SFS: Do think there are main people in your life who have been kind of pushing you forward, in different directions.

JS: Definitely my band mate Caralee, most of the people involved in music,
like Cory who I had said before ... and my mom.

SFS: You had mentioned before about choosing music now and then maybe choosing something later. Do you think that you find something here in music that you might want to just keep carrying on with music or do you definitely think you'll be moving on atsome point?

JS: I think that at some point I'll be moving on from doing POP music, like band orientated kind of music, and I'm interested at some point getting more into classical music but at the moment I don't know much about it and I still feel very, very interested and attached to doing more sort of 'Rock' music i.e. playing loud music with the band and touring and stuff like that. I'm sure that I'll be involved with music in one way or another for the rest of my life. I think I'll only be able to do it convincingly in Xiu Xiu for so long. I mean not any time soon, I can't see it happening in the next however many years. I'm completely wonderfully, luckily very happily attached to but there's a lot of different ways to go.

Jamie and Caralee have plans for a small record release soon and a collaborative effort on the way.