Xiu Xiu play Dublin tonight. They’ve been one of my favourite bands since mid-to-late teenagedom, and I narrowly missed interviewing Jamie Stewart for Analogue two years ago, but it did eventually happen for Totally Dublin. Ongoing thanks to Dan for putting me on phone lines to geniuses once a month. The cut version of this is in the current issue Totally Dublin, still in racks near you for free (if you are in Dublin, which you obviously might not be).
Can I especially draw your attention to the part about a Spencer Krug collaboration, which is a follow-up from this Sunset Rubdown interview.
I thought I would jump right in. I listened to Gray Death and there’s a line in it that struck me. “You expect me to be outrageous, I will be extra-outrageous.” What do you think of that as an introduction to Xiu Xiu?
It’s a little self-serving for me to say that it might be. It’s probably not wholly inaccurate. It kind of comes more from some advice that my dad gave me. He was in music and said that the regret that he had was not feeling like he had ever took things too far, and before he died he advised me to try to take things too far in music. So it’s sort of a bit of an homage to his advice I guess.
With the title of the album, and having a picture of yourself on the front of it, it seems kind of confrontational. Was that the intent?
I think the intent was just to express feeling that way sometimes. Maybe in some ways it’s… I guess right now… how to put this… extreme negative emotion is sometimes looked down upon as being ingenuine. So in addition to being an autobiographical comment, it’s an attempt to make extreme negative emotion something that doesn’t necessarily have to be hidden away.
Do you think that, with extreme negative emotion being something that’s been around a while with Xiu Xiu, you’ve had a problem with people interpreting you as theatre rather than something serious?
People are free to interpret thing any way that they want. I know that it’s not that, and there’s nothing I can do other than to be honest in my own attempt at expressing that. I guess that comment about trying to be open about extreme negative emotion isn’t really a response to people sometimes perceiving Xiu Xiu as being theatrical as opposed to genuine. It’s more a comment on a greater societal perception as opposed to perception of Xiu Xiu.
And what do you think about the perception of Xiu Xiu as confessional? Is that accurate, or is it something else?
Oh, yeah, all of the songs are about something real that is happening. And almost by definition, saying something that is honest is confessional.
So would you say you’re writing to get past real experiences or problems, or is it something different to that?
It’s more an attempt to document them. I don’t really feel cleansed for having wrote a song about something. It clarifies an issue, but it doesn’t make it go away. It gives the energy behind it some place to go, but it doesn’t make it go away.
When Women As Lovers, on the attendant press release or whatever, it said that it was the most accessible album to date “on a human level”. That kind of stuck with me. Is the new album yet more accessible, or have you moved away from that idea?
At the risk of betraying a friend, I didn’t actually write that line about Women As Lovers. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. We’ve never done anything to attempt to be accessible. We’ve really pointedly played around with pop structures and pop types of songs because we like pop songs, but the point of that is not to be accessible, it’s to make the music that reflects what we’re interested at the time. I would say that Dear God I Hate Myself’s arrangements are extraordinarily influenced by pop music, and whether that makes something accessible by default, I don’t know. The point is not to try to be accessible, it’s to try to be as good as we can be.
And how has Caralee leaving effected the band?
Um, not very much. With the exception of the very start of the record, she wasn’t very involved despite several attempts on my part to get her involved. She made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested in working on it. She hasn’t really been involved with the band since the last tour that we did, which would have been 2008.
And it hasn’t changed the way you work at all?
Not really, she wasn’t all that involved with the writing. She was very involved with the touring and just did a small amount of writing, so it didn’t change too much. I mean there’s some things she’s very good at. She has a very cool voice, and it’s a drag not having her voice in the band any more, but aside from that the writing process hasn’t changed that much.
I’ve always wondered with regard to playing live, if it’s difficult for you to sing the songs night in night out, or if you have a detachment from them.
No, it is difficult. The point would be to not have a detachment from them. It would be the opposite of what I’ve always tried to do with this band. It gets exhausting for sure.
I’ve asked that question to a couple of different people and gotten different answers as to how earnest they are every night of a tour. So it’s interesting.
I try as hard as I can to be as honest as I can every single night. Sometimes that is achieved and sometimes it’s not, but the intent to do it is definitely there. It’s always going to be there. If I don’t hit it, it’s not because I’m not trying to, but you can’t always be exactly perfect in the way that you want to be, of course.
Okay, this question has a bit of a back story. A couple of months ago I interviewed Spencer Krug from Sunset Rubdown, and I had read while doing research for that, someone had asked him who he would like to collaborate with, and he mentioned you. So I asked him about that again, and he said that he’d met you and you’d talked about it, but I was wondering if that’s something that’s in any way still on the cards?
Yeah, I pretty recently sent him and Camilla some music, and I believe he e-mailed me back about it, but I haven’t had a chance to check it yet. So hopefully it’s on the table. It’s certainly in the works, but as to how far along it is I don’t know. It’s certainly something that I’m very interested in.
That’s cool. That’s something that I would be very much looking forward to hearing.
Me too, I hope it works out.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got, but to finish I thought in homage to Chocolate Makes You Happy I’d ask, what makes you happy at the moment?
Oh. Well, it’s really cold where I live right now, and I grew up in California so I’m not used to it being cold. And I’m really interested in birdwatching and I’m concerned about the birds that are in my yard, so I’ve began to put gallons and gallons of birdfeed in the grass. So my front yard is completely infested with the local birds. Looking at them every morning makes me pretty happy. However chocolate still makes me very happy as well.
And what keeps you awake?
What doesn’t keep me awake. I’ve had a bad time sleeping since I was a little kid. Horrible, horrible, horrible sense of anxiety every night.