||This biographical article is written like a résumé. (October 2013)|
Xiu Xiu in 2010
|Origin||San Jose, California|
|Genres||Post-punk, art rock, experimental rock, synthpop, experimental|
Bella Union Records
5 Rue Christine
Free Porcupine Society
Kill Rock Stars
|Associated acts||Former Ghosts, Deerhoof, 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, Larsen, Blue Water White Death, Good For Cows, Cold Cave, Oxbow, Grouper, High Places, Evangelista, The Paper Chase, Yellow Swans, Kid 606, Sole, Nitzer Ebb, John Zorn, Zola Jesus, Swans|
|Past members||Caralee McElroy
Xiu Xiu // is an American experimental post-punk group originally from San Jose, California. The band is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart, who has been its only constant member since its inception. As of 2009, his bandmate has been Angela Seo. The band's name is taken from the 1998 Chinese film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.
Jamie Stewart formed Xiu Xiu in 2000 after his previous band, Ten in the Swear Jar, disbanded. Stewart and Cory McCullough continued from the previous group, and were joined by Yvonne Chen and Lauren Andrews. The band's sound was characterized by how it used indigenous instruments and programmed drums in place of traditional rock instruments: harmonium, mandolin, brass bells, gongs, keyboards, and a cross between a guitarrón mexicano and a cello for bass. The band's name comes from the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. In Stewart's description, the film's theme is that of no resolution—that awful things happen to the protagonist throughout the film and she dies at the end. The band found its first tracks to match the "rotten realness" spirit of the film, "that sometimes life turns out with a worst possible case scenario". Stewart said Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car", which Xiu Xiu covered on A Promise, had a similar theme. He later added that the band was a product of San Jose pirate radio stations that played house, hi-NRG, freestyle, and techno, which Stewart considered unpretentious, plain, heartbroken, clear, and based around dancing away sadness. He said he wrote his first Xiu Xiu song after leaving a San Jose dance club alone on a Christmas night: "Xiu Xiu came from feeling stupid and lonely and then wanting to dance it away, but having the club and its music only magnify that stupid and lonely feeling."
In the period between their first two albums, Knife Play and A Promise, the band recorded the Chapel of the Chimes EP and Stewart had "a lot of really bad" events in his personal life. Chapel of the Chimes was recorded alongside A Promise, but the songs were separated based on what would fit best on the album and EP. Stewart's voice was more prominent in A Promise as Stewart had been singing more at the time. They tended to write their songs while they were recording in the studio. At the time of A Promise, Stewart said that he was influenced by gamelan and Japanese and Korean folk music, and had been listening to contemporary classical and "gay dance music".
In 2003, Stewart told Pitchfork that the band's live shows were starkly different from the recorded material. He said this was largely due to the technical limitations of being able to reproduce the way it was recorded. In their live shows, the band increased the intensity of their loud rock parts, though Stewart reported their set to be half "louder, more dance-y stuff" and half "really quiet stuff". He said the latter was sometimes at odds with the type of venues they played.
The tone of 2004's Fabulous Muscles reflected an "incredibly, incredibly violent, incredibly jarring, and difficult to take" string of events in Stewart's life. Stewart described his lyrics as "never fictional". He told Pitchfork that Xiu Xiu songs are based around five topics: family, politics, sex, love and lovelessness, suicide, and how they are connected.
Pitchfork described their 2005 La Forêt as "less jagged, more elegant" than previous releases and more subtler than Fabulous Muscles, though the tone of the album reflects Stewart's experience internalizing the events of the previous years, which he felt was "almost more difficult". He described the album as "about reflection and resignation and coming to a sort of resolution".
When interviewing for The Air Force in 2006, Stewart said that the year was "one of the first not dominated by personal tragedies".
Xiu Xiu released The Air Force in 2006 on 5 Rue Christine. The album was produced by Greg Saunier. Stewart said that the year was "one of the first not dominated by personal tragedies" and that the album is about "making other people feel bad" instead of feeling bad oneself. Its major themes are "guilt and sex as opposed to sorrow and sex". Stewart considered it their best and most consciously pop album yet. He said that the band was obsessed with Weezer's Blue Album and The Smiths's The Queen Is Dead while on tour, though the album does not reflect those albums particularly. McElroy sings on the new album.
Around the same time, they planned an EP with a collection of covers such as Nina Simone's "He Needs Me", Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Joan of Arc", and tracks by Alex Chilton, Nedelle, and Elliott Smith. Stewart considered doing an album of duets but his potential partners were not interested.
Metro Silicon Valley's David Espinoza likened Stewart to an explorer charting new territories of sound in 2001 as he started Xiu Xiu. He compared Stewart's voice to a combination of Robert Smith's fragility and The Downward Spiral-era Trent Reznor's anger, and noted Stewart's deliberate and considered choices towards developing the band's tone in light of the disparate wackiness of the individual instruments.
Brandon Stosuy of Pitchfork noted a "continual poetic and romantic beauty" behind "the violence" in Stewart's lyrics. He wrote that the band inspired fandom of the kind where teenage girls ask for Stewart's autograph.
Xiu Xiu would tour their first LP Knife Play, and its successor EP, Chapel of the Chimes, throughout the years 2001 and 2002, blending both melody and cacophony with a heavy reliance on percussive instrumentation and brass instrumentation.
Following 2002, the group would shrink in membership as Yvonne Chen left in order to focus on her vegan boutique Otsu and self-published magazine Zum, while Cory McCulloch also stopped touring, focusing instead on producing the band's next two LPs. A personal loss would affect Xiu Xiu as well, as Jamie Stewart's father, musician and record producer Michael Stewart was found dead after an apparent suicide. Coping with these losses, Stewart would record the group's follow-up to Knife Play, 2003's A Promise.
Continuing to focus on the subject matter of Jamie Stewart's personal life – as witnessed previously by Knife Play – A Promise acts like a concept record of internal despair. Consisting of ten tracks, the record was oriented towards a more or less acoustic presentation, rather than relying on the booming brass and percussion which had worked to make Knife Play. However, the record did not veer from the formulated programming for which Stewart and McCulloch would be praised by fans and critics alike.
During this time, Stewart recorded Fag Patrol, a collection of previous recorded material as well as covers of songs by The Smiths and his previous group with McCulloch, Ten in the Swear Jar. Released as a handmade CD by Rob Fisk's and Kelly Goodefisk's Free Porcupine Society, Fag Patrol was limited to only a few hundred copies. In the spring of 2004, Stewart and McCulloch released what is considered by many to be the group's most accessible album, Fabulous Muscles. More pop-friendly in its sound than previous releases, Fabulous Muscles boosted Xiu Xiu to new heights in terms of popularity, largely thanks to its single "I Luv the Valley OH!".
With the departure of Lauren Andrews in 2003 – who wished to focus on her academic studies – Stewart was joined on stage by his "long-lost" cousin, Caralee McElroy in 2004. The two would tour relentlessly throughout that year, releasing not only the group's third LP, but also split recordings with This Song Is a Mess But So Am I and Bunkbed, along with the "Fleshettes" single – which featured a rendition of the Ten in the Swear Jar track "Helsabot" by McElroy.
Seen as a return to Stewart's more dark and crabby demeanor, Xiu Xiu's fourth album La Forêt alluded to a frustration which Stewart had felt throughout the process of recording the 2004 record. Centered around the topic of "horrible times in horrible lives" as well as Stewart's personal frustrations with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, La Forêt is characterized by an altogether different sound – layered by mandolin, harmonium, clarinet, cello, autoharp, and tuba. In addition to La Forêt, Xiu Xiu would join Italian experimental group Larsen in forming XXL, which released its first LP, ¡Ciaütistico! in 2005, followed later by its successor ¿Spicchiology? in 2007. Stewart also issued formative splits throughout 2005, working with artists such as The Paper Chase, Kill Me Tomorrow, and Devendra Banhart.
In 2006, Stewart would break from tradition by ending his professional relationship with McCulloch. He then started working with San Francisco-based band Deerhoof's drummer Greg Saunier, with whom he has worked with since 2002, as producer for Xiu Xiu's fifth LP entitled The Air Force. Saunier, who had previously worked with Stewart on Knife Play, created for the record a greater wall of sound – a stark contrast to that of McCulloch's discordant attitude towards production. The Air Force would be supported throughout 2006 by a three piece ensemble, as Stewart and McElroy were joined by drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, who himself had previously worked with the group on Knife Play. The Air Force also contained the band's first album-based song without vocals by Stewart – with McElroy singing "Hello From Eau Claire".
A third EP – Tu Mi Piaci ("I like you") – of songs originally recorded by acts such as Bauhaus, Nedelle, Big Star, The Pussycat Dolls, and Nina Simone was released in 2006, along with a collaboration with ambient artist Grouper, entitled Creepshow. Shortly thereafter, Xiu Xiu would record their sixth album, 2008's Women as Lovers. Their longest LP to date, Women as Lovers attempts to home in on the synth-pop influences of the group's sound. Stewart's and McElroy's duet with Michael Gira of Swans on a cover of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" is representative of this. Touring that year alongside Xiu Xiu aluminist Devin Hoff on bass, the band's second four-piece incarnation would not last long, as Hoff abruptly left the group soon after touring began.
In May 2009 it was revealed that Caralee McElroy would no longer work with Xiu Xiu. Speculations ran as to what reasons McElroy had for leaving the group after five years of recording and touring, though no explanation was given other than her subsequent membership in Manhattan-based darkwave group Cold Cave, which she soon after departed from in 2010. With the vacancies left by both Hoff and McElroy, Stewart and Smith recruited Angela Seo in late 2009. Thereafter, the group would begin work on its seventh LP Dear God, I Hate Myself, recording in both Oakland, California as well as Durham, North Carolina. Once again shifting motifs, Xiu Xiu would this time choose to experiment with video-game-based programming, utilizing the Nintendo DS to write many of the songs which appear on their 2010 release. The music video for the song "Dear God, I Hate Myself" received attention online in 2010. The video consists of Angela Seo inducing vomiting over the course of the three-minute song, culminating with her vomiting on Stewart, who has been eating a chocolate bar during the entire video. Seo and Stewart have defended the video online and in interviews, stating that the video illustrates the subject of the song in an extreme and visceral fashion.
In April 2013, Stewart and Eugene Robinson of Oxbow released the album Xiu Xiu & Eugene S. Robinson Present: Sal Mineo on Important Records after having toured Europe together in February to promote the project. 
In an email sent to fans on January 28, 2013, Xiu Xiu announced that "Ches Smith, Mary Halverson, Tim Barnes, Tony Malaby, Andrea Parkins and Jamie Stewart just finished recording an album in NYC of free jazz and art song versions of all Nina Simone songs." The album, Nina, was released on Graveface Records on December 3, 2013.
In the same email, Xiu Xiu also announced that a new Xiu Xiu album was being made. Xiu Xiu said that it is possible that it will be named Angel Guts: Red Classroom and that "it will be a mean, tight hearted, blackness of Neubauten vs Suicide vs Nico." Angel Guts: Red Classroom was released February 2014. It was given an 8 out of 10 by Drowned in Sound and Mojo. David Hartley of band War on Drugs praised the album, calling it an "Stereoscopic assault."
Notes and references
- Moroz, Ross (2005-06-16). "Xiu Xiu Ch-Boogie". Vue Weekly. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
- Espinoza, David (September 6, 2000). "No Show Joe Show: RedHeaded Stepchild makes a Front Street Pub crowd wait". Metro Silicon Valley. Metro Newspapers. Archived from the original on October 26, 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
- Espinoza, David (November 7, 2001). "Rubber Soul: Los Dryheavers get into the protection racket". Metro Silicon Valley. Metro Newspapers. Archived from the original on October 26, 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
- LeMay, Matt (April 1, 2003). "Xiu Xiu". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
- Stosuy, Brandon (April 9, 2006). "Xiu Xiu". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
- "Michael Stewart". Variety. 2002-11-18.
- "Xiu Xiu Shoo-Bop". Zoilus. 2004-03-11. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Xiu Xiu - Fag Patrol - Review". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Bio". Caraleemcelroy.com. 1983-12-27. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Xiu Xiu : La Foret". Junkmedia. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Out - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Posted (2007-05-22). "Xiu Xiu Larsen Returns to Italy to Record Â¿Spicchiology?". Obscure Sound. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Xiu Xiu – Jamie Stewart « Mesa Love". Mesalove.wordpress.com. 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Aren’t Xiu (Xiu) into S&M?". Yale Daily News. 2006-09-22. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "New York Foundation for the Arts". NYFA. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "The Agit Reader • Feature: Xiu Xiu". Agitreader.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Caralee McElroy Leaves Xiu Xiu | News". Pitchfork. 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Hughes, Josiah (2009-05-20). "Caralee McElroy Leaves Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart Writes Haikus • News •". Exclaim.ca. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Interview with: Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu". popwreckoning. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Xiu Xiu: 'Dear God I Hate Myself' (Video) (NSFW) | Prefix". Prefixmag.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "XIU XIU SIGN TO BELLA UNION « New music, features, reviews, news and free mp3s –". Loudandquiet.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Polyvinyl Record Co. - Blog". Polyvinylrecords.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Simon Price (2012-02-26). "Album: Xiu Xiu, Always (Bella Union) - Reviews - Music". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Lukowska, Len (2012-02-22). "Xiu Xiu - Always / Releases / Releases // Drowned In Sound". Drownedinsound.com. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "IMPREC381 - Important Records". importantrecords.com. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
- "Eugene Robinson/Oxbow + Jamie Stewart/Xiu Xiu have a band together and it shall be known as SAL MINEO". Xiu Xiu. 2013-01-14. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Zevolli, Giuseppe (2014-02-03). "Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts". Drownedinsound.com. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
- "David Hartley (the War on Drugs) Talks Xiu Xiu’s Angel Guts: Red Classroom". The Talkhouse. 3 February 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
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