Xiu Xiu Biography
Last updated: 08/11/2007 12:00:00 PM
Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoo-shoo") is an experimental indie band originally from and currently based in San Jose, California, with time often spent in Seattle, Washington. The band is the sonic brainchild of singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart, who has also been its only constant member since its inception. His current bandmates are his cousin, Caralee McElroy, and experimental musician Ches Smith (of Good for Cows). Xiu Xiu are also, on occasion, joined by Cory McCulloch. Past members include Lauren Andrews, Yvonne Chen, Sam Mickens and Jherek Bischoff. Some, including McCulloch, have played in previous bands with Stewart such as Ten in the Swear Jar and IBOPA. The band's name is taken from the 1998 Chinese film, Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.
Xiu Xiu's music draws heavily from several disparate genres including punk, noise rock, ambient noise, modern classical, and folk. The majority of lyrics deal with morose topics such as suicide, AIDS, war, and taboo experiences. Musically, Xiu Xiu will often blend cacophonous percussion with lush hooks and diverging lyrical styles. Xiu Xiu's music is also influenced by bands of the UK post-punk scene such as The Cure and Joy Division.
After having performed together in both IBOPA as well as Ten In The Swear Jar, Jamie Stewart and Cory McCulloch formed a new group in 2000, under the moniker of Xiu Xiu. Along with friends Lauren Andrews, Yvonne Chen and a collective of other artists, Xiu Xiu released Knife Play as well as its follow-up EP Chapel of the Chimes. Both recordings, released in 2002, employed strong percussive instrumentation, which stem from the group's admiration for world music. Brass instrumentation also played a significant part in the band's early recordings as a form of noise-based melody.
Soon after a collection of tours throughout the year 2002, Chen left the group to further focus on her vegan store Otsu and her zine, Zum. In late 2002, Stewart's father, Michael Stewart, the lead vocalist of 60s folk-rock group We Five, committed suicide. Stewart, McCulloch and Andrews then began work on what would be their follow-up to Knife Play, 2003's A Promise.
A Promise continued in the vein of Knife Play, focusing on internal despair, torment, and grief. The album fused ten songs together as a loose concept album that focused on a spectre of sexual and emotional attachment. Musically, the album focused on a more acoustic range as well as on programming, rather than booming percussion. The group (now joined by Mickens and Bischoff) was tested in 2003 while on tour in Montana, when their entire collection of instruments; keyboards, drum machines, gongs, bells, drums, guitars, bass, harmonia, among others were stolen. The group continued its tour, with Stewart performing solo throughout the remainder of the year.
After returning to record 2004's Fabulous Muscles, Lauren Andrews decided to bow out of touring and focus on her academic studies. Cory McCulloch also stopped touring, though continued to work as producer and member of Xiu Xiu in the studio. For the tour in support of Fabulous Muscles Stewart was joined by Caralee McElroy. The two toured relentlessly throughout 2004, releasing not only Fabulous Muscles but also split EPs with peers such as This Song Is A Mess But So Am I and Bunkbed, as well as the Fleshettes EP, which included XITSJ track 'Helsabot', re-made and featuring vocals by McElroy. Fabulous Muscles displayed a more pop-friendly sensibility in Stewart's songwriting.
2005's La Forêt returned to Stewart's darker, more irate voice. Tracks such as 'Saturn', 'Pox' and 'Rose of Sharon (Grey Ghost Version)' alluded in great measure to a frustration which Stewart would channel throughout the course of the album. Its lyrics focus on apathy, self-loathing and the question of George W. Bush.
Xiu Xiu continued with splits following their 2005 album, with artists such as The Paper Chase, Devendra Banhart and others, along with a collaborative LP titled Ciautistico! with Italian group Larsen. 2006 saw the release of an EP of covers songs in July titled Tu Mi Piaci, a picture disc 7-inch with photographs by David Horvitz on Brendan Fowler's Doggpony Records, and a fifth album in September titled The Air Force.
Free Jazz Mills graduate, collaborator with Phillip Gelb and Pauline Oliveros, Ches Smith joined Xiu Xiu in fall of 2006, also playing on their tour as opening act Bongs for Bums.
Stewart is currently working on a screenplay which he hopes will turn into a motion picture and be released by the time of the release of their LP following The Air Force. The movie is about, according to a recent interview with Pitchfork Media, "perverse sexuality, boredom, and bird watching."
Xiu Xiu has also worked with, produced, and remixed music for quite a few up and coming indie rock bands. The first album by the band Parenthetical Girls has a complete remix by Xiu Xiu hidden as mp3's on the album.
Xiu Xiu is currently on a North American tour. As reported by Pitchfork Media, who has been comprehensively reporting on the tour, the band had a visit with the secret service due to a rearrangement of a marquee in Mobile, Alabamba. The band apparently turned a Hooters marquee into, "George W is HIV to America." Because the statement was not a threat, nothing happened because of the mischevious activity. The video of this rearrangement has been uploaded to the internet.
The band is also doing a polaroid project on their tour where fans can recieve free photographs. Information on this can be found here: http://davidhorvitz.com/xiuxiu/