Xiu Xiu gay frontman Jamie Stewart isn’t as bleak as the brooding pop he brings to Dallas
The Cavern, 1914 Greenville Ave. March 11 at 8 p.m. $12.
Looking at Jamie Stewart and his band Xiu Xiu, you’d think of this duo of melancholic depressives more as psychological studies than rock stars: Songs about disparate relationships, tortured self-identities and bulimia don’t help to dispel the myth of a majorly moody band on the fringe.
But for their eighth album, Dear God, I Hate Myself, Xiu Xiu (pronounced "shoo-shoo") — which stops at the Cavern on Lower Greenville Thursday — has gone electro-pop. To Stewart, however, the music is for the listener to figure out rather than him to explain.
"The songs are coming from a particular piece of me. People may or may not get it, but I’m a little bit hesitant to say what my intent is. It’s a negative to cull someone else’s perspective about a song," he says.
What stands out about Stewart is what he has that many other indie purists lack: personality. He’s smart not to take himself too seriously. He speaks in long, eloquent sentences with an upgraded vocabulary that never sounds like an overly pensive artiste. He’s just a cool guy who doesn’t mind shooting the shit — as long as it’s smart shit.
"Some things I say make me sound like a total asshole," he concedes.
Stewart is fine with where his band fits on the outskirts of music popularity. The varying degrees of success over the years have affected his optimism about Xiu Xiu’s future but he doesn’t want to lose the ability to create work overtly personal or experimental.
"Certain things have changed tremendously, but hopefully what will never change is our honest approach to writing," he says. "Weirdly, I’m more sensitive to reviews now. They make me insane, but I guess it’s a symptom of doing it for eight years."
Over that tenure, Xiu Xiu has found its gay audience — something Stewart is proud about. Nothing about the band is fervently queercore, but the out Stewart doesn’t shy away from putting the gay pen to the paper in his songwriting.
"The queer audience seems a big part of people who come to our show," he says. "I write about the queer experience or politics and people who listen have responded. Whoever is listening, I always want our music to be about something real. But sometimes, I try to take it too far."
That’s an understatement in light of the group’s latest video. For the title track, band member Angela Seo spends the whole time gagging herself with a finger. Bulimia was an issue for Seo in her lower-class community growing up; she uses the video to confront the issue.
"People were talking shit to me that I exploited her because she’s Asian and a woman and that someone has to be forcing her to do that," he says. "It was completely racist and insane."
And although Stewart’s appearance in the video is cut off, he and his shirt are the visible target of Seo’s heaving, projectile climax.
"It was surprisingly unsettling," he says. "We did three takes of it and it felt really weird. In some primal way, my body just went ‘urgh.’"
Consider it part of the job. Stewart knows his approach and antics work to the band’s artsy post-punk experimental flavor. But in one moment, he lets it all go and reveals a truth other artists might dare never say.
"I’m sort of unsociable and a crabby dick. The more and more I’ve tried to define my existence in life, the more and more it’s a pain in the ass."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 5, 2010.