[Part 2 of 2] Read Part 1 of the Xiu Xiu interview here…
Prefix Magazine: Did you study music? How did you get involved in doing it on computers?
Xiu Xiu: Well, bringing up my dad again, after he stopped producing records, he worked for a company called Digidesign, which makes Pro Tools. There were a couple of kinds of software that he was working on, and he decided to bring it home for me to use. So up until about six months ago, we all stole stuff from Digidesign, which all just broke — it was all real old, all prototype. All of our records except for La Foret we recorded on stuff that I five-finger-discounted from them.
PM: Let’s talk about your influences, in terms of being a songwriter. I know you’ve covered songs by Joy Division and Morrissey.
Xiu Xiu: With Morrissey it’s mostly lyrically, the way that he writes about things in direct ways but takes a satirical way about writing them — writing about things that are really wrenching and really sad but being also incredibly funny at the same time. The way things get so overwhelmingly, ridiculously horrible, it’s almost impossible to make a joke about them. Not make a joke about them, but say something … funny about them.
PM: That’s something you capture, too, the overwhelming moroseness.
Xiu Xiu: I don’t mean these things as a joke at all. It’s always an unfortunate expression of real things I’ve had going on in my life. Sometimes things can get so fucking ridiculous, and even though they’re happening to me and have happened to me, they kind of become funny, because it’s so completely over the top. With Joy Division, the way they approached harmonic things, [it’s] really, really sad sometimes. But at the same time, the way Ian Curtis can write about something with even the most explicit words, that can still convey a very obvious emotion.
PM: Tell me about being confrontational and how that can be comforting to an audience. When you write, do you ever think, This is something that can help people get through? I find it interesting you studied social work. Is it comforting for your audience having this expression of this sadness and this grief?
Xiu Xiu: Yes and no. It’s not like I write a line and think Oh man, that’ll have a bunch of depressed teenagers feeling okay about life! [laughs]
PM: Well, yeah that would be a bit manipulative.
Xiu Xiu: Yeah, so not specifically. But generally, most definitely. The bands we just mentioned did that for me as a kid and do that for me now. I’m trying to keep that circle going. Having listened to bands that have written very very openly, [I’m] trying to do that also and hoping to do that for somebody else.
PM: I’ve been to a couple of your shows, and I see all sorts of reactions. I’ve heard you’ve had lit cigarettes thrown at you at shows, and I’ve seen people crying at your shows. So I’m wondering what you’ve seen and how you feel about the reaction to your music.
Xiu Xiu: I wish I could think of one particular instance. But it’s pretty much what you just said. Fans will be overwhelmingly positive and be incredibly, incredibly sweet and kind. Or they amazingly fucking hate us. The amazingly-fucking-hated-us happens less and less now because people don’t accidentally come to our show. People know what they’re getting into, but when we first started playing people would be mean.
PM: What do you make of such a strong reaction? Do you consider that a good thing?
Xiu Xiu: Oh, yeah, I’d much rather be involved in something that people had a strong reaction to. If people just generally thought that we were okay, then I would be pretty bummed out. And even if people totally, totally, totally hated us with a passion, it would be better than us just being okay. And of course we are appreciative of the fact that people are super, super, super enthusiastic.
PM: When you tour, it’s with Caralee McElroy, who’s your cousin, right? Have you played with anyone else? I’ve only seen you solo and you with her.
Xiu Xiu: There’ve been five different lineups. Cory McCullough used to play live. He’s going to be re-joining for the subsequent U.S. tour, which we’re really happy about. Prior to that, there were lots of people who did one or two shows. We’re doing some of Canada and the U.S. in July and then a big tour of the U.S. in August and September.
PM: Has your family made it out to the shows? Do you guys have a big family?
Xiu Xiu: No, not really. She and I weren’t really that close until the last couple of years. We didn’t grow up together. My brother is involved with designing, so he comes to shows regularly. Aside from that, no one really does. It would just make me feel a little weird.
PM: In terms of your career, it seems like you’ve become more overt as you progress.
Xiu Xiu: Well, the only kind of singular tenet that we’re trying to hold onto, aesthetically, is to always write as honestly and openly as we can. It’s not necessarily that we’re trying to be confrontational, but we’re trying to talk frankly about what is going on in our own lives and the people around us. And sometimes life, or our lives, have evolved in that way. At the time we worked on Fabulous Muscles, it was the most crazy, horrible, absurdly fucked-up time of my entire life.
PM: It sounds that way.
Xiu Xiu: Oh, it was horrible. It was just that it was that way. It wasn’t that we were trying to have it be that way. We were just trying to be open about what was going on. And having worked on La Foret, my personal life has straightened out to a certain extent.
PM: Are you still teaching?
Xiu Xiu: No, I haven’t for about two years. But the political situation in the world is definitely at its worst. So that seems to be occupying our feelings of emotionality.
PM: Can you tell me more about what you explore in terms of politics?
Xiu Xiu: Environmentalism; about the war, obviously; the Bush family: Those are generally the political topics we discuss.