Jun. 15, 2005 - Issue #504: Hot Summer Guide 05
Xiu Xiu ch-boogie
Can Jamie Stewart's irony-free music find an audience in our postmodern
In these heady days of digital cable and podcasting, print may be an increasingly unglamourous medium in which to earn a living, but it does have its advantages. For instance, print reporters can usually get by just fine without having a sexy voice or nice hair, and if you can swing it so that you mostly work from home, it’s one of the few jobs that lets you work in pyjamas while playing internet poker and drinking a beer at one in the afternoon. (Or, um, so I hear.)
It also comes in pretty handy when you stumble across an artist with a completely unpronounceable name—like that of intensely emotional San Francisco-based band Xiu Xiu, whom, if this were a radio segment, would be right this minute correcting my almost-certainly-incorrect pronunciation of their name. So as a public service to Edmontonians who have been espousing their affection for “zoo zoo” or “tsu tsu,” Vue Weekly will now once and for all settle what has become the most frustrating conundrum for hipsters since the great !!! debate of 2003.
“That’s how we pronounce it,” says Xiu Xiu frontman and songwriter Jamie Stewart approvingly after I fluke out and correctly identify the band as “shoe shoe.” “But we’ve been told by, like, nine million people that we pronounce it wrong, and those nine million people have told us nine million different ways to say it.”
Stewart points out that he’s never found the inevitable mangling of his band’s name all that troubling, although he admits that one variation is a bit contentious. “I think the only pronunciation that we actually object to is ‘zoo zoo,’” he says, “just because it sounds like a bad hair-metal band.”
Still, Xiu Xiu are in no danger of being mistaken for Def Leppard or their ilk. Since their 2002 debut Knife Play, Xiu Xiu have been putting out music that is extremely powerful and emotional, yet not at all bombastic or insincere. While they’ve occasionally faced criticism for being over-the-top or uncomfortably personal, Xiu Xiu’s most recent release, Fabulous Muscles, garnered the group rave reviews and established a small but intensely loyal fanbase, one that Stewart hopes will only be bolstered by their current tour and upcoming new album, La Forêt. “We toured a lot last year, and with each subsequent tour the turnouts have been better and better,” Stewart says. “We have a new record coming out in July, so hopefully the trend will continue instead of reversing.”
Part of Xiu Xiu’s rising popularity may be attributed to changing attitudes among the music-buying public. Stewart admits that when his band first arrived on the scene in the midst of ironic, glibly postmodern bands like the Strokes and their compatriots, Xiu Xiu were thought of as being almost comically sincere, but he believes the era of excessive irony in popular culture may be drawing to a close. “When our label approached us,” he says, “we didn’t really know anything about them, so we looked on their website at their manifesto, which said something like ‘Irony is dead!’ or ‘Irony is lame!’ or something like that. We immediately felt right at home, or at least relieved.
“In the late ’90s, music became a little bit guarded and a little bit more ironic and cool and cute. I was far more influenced by the music of the early ’80s,” Stewart continues, revealing an affection for the work of Joy Division.
As personal and introspective as their music is, though, Xiu Xiu aren’t afraid to tackle subjects as impersonal as the current state of U.S. foreign policy, as they did on the Fabulous Muscles track “Support Our Troops,” a stinging indictment of the ubiquitous War on Terror delivered without the use of allegory or metaphor. “In the United States,” Stewart says, “the prospect of individualizing responsibility for the war is not a particularly popular idea, so I decided that if I wanted to make some kind of a comment about it, I had to make it as clear as possible, just so that the position isn’t at all debatable.”
Although many artists have faced violent criticism for making far more subtle statements about American government policy, Stewart sounds almost disappointed that his polemic has yet to spark the same level of outrage. “I got, like, one e-mail about it,” he says, “but other than that, no one’s really said anything about it. We’re just some tiny quote-unquote ‘underground’ band. We’re, uh, not that popular.” V
With The Song Is a Mess But So Am I • Freemason’s Hall • Sat, June 18
New comments for this entry have been turned off and any existing ones are hidden. We apologize for any inconvenience.