Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu are hitting Amsterdam on the back of the release of their new album Always. When we approached Jamie Stewart (Mr Xiu Xiu himself) about doing an uncomfortable interview and ditto photos, he got very excited. In fact, he got so excited that he offered us to take some ‘Terry Richardson-style’ self-portraits. We took him up on the offer. Turns out Mr Jamie Stewart is very comfortable being uncomfortable.

Skype interview by Johanna Valdés. 
Photos shot by Jamie Stewart himself at his home in Durham, North Carolina.

Congrats on the European release of Always.

Oh, thank you very much.

Are you excited about it?

Oh, I’m nervous. A lot of my self-respect is riding on it, I suppose.

Talking about self-respect… You offered to take some ‘uncomfortable’ self portraits. What do we have here? That silver toy — how does that tie into the context of the uncomfortable?

Well, ’cause it’s real big. So, you know, it’s just literally uncomfortable.

Is that still fun?

No… it’s metal. Occasionally, it’s incredibly cold but not if you hold it next to the space heater for a minute, which I do. It’s a little humiliating putting a giant fucking metal dildo next to the space heater. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Maybe try running it under hot water? That might get dangerously hot.

That requires getting up though. Probably a good idea though, slightly less humiliating.

And what are these suction things? Do they give off electricity?

It’s actually a medical device. It’s based on the same principle as acupuncture. But if you leave it on slightly too long, it starts to create a really intense tingling sensation and it leaves really huge bruises. After you’ve taken them off, it kind of feels like you’ve been fucked in the arm. The sensation comes on very, very, very slowly. It’s a really curious one. And the interesting thing is, you can do it yourself.

And where did you get this acu-suction device?

I think I bought it at the mall. There was a kiosk selling different Asian medical accoutrements. I’d seen it in the sex store but it was like $300 or something because it was in the context of a sex toy store and they could charge that much for it. But at this kiosk, it was like 40 bucks and it’s the exact same thing! And it seemed dirtier buying it at the mall too.
And on this other photo, are you holding a Wii remote?

A Wii remote?


Just for that, I will have to lie and say ‘yes, it is a Wii remote.’ It’s actually a medical stapler. It’s not so bad. I guess it’s used in lieu of stitches. But it doesn’t go that deep really. Just a little pinch. It’s mostly psychological and visual. After, like, a minute, you don’t even feel it. Having this piece of metal in your skin, it makes you feel a little unsettled. But from now on, I’m going to use a Wii remote control. It’s not that big, I’m sure I could fit that in.

I’m flattered! Do you still have the staples in?

No, no. I took them out after a little while.

Pretty intense. What draws you to all this discomfort?

More than anything else, being excessively familiar with it. As a child, I was overly exposed to things I should not have been exposed to, so it feels normal. I don’t feel ‘damaged’ but my boundaries are probably wider than they should be. It’s a big part of my internal life and it would be dishonest to not address it. I mean, it’s an unusual topic in the context of underground music now, but it certainly wasn’t in the industrial scene in the ’70s and ’80s, and that’s what a lot of punks were about. That’s music that’s always been interesting to me and continues to interest me.

So that aesthetic is really embedded into Xiu Xiu I assume?

Yeah, for sure. Sexual politics, gender identity and rotten sex are things we’ve been doing songs about since we started.

That must wear off on your audience.

I have been told that some people react with discomfort and some people feel at home. It is not our business how people react. I would only want someone listening to our records to feel what is individually true for them. Musically, Xiu Xiu never tries to make people uncomfortable, but we just try to be as honest as we can with what has happened.

Speaking about your audience: you’ve created a free place for them with the Over-18 Only section on the Xiu Xiu website

Initially, we had been on a label that really wasn’t paying too much attention to us and we used all kinds of really hardcore pornography on our website. It had everything that we thought was interesting, no matter how dirty it was. Then we changed labels and the new guys were actually paying attention to us and were like, ‘what the fuck?’. As it’s our official website, they didn’t want there to be 20 pictures of people fistfucking each other. Now with the new 18+section we’ve toned it down a bit. Between 15 and 40 people have sent in things for each different heading. Some of them are very innocent and cute, others are very explicit. It’s fascinating.

All in all, you’re a guy who likes to push boundaries and is actually quite comfortable in the uncomfortable?

It feels fascinating. Just in terms of attempting to have an intense and unusual sensation. Just like if somebody slaps you in the face in one context, it feels terrible and in another, it’s really hot.

Xiu Xiu play on 14 November and Trix, Antwerp. The show is free for members.