Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Oh Yes! Jamie Stewart Of Xiu Xiu’s Favourite Music

As Xiu Xiu release latest album Oh No, Jamie Stewart guides us through his 13 toppermost records – including three compilations! I only want the best ice cream, he tells Hannah Pezzack

There is birdsong in the background of Jamie Stewart’s call. We’re back to front timewise: I’m in Amsterdam, where it’s late on a Monday evening, and he’s in Los Angeles, where the day has just begun. “Excuse me,” he says, dipping out from the chat. “I just need to go and see about a cat…” He returns moments later, explaining that a stray feline had broken its way into the kitchen. Or, at least, that’s what I think he says. The audio crackles in and out, percolated by his West Coast drawl and rapid-fire curse words. Then, suddenly, I can hear him crystal clear.

Perhaps it’s cliche to say that an artist’s personality resonates in their music, but during our conversation, Jamie reels between the liquid spontaneity, crass humour and unreserved intimacy embodied by Xiu Xiu. Over twelve albums and two decades, the band have curated a euphorically experimental sound that’s at the nexus of noise, pop and industrial. There’s the maniacal, trumpet-fuelled riot ‘I Luv Abortion’ from the 2012 album Always, with its screeched chorus: “WHENEVER I OPEN MY THIGHS I SEE DEATH.” Or the lilting guitar ballad ‘Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl’ on 2003’s A Promise, a corrupted lovesong, sung from the perspective of a gender fluid homewrecker trapped in God-fearing suburbia. Despite varying wildly in style and genre, at the heart of Xiu Xiu is the desire to explode the profane and perverse. To cosplay as your darkest urges: piss-fetishes, erect penises with bat wings and bestial sex in black-out dungeons.

In the hands of any other musician, such themes might come across as disputatious or immature; shock-fodder designed to ignite moral panic. But there’s something so unadulteratedly sincere about Jamie’s breathless vocals. Whether he’s emulating a penitent’s whispered confession, Nina Simone’s low trembling pitch or a self-obliterating death scream, the emotionality is unequivocal. For Xiu Xiu’s latest release, Jamie’s voice is bolstered by fifteen guest singers on a series of duets. Featuring indie-folk star Sharon Van Etten, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, punk legend Alice Bag and dark waver Drab Majesty, OH NOM was instigated as a way to reflect on the redemptive power of human connection. Composed following “several incidents involving being thoroughly fucked over by a number of friends,” the album’s uplifting impetus is at odds with the music itself. Take ‘One Hundred Years’ with Chelsea Wolfe, where the pair sing about longing to escape from abusive parents, while the collaboration with composer Owen Pallett is punctuated by apocalyptic, unplaceable electronic fallout and contains the lyrics: “I dream of someone else entirely / You said to me when I think of this family and who is in it / How is that supposed to make me feel about myself?”

It’s hard not to read into the ubiquitous references to dysfunctional families. In the past, Jamie has talked about his difficult father, Mike Gassen Stewart, a Grammy-nominated music producer, who was responsible for Billy Joel’s breakthrough Piano Man. They had what he lightly describes as “a complicated relationship,” but, despite the hardship, it’s clear that Jamie’s childhood was formative to his musical identity. With an especial penchant for the British label 4AD and a few esoteric surprises, this Baker’s Dozen selection delves into his sonic DNA – albums that penetrate deep into the oozing orifices of Xiu Xiu.

Xiu Xiu’s Oh No is out now. Click the image of Jamie Stewart below to begin reading his Baker’s Dozen selection

First Record

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today