Jamie Stewart interview
Jamie Stewart's first solo album under his own name is out as part of Record Store Day on April 21st 2018. An Aggressive, Chain Smoking Alcoholic is a journey through the outer reaches, as mesmerising as it is abrasive and visceral. We spoke to Jamie about writing the record, how the approach differs from Xiu Xiu, the influences he drew from and exactly who that title is about...
This is the first record you’ve done under your own name. Has that changed your relationship with it or the music at all?
i was surprised by how much actually. xiu xiu has, for better or worse, dealt with constraints and rules for each record. sometimes that rule is total freedom which due to its wildness becomes a constraint, or there will be a specific set of instruments or lyrical approaches only, nothing else can be used etc. with this record, which has nothing to do with xiu xiu, i wanted to then go down a path and in a way that xiu xiu could never nor would never.
that being, it had to be completely without constraints. there are consistencies to it, but those were not decreed, they just occurred. this distinction is almost pointless when one reads it but it opened different musical/emotional doors and closed other ones, which was the point. ie. not to make a xiu xiu record under a new name (hopefully, who knows how individual listeners will feel)
Is the title of the record about anyone specifically?
it is about the feeling that phrase brings up, not a particular single subhuman
for some people it may mean YUCK DAD
for some people it may mean A ROTTEN LOVER
for some people it may be a person that was a bar that BEAT THEM TO NEAR DEATH
it is a type of person we have all run into and want to run from, it may be ourselves, a self we want to run from as well
The record is entirely instrumental. Did that affect what you were writing about? Did you have to re-think how you expressed certain things, given there were no lyrics to deliver messages directly?
it made them be not about anything. lyrics give a piece a music meaning. the music may be there looking for the direction that lyrics can, at times, provide. in this case there were musical intentions based experiences coming from vitriol, or terror, or drugs, or sex work, or meaninglessness, or satanism, or repulsive overeating. but the sounds came from these aspects of living rather than having there be music and the words defining the context. it was much more like taking a hard ball of awful hate and punching it recording whatever wretched glue ended up on your knuckles and shirt.
The names of the songs feel almost sardonic to me. Even the more serious sounding titles feel like they’re tinged with sarcasm or satire. Is that accurate? Does that marry up to how you felt about each of the tracks?
they arrived without thought. they just try to "feel" like what their adjoining song may feel like. they might be the one lyric to each song, or they might not. they are not meant to lead to any conclusions but if conclusions are what you need, they are there as an option.
How did the writing process vary from when you’re writing with Xiu Xiu? Was it more a case of ‘discovery’ as you tweaked and experimented?
i have done a few experimental pieces before but usually did them quickly but i wanted to see what it would turn out like to record experimental/noise pieces that i worked on as hard or with the same focus as a xiu xiu song. although there was a lot of seeing where this goes and not thinking about it, there was an equal amount of editing, time and consideration.
Xiu Xiu has always come across as cathartic to me, like music and expression you had to make. Is there a similar feeling of purging or exorcism in these solo songs for you?
neither really exorcise anything, nothing insane or stupid inside me goes away through music, it just keeps the insane and stupid from burning my house down.
Over the last few years you’ve worked in a huge manner of styles of music, from covers of acoustic folk songs and Nina Simone, to the Twin Peaks “thank you” and Xiu Xiu’s records, singles etc… Now we have your solo record, a modular noise odyssey. Based on your output, you appear to be a musical polymath! How easy do you find it to switch between these different musical modes?
this is a dumb answer but music is music. there are more parallels within it than there are differences. since i was a child i have always liked a lot of different musics, it is natural for me to stumble down several paths. sometimes i wish i gripped onto one and sometimes i feel grateful to have been able to explore different worlds. this probably fucked up my life on a business side of things but too late now.
This record was written almost entirely on modular synths. What drew you to modular, or inspired you to get started with it?
they can be unpredictable. i love that they can surprise you and that they can sound different on different days. also they don't require a tremendous amount of technique to get a curious sound. they require openness and tenacity but you can plug in a bunch of wires and come back in 20 minutes and something bizarre might be happening beyond your control.
What’re some of your key or favourite bits in your modular set up? Were there any particular modules that became a ‘go to’ during recording?
i don't have an overly huge set up so they were all go to. some are euro rack style modular and some are stand alone synths that can be used with a keyboard but don't have to be. but the ones i have that i love particularly are the make noise telharmonic and DPO, oberheim SEM, korg ms 20, verbos complex oscillator and harmonic oscillator, the dave smith mopho, moog sub phatty, electro harmonix space drum reissues, dreadbox NYX and the sadly discontinued flower synth jealous heart and LBB.
Has or will modular ever become part of your live show?
it has been on and off since around 2010. it is good to be able to ruin your show in accident sometimes.
Any tips for anyone starting with modular? What would you start with?
probably go with a standalone box so you don't have to deal with power supplies etc. the dreadbox NYX or oberheim SEM pro has a lot of patch points and can get CRAAAAAAAAAAZY
if you can find a used flower little boy blue get it and RUN for mayhem.
Lawrence English produced the album. How did that come about and what impact do you feel his involvement made? Do you think a collaboration could ever happen?
we actually have a band together called HEXA. we just did a collab with merzbow that is out this summer. Lawrence and i have been friends for years. i look to him for musical, bird watching and life advice all the time. he has much much more experience than me making instrumental music and it made sense for me to lean on him.
There feels to be an ever-growing breadth of ‘noise’ music out there, or it’s at least becoming more visible. Are there any current artists you’re particularly in to now? How about historically? I know you’re a fan of Einstürzende Neubauten...
them for certain, and i head to classics in most things. the aforementioned merzbow, early prurient, pharmakon, masada, cherry point, khanate if that counts, early swans if that counts, melt banana, early deerhoof if that counts, yellow swans, wolf eyes, nurse with wound, white house, lawrence english of course.
You’ve got a solo Xiu Xiu tour coming up in Spring. Are there any other plans afoot in the Jamie Stewart universe?
writing a book (finally got an editor), working on a new xiu xiu record, new HEXA record is out soon, working on a long-form piece for a show at the Guggenheim, more shows doing the Original Sin piece and then working on a new solo record.