Mar 10, 2023
By Candace McDuffie
Photography by Cody Cloud
Xiu Xiu’s latest album, Ignore Grief, was released on March 3 via Polyvinyl and falls in line with the experimental facet’s proclivity for arranging harrowing and sonically intense songs. Jamie Stewart has stood as the group’s epicenter for the last two decades and has never taken that responsibility lightly; he tells Under The Radar as much. “A part of me feels just sort of stunned and—this is gonna make me sound like an asshole—a little bit proud of myself,” he says. “Oh wow…like, we still exist. I didn’t quit somehow…through stubbornness and attrition we’ve managed to keep going.
“Then another part of me feels extraordinarily grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to keep playing and keep making records for such a long time.” He then jokingly quips: “I try not to be grossed out by the passage of time and my graying temples.”
On the new project, Stewart—alongside members Angela Seo and David Kendrick—is as emotional and haunting as he’s ever been. Ignore Grief tells the painful tale of a child who was sold into prostitution by his mother, another about a middle school student who was kidnapped and killed, and how alcohol and drug addiction often become toxic coping mechanisms.
Though all of the record’s storylines are all based on actual events, Stewart believes that everything from the disturbing lyrics to the suspenseful arrangements help him process the trauma. It is also central to Xiu Xiu’s creative process. “One of the few things that we have that’s been consistent about in our approach is reflecting on the things happening in our own lives and in the lives of people that we’re close to. When we started working on this one, a succession of genuinely horrible things happened to some people that we’re related to and some people that we know,” he explains.
Stewart then bolsters a silver lining. “Music is the thing that makes it possible for me to deal with the stresses of the outside world. It’s an opportunity to reorganize something that is truly horrible and try and turn that pain—for lack of a better word—into something productive rather than something self-destructive.”
Concocting an experimental discography for 20 years takes a certain level of diligence and waywardness, but the singer insists that he’s better for it. “Music is the ultimate puzzle,” Stewart says. “It is the first human art form, it has existed almost as long as humans have existed and it is just so inherently exciting. I think that’s how it stays exciting for me. The permutations are as infinite as [the] human imagination. That sounds very corny but it is also very true. It’s intellectual, it’s physical, it’s sociological, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual. It’s aesthetic, it’s historical and it can be political. Anything that does all of those things at once…there’s just no way for it to be boring.” When it comes to Ignore Grief, he—like any artist who is truly devoted to their craft—wants listeners to be moved by Xiu Xiu’s latest body of work. However, Stewart makes no qualms about people experiencing their artistry on their own terms. “It’s really none of my business what people take away from it. We try to come from a place of giving…we are trying to make something for somebody else. [Xiu Xiu does] the absolute best that we can.” He becomes quietly pensive. “Sometimes, in retrospect, the best that we could do at that time was not the greatest. We just hope that someone can take away something that is individual and genuine for them, whatever that may be.”