Low Interview

Low Interview
By Alexander Laurence

During all the deserved excitement in San Francisco for The Noise Pop 2004 Festival, Low was (oddly enough) one of the most anticipated shows. The band formed in Duluth, Minnesota in 1994. Low is perhaps the slowest of the "slow" bands such as Mogwai and La Bradford. During their shows nobody would even dare to whisper during one of their songs. Low is centered on the husband and wife team of guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker. Bassist Zak Sally joined them in 1995. They started out working with the producer Kramer, who mostly known for the band Bongwater.
Their first record was called I Could Live in Hope (1994) followed by Long Division (1995) and The Curtain Hits the Cast (1996). Back then Low was all about minimalism. The "less is more" theory even applied to Parker's drum set that was only a snare drum and cymbal. When Zak Sally joined they recorded an EP of Joy Division songs including the most famous "Means To An End." In 1997, they merged with Kranky Records and started a rich relationship. On Kranky, they released the critically acclaimed albums Secret Name (1999) and Things We Lost in the Fire (2001).

In 2001, Sparhawk and Parker had a child. They released their sixth and most recent album Trust in 2002. In 2004, we will be seeing a box sex by Low, which will collect all their b-sides and collaborations.
photo by Keith Martin

I got to talk to Alan Sparhawk before their show. Mimi Parker and Zak Sally joined in before they all went to eat dinner. Low are nice, easy-going people. They were refreshing to talk to after having interviewed The Unicorns (who are, um, not very mellow) the day before. Since I have spoke to them they have released The Great Destroyer. They are playing at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on March 31st, 2005. More dates are available on their website.

AL: Were you in other bands before Low?
Alan: Yeah. We were in rock bands. We were punk rock. It was a mix between REM and Jane's Addiction. I remember playing once with my shirt off. That would never happen today. With Low we tried to do something really different. We were very serious at the beginning. It was a little experiment at first. We ended up writing some songs that we liked. We thought it was good. We kept at it. It wasn't a joke as much as an experiment to see how slow and quiet we could play. We wanted to bounce that off a crowd and see how they responded.
AL: Were there a lot of bands playing slow music ten years ago?
Alan: No. There were not many of them. Now it is more commonplace. It's not as shocking to play slow and quiet. Back in 1993, most music was pretty loud.
AL: One of the members of the band Wire played the festival All Tomorrow's Parties a few years ago. He called the festival that year "a festival of slowness." I think bands like Mogwai were there.
Alan: Godspeed You! Black Emperor. We were there at the same time as Wire.
AL: Is each of your albums like a chapter in a book?
Alan: A little bit. We have slowly mutated without forcing it. Each record is a different phase. There are different things we were into at each time. On different albums we would steer things one way or another. On the first few records we were still exploring how slow and empty we could be. After three or four records, we were exploring textures. Then we got more pop. We were more into song arrangements and textures.
AL: Have you worked with a producer before?
Alan: Yeah. We had producers before in the sense that there was a person recording it. We never worked with a real producer who told us what to do with a song. Someone who would come in and say "let's try a different part here." We never did anything like that. But we have worked with some stylized people like Kramer. Everything he did had the same style. That was the same deal when we worked with Steve Albini. It's not like they enforce their sound on you. It's more like there is a way they work. It all comes out a certain way. It all depends on what the band sounds like.
AL: You found the sound of Low early on?
Alan: We are always finding it. I don't think that we have found it yet. We get closer. For a few records we would do a certain things and get to that point, but we would move on.
Zak: We are not consciously looking for a sound. It's just what comes out at that time. No matter what we do, it still ends up sounding like us.
AL: You sort of have a bunch of influences and interests, and write the songs. By the time you record them or play them all that is forgotten?
Alan: The influences are whatever we are into or whatever we are writing at the time. All that shapes where we decide to lean that time into. It could be a very different place than where we were at the beginning.
AL: Do you transform old songs live and change them because you have moved on as a band?
Alan: Sometimes. What we put on the record: that is what we decided how the song should be done. Sometimes by the necessity of playing live a song will mutate and we will play it differently. If we play "Violence" from the second record, we play it very close to how it was played on record. I don't feel that we have this desire to update or rehash something we did. When we are playing songs from eight years ago we want to do those songs justice. We would rather save the new songs what we are feeling in the moment.
AL: What songs are you playing on this tour?
Zak: We are trying out some new songs.
Alan: Half the set will be new songs. We are getting ready to record the new album so we have a bunch of new songs we want to try out. You learn a lot about a song by just trying it.
AL: You have a box set coming out?
Alan: Yeah. That is going to be all the odds and ends. We have been on a lot of compilations. We have a lot of b-sides, split singles, and demos. We have different versions of songs that never saw the light of day. There are a bunch of songs that we recorded that never came out.
AL: Did you write the liner notes?
Alan: Yeah. That's the last thing we are waiting on. There is going to be a booklet with a lot of photos.
Zak: We are putting it out ourselves. It will be on Chairkickers Records. It's pretty massive.
AL: How many songs will there be?
Zak: It has 57 songs. It will come with a DVD.
AL: When will that come out?
Alan: It will be out in June 2004. It will available in stores. They can go to our website.
AL How did you do the collaboration with The Dirty Three?
Alan: The people who did this EP series in Holland asked us to be part of this series. We had just finished recording Things We Lost In The Fire. We were tired of looking at each other and making music. So we thought what would happen if you brought in some other people? The Dirty Three were going to be on tour in Europe at the same time. We asked them if they had a day or two off so they could record with us. That went really well. There was no preparation. Nothing. We came in there with a few ideas and threw them around. It was one day and a half of work. That's it. That was in Holland.
AL: What other bands have you played with in the past two years that you have liked?
Alan: We did some shows with Radiohead this last summer and fall. That was really fun. We opened a bunch of shows for them in southern Europe, and in New York at Madison Square Garden. It was really bizarre. We like Radiohead and respect them. There are a million bands that would like to open for them. But they chose us for a few shows. We would like to do more with them but that is wishful thinking. They are busy.
AL: Is there going to be a split CD with Radiohead?
Alan: Yeah. Thom Yorke might produce our next record.
AL: Are there any other bands you listen to?
Alan: Isis. We listen to so much stuff.
AL: When will you start doing the next record?
Alan: We will record in March and April. Mimi is going to have a baby in May so that will take us out of commission for a while.
AL: How does the family life, having kids around, go along with the band?
Alan: It goes all right. It's hard work. But it's just as hard as any other parent's life.
AL: The kids come on the road?
Mimi: One does.
Alan: Hollis comes. The other one has too because it's still in Mimi's stomach.
AL: What music does Hollis like?
Alan: She likes Weezer and Gillian Welch. She's four. What else?
Mimi: She likes the "Hey Yeah" song.
AL: Hollis likes Outkast.
Alan: She likes to jump on the bandwagon.
AL: Are you reading any good books?
Zak: I am reading Charles Dickens right now. I am reading about Henry Darger. Those books go good together. I read Tale of Two Cities before and now I am reading Great Expectations.
AL: How about you?
Mimi: I got this book of Sam Shepard short stories.
Alan: He lives near us in Duluth, Minnesota.
AL: Have you seen any films?
Zak: We just got the Cramps DVD. It's where they play at the mental hospital. I highly recommend it.
Alan: Spellbound is good. That is the most interesting thing I have seen in a while. We don't have a lot of good theaters in Duluth. I saw The Elephant Man.
AL: What do you like best: writing songs, recording, or playing live?
Alan: Each part has its pluses and minuses. They vary wildly. Writing is fun, but sitting in the basement all the time and not coming up with anything is horrible. Playing songs is fun when it works. Touring and the stress that comes with trying to coordinate things when you are bringing along a child can wear on you after a while.
Mimi: Touring is more stressful for us. It's the only time I have a vacation.
Alan: It's a vacation for Mimi and hard work for me. I tend to more of an asshole when on tour.
AL: Do you think the whole idea of slow music, since it is psychedelic and spacey; it encourages people to smoke marijuana?
Alan: Sure. Doesn't all music. Every band is like that. People, who are going to do it, are going to do it anyways. It doesn't explain to me why at one point in my life I thought Bob Mould was the devil.
Mimi: People who don't smoke pot attend shows too.
AL: It's like trance music.
Alan: "Introspective" is the word people use. Some music appeals to the physical interactions of the brain. Physical experience makes your body come alive. Some stuff is like more taking it through your mind, or whatever. We are just playing our music. If it's something nice and pretty that they go to sleep to at night. If they get an altered reality or revelation that is great.
Zak: I would be spooked. I don't smoke pot myself.
AL: What is Duluth known for?
Alan: It's cold and it's on the tip of Lake Superior. It's like a mini San Francisco. There are water and bridges. It's like an arts community of one hundred thousand people. Bob Dylan was from there.
AL: Who does your website?
Alan: Catherine Lewis keeps track of it. It's getting re-designed.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to form a band?
Alan: Don't be like Low. You'll be fine.

Share/Bookmark Read more / Permalink


Joanna Newsom Interview

Joanna Newsom Interview
by Alexander Laurence

(This was the first interview EVER with Joanna Newsom: May 2003)

Early this year, musician Joanna Newsom, opened some shows for Devendra Banhart. Word soon spread that she was a musician to check out. The 21-year-old harpist grew up in Nevada City, California. She had been in bands before and had been writing songs, but never before had she played her songs in public in front of a large audience. The first shows were such a success that Joanna was invited to play with Bonnie Prince Billy and Cat Power. Joanna was also invited to play in this year's Noise Pop Festival and recent Mission Creek Music Festival. Her unique music has made an impression on many. Her league of fans grew so fast that Joanna self-released an EP of music, Walnut Whales (2002). This EP introduced the classic songs "Peach, Plum, Pear" and "The Fray."

Joanna Newsom now lives in San Francisco. She attended college in the Bay Area. Some of the records she grew up listening to include Texas Gladden, Ruth Crawford Seeger, The Lomax Brothers, Donovan, Karen Dalton, Patti Smith, and Billie Holiday.

Kill Rock Stars is releasing an album called "The Nervous Cop," with Joanna playing harp, alongside drummers Greg Saunier (from Deerhoof) and Zach Hill (from Hella). Joanna also plays keyboards in the San Francisco band, The Pleased. She played four shows in the Bay Area in May 2003. Hopefully she will tour the rest of the west coast soon. Also she has released a second EP called Yarn and Glue (2003). [Note: these EPs are long out of print] Both of these can be obtained from her website. (No longer working: try Drag City). I spoke to her briefly in San Francisco, right before the Mission Creek Music Festival.

Second photo below right: Keith Martin


AL: Since you've done shows with Cat Power and Bonnie Prince Billy, has there been more people showing up to your performances?

Joanna: Yeah. It's weird. It feels like more than it actually is because the Bay Area is such a bubble. People in San Francisco and the East Bay have shown interest, done interviews, and have come to shows. I guess that the news travels fast out of this island that we are on. When I did the tour this spring with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) nobody knew who I was at the shows.

AL: Do you download music a lot?

Joanna: I would if I knew how. At this point, I don't mind if people download my music because that means that there's a person who wants to listen. I give away CDs at shows if someone wants a CD but doesn't have any money. I wouldn't want to do that forever. I would happy for someone to download my music.

AL: Have you been playing music for a while?

Joanna: Yeah. I played piano for about two years when I was a kid. I didn't play long enough to be really great. I started playing harp about fourteen years ago. My parents are musicians. My mom was aiming for a while to be a concert pianist, but she became a doctor instead. So she still plays piano, and conga drums, and hammer dulcimer. She plays all sorts of stuff. My Dad plays guitar. My sister plays cello. My brother plays drums.

AL: Have you ever thought of having a family band?

Joanna: If I have a label funding a record, I am going to have my family flown to one spot. We are going to do at least one song. They can all sing better than me. They have great pitch. Especially my sister: she has an amazing voice. I am going to get all their various talents on my CD.

AL: What does your family think of your music so far?

Joanna: They actually like it which was very surprising to me. Especially with my mom, I thought that she would not like it because she has very classical sensibilities. She loves non-classical music too. But I thought that she would think that the vocals that I was singing were not good. She was very excited about it. Everyone was pretty excited actually.

AL: They exposed you to a lot of avant garde music at an early age?

Joanna: Yeah. Definitely. The community that I grew up in was very musically rich. Terry Riley was our neighbor. There were a lot of composers living in Nevada City. There is a composer's guild there. Howard Hersh, Terry Riley, and Jay Sydeman and a bunch of new composers all live there. I love Terry Riley. I love a lot of his piano stuff especially. I heard some stuff at my school. He didn't teach there but he had a strong relationship with my school. He used to give concerts there. I heard some old recordings he did with Paulina Oliveros on Accordion. There was another women on cello. They are very amazing improvised pieces.

AL: When did you start performing and writing songs?

Joanna: I have been in The Pleased for a while. I have writing songs on my own for about six years. I have a recording that I did of instrumental songs. I went to school to become a composer. I changed my mind there. I wanted to write songs which I think is a different thing. I wanted to write music that is informed by folk music. The chord progressions are obvious references. I am not doing something that it is experimental music in relation to classical music. I have a deep rooted folk sensibility that I can't get away from completely. I wasn't interested in writing music that wasn't beautiful for me to listen to.

AL: How did you find good records at such an early age? Most people are corrupted by pop music at some point.

Joanna: I lived in a strange town. Certainly there were a lot of kids at my high school who listened to top 40 radio. My parents had an amazing record collection. I have a big brother. Many people have big brothers who would bring in really good records and new music from a mysterious source. I did spend a year in high school being obsessed with Fleetwood Mac. That was pop music.

AL: What has been the reaction been to the early shows? People must be intimated seeing you bring out this big harp?

Joanna: I can't play my songs on the smaller harp. I have a Celtic harp. I can't do the key changes. I hadn't even considered the possibility of a negative reaction to the instrument. I understand people not liking my songs. After a few shows people were coming up to me, and saying "Wow, I saw a harp and I felt weird" and "Oh great, she is going to playing the harp: how boring." I can't really conceive of that. I can understand someone not liking the voice or the songs.

AL: People have this conception of the harp. It's usually one instrument in the background.

Joanna: First of all, the harp has this bad reputation. It's been used for easy schmaltzy crap. Much of the stuff that I do has been influenced by studying African harp, from Senegal to Mali. It's much more compressive and not always pretty. It's rattling, strange, small and complicated, rather than these huge muddy gestures. The harp is capable of much more expressiveness. It doesn't have to be this sloppy, over the top, dramatic instrument. It can be really delicate and yet abrasive at the right time. I am producing sounds that people are not used to hearing from the harp.

AL: Many people may be familiar with that girl who was kidnapped, Elizabeth Smart. They showed a lot of footage of her playing the harp. Did you see her technique?

Joanna: No, I didn't. I was pulling for her though. There are not many harpists. Maybe she will cut a record now? It will be good.

AL: The harp has a bunch of World Music connotations.

Joanna: Yeah. I don't want to do that. I like American music. I like Appalachian Music and old Blues. I like all the stuff the Lomax Brothers did. I love that music. I am inspired to try to do something that I consider working in those perimeters somehow. I want to make music that somehow connects to the things that I love in America music. I am consciously not trying to bring in World Music elements. The ways that I work and feel are completely different in how they sound than someone playing the Kora in Africa would play it. The rhythm is the same, but the notes that I am playing are really traditional chord patterns and melodies. They are being refracted and broken up in these completely new rhythmic patterns. That's what I am trying to do. I am not sure if that comes across. I am consciously trying not to make it sound Celtic or African.

AL: When did you record these two EPs?

Joanna: "Yarn and Glue" I did a few weeks ago in April. I recorded "Walnut Whales" about a year ago. I am not on a record. I do everything myself. I would like to be on a record label, because it is very expensive to tour with a harp. It's a huge deterrent for me to go cross country. When I get asked to tour with someone, and it seems worthwhile to go with that person, I don't know if I will eat at all if I go. Any vehicle that is big enough to carry a harp is one that burns up a lot of gasoline. I don't own a car either. I have to rent one every time I play a show.

AL: All the songs are recorded as live takes?

Joanna: They are. It's not like I recorded harp first or singing first. I recorded it all together. Part of the reason is that I don't know how to play the songs without also singing. I forget how they progress. I don't think that any of them are verse, chorus, verse, and so on. They are not simple. They have weird progressions. I lose track where I am if I am not singing. I am interested in having other instruments involved at some point. I definitely don't subscribe to the theory that more instruments, or more vocal tracks, harmony, or double tracking the voice, is a good thing. People do their early albums very stripped down, then each album becomes bloated.

AL: What is your inspiration for lyrics?

Joanna: For years I have always written. I am always trying to write. Lyrics are very different. There is a clear line between that and a poem. Something that has been a source of great excitement and delight for me is this idea that I get to rhyme. That is a big "no no" for a lot of writing. In high school, we studied a lot of poetical forms. I was really interested in the math that was involved and the strange live break ups. That gave me a great amount of respect for a rhymed stanza. The way that words fit together is always interesting to me. I love words.

AL: There is a quality of fairy tales in "Yarn and Glue." Were you more inspired by stories with that one?

Joanna: What is was written to was this idea of the feelings that I would have when I was very little and I was listening to these things. They are very old feelings that little kids have when they hear these stories. They get quiet and really big eyed. I think they have a feeling of having this incredible world that's just out of reach. I am trying to access it. I am trying to speak to it.

AL: Folk and classical music are sometimes really serious. Do you think that there's room for silliness?

Joanna: Yeah. It's there. You just have to look for it. The French Impressionist composers wrote so many silly strange pieces for their children. Those are some of my favorite pieces. If you are too serious, you are in danger of having everything taken at face value, instead of being allowed to have layers to it.

AL: What are your sets like now?

Joanna: "Yarn and Glue" is newer stuff and I am more excited about playing it. The songs are not as dynamic as the ones on "Walnut Whales." I tend to go back and forth between them. I have a set list. I start off with an a cappella version of the song "Yarn and Glue." It's not recorded that way. I wish that I did. In the live show it's me singing and clapping. It's very hard to do. I feel that if I can get through that song, I am good through the rest of the show. People do get quiet when I do the first song. Whether I am uncomfortable or they are. It's like they shudder and wait for a squirrel to get hit by a car. They think "What is she doing?" People are often afraid for me. They think that I am going to break. I can make it through a set.

AL: You are also a member of the group The Pleased?

Joanna: Yeah. I play keyboards. It's totally different. I usually don't tell people about the Pleased if they know me from the harp. And if they are there to see the Pleased, I usually don't tell them about the harp. I am nervous that these people will expect something similar. It's a big surprise. We have been to England twice in the past year. We have more success and more of a following there. But we are trying to expand.

AL: The Noise Pop guide spoke about the Pleased this way: "Television-inspired.... comparisons to the Strokes...." What do you think of that?

Joanna: When Noah Georgeson sings in a certain register, it has been said so much he sounds like the dude in the Strokes. We have been writing songs where he sings either higher or lower than that, because the voice takes on different qualities depending on the different ways you sing. We are doing things to fend off comparisons. It's valid that the Strokes and the Pleased have been influenced by some of the same bands. But it's invalid in the sense that we listen to the Strokes and try to sounds like them. I think that they are a good band.

AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to do music?

Joanna: You should listen to a lot of different music. I am not really sure if I am on the right track. We'll see. There are a lot of girls with guitars and instruments. You must really want to do it. It's more like getting rid of something. There has to be a need. It should be a need to expel or to exorcise something rather than the need to perform in front of people.

Website: http://www.walnutwhales.com

(This above website no longer exists)


--Alexander Laurence

Share/Bookmark Read more / Permalink


Louis XIV interview

Louis XIV are a new band from San Diego. I saw them play this summer when they opened for The Killers. They started playing two years ago and recorded some songs in France and San Diego. Some of their songs were put online at their website which led to "God Killed The Queen" getting played on the radio. Soon after, they released a few EPs and got some play on BBC Radio.

As their reputation grew, they signed to Atlantic Records and won Best Album at the San Diego Music Awards. In January they released the "Illegal Tender" EP. A new full length album will come out this Spring. I met the band at their show during the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco. They were opening for Hot Hot Heat. Look for them at Sin-e on March 8th. They will be playing a second show with Hot Hot Heat at Bowery Ballroom on March 9th. I spoke to Brian Karscig backstage right before their show. Their music is a mix of glam rock of the 1970s and Britpop of the 1990s. They are playing tonight at the Virgina Megastore in Hollywood at 11pm. They will be at the Troubadour on Wednesday.

Louis XIV are Jason Hill (guitar/vocals), Brain Karscig (guitar/vocals), Mark Maigaard (drums) and were joined recently by Jimmy Armbrust (bass).


AL: How did you meet each other?
Brian: Jason, Mark and myself grew up together. I have known Jason since junior high. We have known each other for a long time.

AL: Did you play in other bands?
Brian: We have played in a million bands. We have been playing since we were sixteen. There have been a lot of bands in the past ten years.

AL: What is the scene like in San Diego, for someone who hasn't been there, like myself?
Brian: There is a cool music scene there. My ignorance ranks high because we were never part of a scene down there. The scene is thriving but we don't really fit into the mold of what is happening. We appreciated it. There are a lot of good bands.

AL: How long has the band been going?
Brian: It's been two years. We were playing in multiple bands.

AL: This is band that took off?
Brian: Yeah. It was bizarre. It wasn't meant to be. We went to France and recorded for two weeks. We came back and the response in the UK started the buzz in the United States.

AL: Things happened in Europe first?
Brian: Yeah. They caught on to it first. They thought we were from Europe. People still do. They come up to us and expect that we are going to have a British accent.

AL: How did the record come about?
Brian: We have another record that we did. It's out on our own label, the Pineapple Recording Group. We still put out records now, but it's through a bigger label now. We made the record and printed and distributed the record ourselves. We started getting a lot of attention from it. That was the record we did in France.

AL: You played a lot of shows in Europe?
Brian: We haven't played many shows over there yet. We are going over there in May this year. We did one show at a tranny strip joint. We brought in a sound system and played for some people who were interested in us over there. We were being played on BBC radio. There were a few blurbs in places like the NME. That started the American interest in a band. They paid more attention to us.

AL: You played with The Killers when they were blowing up.
Brian: The Killers said "Come play with us" and we were stoked because they are one of the new bands that we really dig. They are great guys.

AL: You started your own label, Pineapple Recording Group, and you kept that going. Is that a good idea?
Brian: I think it's a great idea. That's how the success started. Why give up what worked so well just because a major label comes into the picture? Once we sold fifteen thousand records out of our bedrooms, the labels came in hordes. They wanted to do this deal. There is no more power than the word "No." You say "No" and people go away for two weeks, and come back with bigger and better offers. We did have bigger offers but we went with Atlantic because they genuinely understood the vision. They were going to help us with the plan that we already created. It's cool.

AL: So what records have you released already?
Brian: We released a full-length album first. We were so low key and not so much about selling our music. We were much more into giving away our music and getting people interested. We released the song "Finding Out True Love Is Blind" on our website as a free download. It wasn't on the album we just released, but check out new things we are doing. Then a DJ on a radio station in San Diego went to our website, burnt a copy, started playing the songs, and things just exploded.

AL: The song wasn't even released?
Brian: That's how we got the whole EP vibe. We just finished putting out the album. We only had four or five new tunes. We were forced to put something out while radio is picking it up. We put out what we called the pink and the blue EPs. Those are discontinued. You can find them on Ebay now. We only printed up about seven thousand. Illegal Tender came out on January 25th. That is pretty much our first national release.

AL: How do you write songs in the band?
Brian: It usually starts with an idea that comes from either Jason or myself. Jason and I will get a piano or guitar and start to throw ideas around. We have a formula. Jason has a Bon Scott AC/DC type of voice. He sings the verses. I got the high, more feminine voice, and I sing the choruses and bridges or bridges.

AL: You sing the high part in "Finding Out True Love Is Blind?"
Brian: Yeah. There is a girl who sings one part. I sing most of it though. People think it's a girl. From the very beginning, people listen to our recordings and ask, "Where did you get the girl to sing?" I sing the choir vocals.

AL: The new album has been done as well?
Brian: It's coming out on March 25th. It's called "The Best Little Secrets Are Kept." We tried to keep things the same. Just because we signed to a label we didn't want to change things or get other people involved in the creativity. We produced it ourselves and recorded it ourselves at our own studios. I don't think that we would have made something that we were not 100% happy with. We are our own worst critics.

AL: How do you record?
Brian: We don't use Pro Tools. We have a 16-track two-inch tape machine. We have a lot of old gear. We have old microphones. We make our records with that. You can go to Oceanways Studio in LA and they don't have stuff that cool.

AL: You recorded live?
Brian: We recorded live as a three piece. We did a lot of overdubs. I played the piano with the drums. We like the big room sound. We like the sound bleeding through the other tracks. Let it bleed. It's cool.

AL: It's a studio band.
Brian: We are a studio band. People like the live show. We play live to support what our true passion is and that is being in the studio.

AL: You must have recorded a lot of songs? Some of the songs might not fit?
Brian: Yeah, some of them are not like what we currently do. We don't make songs to fit. Louis XIV will never be pigeonholed, I will tell you. We will never be backed into a corner because we are this type of band. I would be insulted. People might think we are a guitar rock band. Who is to say that our next record will have no guitars?

AL: You might come out on stage looking like Kraftwerk.
Brian: Exactly. There is no limit. I was a fan of the rock and roll that had no rules. The dangerous stuff. David Bowie plays a song that switches keys in the middle, wearing makeup, and offending parents. Rock and roll is supposed to have no boundaries. The danger in rock and roll is what is cool. You want the parents to get pissed off at their kids for buying your record.

AL: You mentioned Bowie. Do you like The Fall?
Brian: Everybody mentions that band. We have never heard of The Fall until six months ago. We love so many other bands. It's really easy to compare what you doing to some other band. It's more difficult for people to find the uniqueness in what your do. I am not an advocate for us being the best band in the world. We set out to be our own favorite band. I don't hear anything on the radio that sounds like us.

AL: You still have to deliver the songs onstage.
Brian: I think that your delivery is a part of how much you believe in it. You can see bands that are nervous and not too confidant about what they do. I saw bands play who I heard their recordings and loved them. When I saw them, they let me down. I was so bummed.

AL: I noticed that there are a lot of girls who are into Louis XIV. How do they get to meet the members of the band?
Brian: The girls who are really determined are the ones who will be hanging out with the band. Only the strong survive. You have to fail to succeed.

Website: Watch video footage of this by Keith Martin

--Interview by Alexander Laurence
Share/Bookmark Read more / Permalink


Xiu Xiu Interview

Xiu Xiu Interview with Jamie Stewart
By alexander laurence

Xiu Xiu was formed in San Jose by Cory McCullough, Yvonne Chen, Lauren Andrews, and Jamie Stewart in 2001. They are named after a Chinese film called Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. The band has made appearances on numerous compilations and shortly after their first album, Knife Play, they did a collaboration with Deerhoof.

The band has been influenced by a bunch of post punk bands of the late 1970s and the music of The Cure and Joy Division. In 2002, the band issued the Chapel of the Chimes EP. Later, they released, A Promise, which may be their greatest record yet. They have done numerous tours throughout America this year and have earned new fans on every stop. I met Jamie Stewart outside a club in the Lower East Side.
A few weeks later I would see him and fellow member Cory McCullough in Downtown Los Angeles at The Smell. Since this interview, Xiu Xiu has released Fabulous Muscles. A new album is coming out this summer. Xiu Xiu is playing at the Echo on march 4th, 2005
AL: Do you like a lot of new bands?
Jamie: Just friend's bands. I listen to a lot of music. I don't go to shows very often. Maybe once in a while I will go out and see some legend that has changed my life. I don't go see many bands.
AL: Did you play in other bands?
Jamie: I was doing a lot of weird stuff. I was in a Motown cover band. I was in a dub band. Then I was in a few experimental pop bands. When I was younger I got hooked up with a bunch of people who were super famous during the New Wave era. So I played with people who were in The Screamers, Devo and Geza X. That was in the early 1990s in Los Angeles.
AL: When did Xiu Xiu start and who is in the band?
Jamie: For a while it had been a regular lineup. I have done the past two tours by myself. The group is becoming a regular lineup again. Carolee McElroy will be touring the next time. I am not sure if Chas Smith will be playing on the tour. Cory McCullough has been in the band in the past. He will be on the records but will not play live.
AL: How many records have you done?
Jamie: There are two albums and two EPs and we have another full-length record coming out in February 2004.
AL: When did the band begin?
Jamie: In October 2001.
AL: Did you record a lot of songs already?
Jamie: Yeah. I did a bunch of stuff at my house. My Dad used to work for the company that did Pro Tools. He would "borrow" stuff from work all the time, and never bring it back. I acquired stuff really fast. It's pretty easy to do. I had a version from 1994 and it's very similar. I had a four track before that. It was a natural progression.
AL: Why did you cover a song by Joy Division?
Jamie: The same reason why they are important to a lot of people. They are very inspirational musically and esthetically. They have endured for everyone and they have endured for me too. That was the first song we covered. We did a song by Tracy Chapman on the latest record.
AL: Tracy Chapman seems like the polar opposite of Joy Division.
Jamie: Maybe she seems like that now. That song is very frank and bleak and hopeless. I am amazed that a song that simple and bleak became a Top 40 hit.
AL: Your vocal style is very emotional and confrontational. Are you trying to convey something tragic and romantic with your voice?
Jamie: All the songs are about very specific personal events that happened to me or members of my family. There are songs about really close friends. It has been difficult the past few years. Some hideous things have happened. It's not really just a vocal technique. I want those songs to sound like what those events feel like. Those same emotions are very present still. I am not far away from those songs.
AL: You don't take any prisoners. You lay yourself out there and these raw emotions are there, naked.
Jamie: My father was in the music business for a long time. He had told me that the whole point of playing is being honest about what you are playing. When I was a kid I read this book about Charles Mingus. He told all his band members to play themselves. That makes more sense than anything. It's better to play yourself than playing to fashion. Trying to be cool? I don't think that there is any other point to music than that.
AL: Your songs go from being very loud to being very quiet. What is going on there?
Jamie: I don't think that was very conscious. I didn't think it out. It just happened that way.
AL: How do you write songs?
Jamie: It's a pretty grueling process. It's pretty boring. Nothing gets started until there's an idea what the song should be about. That happens about the same time the musical ideas start happening. There is a subconscious pull when the theme is decided. Other things flow from that. What the song is about happens first.
AL: You have a lot of bell sounds on the new record.
Jamie: I listen to a lot of Balinese and Japanese and Korean percussion. Those are very beautiful sounds. I am not trying to play those kinds of music. The timbre of gongs and bells are really beautiful. I am not trying to emulate them and do whinny indie rock world beat. Those sounds are cool.
AL: What is the reaction to the live show?
Jamie: The reaction is strong one-way or the other. People are usually really into it, but I also get heckled a lot. It's alright. That is better than people being bored. I don't expect that Xiu Xiu will become super famous. It seems to work out for people who like the music and know the records. But the people who hate it, really seem to hate it. It's bizarre. They usually yell out some rude words.
AL: Is the new album going to be a departure from the previous records?
Jamie: Procedurally it is going to be different than before. Before there was a lot of sitting in front of the computer and doing a lot of editing. For this next one, hopefully it will be a lot more live and spontaneous than before. The record coming out in February has the most electronic sounds on it. The fourth album, which we just started, will have more organic sounds on it.
AL: What is the set up like live?
Jamie: For this tour it is just guitar and vocals, or harmonium and vocals. Next year it will be a band again. We'll have percussion, bells and gongs, and two harmonium, and maybe a few synthesizers. My favorite drummer in the world is Chas Smith. Maybe he will play with us more.
AL: What bands do you like?
Jamie: Devendra Banhart, and Angels of Light. I like Classical music and dance music. We did a Japanese tour and this band Fonica was very good.
AL: Do you read a lot?
Jamie: Yeah. I am reading a book about the Iran Contra hearings right now. I read a Johnny Cash biography. I just re-read Grapes of Wrath recently as a grown up. I had read it in high school. It's pretty remarkable. It was weird holding a work of art in your hands. It costs four dollars now. I have really been getting into Dennis Cooper lately.
AL: Do you have songs about Serial Killers?
Jamie: I hope so.
AL: Do you have any songs inspired by Dennis Cooper?
Jamie: Yeah. I don't know. My whole sex life is inspired by Dennis Cooper. I am kidding.
AL: There are a lot of Xiu Xiu songs that have a homoerotic theme to them.
Jamie: I am bisexual. I am singing as much about boys as girls. A lot of very negative and weird sexual things have happened to me as much as with boys as with girls. The whole point of the band is to write about real life stuff.
AL: Some of your music sounds like film soundtracks.
Jamie: I certainly enjoy that stuff but I am not very educated about that stuff. I would like to learn more. In a very unstudied way, I am influenced by film soundtracks. When I go out, I probably go out and see a film, more than anything else.
AL: Have you seen The Matrix yet?
Jamie: I saw it yesterday. It is definitely the third best of the three films.
AL: Are you excited about playing in New York City?
Jamie: Yeah. For all the obvious reasons. It's fantastic and crazy. My brother lives here and I am close to him. The last few shows here have went well. It's an exciting and remarkable place to be.


Other shows in March:

Mar 4th: Xiu Xiu @ The Echo
Mar 5th: The Weirdos @ Troubadour
Mar 7th: Xiu Xiu @ UCLA (free)
Mar 7th: The Lovermakers @ Spaceland
Mar 9th: DMBQ @ Knitting Factory
Mar 9th: Inara George @ Troubadour
Mar 11th: The Futureheads @ Henry Fonda
Mar 12th: The Music/Kasabian @ Henry Fonda
Mar 13th: Ian Brown @ HOB
Mar 14th: Ian Brown @ HOB anaheim
Mar 14th: I Am Kloot @ Spaceland (free)
Mar 15th: I Am Kloot @ Cinespace
Mar 15th: Guitar Wolf @ Knitting Factory
Share/Bookmark Read more / Permalink