"I think I told some guy I was going to fuck his baby cousin if he didn't shut up" remarks Jamie Stewart, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and creative force behind the warped pop band Xiu Xiu. "That was probably the meanest thing I've ever said. I did get lit cigarettes thrown in my face a couple of times, a band member got socked once, people have yelled some pretty mean things, the usual BS. The lit cigarette thing was pretty over the top."
What Stewart is describing here is the situation all artsy, cerebral and just plain weird bands deal with from time to time--the heckler. These vile creatures of the night lash out at anything and everything they don't understand and generally ruin an otherwise pleasant concert. Sadly, the likes of Xiu Xiu and their cutting edge interpretation of indie rock are prime targets for the blood-thirsty, fear-inspired heckler. Though Stewart and his band mates have certainly had to deal with their fair share of these critters, they have thankfully seen their numbers decline as the band's consistently astonishing output has lead to wider recognition and acceptance.
"We used to get it a lot when people weren't as familiar with what we're doing," explains Stewart. "Probably 95 per cent of the people who come to our shows now come to them on purpose and they know what they're potentially getting into. We still get heckled once and a while but it's pretty infrequent. We used to react to it really strongly but we just ignore it now."
Always a band to eschew convention, Xiu Xiu's complex musical structures, dark subject matter, and at times viscerally noisy, at other times eerily quiet sound have combined to construct a reputation of consistent unpredictability for the band. Staying true to these roots, Xiu Xiu released Fabulous Muscles, an entirely unexpected pop album in 2004. Though any particular song on the album was as likely to descend into a cacophony of white noise as it was to morph into something remotely resembling a chorus, Fabulous Muscles did contain a noticeable pop sheen. This lead many to proclaim it as the band's most accessible album to date, a rather dubious distinction considering the average radio station would run screaming at the first sight of the naked boy adorning Xiu Xiu's 2003 release, A Promise. The few who managed to make it past this would likely have a similar reaction after listening to the brutal depiction of US troops murdering a young girl on Fabulous Muscles' "Support our Troop OH!"
"I think the only reason it was considered more accessible was because there are more pop songs on it," laughs Stewart when discussing Fabulous Muscles. "We didn't consciously attempt to write more pop songs, we just became really interested in pop music when we were working on it. When you have more pop songs [on an album] I think it will inevitably become catchier. I got really broke and sold all my records so I was just listening to the radio all the time [during the recording of the album]. That's all I had in my brain."
Never content to follow already travelled paths, Stewart and Xiu Xiu have left their more explicit pop leanings behind for the soon to be released La ForÃªt. Instead, the band has opted to focus on their experimental tendencies, promising to bring their sound into even more bizarre and, admittedly, inaccessible places.
"Just insofar as we focused on pop music with Fabulous Muscles we focused a lot more on experimental and orchestral music on La ForÃªt," says Stewart. "There are still a lot of pop elements on it but the experimental and orchestral elements are much more present. There are more outward looking and political songs as well."
Making their second stop in Calgary in under a year, this time as part of the TD Canada Trust Calgary Jazz Festival, Xiu Xiu are one of the most unique bands to visit our sleepy little city in recent memory. Their music may not be for everyone but for those who can figure it out it is an intensely rewarding experience, as long as those who can't don't join the ranks of the weasely heckler there isn't much to worry about.