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Taking their name from the 1998 Chinese film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, post-punk throwbacks Xiu Xiu were formed in San Jose, California by Cory McCullough, Yvonne Chen (publisher of the indie zine Zum), Lauren Andrews, and Jamie Stewart. Before forming Xiu Xiu, McCullough and Stewart played in the band Ten in the Swear Jar. Prior to the 2002 release of their first full-length album, Knife Play (released on vinyl through Absolutely Kosher and on disc through 5RC/Kill Rock Stars), the band made appearances on numerous compilations. Shortly after Knife Play's release, Springman released a 10" collaboration between Xiu Xiu and Deerhoof. Vocalist Stewart has earned comparisons to the Cure's Robert Smith, while the band itself has been likened to just about any angular guitar band from the late '70s and early '80s without any blindingly obvious sources of inspiration. In 2002, the band issued the Chapel of the Chimes EP. The following year, A Promise and the limited-edition, mostly acoustic Fag Patrol EP arrived, and early 2004 saw the release of their most accessible work to date, Fabulous Muscles.
Xiu Xiu kept busy in 2005 with the full-length La Forêt and a split single with Devendra Banhart. The group's fifth album, The Air Force, which was produced by Greg Saunier, arrived in fall 2006; an EP of covers, Tu Mi Piaci, was also released that year. Issued in 2008, Women as Lovers managed to be some of Xiu Xiu's catchiest and most abrasive work, and featured Michael Gira on a cover of "Under Pressure." Caralee McElroy, who had joined the group for The Air Force, left Xiu Xiu in 2009 and became a member of Cold Cave; she was replaced by Angela Seo, who worked with Stewart and Saunier on 2010's more overtly poppy and electronic Dear God, I Hate Myself. Two years later, the band commemorated its tenth anniversary with Always, which tackled war atrocities ("Gul Muldin"), the plight of Chinese female migrant workers ("Factory Girls"), and the right to choose ("I Luv Abortion"), and was dedicated to the band's devoted fans.
Xiu Xiu (pron.: /ˈʃuːʃuː/) is an American avant-garde group originally from San Jose, California. The band is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart, who has been its only constant member since its inception in 2002. As of 2009, his bandmate has been Angela Seo. The band's name is taken from the 1998 Chinese film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.
Having performed alongside one another in previous acts such as IBOPA (the Indestructible Beat of Palo Alto) and Ten in the Swear Jar, Jamie Stewart and Cory McCulloch formed their third collaborative effort, Xiu Xiu, in 2002. Aided by friends Lauren Andrews and Yvonne Chen – both of whom would contribute to the band's early recordings – Xiu Xiu would tour their first LP Knife Play, and its successor EP, Chapel of the Chimes, throughout the years 2001 and 2002, blending both melody and cacophony with a heavy reliance on percussive instrumentation and brass instrumentation.
Following 2002, the group would shrink in membership as Yvonne Chen left in order to focus on her vegan boutique Otsu and self-published magazine Zum, while Cory McCulloch also stopped touring, focusing instead on producing the band's next two LPs. A personal loss would affect Xiu Xiu as well, as Jamie Stewart's father, musician and record producer Michael Stewart was found dead after an apparent suicide. Coping with these losses, Stewart would record the group's follow-up to Knife Play, 2003's A Promise.
Continuing to focus on the subject matter of Jamie Stewart's personal life – as witnessed previously by Knife Play – A Promise acts like a concept record of internal despair. Consisting of ten tracks, the record was oriented towards a more or less acoustic presentation, rather than relying on the booming brass and percussion which had worked to make Knife Play. However, the record did not veer from the formulated programming for which Stewart and McCulloch would be praised by fans and critics alike.
During this time, Stewart recorded Fag Patrol, a collection of previous recorded material as well as covers of songs by The Smiths and his previous group with McCulloch, Ten in the Swear Jar. Released as a handmade CD by Rob Fisk's and Kelly Goodefisk's Free Porcupine Society, Fag Patrol was limited to only a few hundred copies. In the spring of 2004, Stewart and McCulloch released what is considered by many to be the group's most accessible album, Fabulous Muscles. More pop-friendly in its sound than previous releases, Fabulous Muscles boosted Xiu Xiu to new heights in terms of popularity, largely thanks to its single "I Luv the Valley OH!".
With the departure of Lauren Andrews in 2003 – who wished to focus on her academic studies – Stewart was joined on stage by his "long-lost" cousin, Caralee McElroy in 2004. The two would tour relentlessly throughout that year, releasing not only the group's third LP, but also split recordings with This Song Is a Mess But So Am I and Bunkbed, along with the "Fleshettes" single – which featured a rendition of the Ten in the Swear Jar track "Helsabot" by McElroy.
Seen as a return to Stewart's more dark and crabby demeanor, Xiu Xiu's fourth album La Forêt alluded to a frustration which Stewart had felt throughout the process of recording the 2004 record. Centered around the topic of "horrible times in horrible lives" as well as Stewart's personal frustrations with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, La Forêt is characterized by an altogether different sound – layered by mandolin, harmonium, clarinet, cello, autoharp, and tuba. In addition to La Forêt, Xiu Xiu would join Italian experimental group Larsen in forming XXL, which released its first LP, ¡Ciaütistico! in 2005, followed later by its successor ¿Spicchiology? in 2007. Stewart also issued formative splits throughout 2005, working with artists such as The Paper Chase, Kill Me Tomorrow, and Devendra Banhart.
In 2006, Stewart would break from tradition by ending his professional relationship with McCulloch. He then started working with San Francisco-based band Deerhoof's drummer Greg Saunier, with whom he has worked with since 2002, as producer for Xiu Xiu's fifth LP entitled The Air Force. Saunier, who had previously worked with Stewart on Knife Play, created for the record a greater wall of sound – a stark contrast to that of McCulloch's discordant attitude towards production. The Air Force would be supported throughout 2006 by a three piece ensemble, as Stewart and McElroy were joined by drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, who himself had previously worked with the group on Knife Play. The Air Force also contained the band's first album-based song without vocals by Stewart – with McElroy singing "Hello From Eau Claire".
A third EP – Tu Mi Piaci ("I like you") – of songs originally recorded by acts such as Bauhaus, Nedelle, Big Star, The Pussycat Dolls, and Nina Simone was released in 2006, along with a collaboration with ambient artist Grouper, entitled Creepshow. Shortly thereafter, Xiu Xiu would record their sixth album, 2008's Women as Lovers. Their longest LP to date, Women as Lovers attempts to home in on the synth-pop influences of the group's sound. Stewart's and McElroy's duet with Michael Gira of Swans on a cover of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" is representative of this. Touring that year alongside Xiu Xiu aluminist Devin Hoff on bass, the band's second four-piece incarnation would not last long, as Hoff abruptly left the group soon after touring began.
In May 2009 it was revealed that Caralee McElroy would no longer work with Xiu Xiu. Speculations ran as to what reasons McElroy had for leaving the group after five years of recording and touring, though no explanation was given other than her subsequent membership in Manhattan-based darkwave group Cold Cave, which she soon after departed from in 2010. With the vacancies left by both Hoff and McElroy, Stewart and Smith recruited Angela Seo in late-2009. Thereafter, the group would begin work on its seventh LP Dear God, I Hate Myself, recording in both Oakland, California as well as Durham, North Carolina. Once again shifting motifs, Xiu Xiu would this time choose to experiment with video-game-based programming, utilizing the Nintendo DS to write many of the songs which appear on their 2010 release. The music video for the song "Dear God, I Hate Myself" received attention online in 2010. The video consists of Angela Seo inducing vomiting over the course of the three minute song, culminating with her vomiting on Stewart, who has been eating a chocolate bar during the entire video. Seo and Stewart have defended the video online and in interviews, stating that the video illustrates the subject of the song in an extreme and visceral fashion.
In 2010, Xiu Xiu left Kill Rock Stars and signed with Bella Union and Polyvinyl.
In 2012, Xiu Xiu released Always on these new labels. It was called "magnificent" and given 5 stars by The Independent and given a 9/10 by Drowned in Sound.
In August 2012, Jamie Stewart admitted that he was the most depressed he'd ever been and posted a note on the band's website, asking fans to give him reasons to continue living.
In early 2013, Stewart announced that he would be releasing an album with Eugene Robinson of Oxbow under the name "Sal Mineo." They also announced that they would be touring together in Europe in February to promote the project.
In an email sent to fan recipients on January 28, 2013, Xiu Xiu announced that "Ches Smith, Mary Halverson, Tim Barnes, Tony Malaby, Andrea Parkins and Jamie Stewart just finished recording an album in NYC of free jazz and art song versions of all Nina Simone songs." Xiu Xiu also stated that the album, possibly titled Nina Nina, would be released in fall of 2013 on Graveface Records.
In the same email, Xiu Xiu also announced that a new Xiu Xiu album was being made. Xiu Xiu said that it is possible that it will be named "ANGEL GUTS: RED CLASSROOM" and that "it will be a mean, tight hearted, blackness of neubauten vs suicide vs nico."