Photography by Eleanor Petry
Photography by Eleanor Petry
Why would someone choose to listen to Xiu Xiu?
With its blend of dissonant guitar clashes, raging synth chords, and frontman Jamie Stewart’s morbid imagination, Xiu Xiu is daring in a literal sense: it dares listeners to keep their headphones on and endure—rather than necessarily enjoy—what Xiu Xiu has to offer.
But it’s that challenge—the masochistic exercise of listening to a Xiu Xiu record, paired with moments of undeniable beauty—that makes their music all the more alluring.
As a songwriter, Stewart tends to be drawn to more disturbing subject matter. Over the course of 13 albums, Stewart has sung extensively about incest, suicide and other nightmares, like the true story of his friend being sexually assaulted by a police officer while in custody.
While previous Xiu Xiu records veered toward the chaotic—a sudden, clattering noise here, a lyric like “cremate me after you cum on my lips” there— the group’s latest release Forget holds together as a catchier affair.
“Wondering” features Stewart’s signature, trembling vocals imploring listeners to “swallow defeat” as a pulsing, club-ready beat chugs toward something of a rarity in Xiu Xiu’s catalog: a bonafide pop chorus.
But groovier tunes don’t necessarily mean Stewart is beginning to lighten up. At its core, FORGET is ultimately an exploration of frailty and loneliness, ending on a poem read by the drag artist Vaginal Davis. The poem closes with lines that are peak-Stewart: “It doesn't matter what you think/ Do anything you like/ Because I was born dead/ And I was born to die.”
Over the phone from his home in Los Angeles, Stewart seems reluctant to explore the roots of his fascination with darker topics, less because he's scared and more because he's worried it could ruin his creative process.
“A lot of ‘whys’ in music I think fuck music up,” he says
Xiu Xiu will play Villain in Brooklyn on Sepember 23 with Noveller and Re-TROS.Read More
Some people write songs because they like to write songs, but James Jackson Toth writes them because he needs to.
“If I didn’t have to write songs, I wouldn’t,” he told AdHoc over the phone from his home in Richmond, VA. “If they didn’t pester me the way they do, I’d just do something else."
Since the mid-2000s, Toth has released a near-perpetual stream of music under the moniker Wooden Wand. The sheer volume of his output has freed him to dabble with a wide variety of scenes and sounds—freak folk, outlaw country, free jazz and psych rock, to name a few—without ever coming across as an artistic tourist. What ties that work together is Toth’s idiosyncratic lyrical stylings, and his refusal to linger for too long in the same sonic space.
Creative freedom doesn’t necessarily yield financial freedom, and Toth is no stranger to the necessity of side hustle. He explores the concept on “Mexican Coke,” a song off his most recent LP, Clipper Ship, singing, "Where there's a will, there are ways."
Although Toth admits he once viewed the side hustle as a somewhat romantic notion—doing something menial in service of pursuing your passion—he now believes it's assumed a darker significance in the age of the sharing economy. It’s a question that we kept coming back to during our interview: just how much hustling can one soul take?
Wooden Wand plays in Brooklyn at Baby’s All Right on August 13 with Dark Tea and Francesco Saxton.
AdHoc: Why do you write songs?
James Jackson Toth: I guess I feel compelled to do it. I think it’s a misunderstanding that a lot of us enjoy doing it. I mean, it’s definitely satisfying to write songs. But it’s certainly not something I set out to do. I just started really young and kept on doing it. If I didn’t have to write songs, I wouldn’t. If they didn’t pester me the way they do, I’d just do something else. I’d probably sleep a lot better.
It makes sense that Jesse Jerome Jenkins V finds solace in isolation.
As a member of the celebrated Austin band Pure X, Jesse is well-versed in crafting hazy, pining noise pop. But on his debut solo album Hard Sky, Jesse trades the collaborative ethos of his band for a solitary, personal undertaking. It's a record full of songs about loneliness, and creating it was a lonely process, too.
Hoping to grow as an artist, as well as “cope” with the “noise” of the outside world, Jesse decamped to his Corpus Christi studio to lay down tracks between 2014 and 2016. Rather than setting out with a high concept, Hard Sky is a collection of songs that see Jesse coming to terms with (and sometimes shrugging off) heavy concepts like impermanence and loss over a backdrop of Americana guitar licks and pillowy synths. On the surprisingly buoyant “De-pression,” Jesse ponders, “What happens when you lost the time that you had before?” It’s a question that Jesse never really answers, but he still leans in to the beauty of not knowing.
Jesse plays in Brooklyn at Alphaville on July 1 with Olden Yolk and Mira Cook.
AdHoc: Where did you grow up?
Jesse: I grew up in Northeast Texas in a little town called Emory, which is between Dallas and Texarkana. It’s a town of like 1,000 people—super small.
How do you think where you’re from and how you grew up affected your perspective as an artist?
That’s a good question and actually something I’ve been thinking of recently. I think I’m seeking isolation now because that’s how I coped with things growing up. I was in this tiny town and I really hated it and I wanted to get out of there so bad. Now, I kind of realize that it was a really good place for me to grow up as an artist because it forced me to create my own world and my own fun.