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Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart on Nina Simone Tribute + Porn-Inspired New Album ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom’

xiu xiu
James Wood

Jamie Stewart, the outre, elusive artist behind Xiu Xiu, released ‘Nina,’ a tribute to Nina Simone, on Dec. 11, and the Internet doesn’t know quite what to do with it. Abrasive and haunting, ’Nina’ makes for unsettling listening. It’s an approach Stewart (like Simone before him) often takes with his music, and the album feels more like a graphic performance art piece than an straightforward set of songs.

Stewart is also preparing for a national tour in support of ‘Angel Guts: Red Classroom,’ out Feb. 4 via Polyvinyl (pre-order here), an album inspired by deteriorating Los Angeles neighborhoods and a Japanese porn. Here, he responds via email to some questions about his recent projects.

‘Ninais a more avant-garde album than a lot of your other work. Why take this approach with a cover album? 

Nina Simone was an incredibly avant-garde person. To do any less would do what everyone involved in the record learned from her a disservice. As a singer, instrumentalist and composer, she was wild, inventive, insanely intense and provocative. What other way would there be to approach her?

So far, it seems like critics aren’t totally sure how to respond to ‘Nina’ — it’s a drastically different sound than anything traditionally associated with Nina Simone. What were you hoping to express with taking this approach?

It is really not that different from the spirit of her music. The arrangement might sound different than what she did, but it is full-stop a tribute to what she has made us feel.

A lot of Nina Simone’s work stems from themes of pain and injustice. Do you feel you share common experiences with her? 

She was a black woman born in 1933. To say that I, as a white man born in 1978, share any experiences of injustice with her would be absurd.

You have a new album coming out in February — based on previews, it seems pretty dark-sounding. Anything else you can tell us about the subject matter?

It is deeply influenced by Einstürzende Neubauten, Nico, Suicide and Kraftwerk. The instrumentation is analog synth, analog drum machine, vox and a drum set. The song titles are taken largely from the crumbling businesses in the crumbling neighborhood, Macarthur Park in L.A., were it was written.

Pitchfork reports that the title of the album comes from a 1979 Japanese erotic film. Why liken sex to death in a musical context?

Have you never had sex before?

You’re heading out on a national tour here in a couple months — with the release of these two albums (which are probably very different from each other), what can we expect to see at the live show?

Again, have you never had sex before?

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