Experimental Oakland group Xiu Xiu are notorious for their bizarre amalgams of sound that don’t necessarily conform to the typical notions of what music should be. But the band, who recently released a new album, Women As Lovers, don’t care.
Bassist Devin Hoff discusses the band’s music, live performances and his new status as official member of Xiu Xiu.
Did you have a bigger role in the making of the new album now that you are officially a member of the band?
I did, yeah. More than before. On the subsequent records I just worked on a few songs here and there. This record I still didn’t have as big of a role as the other three because they’ve been making music together so much longer, but I definitely had a bigger role as far as mixing and arranging.
Do you still feel like all the songs reflect you as a musician when you perform them?
I think they do. Even the songs I didn’t play on or write the bass part for, or any combination of those two things. I like them as songs. I’m a fan of the band anyway. Most of the bass parts that I didn’t record but will play on tour were recorded by either Jamie or Caralee, most by Jamie, and Jamie and I have really similar aesthetics about that kind of thing. He’s actually a great bass player in his own right. It makes a lot of sense for me to play those parts. I change them here and there but for the most part I think they’re in line with what he was originally hearing.
Does that mean the songs shift and change when they’re played live?
Yeah, they do. There’s a lot of extra stuff in there too that we’re doing. We’re having to recreate a lot of this stuff as a four-piece without any samplers. There’s no sequencing or tracks so it’s all played live. We’re all jumping around, doing a lot of different things. I will be playing upright bass on a song and then all of a sudden I’ll be playing a mandolin part in the same song or a keyboard part or something, just to cover all the territory. They definitely shift. Playing live stuff, it always shifts. Even if you’re playing the same stuff, it will shift nightly. How we’re feeling and approaching it as well.
During a given night, how many instruments do you actually play?
In addition to the auxiliary percussion that we all do at all times, I’ll be playing some electric guitar, some acoustic guitar, electric bass and some electric upright bass as well. So we’ll all be shifting around. Caralee will be jumping around more than anybody. She has a lot of roles to fill.
Do you have to be in really good shape to move around that much during a show?
I hope not! Because I’m not. It’s not that bad. More than anything, it takes mental concentration to shift gears like that from one thing to the next.
Do you prepare a set list before you leave for a tour?
It’s totally prepared, actually. We do some really intensive rehearsing the week before we go on tour. We decided a couple months ago which songs we were gonna learn. So we’ve known for a while what songs we’d be doing. Most of the songs we can’t just play like a rock band, where you just jam through the verses and the choruses. There are a lot of intimate details that we want to honor. That means that we really have to have all the songs rehearsed.
Do you agree with the reviews saying the new album is much more accessible than the band’s previous?
I don’t quite understand that myself. I think that just the songwriting is really strong on this record. I don’t feel like there’s much filler on this record, not that there was filler on previous records. But some of their previous records had songs that were much more experiments in a way, sonically. This record, every song feels like it’s a complete song. So maybe that’s what people are talking about. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, myself. I think that the songwriting is really really strong and it just happened to work out that way. I think also thematically it might just appear to be less bleak than previous Xiu Xiu records, although it’s not actually less bleak at all.
Why do you think it appears less bleak?
Because some of the tragedy on the record is happening beneath the surface. It’s not as overwrought. Certain songs, it’s really out there on the surface what’s fucked up about the situation or the emotions involved. Some of this record takes a little more digging to get to what’s fucked up.
Is music something that you think needs to be accessible to people?
I don’t think it should try to be accessible necessarily. That is just my own personal take on it, but I think people need to create what they feel they need to create. Hopefully that in and of itself will resonate with someone who happens to hear it. It won’t resonate with everybody because people are too unique as individuals, so if you are honest with who you are as a person then I think it might resonate with some and not with others and that needs to be okay with the person who is creating it. Maybe nobody wants to hear what I have to say, but you have to say it anyway. The things that tend to last over time and are more timeless, the artist isn’t thinking about that. You can hear when somebody’s trying to reach a large audience and to me, as a listener, that bothers me. There’s something inherently dishonest in that. It’s the same as telling somebody what you think they want to hear instead of the truth in a conversation. And hopefully music is a place where you can be honest and it’s a little easier to be honest. So why not?
Xiu Xiu are playing at the Student Center at SUNY Purchase on March 24 and at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on March 25. For more visit xiuxiu.org