The West

Everybody knows this is Nowhere
Xiu Xiu. Picture: Supplied.

One of the headliners on Sunday's This Is Nowhere festival, California's Xiu Xiu, is the dark horse of American indie rock - emphasis on the "dark".

Xiu Xiu mainstay Jamie Stewart and his cohorts have made a career out of bringing to light the darker elements of the human condition, from depression and suicide to eating disorders, while more political issues like abortion have been dealt with equally as heavy-handedly.

Taking time out from moving house, Stewart is excited about returning to Perth, and seemingly in line with the This Is Nowhere festival ethos, he's planning a particularly experimental set.

"For the past couple of years we've been focusing on really pop oriented instruments and playing hits - well, as much as we have hits," he says. "This time we'll be playing a lot of songs that we never play live or songs that we may have played once live eight years ago. So it will be a more experimental set, much darker than we've played in a long time, probably the most depressing set that we've ever done."

Knowing Xiu Xiu, that means it's probably very depressing. But airing the subjects others avoid is all part of their appeal.

"That is certainly a part of our existence we have hardly shied away from," Stewart says wryly. "But in the case of Xiu Xiu, it has nothing to do with trying to be shocking. It has always been about attempting to be truthful, about all the things that were happening with people in the band. People can choose to be shocked but that's not the intention."

Their video for the song, Dear God, features band member Angela Seo inducing herself to vomit, eventually throwing up on Stewart as he sings the song.

"In the case of that video, it was for Angela," Stewart explains, "to talk about or show the physical side of self-loathing for her, which had a whole lot to do with issues around food and eating disorders. And the way to most illustrate that was by throwing up. It was just her trying to be clear about it and how that experience is carried out. It's not as though we didn't know that people would have a reaction to it but the motivation wasn't to evoke a reaction. The motivation was to illustrate her experiences."

Another song sure to get a reaction with the far right in the US, released earlier this year on new album, Always, is a self-explanatory number called I Love Abortion. It's a song Stewart describes as a mix of the personal and political.

"It's about a couple of things. A young acquaintance of mine, probably about 18 years old, found herself pregnant and a lot of points in the songs are things that she was saying about it. She knew that she was in no condition to be a good or fit parent.

"I don't know how it is internationally but the right-wingers are extraordinarily aggressive and violent in their opinions and the left tends to be really mushy," Stewart continues. "In some ways it's about trying to be as aggressive as the right wing but delivering the message of the left, so halfway aggressive and halfway a tender song of admiration for my friend."

Another one of Stewart's recent projects, which flew under the radar here, was a collaboration with Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg called Blue Water White Death. Stewart sounds thrilled to talk about it.

"Oh, largely and depressingly overlooked," he laughs. "I'm incredibly proud of it, it was one of the best recording experiences I've had.

"Somewhat amusingly now, but at the time I'd been misdiagnosed with cystic fibrosis so while I was recording I was convinced it would be the last record I ever worked on. So there's a certain candour to the vocal that I don't think is on any Xiu Xiu record. And Jonathan is incredibly creative and talented."

Always is out now. Xiu Xiu play This Is Nowhere on Sunday. Tickets from

The West Australian

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