Paul: Hey Jamie, how's it going?
Jamie: Pretty good.
Paul: All right, so let's get this started. Your last full length was La Foret, which came out last month [July 12th].
Paul: The one before that was Fabulous Muscles, of course, and that was probably the most critically acclaimed of the albums so far. It seems like the sound for La Foret has definitely a different feel; what caused this change in sound?
Jamie: Oh, well all of the songs are about what is happening around the time that the album is being made, so it would be A, not really possible and B, totally weird to try and replicate what was going on with Fabulous Muscles. It's just a different time and a different reflection on things happening.
Paul: How long did it take for the album to be created, from start to finish?
Jamie: The timing on it was pretty funny and definitely different from anything we've done before. We started working on it right after Fabulous Muscles came out, and then were touring for a while, so we worked on it for about two months and didn't work on it for a year, but then we worked on it pretty nonstop for the subsequent three months before the album came out. We realized after all the touring that we had to figure out this record, we only had like four songs written or something like that. It was the first time that I had gotten the chance to just work on a record, all day every day, so that was a really nice experience.
Paul: Before this album, did you work on them while touring or something like that?
Jamie: Well, when Fabulous Muscles came out, I think that we only toured for like three months a year as opposed to six months a year after that record came out, so there was a lot more time to work on it.
Paul: After so many albums, splits, EPs, etc., do you think it's any easier or harder create an album?
Jamie: The technical aspects of it are certainly easier, since I know how to plug shit in now [laughter]. But the writing certainly isn't any easier, I don't know. Probably, I would get a little nervous if the writing suddenly became really easy. Maybe a little relieved, I don't know.
Paul: About the band itself, it seems to be the emotion and the lyrics of the band that draw most of the fans to you. What is the writing process behind a typical song?
Jamie: It's hard to say because there really isn't anything specific. It's just because a lot of the arrangements of the songs are really different from each other. Like, a song where it's just guitar and vocals, I'm sure the writing process for that will be different from eight people playing or something like that. I guess, a couple of really random examples. The last song on the album, “Yellow Raspberry”, I just did some programming for it myself and then I drove my computer down to my friend's house in Albany, California, which is near Berkeley, and like, five or six people were working on it at that time. In our living room, doing various program parts. Then we didn't get any chance to work on it for like a year, and then, after the touring, we took all of the parts that we had done and edited them together. I wrote the lyrics and put them down and that was it. And then a song like “Ale”, I just wrote all of the guitar and then a friend, Ben Goldberg, came over and transposed them onto a clarinet and I just recorded the vocals for that. That all happened very, very quickly, like over one day, as opposed to piece-by-piece, over a year.
Paul: Lyrically, do you sit down and think to yourself, “I'm going to write a song about this specific subject”, or do the lyrics come more spontaneously?
Jamie: All of the songs are always about a very specific subject so part of that is definitely true. You know, I'll be thinking about something that feels intense or important to me at the time, something that has a really great effect on someone's life around me or my life, and I'll decide to write about that. And then, well, usually I'll start collecting phrases about that, or some phrases that have some sort of relevance or resonance about that subject and kind of collect that into a notebook, and usually we feel like it's the right time to start piecing those phrases together and adding other phrases, and then we go and develop the song. It kind of very, very slowly coalesces and usually it just takes like one moment to piece them together, but there's usually a fair amount of preparation before that.
Paul: Since it seems like the lyrics are drawn from your own personal experiences or the personal experiences of people around you, what does it feel like to see your fans memorize all of these very personal lyrics, be able to sing them at shows? Is it weird for you?
Jamie: I mean, hopefully, the songs get to be about their lives or things that are important to them or things that have – hopefully, they get something out of it. I mean, when we're singing our songs, we're definitely not singing them for ourselves, we're singing or playing them so someone else can get something out of it, so I don't feel that if I'm at a show or something and someone knows all the songs, they're invading my life at all. I mean, I rarely will talk specifically the particulars about how a song relates to my life. Occasionally, but not very often. So no, it's not weird. I mean, if we can do something and you get something out of it, we're doing our job.
Paul: It seems like a lot of the titles of your songs use proper names, or at least more of your songs do than those of most artists out there. Is there any particular reason for that?
Jamie: Like I said before, all of the songs are about things that are going on in the lives of people that are around me, and they're about them. On La Foret, we ended up not doing that much because on Fabulous Muscles, a few people who had songs written about them had told me that they were really bothered by it, and I didn't want to bother anyone, so on La Foret, they're on really specific people, I used nicknames or initials instead so that I could still write specifically but not make someone feel bad.
Paul: You have a split coming out with Devenda Banhart later this month, right?
Jamie: Yes. Well, it's a seven inch, not a split.
Paul: On it, you guys cover a song from each other.
Jamie: Yeah, that's right. Two summers ago, we did a tour together, and we got to be friends during that tour. On some of the shows, it was really rewarding and fun to be able to both take the stage at the same time, you know, trading off songs, and it just seemed to be, it seemed to fit nicely together so we talked to each other about it, about doing each other's songs, and so now we're here.
Paul: You're doing, I think, two more splits this year?
Jamie: Yeah, we have a lot of collaborative things this year. We have three or four coming out. We did a CD, a whole CD, a collaboration record with an Italian band called Larsen. That comes out in September and then the splits are with Dead Science, Paper Trace and Kill Me Tomorrow.
Paul: You guys are touring now for another month or so --
Jamie: Six more weeks.
Paul: Right. What are you guys doing after that?
Jamie: Well, we hit Europe for a month and then after that, we'll tour the US again for three weeks, and then work on a new record.
Paul: Do you have anything written for the new one yet?
Jamie: Yeah, about seven things are being written, nothing is really done. Seven songs in varying degrees of finishing.
Paul: When you begin working on an album, do you have a specific goal that you try and achieve with it, any kind of plan? Or is it more of just a collection of songs that you wrote around the same time.
Jamie: I mean, just in a really broad way, this will sound like I'm avoiding the question, but we're just trying to write the best record that we can at the time. With La Foret, we wanted to work a little more with experimental stuff, while with Fabulous Muscles, we wanted to work a little more with the pop side. That's, though, as specific as they usually get. With this next one that we're working on now, we didn't really go in it with any specific plans, but it seems like it's leaning towards the pop side of things. We'll see how it turns out.
Paul: I have to ask, where do you get the inspirations for your t-shirt designs? All of your t-shirts seem to be a little...off center.
Jamie: [laughter] Where do our designs come from?
Paul: Yeah. Your most famous shirt is probably the guy with the Pac Man machine, or whatever it is.
Jamie: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, they're fun to do [laughter]. I mean, we try to approach them as another art project, as opposed to a black t-shirt with our name in white on it. Actually, for each tour, we try to do one or two shirts. This new one, two of them, my brother did. The ones he did are beautiful, as opposed to the ones we did, which are really immature [laughter]. They're actually works of art.
Paul: What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Jamie: I had a pretty fortunate music – [laughter] this is the most awkward thing in the world, “I had a pretty fortunate music growing up”. Jesus. My dad was in the music business, the first records I really got into were, you know, stuff like Talking Heads, Otis Reddings, Muddy Waters, stuff like that was what I was listening to in early junior high. And at this time, I was living in Los Angeles, at what was the height of Poison and all this really horrible hair metal. Partially because I was a really dorky kid and we didn't have MTV at my house, I couldn't get into it. I wanted to listen to that kind of stuff, to be like all the kids around me, I just didn't have the access to it. Which was fortunate, because from there, I ended up with broader taste of music than most eleven and twelve year olds. After that, I listened to a lot of dub and reggae which was weirdly on the radio a lot at the time. And then I got really into goth and stuff like that when I was about 14 or so. It's funny to think about being fourteen and buying field recordings and witchcraft music and stuff like that [laughter]. Sometimes I look back and think very fondly of myself as a teenager, like “What a fucking dork, going out and buying field recordings”.
Paul: So what kind of music do you listen to nowadays?
Jamie: Shit [laughter]. All the same stuff [laughter]. Yeah, pretty much, to varying degrees, I'm still interested in goth stuff, punk-goth, and a lot of field recordings still. Well, a couple of years ago, I got interested in classical. Initially, more modern or so, but in the last year, maybe more medieval and mechanical classical.
Paul: What would your reaction be if Xiu Xiu started getting airplay on a Clear Channel radio station?
Jamie: I would probably just think it's totally weird [laughter]. I mean, we would never do anything ever differently. I truly doubt that that would ever happen. It's not like we would go “Oh we need to strike while the hammer is hot and tour with the Bloc Party now!” or something like that [laughter]. I'm sure we would just be amused by it and I would get a very tiny publishing check.
Paul: Coke or Pepsi?
Jamie: I don't drink either.
Paul: Well, what do you drink?
Jamie: [laughter] It depends on if I'm drinking or not.
Paul: What's your favorite TV show?
Jamie: I don't really watch TV but I rent like HBO sometimes. Deadwood is totally fantastic.
Paul: Are you a Sex And The City fan?
Jamie: My bandmates really, really like Sex And The City. I think it's okay. I mean, I don't hate it. I never watched it much. It's cute. I like, I guess, anything superviolent.
Paul: Have you seen the new Willy Wonka movie?
Jamie: I did see it, actually. I was really into the books as a kid. I thought it was a great. I'm a really big fan of Johnny Depp, it always surprises me how he can be part of such a gigantic Hollywood machine and still take on such odd roles.
Paul: Do you like this one more than the old one?
Jamie: You know, I don't really remember the old one. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't that totally bizarre sequence where Gene Wilder was like [high-pitched imitating voice]. That was something I'd like to see Johnny Depp do. But that thing with the puppets exploding, that was great. That scene was not in the book and not in the original movie, they just completely added exploding Small World things. It was pretty fucking surreal, and I totally liked how he was kind of super, kind of weirdly ineffective germphobic. It was a big part of his character I thought was funny. Of course, that's not funny in real life, but in the movie, it was hilarious, because he had somehow worked that kind of characterization into such a mainstream movie.