As I approach Jamie Stewart, the madcap sonic scientist behind California’s Xiu Xiu, an excitable girl hands him a purple package, so he leads us both through a couple of winding corridors to a room where he can set it down and open it up. Never would we have guessed that as the paper is pulled back, inside is a handmade bear with watermelons for wings. It seems I’m the only one though, as the other two chatter away knowingly. This must be the norm for Stewart as he notes nonchalantly later that “people are incredibly nice to us. We don’t have a very big group of people who are into Xiu Xiu, but the people who are go way out of their way to be sweet to us. I’m very happy and touched by that.”
Settled on the floor of one of the many hallways, Stewart sits quite bulkily and talks rapidly in a low murmur. Having heard his various, dirgy takes on necking pills to numb pain (‘I Love the Valley, Oh’), suicide (‘Suha’) and the detriments of class structure (‘White Nerd’) over the past decade, I had expected a waif without hope, but Stewart looks muscly and radiant in his black denim jacket, matching jeans and New Era broad-peak cap. Not forgetting, of course, his watermelon-print shoes, which actually look like two slices of the fruit, the soles representing the green rind.
“For the last couple of years I’ve lived in this really shitty town in the south of the United States where everything sucks except for the watermelon,” he explains. “It’s actually unbelievable. One of the few things that has kept me from burning the entire town down is that this unfathomably great watermelon wouldn’t be available. I’m moving away from there this summer so hopefully I won’t need it as badly as I do now,” he laughs, glancing down at his trainers.