XIXA Expound on the Mystique of Their New Album “Genesis”
Their follow-up to 2016’s Bloodline is a colossal exercise in eerie storytelling and gothic desert rock.
The textural landscape of Tucson, Arizona is integral to understanding XIXA‘s music—the vastness of the dessert, the way the temperature can phase from a dry heat with a piercing sun to chilly, desolate nights. The intricate southwest landscape is a major influence for the six-piece group. “We live and breathe this landscape,” says Gabriel Sullivan, lead vocalist and guitarist alongside Brian Lopez. Their new album Genesis is filled with the massive, hyper-specific detail of an IMAX movie. Their gothic desert rock draws from Peruvian Chicha to ’70s psych rock for a combination that is as vibrant and powerful as a kingsnake.
Genesis, following 2016’s Bloodline, is both indulgent in its storytelling and colossal song structure. For instance, “May They Call Us Home” is paced like a shootout in a Spaghetti Western. But their influences are vast, drawing from ’80s new wave and synth-pop, Edgar Allen Poe, and the soundtrack from the vampiric outlaw film The Lost Boys. Stream the album below and read on for a more detailed examination of their influences.
GS: I love the drum intro that Winston wrote here. He has a knack for creating hooks with his drum parts that is just incredible. Still not quite sure where I came up with the fuzzed-out, whammy-soaked guitar riffs but it all comes together to bring you into the world of Genesis.
BL: Jason and I had an idea for a song in 5/4. We had come up with an arrangement, and basic vocal melody on nylon, upright piano—not too different from the arrangement you hear on the album. We worked on it in the studio where the rest of the guys shaped it into something that sounded like XIXA. That guitar riff is epic. Lyrics were added long after basic tracking. I just outlined lyrics that spoke of escape and a sense of danger ahead. Dystopian, dark shit transported by a melodic vessel.
2. “Genesis of Gaea”
GS: I think this song is very telling and representative of the record as a whole. Blending psychedelic elements and space-like soundscapes with acoustic instruments very much rooted in the earth. Hence the title. Big inspiration from ’70s Italian psych Spaghetti Westerns here.
BL: We wanted to find a darker sort of mood for Spaghetti Western. Something that had the same DNA as a melodic/playful Ennio Morricone, but a darker, more psych feel. This is where we landed on. Again, lyrically we kind of get this “danger lies ahead” vibe to accompany the melodic passages. Re-learning how to play this song recently, and I gotta say, musically-speaking, it is rather complex. More than you’d think from just hearing it.
3. “Land Where We Lie”
GS: I wrote this song the morning before we recorded it…it originally had a very finger-picky, Southwest songwriter kind of feel. When we got to the studio, we started falling into this sort of “Rock the Casbah” vibe and just kept pushing it further into that. We were all big into ’80s new- and darkwave when we were doing the initial tracking and I think it comes across huge in this song. We pulled from an obvious reference here, being the song from the Lost Boys soundtrack, “Cry Little Sister.” The outro is sung by the Uummannaaq Children’s Choir who happened to be visiting Tucson while we were finishing overdubs. They definitely add the final haunting touch to this tune.
BL: The Uummannaaq Children’s Choir singing a blatant Lost Boys reference in the outro…gotta say…makes me smile every time. “Though shalt follow he, to where, we lie.” So good!
GS: Crunchy, sand-covered, sun-baked psych cumbia. This song was nearly scrapped as the original tracks for it were so far from where the song ended up… the tone of the main synth melody and the tremolo electric guitar parts was the “aha” moment in the studio.
BL: We just wanted to write a banger. Just something simple and catchy. Equally influenced by Narco cumbia, and Los Shapis (one of all time fav Peruvian cumbia bands). That chorus, for example, is an homage to Los Shapis. Lyrically we come across the same theme of thieves and villains. Those that are out to take from you. Swap meet crooks and coyotes and such.
GS: The intro is one of my favorite moments of the record. We had the song nearly mixed but didn’t think the intro was quite there. We ended up bouncing the intro down to a 1/4″ tape machine at the lowest speed and played it back into Pro Tools while I held the reels to get that wobbling and crunching effect. Incorporating programmed drums on the outro was a first on a XIXA record. A lot of fun studio trickery in this tune.
BL: An old song idea I’ve had for a while. It’s literally about taking the drug soma. I had a lot of friends who did that in college. Lyrics portray my firsthand accounts of the abuse. Not the craziest drug in the world…but it’ll getcha. The icing on the cake, for me, is again having the Uummannaaq Children’s Choir take the outro of the song. The music fades and these beautiful resilient voices remain…walking the listener to the end of side A of the vinyl.
6. “Eve of Agnes”
GS: Our second collaboration with the band Imarhan. This time we had the entire band in the studio. I had written the main riff months earlier, before a radio show in Berlin. Sketched out the rest of the song just an hour before the Imarhan boys showed up…was truly a collaborative effort.
BL: In the middle of a tour, our friends in the band Imarhan were staying at my house in Tucson for a few days. We have a hard time communicating with language, but we get on great when it comes to music. So we invited them into our studio to collaborate on a song. This is the second collaboration we’ve had with them. First one was a song called “World Goes Away” from our Bloodline album. We love those dudes. And they love WiFi and tea. Trust me.
GS: Brian’s lyrics just floor me on this one…
BL: I was reading Richard Price’s book Lush Life and he uses the word “velveteen” to describe the curtains in a dilapidated building in New York City. I just remember thinking about the strong aesthetic grip the word “velveteen” has. So I wrote all the lyrics around that one word. It’s a fun challenge. Musically, we were initially going for Bananarama’s “Cool Summer”—and I remember during production, the song kept getting further and further away from the Bananarama reference…and I kinda grew frustrated with the end result because my heart was set on “Cruel Summer.” But now, when I listen back to the song with fresh ears, it stands out as one of the strongest on the record.
8. “May They Call Us Home”
GS: We love taking songs into this mystic desert landscape. Being just over the top with the bite of our single-coil guitars through vintage fender amps…twang city!
BL: Intro is obviously an homage to Spaghetti Westerns. You can certainly hear Morricone in there. The rest of the song is just what we’ve been doing for about eight years—tipping our hat to the Peruvian Chicha Gods. Tying in our own sound to bring it back home.
9. “Nights Plutonian Shore”
GS: Wrote these lyrics sitting very much alone in a small dive off of Sunset in LA. Was reading Poe at the time and pictured a sort of alternate view on his poem “The Raven.” I view “Nights Plutonian Shore” as a sort of blackened post-apocalyptic world…where black birds reign supreme. Was thrilled to add our dear friend Sergio Mendoza on the piano as a final touch to the song.
10. “Feast of Ascension”
GS: This one was sparked by a guitar riff from our bassist Hikit Corbel. This just might be my favorite song on the record. So much dynamic range and so many flavors and styles coming together here. Another extremely collaborative vocal and musical effort from Brian and I…huge guitar tones…big and bold vocal melodies. It was a blast to mix this one knowing it was going to be the last song on the album. Making the big fuzz riff as ferocious as possible before the Uummannaq voices guide you out of the album.
BL: The original idea was a demo recorded by our French bass player, Hikit Corbel. He has tons of ideas that he composes at home. So we took this particular one and totally fleshed it out together, live, in the studio, and tracked the arrangement that you hear now. There are a lot of lyrical references rooted in religion on this album…and I thought a song based around the “Feast of Ascension” might find a good home on a XIXA album. So we wrote lyrics around that theme. We had the Uummannaaq Children’s Choir add the final touch, singing the choruses with us: “We sit at the table, with all we have loved / We sit at the table with all that we have feared and lost.” Hearing their voices sing this passage gives me chills every time.