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Allie X Is Doing Things Her Own Way: Interview

Allie X Interview
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

Allie X is one of the most exciting pop stars out there.

Look no further than songs like “Paper Love” and “Casanova” for proof; they’re prime examples of her deft wordplay and undeniable ear for melodies. Both tracks can be found on her latest project, CollXtion II, in which Allie X further extends her streak of A-grade pop music, as well as showcases yet another side of her—possibly just after she discovered it for herself.

As someone who’s themed her career on the unknown, Allie X’s frankness about not quite having figured out her way has always been refreshing. In a world where most people are trying their best to appear put together, she offers an alternative course of action: embrace the uncertainty and everything that comes with it. For the Canadian artist, it’s a natural and unavoidable part of herself, as well as her artistry, and she navigates it with a matter-of-fact manner that is equal parts captivating and inspiring.

We were able to catch up with her in the midst of her (now recently completed) North American tour, and got to chatting about her work, her relationship with her fans and just what variable X means in 2017.

You’ve been very busy with your tour, and you also recently released a video for “Paper Love.” What was it like making that?
It was cool! I worked with Alexander Alexandrov and it was directed by Renata Raksha. It was quite collaborative. I felt like there should obviously be some, y’know, paper in the video, and that there should be this feeling of being trapped, and paralyzed. And also that there’s a transformation that should occur. And Renata took that and came up with this stellar idea, and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

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You’re obviously an extremely visual person. In an ideal world, would you be interested in doing something like a visual album?
Oh man, that’d be amazing. I have so many ideas, but I also don’t want to… I don’t know. Music videos cost a lot, and with these elaborate ideas that I have, I feel that it’s almost better to do something kind of lo-fi. Until I have real budgets to do what I see in my head, I prefer to do one extreme or the other in terms of lo-fi and hi-fi, because I think the videos that fall in the middle don’t look great a lot of the time. It just depends on the concept, I think. I feel like the “Paper Love” video is a good example. It’s something that’s not super complicated, but I think it hits its mark, so I’m happy with that.

Are you already thinking ahead to CollXtion III?
Yeah, I’m already writing new songs! On the plane ride yesterday I was going through some older and new ideas, and kind of getting an idea of where to go next.

And you actually do that a lot, right? Where you revisit an older song and then find a way to revamp it or finish it, and then put it on a new release?
Yeah, that’s true, I do that a lot—probably more than most artists. I think with most people once a song has been around for a couple of years they get tired of it, but for some reason I get really stuck on them, like I get kinda stubborn about them.

Is there anything in particular that draws you back to a certain song?
It’s usually a melody. If I feel like a certain melody is really strong, then I have to see it through.

Like it’s too good to give up?
Exactly! And even if nothing else if working about this song, or it sounds like it’s not in my wheelhouse at all, I still find it fun to…just completely take apart a song, and turn it into something else.

Courtesy of Jena Cumbo
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

So whenever you do accomplish something, whether it’s the release of a song, or an album or video, how long do you typically allow yourself to sort of bask in that moment of glory before you’re like, “Alright, time to get on with the next thing!”?
Ha, oh man! I don’t know, I feel like one of the things that keeps me doing this as a career is seeking out that moment of glory, but it just never seems to really come? [Laughs] It’s like you get these small triumphs, but they always come with questions, and fear. And on a release day, there’s always little things that go wrong, and you just get more stressed about that than celebrating the fact that it’s out… at least I do, and maybe that’s something I need to change about myself. But y’know, when the record came out I did have a day or two where I felt a big weight off my back, and just a real connection to my fans, and I was kinda proud of myself that it was out and that people liked it so much. But I definitely don’t feel that basking in the glory feeling you’re describing! And I hope one day I do.

I really wanted to talk to you about the relationship you have with your fans, because I think it’s such a unique one. When you were first completing this album you actually asked them to help you pick out songs for it. What inspired you to come up with that idea?
I just had so many demos, and I felt a little lost in terms of what the record was supposed to be. I thought it would be interesting to share with the fans and get their feedback about what they liked, and where they could see certain things going. A lot of the songs were very underdeveloped—I even put out one that was just a voice memo of me and a piano!—and my fans are quite creative and love to send very specific notes about aesthetics and sonics and everything, so they gave me a lot of interesting feedback.

You’ve mentioned that you often visualize your LGBTQ fans now when you write, after having met them in person. Do you find yourself thinking of them even more so now, during these really crazy times?
Yeah, totally. It’s always in the back of my mind. I feel like… those are my people, you know? Whether they’re my fans or whether they’re just in my circle, those are my people and I’m truly just so sick of discrimination towards the LGBTQ community. It just seems ludicrous to me, who gives a fuck? Just let them be, let everyone be. I’ve been having drag queens open in all the cities, and if there’s anybody in the audience that that makes uncomfortable, then they probably shouldn’t be at my show.

You’re also very open about your creative process with your fans. Besides putting out those demos, you also break down your writing, you give them access to stems. What drives you to share that part of your work with them?
I’ve always thought of this project as collaborative. The idea of X is that you take X into your own life and use it to express yourself in whatever way feels truthful and good to you. So I try to provide people that follow me with some creative tools to do that. I have a lot of fans who’ll DM me with demos that they make, or song ideas, and they’ll be like, “I learned how to produce!” or “Check this out!” and I try to show them that it’s not out of reach for anybody to be an artist in some fashion. Even if you’re not doing it to have a career or make money, it’s a really beautiful thing for anyone to be able to express themselves and let the darkness out in a creative way. It’s certainly something that’s saved me and given me life. I talk a lot about just learning to use Ableton or GarageBand, so yeah, whether it’s stems or Photoshop layers, I just want people to know that it’s accessible to them.

Courtesy of Jena Cumbo
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

So this next one isn’t so much of a question as a discussion point, but I remember you sharing that one of the reasons Haruki Murakami is so special to you is that the characters he writes about are vulnerable yet detached. And I just thought that was so interesting, because I think a fair amount of people who follow you would say those were qualities that drew them into you.
Yup, I feel like that’s kind of the way I would describe myself, and the way that I’ve been for most of my life, including my teenage years and even my childhood. I guess I could really understand those characters in those books… I think I’ve always felt like there’s something kind of wrong with me? And reading those books and getting into the minds of those characters…it actually made me feel like, “Y’know, maybe I’m actually special, and it’s okay.”

With Allie X: The Artist, do you think about that whole balance of being mysterious yet open, or is that becoming less of a concern now?
I’ve definitely become more open with this record, I feel less guarded. I think it had to do with meeting so many fans and interacting with them so much online. I feel like I’m kind of able to express a sillier side of me now? But I also get the question, and I don’t know if this is where you were going with it, but if you become famous, will you become concerned about your privacy? And the answer is yeah. If I were to get to a level where I had paparazzi following me or something, or people digging things up or hacking into my account and finding private information, that worries me, and I don’t know how good I’d deal with that. But right now, I feel like it’s a fine balance. I have a long way to go before I’m known like that, so I’ve actually been enjoying being a little more open.

That’s awesome! You also seem, I wanna say, very aware yet unrestricted by the quote-unquote rules of the industry—in the sense that you do things at your own pace and experiment in ways that others don’t. What made you realize that you don’t necessarily have to do things like everyone else?
Thanks for saying that! I guess…I’ve just always done things in my own way, in a kind of roundabout way. Um… it’s kind of abstract, but I’m trying to explain it. Ever since I was a kid, I get these…end-product sort of things in my head, and I KNOW that I can create them and I know that they’re gonna be real good when I do, but it’s impossible to explain to anybody else what I’m seeing or how I’m gonna get there. So I feel like I just hack my way to it, to the end. Even when I was making this album I didn’t show anyone on my team ‘til it was almost done, because I felt like, “If you hear this song in the state that it’s in right now, you’re not gonna understand.” And my career has kind of been the same; nobody really ever understood what I was doing when I was in Toronto, or no one in the industry really believed in it in Toronto. I feel like things are always more complicated with me than with other people, and that’s kind of the best explanation I have. It’s not like I’m making a point of challenging the current state of things, it’s just the way that I do it, I guess.

Courtesy of Jena Cumbo
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

Something that we’ve seen a lot of mainstream acts like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry talk about recently is their personas, or stage personas rather, versus their true selves. Where would you say Allie X fits in for you personally, if it’s even in that same conversation?
I feel that’s a hard question to answer. I just feel confused about who I am in general, like who I am behind closed doors, who I am on stage, which one is the real me, how much of it has existed since my childhood. This is the kind of thing I explore with CollXtion II: this idea of identity, and trying to reclaim your identity. And through doing this work I feel like I have discovered certain things about myself, but in most ways I still feel confused about who I really am. But I know what you’re talking about; I’ve watched the previews for Lady Gaga’s Five Foot Two, and the therapy appointment with Katy Perry and I really feel for them. I think it’s very heartless to say, “Oh, they’re rich and famous, they don’t deserve to feel this way.” When you’re that famous, you’re put on this insane pedestal and you lose normal human interaction, and I think it must be very lonely, and really must shock you up in the head. I don’t know. If I were to ever reach a level of fame like that, where your persona becomes so larger than life and so much more present than the way you act when you’re alone in your room, I think I’d just try to surround myself with people that I could really trust, who’d tell it to me straight… I’m just rambling! [Laughs]

I don’t know if this is a bit of a reach, but would you say the X component, the unknown, is almost freeing in a way, when it comes to recording? Because you’re still finding out who you are, there’s no way to put yourself in a box. If you suddenly discover something that sounds or feels like who you might be, you can jump right into that.
Yeah! And that’s kind of how I go about my creation, and maybe my life as well. I just follow things that feel right and is truthful to me, and that’s what I preach to people who follow me as well. Nobody really has any answers, so why not just create a world and a truth for yourself that feels right? You don’t have to follow anyone else, or any school of thought.

I was actually just thinking back to “That’s So Us,” because it doesn’t immediately sound like something people would expect from you.
Yeah, it’s definitely the poppiest track on the record!

Courtesy of Jena Cumbo
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

What was it like recording that and deciding to release it? Did it just feel like the natural thing to do?
The truth is I wrote that as a pitch song, to pitch to another artist, and then my A&R heard it and he was like, “This is such a good song, you have to put this out”. And then I started listening to it with the ears that it maybe could be for me and was like, “Aw, I do like this!” It comes from a very truthful place, as sugar sweet as it is.

In tune with this whole discussion, do you believe in the saying “evolve or die”?
Evolve or die? Yeah, I kinda do. I feel like I have so many years to go that I might end up like, 50 or 60 years old and just be like, “Y’know what? I said evolve or die, but life is so fucking painful, it’s enough work to just live, y’know? I don’t care to evolve anymore.” [Laughs] Because life is really fucking hard and really painful, but at this point that’s not my philosophy. I see so many people that just don’t wanna learn anymore, they don’t wanna hear anymore, they don’t wanna see anymore. They just wanna stay where they are, and I find it hard to communicate with those people. And actually with people that I’m close to I find it rather painful to try and speak to them, so yeah, for now I would definitely say evolve or die. Never stop learning, never stop growing.

There are obviously people who believe that even if someone isn’t willing to evolve, we need to have the patience to educate them. Do you think that is something we need to take on, or is it—as we were just saying—a case of evolve or f— off?
That’s a good question. I do think that people need to be patient, and educate. But on a personal level, I just get pissed. [Laughs] I just get really angry! I don’t have much patience, and that’s really something I hope I get better at as I get older. I’m usually the one who’s like… if I’m standing in line to get a coffee or something and someone in front of me is being mistreated, and the ignorance coming from the person who’s doing the mistreating is just on a stupid level, I’m not going to be the one who touches him on the shoulder and says, “Hey, maybe you should rethink the way you’re doing that.” I’d be like, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, DO YOU REALIZE HOW STUPID YOU SOUND? YOU’RE EMBARRASSING YOURSELF.” That’s the kind of person I am, so I don’t know, I think patience is a virtue that I haven’t learned yet.

That is a very good quote.
[Laughs]

Okay, so I have one last question: what does pop mean to you?
Pop music, to me, means no shame. And it means a language that can be universal. It can transcend language, race, sexual orientation, religion, governments. When you have a pop song that becomes huge and is in every country and everybody’s singing it, there’s something incredibly powerful about that. So, can pop music be really corny and stupid? Yeah. Can pop music be incredibly well-crafted and amazing and artful? Yeah! I don’t have any shame about writing or listening to pop music. I think as a musician I take pride in listening to all sorts of music and not just pop. I think that’s important, at least for me—but yeah, I love pop music!

Courtesy of Jena Cumbo
Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

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