In Conversation with Allie X

It’s always interesting to witness the sheer amount of online buzz that surrounds a ‘pop star’ due to make their way to the UK for the first time.

Said star is Allie X, the Toronto-born, L.A-based songwriter and visual artist who makes the best kind of bold, proper pop and possesses an outer-worldly vocal range. She’s scheduled for two London shows, marking the (almost) one year anniversary of her CollXtion I record with a debut UK show later in the evening at Dalston pad Birthdays. It’s fair to say long-time fans, or ‘X’s as they’re charmingly referred to, were pretty damn thrilled at the news.

She’s responsible for a chunk of Troye Sivan’s debut, toured alongside YouTube-come-pop star and Katy Perry’s a fan, yet the Canadian is still often given the ‘mysterious’ tag by the press and can mostly be found behind a pair of wonderfully outlandish shades (rather large mirrored ones today, in fact.)

Among multiple giggles and the discovery of a collective loathing of straight clubs, we sat down with Allie in Notting Hill’s painfully-retro Electric Diner to discuss working with Troye, the importance of the internet and the future of pop music.

When did you arrive into London and what have you been up to since?

I got here last Thursday and it’s been rehearsals, a couple of dinners and meetings. I did a practice show the other night, been trying to sleep, trying to find all my favourite foods. I keep going to places that are similar to Soho House [fancy private members club] by coincidence, so I like this place.

So London is treating you well then?

Yes! It feels very magical to be here, a nice change from Los Angeles. I’m here till next week and then I’m off to Sweden for a few days.

You play your debut UK show this evening, followed by a slot back here in Notting Hill tomorrow evening. For anyone who’s not been to an Allie X show before, how would you sum it up?

It’s definitely the most personal that I get and the most intimate that I can get with fans, I would say. It’s different from having a relationship or connection with someone online because when you can see them in front of you, you can see that they know the words to your songs and you put a face to a name or Twitter handle or whatever.

You’ve got such a close relationship with fans on social media, we even messaged you on Tumblr after failing to track down a press contact for you… so it’s nice to see an intimacy like that on social media between artist and fans.

Yeah, I love Tumblr. It’s changed the way I think about the project and my way of seeing fans since I started out and then beginning the live shows about a year ago.

Do you prefer the live shows to the studio time then or would you say it’s an equal balance?

You know, the two are life and I’m only just getting started. But I don’t think I’m a born-for-the-road sort of person, I’m very particular about my lifestyle and my diet and I like to have those comforts around me. If I could tour in, like, an RV then that’d be great…

Is it easy to manage your diet on tour?

The truth is, any city I arrive in, I just go right to Whole Foods and usually I can find something there. Usually these days, hotels must have little fridges for people who require refrigeration of their medications so that really works in my favour because it means I can get whatever I need and keep it all in there.

In terms of your songwriting, Bitch took just a day to write. Is the process that quick for all your work?

No, not at all! Bitch was a rare exception. It’s just so funny because I don’t even know if I’d have picked it out of the 100 or 150 ideas for CollXtion l had my manager at the time not said, ‘This is a special record.” I always thought it was pretty cool but I didn’t think other people would like it or get it.

Does your songwriting process alter when writing with others for other records, like Troye Sivan, or is it similar to how an Allie X track would come about?

Troye Sivan was less painful, that’s for sure, it was just so natural. We wrote all the songs in this garage studio in Silver Lake, not really knowing how many would make the album. It was me, my writing partner Leland, most importantly Troye and then his producer Bram and we’d just start the day talking about what we were all going through or whatever we wanted. We all just gelled natural so it was all really fun. It was always honest work and we’d never try to just write hits.

The reaction to YOUTH has been nothing short of insane, really. A proud moment for the Allie X project, it would be assumed?

I’m very proud of Youth. It’s on the radio which means it’s my first radio plays, the whole experience is just so exciting.

Tell us about performing it on Ellen…

I did do Ellen, yes! Only in the back but that was fun and I got to meet Ellen. It’s funny, all these things, because I’d told myself three years ago, “You’re gonna be on the Ellen Show!” then I’d have flipped out. Everything happens in these little steps, so when something like that happens it doesn’t fully hit you, if you get what I mean.

Obviously Troye has such a huge LGBT following which seems to have transcended down onto yourself…

Yeah, his fans are really fans, you know? A lot of the people going to his tour were already aware of me purely because they’d done their research, I definitely saw X’s in the audiences who knew the words to my songs which was really cute.

Do you keep the LGBT community in mind when writing your music? From a perspective, the communal feeling of your fan base alongside tracks like Sanctuary talking about having a safe place would suggest this.

Oh yeah, of course, I always write with the LGBT community in mind. I’ve always related to that community and the feeling of not really having a safe place to go or fitting in to a particular category, not that this is the situation for every LGBT person, I know. I’ve always felt out-of-body, if that makes sense? Not being in touch with my own body has sort of gone away as I’ve grown older but I can really relate to the trans community, in that sense. Not that I feel like I’m supposed to be male for example, but the feeling of not being able to connect with this physical thing that I’m stuck with.

You’re from Toronto, which is renowned for having quite an established gay scene. Is that part of the city’s culture something that has been a source of inspiration to you in the past?

Oh yes, definitely. I remember going to Provincetown in Massachusetts, which is a very ‘gay’ town as such, my family took me there on vacation. I remember drag queens everywhere and just looking around think I was in Disneyworld and thinking, “I love this! I get this! I feel this!” It’s been the same throughout my whole life, my closest friends have always been gay and I’ve always enjoyed going to gay clubs more than regular clubs I mean, who enjoys going to straight clubs?! Who wants to be humped?! Actually, I’m sure some people do… But yes, some of my fondest memories have been with gay friends and members of the LGBT community at gay clubs and gay parties.

We spoke to your fellow Troye tour pals LANY a couple of weeks back and they explained how their social media follow has shot through the roof after his fans caught onto their music. It’s been a pretty similar situation for you, with X fan accounts cropping up from all across the globe. Is social media something that’s important to you?

Yeah, it’s a big thing for me and almost everyone else, that’s the day and age we live in. Troye is one of the kings of the internet, he may not have as many followers as someone like Taylor Swift but his following is so devoted and so behind him. And so they should be, since he’s such a smart, kind, genuine person who is leading a whole new generation of kids in the right direction. I can’t say enough about Troye, I think the world of him.

In terms of visuals, where did your interest in GIFs stem from? They’re pretty much all over everything we’ve had from you thus far.

I mean, everyone started to get interested in GIFs through Tumblr whenever that started out. I’ve always liked GIFs because, as an artist who doesn’t have a lot of money, they’re so useful. I don’t know if you’ve experienced making videos or music videos before, but it costs a lot of money and you have very little control over what ends up happening in the end. Whereas a GIF is very controlled and it’s very photographic and so it’s way easier for me to make quickly and to maintain control over my visuals. Besides that, I love the glitchy-ness of a GIF and I love that there’s part of the story that’s hidden whilst also capturing a moment in time. All of those are important and, obviously, the spinning I can create with a GIF is important for my project as well.

Are you now in full control of your visuals then? Is there anything visual you haven’t been able to do just yet and would love to in the future?

I am the curator but I work with very talented photographers and directors. I wish I could take credit for everything but I know what I like and I have always have folders of references on hand. I’ve done treatments myself but ultimately I’m not the one working the camera. And oh yeah, for sure. If I ever make a lot of money there’s a lot of things I would like to do.

Your sound now is totally different to what you were making prior to the Allie X project. Can we expect a switch in sound for COllXtion II?

You can expect an evolution, but it’s all still within the Allie X sound. I think it won’t feel like too far of a stretch.

The term ‘future of pop’ has been thrown around with your name a fair few times from the media. It’d be interesting to know what you think the future of pop will be or where you think pop is headed?

It’s a pretty nice to label, I must say. I’d be interest to know what you think about the future of pop first….

…From acts like yourself and Troye, it looks like pop is probably going become even more online based, circling around social media even further and using that to more of an advantage than it is at present…

I agree, I think that the internet completed fucked the music industry in both good and bad ways. For instance, when I arrived in Los Angeles as a songwriter, I mean I’ve always thought of myself as an artist but I landed a publishing deal which took me to L.A, I’d go into managerial meetings or whatever and play them my own songs and they weren’t, “Lets sign her!”, you know? Now that there’s the internet, I can upload a song to Soundcloud so that the press have immediate access to it and fans have immediate access to it, which is where you get your power. Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case and if I was doing this back then, I don’t think I’d have gotten as far as I am just not an obvious choice for a major label signing. With people like Troye, who have followers in the millions, he was able to make a record exactly the way he wanted it to sound because he already had all the power. He didn’t have to answer to anyone, you know. He achieved that power by speaking to people through a little camera in his bedroom. It’s pretty cool, so I think pop music is becoming more interesting and I think the listeners are becoming more educated and having bigger expectations. I think it’s positive over all, we just need to work out how to make some money.

Are there any artists you could recommend right now?

I’ve been listening to Nicola Cruz, this experimental guy from Ecuador, he’s really cool. That’s not pop though, I’m afraid.

And finally, Allie X in three words?

I. Am. X.

New single Old Habits Die Hard is available now.

Words by Bill Baker and Dean Eastmond