Queen Of The Internet: In Conversation with Allie X

It’s been 18 months since we last spoke to Allie X, just hours ahead of her highly-anticipated debut London show. There, we bonded over a mutual loathing of straight clubs, pretty much marking her as one of our favourite people from there on…

Since our last encounter, the Toronto-born, LA-based multimedia artist has spent the months making a name for herself in the pop world, conjuring an even-larger online following in the process and tackling the dreaded first album. The eventual release of her debut full-length record, CollXtion II, marked her as one of 2017’s most intriguing and unique talents, alongside already establishing herself as a devote ally to the LGBTQ+ community and an avid supporter and friend to our own Dean Eastmond.

Ahead of a sold-out headline slot at London Bridge’s swanky Omeara, the artist re-divulges on stan culture, harnessing creativity through technology and how the power of the internet shapes the true meaning of X.

How’s the tour been going for you so far?

The tour’s been really good! As you might know, it’s not been an extensive touring schedule making it my first time in a lot of the markets with these dates but I’ve been really inspired and encouraged by the audiences and fans that I’ve been meeting. I get really down if I’m in Hollywood for too long as there is so much pressure and everyone’s 21 and the best at what they do so coming on tour and meeting actual people is really therapeutic. These shows have definitely built my confidence up.

Have you found shaping the tour around the new record has been an easy thing to do? For the CollXtion I shows, it was very much track one to track seven performed in order…

This is very different to my previous shows but it’s been far easier. I think the most difficult and daunting task was taking the project and making it live which is what I had to do with COllXtion I, without a musical director or really anyone’s help besides Jungle Ge0rge (Allie’s trusted friend/photographer/bandmate). That first show ever was terrifying but from then on it’s been easier and easier as I just have to add new songs here and there.

What I will say for these shows though is that as the sound has evolved for the record, the live shows have evolved with it. I changed the keys for some of these tracks just to be able to perform them as best I can, like Vintage I couldn’t project at all. It works though…

How much of the setlist is your choice of tracks and how much are the fan favourites or recommendations taken into consideration?

That’s So Us was definitely one that I never particularly wanted to do live but the fans were really demanding it. I still try to keep the shows pretty short though, so if I go to a concert I don’t wanna be standing there for two hours. I want to be BAM! and then over.

Why not That’s So Us? Well, it was only really written as some tea… [laughs] I wrote that with Leland and the lyrics just formed around things from my life. Then my A&R found it whilst going through a load of my songs and declared it a hit there and then so it all went from there really. Billboard, the producer, really transformed it into what it is now and it really grew on me. It’s just very sugary sweet and I find the most intense tracks far easier to perform live, I think. That said, I started performing it on this tour and it’s actually one of the most fun moments of the set for me as the audience knows all the words and I can see all the Xs singing along.

Social media, or ‘stan culture’, can pretty much be the make or break for a career, with Xs being pretty wild and supporting you seemingly from the off…

Totally! The craziness, almost cult-ishness, of my fans is truly what keeps me going and reminds me that I must be doing something right if everyone’s calling me ‘mom’, a lot of ‘wigs are gone’ and everyone’s ‘scalped’ etc etc… I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary from my fans and the guy who does my digital stuff is so much a part of that culture so it’s not been hard to pick up.

Do you bare the fans, or the crazy reactions at least, in mind when creating music?

Through all the experiences of playing live, meeting my fans, doing signings and meet and greets, you get to know the people that are interested in you and you keep that in mind at all times. I keep in mind what my music means to people and it’s a payoff when I get the most amazing letters explaining how my work has impacted somebody’s life. The project started as something for myself but has evolved into something for all the listeners.

What instances have you found social media to be a big help to your career? Any specific moments?

Well the Katy Perry tweet was a pretty big one… [laughs] Social media really has shaped all my marketing and I get a really clear understanding of who I’m talking to and what they like and dislike. The whole Unsolved era I did last year really helped with that too as I could see who wasn’t pleased with what I was doing and could address it there and then. I like not being super famous as I feel like my privacy isn’t being invaded and allows me to be so open with fans.

In what ways, if any, did the process of making COllXtion II alter to the way you created CollXion I?

CollXtion I was largely done and put together but just needed finalising and small parts adjusting. For CollXtion II, I had to start right over from scratch as I don’t think anything except True Love Is Violent was saved for it specifically. I really did struggle at the start of this record though, real difficulty in putting together a cohesive body of work and I couldn’t find the new things for the sound that I was after in order to evolve as an artist.

I think part of the reason I struggled so much is down to LA and being a writer for other people. It feels very mechanical too often, in that you enter a room and write with 3 or 4 people then leave with a song at the end of the day. When I started this project, I was writing everything on my laptop, doing it alone and taking a month to complete anything so putting together something cohesive was taking its time.

I actually went to Canada to take a break for a bit, only playing a few festivals here and there and by giving myself that space, I was able to give myself that magic feeling that is needed to make good music. That resulted in Paper Love, Vintage and Simon Says and it all flowed out from there.

A lot of CollXtion II definitely feels pretty dark, perhaps more personal on-listen to that of the tracks on the first release. Is it easy getting dark, inner feelings into a track or is it something you have to dig deep for?

That’s definitely the part that comes naturally! The stuff about being in love or happy or joyous isn’t something I find easy. I’ve found I can be really honest about certain feelings and really struggle writing about others.

Do you have methods for digging those trickier emotions out for songwriting?

I guess just flow of consciousness writing helps me something, journaling etc. I feel so envious of quick lyricists which I just don’t have. A lot of LA writers seems to have the ability to decide on a concept and theme and just have the whole song together instantly which I definitely don’t have. I’m more of a melody, vibes and gibberish words kinda girl who takes about three fucking months just to write one song.

You put stems online for fans to remix as well as doing loads involving fan art and zines. Why is fan creativity such an importance to you?

The whole concept behind X is that it’s your version of what it could be, not necessarily modelling anyone or anything on me. I guess what I want to show my fans is that everyone has to start somewhere and not everyone is ‘gifted’, whatever that even means anyway. I think everybody has a creative side to them and I think creativity can be incredibly healing and gives you a sense of self so it’s just about encouraging that idea.

It’s like bringing the creative side out of someone who didn’t even know they had it in them, right?

Yeah! Totally, pretty much everyone has GarageBand anyway so make the most of it. My little sister finds it pretty normal for her and her friends to mess around and make beats and loops etc. Everybody has it in them so go wild with it!

You’ve been a huge ally to the LGBTQ+ community from day one as Allie X. In your own words, what makes a good ally?

I feel there are situations that call for you to be very loud and very proud and other situations where you have to normalise it. Why should anyone feel uncomfortable by this or react to this subject? That’s the approach I’ve taken to it. My dad, not that he’s homophobic, but he’s an older, conservative, British man so I’d always have my gay friends over to make it as normal as possible. The wonderful thing now is that LGBTQ+ is being more and more talked about so the more of that, the better. It overtakes all the hate and wins that way. I’ve never put it into words before but I hope that makes sense…

CollXtion II is out now.

Photography: Brendon Burton
Makeup: Dana Rae Ashburn
Producer: Paul Mauer

Interview: Bill Baker and Jordan White
Words: Bill Baker

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