It's been almost two years now since Allie X dropped 'Catch', a delectable and neatly crafted pop masterpiece of a debut single. It was picked up by various outlets - including the Twitter account of one Katy Perry, who shared the song with her 50 million followers - and it became a rapid viral hit. Back in April, the Canadian native gave us six new tracks in the form of 'CollXtion I', her debut EP, which has just been relaunched worldwide with a brand new song. Fans are currently waiting (im)patiently for the follow-up, 'CollXtion II', which is expected in early 2016.
As well as her unique musical output, Allie's identity, or lack thereof, sets her apart from other popstars. Mystique is key to her public persona - she refuses to discuss or give details pertaining to her past life, pre-X, and describes the persona she has created as a "non-identity".
One of the first artists to recognise Allie's songwriting talents was Troye Sivan. The pair first started writing together last Summer and gelled immediately. Five of the tracks they created made it onto Troye's debut album, 'Blue Neighbourhood', released in early December, including current single 'Youth' and the ballad, 'Talk Me Down'.
Coup De Main sat down with Allie in Los Angeles earlier this month to discuss all manner of topics, including her songwriting process, the attention she receives from fans, working with Troye, and what we should expect from 'CollXtion II'...
"I feel safe when I'm alone. It's been an adjustment for me to let people into my life. I've had to do that somewhat with this Allie X project, although it really is fuelled by a sense of anonymity and non-identity. On a personal level, I have trouble connecting with people, so alone is where I feel safest..."
COUP DE MAIN: How does your songwriting process work?
ALLIE X: It's different every time I write a song. I used to just write at the piano, but now that I know how to produce - well, somewhat - I often will start with a bass-line or a drumbeat. Sometimes I get an idea in my head melodically and I'll voice-memo it. It might be there for a year before I decide to pursue that. Sometimes I get a title. Sometimes I get a lyric to start from, but rarely.
CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
ALLIE X: At points in my life I've written things as journal entries and they've turned into songs, but that hasn't happened in a while. I feel like I don't have time to read, let alone write journal entries, these days.
CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you've written?
ALLIE X: Good question. No-one's actually asked me that in that way before. I guess, 'Catch'. I also really like 'Prime'.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
ALLIE X: For artists who are trying to write pop music, a lot of them would say that it's the difference between appealing to the masses and not. I do think that there is something incredible about writing something that reaches the world, in a Top 40 way. Not to say that those songs are great, because a lot of them aren't. But that is a goal for me, to write something that is tasteful and innovative and well-written that also reaches the masses.
CDM: So if you write a song that you feel is good but not great, does it get shelved completely?
ALLIE X: Sometimes I will write something that doesn't work, but if one part of it really works, and if I just change the verse and the concept and the production, maybe there's something there. With some songs I've done, I did have to marinate on them for a year and change the production several times. 'Catch' was one of those songs. Sometimes it just doesn't work, and no matter what you do, it's a dud. But other times you can really turn something on its head and it becomes more interesting than a song that works right away.
CDM: What was the first ever song you ever wrote about?
ALLIE X: Well, I don't really speak to my past. But since I'm in a really good mood, and I like you, I'll tell you that the first song I ever wrote was about mistakes. And the lyrics were: "Everyone makes mistakes / Even clouds in the sky.” <laughs>
CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
ALLIE X: 'Cross Your Fingers'. That'd be the name. National anthems are always very up-lifting. Wouldn't it be neat if a country wrote a beautiful national anthem that wasn't so cheesy? With that in mind, I think I would want mine to be about the terrifying nature of being alive. <laughs> Just a little more truthful than “we stand on guard for thee,” or “God bless us all,” or whatever.
CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
ALLIE X: I hope they take away a sense of empowerment and liberation from listening to somebody who had difficulty finding her place and then managed to start to find it, and that they feel inspired to do the same. I hope that they hear something interesting and a little different to what's on the radio. I hope that they can lose themselves in it. But I'm a confused person and I don't really consider myself an authority to give other people other answers, other than that there are no answers.
CDM: If A.L.L.I.E. X. were an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
ALLIE X: Anxiety, Lost, Loveless (at times), Identity, Enigma, Xiled.
CDM: What's on your bucket-list?
ALLIE X: Finding a sense of peace. Travelling the world. Making real connections with people. Having enough money to live lavishly, at least for a few years. Having a number one single. Writing something that will always be remembered. Creating an animated film with Hayao Miyazaki about The Story Of X. Teaching people how to sing.
CDM: Your EP 'CollXtion I' was just relaunched worldwide, including a new song called 'Never Enough'. Why did you want to release this track now?
ALLIE X: It's pretty simple: my fans want new music, they want 'CollXtion II' and it's not ready. So we relaunched 'CollXtion I' and that's put everything on hold. I just wanted to put something else out there in the meantime.
CDM: After 'Catch' was first released, you seemed to be painted in some corners of the press with that old "overnight success" narrative, which I know many artists feel negates the struggle and toil they've put into getting their music to an audience. Did that irk you at all, or were you just appreciative that people were listening to it?
ALLIE X: I really appreciated that people were listening to it. I spent a number of years writing and arranging those songs, and reimagining them. I was very much alone and not sharing it with anyone, so to be validated in that way was very gratifying. But I wouldn't call myself a success by pop standards. I have a very devoted but small following. I was fortunate in that I put the song on Soundcloud with no publicist, and Time picked it up. Idolator was saying it was the best song of the year. I was really lucky with that, it sort of kicked everything off.
MY 'BITCH' FACE...
CDM: I love these lyrics from 'Sanctuary' - "When they're throwing stones / There's a place I know / I can always go / To my sanctuary.” Where do you feel safe? And what do you need in order to feel safe?
ALLIE X: I feel safe when I'm alone. It's been an adjustment for me to let people into my life. I've had to do that somewhat with this Allie X project, although it really is fuelled by a sense of anonymity and non-identity. On a personal level, I have trouble connecting with people, so alone is where I feel safest, with all my little health foods that I like and my music that I like to listen to and my shows that I like to watch and my piano and laptop.
CDM: We're in Los Angeles right now, where you've lived for a couple of years, but you're from far away Ontario, Canada, and some of the lyrics in 'Good' are about missing home. What does home mean to you?
ALLIE X: It's really a place that I find within myself. I've lived in maybe 25 different houses at this point in my life. I've never been in one place for a long time. So home has more to do with a sense of self. It's a feeling. A lot of that, again, has to do with being solitary. There are people in my life who feel like home, but less so than that feeling.
CDM: I noticed a lot of references to medicine, doctors, pills, and needles in the lyrics of many of the songs on 'CollXtion I', such as 'Catch' and 'Hello'. Was this a conscious effort on your part, or do you only see patterns like that when you step back?
ALLIE X: It started off as an unconscious thing and it became a conscious thing. When I wrote 'Catch', a lot of those words came out subconsciously. 'Doctor' came out, and I fashioned the character of the doctor. But then I became very conscious of it. I am telling my own story and I do have a history with doctors, so I made it a through-line in the music.
CDM: I feel the influence, in different ways, of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s in your music. Is there a particular decade that you feel your music is most inspired by, or that you have the strongest affinity to?
ALLIE X: Sound-design-wise, late 70s and early 80s. Synthesizers, I'm talking. Melodically, the 90s and late 80s. I just love those big ballads! Those key-changes! Conceptually, I feel that the 70s were a very dark and interesting time. I feel a real connection to the changing times and turmoil of that era. I don't know if that comes through in my music, though.
CDM: You've reached what seems to be a stepping stone on the way to megastardom: your fans have set up websites purely to discuss you, your music, and your career. How does this sort of attention, particularly on the Internet, make you feel?
ALLIE X: It gives me a few different feelings. It's flattering and it gives me the energy and the strength to keep going - to see that people believe in me so much. There have been some weird security things that have happened that shouldn't normally be happening to someone at my level. That's also flattering, in a strange way, but also a little scary. Overall it's a positive thing. I've been told by my management that because of this non-identity that I've been asking for and this refusal to discuss my past, I create a hunger and it makes people want to know those things more. So I understand that, but I still stand by not wanting to disclose that information.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT 2016...
CDM: Do you know about The Streisand Effect?
ALLIE X: No. Did she have super-fans that did the same?
CDM: No, she tried to get aerial photos of her Malibu mansion taken off a database looking into coastal erosion. When the press found out, everyone became fixated on what she was trying to hide. It's when the fact that something is being hidden or kept private, means that more interest in it is generated.
ALLIE X: Yeah, exactly. That's it.
CDM: You hadn't played any live shows as Allie X until Spring of this year. How did playing songs live change how you saw your music, or even your identity as Allie X?
ALLIE X: It definitely changed my relationship with the X's [her fans]. It's different when it's a Twitter handle, than when it's a young boy in front of you crying and singing the words of something you wrote. It made me feel more of a sense of responsibility to these people, and I just started feeling a little more connected. I just did a show in San Francisco last week, a small show, but there was a guy there who'd flown in from Paraguay. I was like, 'What, you're here to see me? Cool!'
CDM: You've only played shows in the U.S. and Canada up to this point. Are there other countries that you're particularly keen to play in?
ALLIE X: I really want to play a show in Brazil because that's where a lot of my fans are. They ask me to come all the time. I don't know if I have ten fans in Japan, but I just really want to go to Japan. And Europe. I'm interested in going everywhere.
CDM: I love your 'Xpirational Chunes' playlist on Spotify. It's so eclectic. What do you find particularly inspirational about the following songs, or their artists? The first one is Mariah Carey's 'Fantasy'.
ALLIE X: What a jam! I just love her voice. I learned how to sing listening to Mariah Carey. I would sing along to her songs and I learned how to do riffs from her. So that gives me a warm feeling.
CDM: What about Robyn's 'Who's That Girl'?
ALLIE X: Oh, I love that drum groove! That whole sound that The Knife started... I really feel like that was a step towards this revolution of blog-pop that we've experienced in the last few years. I was working with Say Lou Lou yesterday, and anyone Swedish that I've met has this class and this sense of what's tasteful and what isn't.
CDM: Finally, Kate Bush's 'Babooshka'?
ALLIE X: I put Kate Bush and Björk in a special category of artists who are so abstract in their way of creating, but are household names in the mainstream. I'm so inspired by that. It's like an eclipse - it just doesn't happen that often, that an artist like that makes their way to the surface. Everyone knows those names. They're both so innovative and have these strange brains.
CDM: Of course, 'CollXtion I' isn't the only music of yours that has just come out. You worked on a few tracks on Troye Sivan's debut album, 'Blue Neighbourhood'. When we spoke to Troye earlier this year, he told us you were one of his favourite writers to work with. Do you get the same thrill when music you've worked on for someone else is successful, as you would were you releasing it as Allie X?
ALLIE X: I did five tracks on that album. It was a very natural and easy writing process. As I was telling people in the industry that I was working with Troye, and that he was a YouTuber with a record deal, you'd get a few people who were like ,"Oh..." <raised, judging eyebrows>. But he's an artist, and he knows so specifically what he wants to say and how he wants to sound. You can hear that in the album. You don't make an album like that without that kind of vision. He listens to so much music. He's just so in-tune with his generation, and that's one of the reasons why he's so popular. But to answer your question, it's not the same thrill, but it's a different kind of thrill. I'm very happy that this is the first thing I've put out into the world that is with a different artist. It feels so perfect for me. I'm very proud of it and of him.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT 'BLUE NEIGHBOURHOOD' BEING OUT…
CDM: I read that the central lyric from 'Youth' - "my youth is yours" - came from something a fan said to you. Care to explain?
ALLIE X: Yeah, we were sitting in the studio, all on our laptops, as is pretty standard. He was on my Tumblr and he saw that a fan of mine had posted, "My youth is yours." He was like, "Allie, I just saw this thing that a fan posted to you and I think it would make a really great lyric, would you mind?" I was like, "You're right, that's great, by all means!" Yesterday, I tweeted out, "Which one of you wrote this song?!" I haven't figured it out yet. One day we're going to be sued. <laughs>
CDM: As you mentioned, your fans haven't been shy in telling you they're keen to hear music from 'CollXtion II'. Does this have an impact on your writing, or do you find a way to tune all that noise out?
ALLIE X: More than anything it's about making a song that's of a certain quality. I believe that I have a really good sense of when something is ready to go out into the world. I'm fortunately in a position where I don't have a label saying, it has to be out by this date. So yes, I do feel a pressure and, yes, all I ever think about is how can I make outstanding songs, but I know that that takes time as well. At this point, it's getting pretty close, though. I know the songs that I want to put out there, it's now just about honing in on them and making them cohesive.
CDM: Is a full LP something that's on your mind? Or is it all the 'CollXtion II' EP for now?
ALLIE X: I mean, technically, 'CollXtion II' could be an album or an EP. I don't really care to call it either. But I might be putting more songs on 'CollXtion II'... I might be putting less songs on 'CollXtion II'. <coy face>
ALLIE X's 'CollXtion I' is out now - click HERE to purchase it via iTunes.
Watch the 'Catch' music video below…
P.S. Click HERE to check out more of CDM's 2016 Must-Know artists in CDM Issue #17!