Allie X photographed by Sequoia Emmanuelle. Dress by The Last Follies Closet, cloak by Kaimin.
Allie X first turned heads in 2014 with her debut single “Catch,” which charted on the Canadian Hot 100 and caught the attention of fellow pop star, Katy Perry. A year later she released her first EP, CollXtion I with catchy songs like “Bitch” and “Never Enough.” A songwriter at heart, Allie X also writes for a number of pop singers, including Troye Sivan. The first album from Allie X, CollXtion II was released in early 2017 with “Paper Love” as the first single which quickly climbed the charts. This past fall, she released her second studio album, Super Sunset. As brilliant and bright as the title suggests, these eight songs tackle many serious aspects of the entertainment industry in a fun uplifting way that only Allie X can deliver.
RAIN first interviewed Allie X for our fall/winter 2017 edition. Our editor-at-large, Sean Weiland speaks with her here in an exclusive interview for RAIN online. Fame, Los Angeles, and the struggle for greatness are just a few of the topics on the table. Read the full interview and view the gallery of exclusive portraits captured by photographer and art director, Sequoia Emmanuelle, below.
Sean Weiland: Hi Allie, so now, Super Sunset, this is your new album following CollXtion II. Is that correct?
Allie X: Yes.
SW: And so, now, is there a little bit more that’s going on with this album than there was in CollXtion II, because I read somewhere that there are multiple personas on the album?
AX: Yeah, I mean I’m always taking music way beyond music. It’s kind of my thing. I just enjoy painting in a whole world of pictures for the fans with every record, but yes, there are multiple personas with Super Sunset. There are three. The first is called The Nun.
AX: I mean, the whole record, you should know, is just about my experience moving to Los Angeles and navigating it for the last…coming up on five years. So these personas are kind of like different people, incarnations of me. So the first is The Nun and that represents the purity and the almost spirituality of being an artist. Just the raw, authentic spirit that gets you into being any kind of artist in the first place. That’s kind of how I picture myself when I got off the plane at LAX.
AX: And the second is The Hollywood Starlet. And she’s blonde, and she represents the glamour and the whole Hollywood desperation, like just pushing yourself in a direction of glamour but almost becoming desperate and fake.
AX: And then the third is one that I’m calling SciFi Girl. And she’s like, kind of all the qualities in me that I exaggerate as my, as X, all the sort of weirdness and the coldness and otherworldliness that comes naturally to me that I decided to really focus on for what I put out into the world when I started The Allie X Project. So she’s probably the one that I relate to the most, most of the time. So, yeah, it’s the three of them and they just sort of…
AX: I’m just having fun with becoming all of them for this record.
SW: I really loved the CollXtion II. I love the song “Bitch” on CollXtion I. And then, I thought, it just really… I thought it was a really well done pop album, which is my personal favorite type of music. And I really thought what was sort of interesting about you, and this has kind of led me to that question regarding the personas was that I always see you in sunglasses.
Aside from Los Angeles where it’s always sunny, is there a reason you’re always wearing sunglasses? Is it easier to be one of these personas while you’re performing? Do you get into the SciFi Girl first before you start performing those songs? Do you have a different frame of mind when you sing “It’s Not So Bad In LA” as The Hollywood Starlet?” Or is it all sort of …
AX: I mean, there’s no real formula to it. I have been mostly performing as The Hollywood Starlet since I started doing live shows this year. Before anyone even knew there was a record coming, I was just kind of having to experiment with that. The sunglasses are something that, yeah, they’ve always made me feel a little more protected. A lot of the concept of what I do is…the X in Allie X represents the unknown and the certain anonymity that comes with being…when you’re X it means that you haven’t quite figured out who you are yet. So, sunglasses have always…
Gloves by The Last Follies Closet
SW: You’re still variable.
AX: You’re still variable. Exactly. And so the sunglasses have always been just a kind of representation of that. And also just something that makes me personally feel more protected. I think that your eyes give away so much and sometimes I just don’t want people to see everything in its raw state. I’d rather them not see my eyes.
SW: It gives you an additional layer of protection, a certain armor, a level of polish.
AX: Yeah it’s a nice sort of physical symbol of that. And they look cool, too. But yeah, with these personas, I’ve actually been wearing sunglasses less these days. As I expected would happen as I’ve become more comfortable being somewhat of a public figure and all that. I don’t feel the need to always cover my eyes anymore.
SW: Now, I have been listening to “It’s Not So Bad In L.A.” constantly. I am a huge fan of Los Angeles. I was just there a few weeks ago. And I was sort of wondering…you said you moved to Los Angeles five years ago.
Is this song the embodiment of your love/hate relationship with it? Is it, “This is the place where I belong?” And it seems to me, at some point, the song…there’s an interesting wit to the lyrics that almost tends to say a sense of, “Well, there are aspects of it that I’m settling with, but it’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, so when you think about all the celebrities that have tragically lived in this city, but the city just goes on and so does the entertainment industry. It’s hard to put it into one sentence because it feels so complicated in my head, my relationship with living here, and with just even being an artist trying to quote/unquote ‘make it.'”
AX: Exactly. I mean, you pretty much just summed it up. I’ve had some journalists ask me, in the sense of, “Yeah, you’re right, it isn’t so bad.” They tell me, I’m glad someone wrote a positive song about LA. And I mean…
SW: It really isn’t that.
AX: There are aspects of that. It’s not that. It’s quite sarcastic. But that said, it’s not a song about hating LA and being sarcastic either. It’s a song about…what was the last thing that you said? Settling. It’s a song about…it’s like you know that you…like, I know that I have to be here, and there is a certain glamour that comes with it. And my career has done better than it did in any other city. It’s kind of about that juxtaposition between glamour and everyone talks about quality of life versus desperation and hustle. And how it’s simultaneously both of those things, and there’s a certain sense of settling and surrendering to it, because when I say, “Angels all left the City of Angels, but we’ll stay. We’ll stay. It’s not so bad in LA.” I don’t know, it’s kind of…
SW: “And while the bright stars die…” That’s my favorite line.
AX: Yeah, so when you think about all the celebrities that have tragically lived in this city, but the city just goes on and so does the entertainment industry. It’s hard to put it into one sentence because it feels so complicated in my head, my relationship with living here, and with just even being an artist trying to quote/unquote “make it.” It’s just, there’re a lot of feelings.
SW: And I think unique to Los Angeles, versus other American cities…I’m aware that you’re Canadian, so I imagine that Toronto and Montreal being vastly different.
AX: They’re vastly different, yeah.
SW: Vastly, vastly different than Los Angeles, but there’s a certain element of glamour as well as a transient nature that I notice. A lot of what you said, just passing through, the entertainment industry is always moving forward, it’s always looking for that next thing.
AX: Yeah, I have another song called, “Girl of the Year” on the record and it’s exactly that, what you’re saying. It’s always looking for the next hot thing. And it’s almost like, us artists can only hope to be the girl for a year, because if you’re lucky, really lucky, you get a few years, but it’s really…it’s not like other industries where you rise and then you sustain. It’s like, you rise and people watch you fall, and people wait for you to fall and people love when you fall. It’s really sick.
SW: Well, they anticipate the fall and then there’s nothing they love more than when…
AX: Then watching the demise and the decline of a person.
Anna Nicole Smith
SW: Whether it’s Anna Nicole Smith with a reality show, or Britney Spears with the shaved head and an umbrella. But on the flip side of that I think that everyone also loves the comeback story.
AX: Oh, yeah, that too. That too.
SW: I can’t think of any other career exactly like you had said, where it does not plateau, and you’re always sort of in some sort of trajectory, whether that’s up or down.
AX: Yeah, it’s so unhuman, the whole thing, that it’s hard to feel like a human to me. It’s hard for me to feel calm or settled. To be honest it’s hard for me to feel like I’m not super selfish because what I’m doing is so inwardly focused. Even though I get really touching messages from people all around the world saying that my music has done something meaningful for them, it’s hard to even feel that because you’re in this…what did you just say? A state of fluctuation all the time.
SW: Yeah, you’re always…there’s a sense of trajectory, whether it’s up or down.
AX: Yeah. Right, right.
SW: You’re never on a plateau.
AX: You’re never safe.
SW: No! No.
SW: It’s either getting better or worse.
AX: Yeah, it’s either getting better or worse and the crazy thing is, the same is true for not only the artist but for the whole industry, really. When you’re an executive it’s kind of the same thing. I’ve seen so many head of A&Rs fired or move around every year. Nobody’s really safe.
SW: You’re only as good as your last deal.
AX: Yeah, really, yeah It’s quite a mind trip.
SW: Well, it’s almost like there are no memories.
AX: Yeah. Yeah!
SW: You’re only as good as your last thing and there’s no sense of, “Hey I did this!” Well,” that’s not now so there’s a lot of amnesia.
AX: Yeah, totally.
AX: I just want to say I’ve been to so many writing rooms where you talk about somebody who, they’re a known name, they’ve been successful, and then someone will say, “Yeah, what have they done lately?” And not even in a super mean way, it’s just a common, common thing. Like, “Yeah, what are they up to?”
AX: Not like, “Remember that song they did? That was so amazing. Period. Move on.” It’s like, “Yeah, what are they doing now?”
SW: I know. Yeah, that was good, but what next?
SW: That’s so interesting. And I guess that’s such a cultural thing with the industry. And it comes out on that subconscious level. Because right, if you were to ask, “What are they up to?” You would think it would have a negative tinge to it. But I guess not.
AX: Well, it does have a negative tinge to it to me, because the implication is “Oh, I haven’t heard from them, so I guess they’re not as successful as we thought they were literally a year ago when they had a hit song or whatever.” That’s how quick it is.
SW: It’s fascinating. Having lived in LA for five years, what was the defining moment of your time in LA that you drew inspiration from for this album?
AX: I don’t think there has been a defining moment. There’s just been a lot of breakdowns and a lot of being tossed around and losing people on my team. There’s just been a lot of struggles, like I said a minute ago, with trying to understand who I am and what I’m doing and feeling okay about it. I am a musician through and through.
I don’t know how to do anything else, but it’s just crazy to go from being a kid singing in the bathtub and having this magic and this real connection for me, to trying to turn it into a profitable business and constantly feeling I’m not good enough. And I was no stranger to rejection before I came to LA. My whole life trying to do this, you just get rejected, that’s kind of how it is. But something about coming to Los Angeles and having that real go at it and having various things go really wrong. I don’t know, it’s changed me.
AX: But I feel like, Super Sunset isn’t supposed to be a negative album either though. It’s quite fantastical and one of the things that happened while I was in LA was I fell in love as well. And it was the most pure, kind relationship that I’ve ever had or experienced. It’s the kind of relationship that I never even thought that I would have. And so that’s kind of another interesting juxtaposition in this story, is that I was in this very heartless, what I feel is a very heartless, surface-y kind of city, and then I found this pure, pure love, and so that’s kind of in the record as well.
SW: And is that something that’s ongoing?
AX: Yeah, I don’t really talk publicly about it, but because it is so much a part of my story. Songs like “Focus” and another song called “Science,” that’s what it’s really about.
SW: It’s about your relationship that you didn’t expect in the surroundings?
AX: Yeah, yeah, totally.
Dress by The Last Follies Closet
SW: Very interesting. And now, also, I mean there has to be some other really interesting things you’ve learned from going on tour. Because is this your first or second tour that you’ve been on? Or sort of a major tour?
AX: Yeah, I’ve been…it’s definitely not the first. I’ve never done a tour that’s longer than, let’s say two or three weeks. But yeah, I’ve learned a lot about touring. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is how to pack. How to pack for tour, it took me years to understand it.
SW: And now what are the tricks?
AX: Well, for me, I have a very specific diet and I get kind of sick if I don’t stay on it. So I actually bring with me supplies to cook meals in my hotel room. So, a rice cooker. I’ll always bring it and I’ll cook…steam veggies, and cook stuff in that.
SW: That is hysterical. I love it.
AX: Yeah, and for that I also need to be able to wash it. So I have to bring this little dish soap and a little scrubber and put everything, everything in Ziploc bags, because you don’t want anything exploding all over your costume that you just paid a thousand dollars to have made. And one of the things I’ve really learned on the Hayley Kiyoko tour this year is I don’t need to look good outside of the show unless I’m doing press. And even then, just do press in your show outfit.
So, I brought like three outfits and a bunch of underwear and that’s it. I just wear the same thing every day. And then sometimes I’d get to a place where we had laundry, thank God, and make it clean again. It saves me so much time and energy to not think, “Okay, what cute outfit am I going to put together today?” It’s like, “No. Just be comfortable. You’re going to be in a van all day. Focus on looking good for yourself and that’s it.”
SW: It’s funny you mention that because when I was in middle and high school we had to wear uniforms. And always had to wear a tie…I basically had the same thing on every day and it is so much easier to have a uniform and take the choice out of it.
AX: Similarly, my dad, he grew up in England in a really poor family. And, the thing in England, and I think in Australia and probably some other countries is that it doesn’t matter what school you go to, if it’s in the lowest class neighborhood or whatever. You have to wear a uniform, so he always loved that because he was able to disguise the fact that his family was struggling at home…because he was wearing the same thing as all the other kids.
On the road
SW: Right. It gives you a certain level of anonymity.
AX: Yeah, totally.
SW: That, yeah that is interesting.
“With all my quirks and flaws, I try to be…there’s no way that I could be a blonde, crop top, dancing pop singer. It’s just not in me. I try to make my work as authentic as possible. I don’t really filter.”
SW: So you know, packing for the shows has been much improved. And I can only imagine the steamed vegetables in the hotel room, how that works out sometimes, but do you find certain countries better than others? Do you find certain towns better than others, you know for performance?
AX: Yeah, I definitely have stuff to say about that. As much as I love Europe, from a beauty perspective. It’s aesthetically very pleasing. It’s actually much harder for me to find food there. In America, which is a much trashier place than Europe, I know that they have Whole Foods in every major city. So, again, for my diet, it’s so much easier, because I’m like, “Just take me to a Whole Foods.” I’ll be able to find a few things, and I don’t have to worry about planning too hard. So, from that perspective, the U.S. is really easy, from the Whole Food perspective.
SW: The Whole Foods aspect makes the tour easier.
AX: It really does. I feel like people are going to read this and just be laughing at me, but my diet is so important to my well-being that that is kind of the major thing for me on tour. So, food first.
SW: Food first. And so now, in Europe what are the struggles?
AX: Well, there’s always the jet lag, which fucks you right up.
SW: Oh, totally.
AX: When you’re coming from LA to Europe, you’re looking at an eight or nine hour time difference. So, I’ve had times in Europe where I couldn’t, like I became a complete insomniac and just didn’t sleep more than two hours for an entire week. And that sucked. But I have gotten better at that as well. I forgot to bring sleeping aids with me at that time, so that was a big part of the problem. But now I never forget.
SW: I understand that. They’re helpful on planes too.
AX: Yeah, and I hate flying. I remember when I was a kid I used to be so excited to fly somewhere. Now, I feel like, I think lately I haven’t been in one city for more than two weeks, so I’m just flying all the time and I’m just always like, “Oh, God, here we go again.” So the shorter the flight the better.
SW: So that helps, the shorter flights.
SW: Yeah, I don’t think anyone really likes flying, but I couldn’t imagine doing it, going, being jet lagged, sort of uncomfortable, and then really having to perform and turn it on.
AX: Yeah. Yeah, it’s not …
SW: I mean, that has to very draining.
AX: I mean, the performance itself, I just go into autopilot, but when we’re talking about arriving at the venue, spending hours to get ready or do interviews, there’s so much that goes into doing a show that isn’t…The show is the easy part, actually.
SW: See that’s interesting. Okay, so explain a little bit about that.
AX: Well, the travel and the waiting around, and sometimes your green room isn’t the nicest, so you’re like in this very uncomfortable situation for hours and hours and you haven’t always slept the best the night before. That’s the stuff that I find super draining.
And when I get onstage, I’ve done some maybe not great shows, but lately they’re always…once you have an established fan base and you see people out there that really care about what you’re doing, it is a joy to perform. It’s just all this sort of stuff that goes into it beforehand that can be really draining, I find.
SW: Now I know also for you, I believe it was for your album cover, you collaborated with Renata?
AX: Renata Raksha?
AX: She actually … No, not on the photography side. I did a video with Renata for “Not So Bad.”
AX: Renata did my “Paper Love” video as well.
SW: Okay, we can talk about that.
AX: Yeah, I love working with her. She’s super creative and has a really…I love working with photographers as directors because they have, they use their photographer’s eye to make beautiful images and that’s…for me, a music video is really about beautiful or striking imagery that makes you feel something. It’s not like when I watch a movie and I care about the characters and I get invested in the storyline and there’s some sort of a narrative and there’s an outcome. None of that interests me in a music video, usually. If that happens, then great, but really what I want is kind of just like a moving photograph that makes me feel. And Renata works just like that, so we’re a good match.
SW: Oh, okay. So that’s all very good. Do you feel like, aside from the fact that it’s ever-changing with the internet and with Spotify and things like that, has that changed the way you are Allie X? Has that changed the way you do tours? Is there more of a focus on purely digital content and music videos and imagery as well as costumes and performing on tour? Or is it sort of all together, the same thing?
AX: Um, no.
SW: That was a horrible way to ask a very simple question.
AX: I think I know what you’re getting at though. The digital world is everything right now. It’s funny, I have this guy on my team named Paul, who is definitely the youngest person on my team. He was a kid when I found him, with no experience in the music industry. But he had such a foot in the door in terms of the demographic that I have and the internet and the way that things are moving so fast. I just found him to be so smart and stuff that I eventually hired him and now he’s my digital guy.
AX: And it’s just crazy, over the four years that we’ve been working together, how his role has gone from being a kid who helped me out on the side to basically managing things for me on anything that has to do with the release of content online. He has to oversee everything. There’s so much on his plate that he has to handle. And I really feel like, in the last 10 years, that has just changed so radically. It’s everything. It’s like, vinyl will sell. Vinyl does sell, but it’s kind of a novelty though.
AX: People consume everything online. And the whole millennial generation. Tell them to play a CD, and you’ll get laughter. It’s so different now. And on the live side, I just kind of consider that like it’s a different machine entirely. And to be honest, I’m not great at multitasking. I’m kind of either in my digital creation, putting-stuff-out mode, or I’m, if I’m on the road, I’m thinking differently. It’s really about…it’s more physical, which makes sense. You’re meeting people in person and you’re making real life connections.
SW: It’s an entirely different skill set.
AX: It’s an entirely different skill set, which I didn’t even know…I mean, for the first year of my Allie X Project, it was all online, so when I did my first show, that was really kind of an awakening for me. I was like, “Oh, yeah, okay, I can do this.” I had no idea what it was going to be like. And when I met my first fans in person, again, just such a different experience than recognizing people’s handles on Instagram or Twitter.
Bodysuit by Pam Hogg, hat by The Last Follies Closet
SW: So it’s two totally different lines of business. And skill sets. Now, you spoke about demographics earlier.
SW: Can you elaborate a little bit more on what your demographic is, or what you mean by that?
AX: Yeah. My demographic. I mean, I don’t even like to use –
SW: Is that in terms of fan base?
AX: Yeah, it’s just the majority of my fans are young, queer kids, and I love that. It’s kind of like, “Couldn’t ask for a better…”
SW: Now is that something that just kind of happened, or was that something that you were intending, or it just sort of organically came about that way?
AX: I guess it’s a bit of both. I definitely wasn’t doing anything intentional…with the strategy of making that happen, but my friends have always been gay boys, all my best friends my whole life, so it makes sense that the kind of energy that I put out into the world would attract a fan base that is similar to the friendship base that I’ve had in my real life, if that makes sense.
SW: Yeah, that leads me to believe that Allie X is a very authentic representation of you as an artist.
AX: It is, yeah. It is. With all my quirks and flaws, I try to be…there’s no way that I could be a blonde, crop top, dancing pop singer. It’s just not in me. I try to make my work as authentic as possible. I don’t really filter.
SW: Why not Brooklyn, why not a Manhattan, why not another city? Why was it Los Angeles for you? And what drew you there initially?
AX: Oh, gotcha. I don’t know. It’s kind of weird. I came out here to visit a friend of mine, early in our 20s she got a part on All My Children, my really good friend Brittany.
SW: Oh, cool.
AX: Yeah, and so I came out here to visit her, and maybe she hadn’t even gotten that part yet. Anyway, she was making her way in Los Angeles as an actress and kind of basing herself here. And I came out to visit and I was just really taken with Los Angeles. I felt this sort of magic in the air. And this feeling of, “I should move here one day.” I actually didn’t even know that this was kind of the capital of the music, in terms of pop music and the pop music industry and writing and all that. I just had this feeling that I should be here.
AX: And so I visited her a few more times and the final time, I don’t know, I was super broke but I got myself out here through an internship I was doing in Toronto for music composition for film. And I convinced them to fly us interns out here and take some meetings, and then I convinced them to extend my flight, so I had an extra week. And I just, I don’t know, I just hustled and tried to make something happen and I ended up with a publishing deal. And then I just came out again to start writing a month later. I intended to be here for two weeks, and they just kept me. The publishers just kept me out here and I don’t know. It’s kind of just crazy how it all happened.
AX: It’s hard to even make sense of it. There was no…I say it’s crazy because there was no clear path. Like, you could say “AX got a publishing deal and moved to Los Angeles,” but it really wasn’t that simple. There was so much rejection and persistence and weird follow-ups and hustling that I had to do just to get physically from Toronto to LA. And even when I was here, people…no one was thinking of me as an artist. They were just thinking of me as a writer, so even to just put music out and to get that going was another sort of hustle. Nothing has been a clear path.
SW: Now, I know you write songs for, or have written songs for Troye Sivan, and others.
SW: Do you find it’s easier to write things for Allie X? Is it the same kind of process when you help others compose songs? Is it a different process? Do you find that inside their head to say, “Well this is what I think they should be singing?” Or is it something else.
AX: Writing for me and writing for others, they both have their challenges. I’d say that I’m not good at getting in someone else’s head. And whenever I try, I’m kind of unsuccessful. What I’m better at is going deep into myself and hopefully writing stuff from my perspective that someone else would want to sing. When I’m writing for myself, I like to write by myself when it’s for me. When I’m writing for someone else, I like to write with them or with co-writers. What else can I say? I don’t know. Writing for myself can be really a mind trip because I always feel like nothing’s good enough and I can’t let things go. When I’m writing for someone else, that is easier, because I’m like, “I don’t care about the production as much.” I do to a point, but I’m not going to be sitting there with the producer until the last second tweaking every little EQ on every little high hat, you know what I mean?
AX: It’s easier to just let go of it. So, yeah, they both have their challenges.
SW: And the thing that’s struck me, having been following you for a year to a certain extent, is that people think that this is what pop music sounds like, or this is what popular pop music sounds like right now. What I find very interesting about your work on CollXtion II, and what we have heard from Super Sunset, is that you have a wide range of pop sounds.
SW: You have a very wide range of pop sounds, and that is certainly something you don’t see a lot in other types of pop musicians. There’s a dance element to certain songs. There’s acid trippy vocals in other songs. It’s just a really wide range, and I find that very interesting.
AX: Yeah. That’s true. I don’t know if that’s to my detriment or not. People like things to be very packageable and cohesive. I just feel like I have a lot of facets to my personality I guess and I’m always trying to explore and experiment musically.
Photography and art direction by Sequoia Emmanuelle
Photo Assistant: Kae West
Make-up artist: Bridget O’Donnell
Hair stylist: Kat Colosimo
Stylist: Lisa Katnic
Set Design: Sallie Falls
Set Design Assistant: Gina Canavan