Allie X has been an artist of her own making from the very beginning. The classically trained pop artist from Toronto recorded and produced a number of albums the wider public may never hear before moving to Los Angeles five years ago to pursue a full-time career as a singer and songwriter on her own terms. The resulting years have spawned avant-garde visuals referencing everything from Vivienne Westwood's punk couture to being conceived of doll parts; and the music, in its left-of-center sensibility, provided a perfect soundtrack for the immersive worlds Allie X wanted to create.
The "X" in her stage name, Allie X says, represents an artistic and personal journey of endless self-discovery. She hopes someday that she won't need it. "I feel closer to finding my truth," Allie X confesses. Much like her art's polymorphous qualities, such a statement, while an honest admission from the forthright star, maintains an intangible air of mystery that makes her so captivating to fans, critics, and pop connoisseurs alike.
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After releasing two lean, mean LPs, entitled CollXtion I and CollXtion II, this fall Allie X is unleashing the power of Super Sunset. The lead singles and first taste of Sunset, "Focus" and "Not So Bad In LA" reveal a more direct and reflective Allie X, who is looking back on her time spent in LA, and all she's learned from the sprawling city's promises of 15-minute paradise and the grotesqueness lying just beneath its slick, glistening veneer. But of course, it wouldn't be the Allie X her fans know and love if she weren't also serving up hyper-realism. "Super Sunset is an exaggerated, sort of surreal version of my story from the last five years," she says.
Read on as Allie X gets real with PAPER about being in the driver's seat of her career, what's behind her loud performance looks these days, working with close friend Troye Sivan, and why her party is starting now.
What's Super Sunset all about?
Conceptually, it's about my last four years in LA and how that's changed me. It's an exaggerated version of my story, as if I was making a Hollywood film of my Hollywood. My influences were vaporwave, and thinking and placing myself in this early '90s, late '80s mood. [I was] thinking about all the synth sounds from that time, so I started to incorporate those into the record. And then I was also really influenced by drag culture, like a lot of us are right now. So visually, I took it there and also incorporated some of the vaporwave stuff.
I was noticing that some of your looks have been very Divine-esque—
Yeah, those eyebrows!
Yes! And I was wondering if you were inspired by John Waters or David Lynch in that respect.
Yeah, well, I haven't been directly inspired by Divine, although I did think of Divine when I did that one look with the eyebrows in the blonde wig—
"Super Sunset is an exaggerated, surreal version of my story from the last four years."
Kind of after the fact, I actually was inspired by a Vivienne Westwood's old campaign for that makeup she wears, but who knows maybe that was inspired by John Waters! We're always being inspired by each other, from people from the past. But yeah, I feel like Super Sunset is an exaggerated, surreal version of my story from the last four years. And to me, going into more drag looks was one way to really exemplify that and capture the highs and lows of living here and the grotesqueness of trying to make it. There's this underlying sadness that I feel in Hollywood, and that I see in people that have been here for a long time and they become kind of delusional. I feel like some of the more grotesque looks I've been doing lately, that's where they stem from, that feeling of sort of desperation and beauty, you know like Angelyne. If you've ever been to LA you know what I'm talking about.
Dress by Sea NYC, Gloves by Chase Denham
This time around we're seeing an aesthetic from you that feels a bit disrupted, like you're playing with being ugly on purpose. Does that make sense?
[Laughs] Yeah, so there's these three alter-egos I've been playing with. One is the Hollywood starlet, and she's the blonde, and she doesn't know... I mean she thinks she's beautiful, but she's just gone so far into this Hollywood delusion and desperation that she's grotesque, or she can be at least. [Laughs] She has a few different makeup choices. And then there's... have you seen the album cover?
That's the nun, and she represents the authentic part of being an artist and the innocence and spirituality of it — kind of who I was when I arrived in LA, with more of a pure sort of artistic integrity. And then the third one is, this other one [with a yellow bob] called "Sci-Fi Girl," and that kind of represents Allie X and everything about myself that I have shown to the world. That's probably the one that I most relate to and feel the most comfortable with.
I'm curious about the idea that maybe someday you won't have to rely on the X, like you could just be Allie or Alexandra. Do you feel even closer to that now, or do you feel that there's more character and more story to uncover?
I do feel closer, I do feel like I've learned a great deal. I feel closer to finding my truth. I've learned a lot about myself doing this project, and one thing I've been saying lately is that I do feel kind of better... like, a good person. I remember when I started this thing I was really grappling with the idea of what is good, what is bad, and which one I am. Through the experiences of the last 4 years, including being in an Internet relationship with someone for the first time, I've really seen myself in a different light. So in that regard, I feel like I am closer to answering that posed question, but I still have a ways to go and I'm not ready to let go of the X yet, because that gives me permission to be somewhere in between and questioning things.
You've been in LA for how long now?
It's actually coming up on five years, but I haven't included the last year in Super Sunset because it's kind of when I've been writing the album and reflecting on the past.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned in your time there as an artist? The biggest change?
It's hard to pick one. The biggest lesson I've learned out here... I don't know if I could say it's the biggest, but something that comes to mind immediately is making sure that I create things for myself personally. When you're an artist, and you don't have a salary and working hours, you really don't know when to stop, and because it comes from a passionate place, you don't know where to draw the line between someone you work with or someone who's a friend. For me, it's been really intense out here because I haven't known where to draw any lines. I don't know, really, who I can trust, who I can count on, when to stop working, when to take a break. So constantly, by not knowing those lines, I think I've been hurt a lot, and I'm not alone in this, it's just the way it is when you're an artist trying to make it in a big city. So the biggest lesson, and I'm only starting to learn it now, is to really make it clear where to draw those lines, and for my own mental health to just be like, "This is my personal space, and this industry is not allowed in this space," because I have to hold some secret things to myself, just to be happy and calm and to function.
Sunglasses by Adam Selman x Le Specs, Jacket by Chase Denham, Pants by Sea
Let's talk about being independent as you've experienced it. What can you tell me about this stage of that journey for you? Is it still exciting to be fueling your own ideas and empowering yourself to do that?
I think that what I have to offer is so not obvious to people, and it never has been. I'm self-made, and I don't think if I tried to do full-blown pop wearing a crop top, singing songs that the songwriters at Warner Chapel had written, it just wouldn't have worked. Because that's not me, and that's not something I'm good at or something that would make me stand out. I feel like in order for this project to keep growing and to reach people in a touching way, it really has to come from me. Not to say that I don't need collaborators, because I do, but I'm so careful about who I work with and I really handpick everything from songwriters that I work with, sounds that producers use, I'm always there till the very end helping produce, I'm always picking the exact photographers that I want to work with, stylists, hair and make up, everything comes from me.
Is there anything you wish you could let go of?
The business side because it's fucking exhausting — so exhausting, oh my god! I wish that I could just end it, but that's the negative part about it. The positive part is that I really understand it as a business, and I feel like if you're just someone who got signed to a major, and you get your big advance and you are only doing shoots and singing and cutting vocals, and you don't have that sort of insight into, "Okay how much money am I making, how much money am I owed, who's being shady towards, me?" All that stuff.
"I think that what I have to offer is so not obvious to people, and it never has been."
You can get lost!
Yeah, you can get really lost and I've seen it happen to a number of people. So, on the one hand, I'm so tired of having to oversee everything, but on the other hand, I think it makes for a better longterm plan, and even, say if I wanted to diversify into some other business one day, which I do, it's like I understand better than most artists how business works. I think that's also where the music industry is going — for people that aren't doing major deals, and are just using distributors or whatever and retaining their masters. I think the Internet has made the millennial generation so much more intelligent, and I think with this change in the music industry, we're doing to end up with artists that are way more intelligent and self-made and do know how it works as a business, and not just, "This is me as a personality."
We're no longer in a time when people need the machine. Of course, it's helpful if the machine is on your side.
Yeah, that's a really good way to put it. Sometimes I wish I had the machine, but there's advantages to not having it as well.
Top and pants by Sea, Shoes by DROMe, Belt by Via Spagia
Complete creative control and the ability to say and express whatever it is you want is priceless, I'm sure.
If you look at someone like Betty Who, who did a deal with RCA. We kind of came up at the same time, and that's when I was taking meetings as well and I don't really know the insides of the story, but I think that Betty and RCA became creatively frustrated with each other. But now, they've parted ways amicably, and now she's independent and says that she's so much happier. It's interesting.
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You've worked with Troye Sivan for many years. What's your collaborative relationship like?
I'll start by saying that I love him. I always say that in interviews because it's true. He's really a gem of a person and a joy to collaborate with. It's quite different than any other experience I've had writing for other artists in LA, because oftentimes, especially with the young artists, they're talented obviously (or really good looking, or have a high Instagram follower count) but there's not a voice there, or maybe I just wasn't good at finding it. They don't really know what they want, they kind of just want to be famous. With Troye, it's not like that at all. He's really got an artistic integrity, he's really got an opinion, he's very well-read, but for music. He knows a ton, he listens to so much different music that sometimes I've never even heard of it. When you're working with someone like that, it's just a joy. You're helping them, but they're leading the way. I think the music that we made together — myself, Troye and Leland — it sounds natural, because it is. And you know, it's been great for me. It's helped me kind of financially stay afloat and given me some great friends. I now work with Troye's manager, and he made that happen. It's been a really positive thing for me.
Troye wrote on a song [called "Vintage"] from CollXtion II, but there's nothing on Super Sunset. We wrote for it together, but the song we wrote for it didn't make the cut. But we're always working together, and we've got some things coming up that we've worked on, as well.
Jacket by DROMe, Sunglasses by Adam Selman x Le Specs
You recently toured with Hayley Kiyoko. How was that?
It was so fun! I was hesitant to do it because opening slots can kind of suck, like when you're not the headliner, people just don't care a lot of the time, and it's usually hard to sell merch, but I honestly felt on the Hayley tour like her fans were so nice and warm and a lot of them seemed to know me. I felt like I was another headliner or something. Her whole team treated me so well. I started performing some of the Super Sunset songs on that tour, so that was really cool as well that I was kind of able to workshop them. That was the first time that I revealed the blonde look, and that was a blast. It's been one of my favorite times from 2018.
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Fans are often a reflection of the artist and their art, so I've always heard that Hayley Kiyoko's fanbase tends to be really warm and passionate because that's what Hayley's giving in her music.
Yeah, absolutely. I felt like it had this feeling of a safe, joyous space. Every single city we did was the same kind of vibe, and it was all ages, so it was wonderful to see young queer girls that were there with their parents. They had this sort of role model that I think when I was that age, not that I was a queer girl, but like definitely a weird girl, it would've been nice to have something like that. It was just so positive to see that times are changing.
Let's talk about the singles, "Not So Bad In LA" and "Focus." How do you feel like those two songs fit into the greater narrative of the record?
I really felt strongly about announcing the record after we put out "Not So Bad In LA," because it's so contextual. It's the song that I wrote and then I was like, "Okay, I know what this record is about." "Not So Bad In LA" is quite sarcastic, whereas "Focus" is very genuine. I think it's maybe my most direct, genuine love song that I've ever written, although I'd have to think through my catalog. They're pretty different, but they both tell the story of my life here in the last few years.
I always hear a lot of pretty poetic metaphors for love and romance in your music, and I feel that with "Focus." There's a lot of "You" in the song.
[Laughs] You'd be right. It is pretty direct. It's an apocalyptic picture that we're painting, but it really feels in that song like I'm honing in on a single moment. Like if it was a film, it would probably take place over a minute, where the world is falling and you're frozen in this bubble with someone else. "Keep your eyes on me."
"The party starts now. Just open the windows, close whatever you're doing, and watch for Super Sunset."
It's a moment of truth.
It's the moment of truth! Like, we might be dead soon.
Oh I love that. She reveals little, but when she reveals, it's a lot.
[Laughs] Can you make that the headline?
What's something else you want fans to know about Super Sunset?
One thing I'd want fans to take away from learning about Super Sunset is that it's not really a typical album. First of all, it's a mini-album and it's kind of like a journey that I want people to join me on. It's not like, "Wait for the release date of the album," and then the party starts. The party starts now. Just open the windows, close whatever you're doing, and watch for Super Sunset.
Pre-order Super Sunset and find exclusive merch by Allie X, here.