In Conversation: Allie X and Rina Sawayama

In Conversation: Allie X and Rina Sawayama

Story by Brendan Wetmore / Photography by Guillaume Thomas

The link between Allie X and Rina Sawayama's music may not be immediately obvious. Allie's projects prior to and including her 2020 release, Cape God, have all existed in a similar world of gloomy pop perfection, while Rina's impending debut album, Sawayama, is shaping up to resist genre altogether. They're operating in similar stan universes, sure — both supported Charli XCX at different show dates on her most recent self-titled tour — but the only thing they seem to have in common is a taste for the kitschier and more avant garde things in life.

Take Allie's most recent lyric video for one of Cape God's standouts, "Susie Save Your Love" featuring Mitski, for example; rotating on an axis firmly planted in the ground by a pair of blood-red boots, she's alone in a forest that looks like it could have been location scouted for the Twilight films back in 2008. Her hair slick-backed, Allie stands as the visual inverse of the otherwise loving and affectionate pop-rock cut.

Rina's newest music video, "Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)" is just as visually compelling, but the song invokes brighter electro-pop tropes that Allie's music tends to steer away from. Where Allie opts for expanding upon a single note or instrumental in a way that creates a more ethereal tone, Rina delights in warping the same elements, laying her swagger-laden vocals right on top. Not quite mismatched, the two reflect hyper-online movements within modern pop structuring that make them individual forces to be reckoned with.

Surprisingly, even with the overlap in their careers, friend groups and musical camps, the duo has never interacted. They've come close, but when you're the up-and-coming It Girls of the music industry, it's hard to find the time to do just about anything. To celebrate the release of Cape God, PAPER put the stars in-conversation to talk about making music, going to the spa with Dorian Electra, and general highs and lows of being in a spotlight dominated by internet forums.

Read the full interview between Allie X and Rina Sawayama, below.

How did you two first meet?

Allie X: Have we met before?

Rina Sawayama: I don't think we've met before. I think this is the first time. We've totally been chatting, texting on Twitter and Instagram and stuff like that.

Allie: I feel like we almost met one night. You went out — I think Dorian [Electra] invited me to Wi Spa sometime last year.

Rina: Oh my god, sick.

Allie: Were you there?

Rina: I think so.

Allie: I was really close to going, but I can't remember why I bailed. We would've met that night.

What is Wi Spa?

Allie: Wi Spa is a Los Angelean institution, basically. It's in Koreatown, and it's the Korean spa. It's open 24 hours. It's open on Christmas. It's open like every day. Anytime that people are celebrating a holiday and I'm opting out, I go to Wi Spa. And you get naked. I mean, the women and the men's floor are separated, but you could just be naked among other women, which I love. There's all these different pools you can go into. It's hard to explain until you go.

Rina: As soon as you get there, you can get really deep into the conversation at 2 AM. I think it's like a gorgeous place and I think it's a bit different for guys. Whenever I see guys there, I think people are just hooking up in the guy section.

Allie: Yeah, I know, I brought my boyfriend there once, and he was not feeling it. It's one of my favorite places to go. I always go by myself, when I come and get away from everything, and yeah, I love it there

Rina: Yeah, long, long answer: we've never actually met, basically.


I was going to say, you both supported on Charli XCX's on her most recent tour. Was wondering if there was any crossover there?

Rina: Yeah, I did it for the UK. No, I didn't do it for an arena, actually. The space didn't work, but we might have.

Allie: I thought you had.

Rina: Yeah, we were going to, but the space didn't work. I think several people supported Charli, but we kind of stayed out of people's way, if that makes sense. When you're supporting someone...

Allie: You do.

Rina: Yeah, right? You have to give them some space and stuff.

Charli is also an artist, like yourselves, who uses pop sounds and maximalist production to blend genres together. Can you speak to how you each go about that in your music?

Rina: I think for both of us, if you strip all the production down, we are speaking to pop structures and pop songwriting. If you can play it on a guitar, and it's got four chords and people can hum along to it, that to me is the best version of pop. Like, I'd say Grimes is pop. It's just in a very ethereal package. So I guess I've always had that sense of, if the chorus is pop, then you can deliver it in a different way. My single, my album, the genre is all over the place, but it's intentional because I feel like some songs are better told through a different genre. "STFU!" definitely needed a metal guitar, and I didn't think "Comme Des Garçons" would've worked with any sort of metal elements.

Allie, I'm coming quite late to your music, but I've literally listened to your album so fucking much. It's so fucking good, and the songwriting is insane. And I know we've worked with similar people too. We've got similar collaborators in LA, but it's just so fascinating to see the alchemy of when it comes out with different people.

Allie: First of all, thank you about the album. I share a lot of the same viewpoints. I guess it's weird putting out Cape God because I, in my head, thought this was the most cohesive body of work that I've made. The feedback has been really divisive, mostly on the positive side, but I've been getting some really terrible reviews. Well, not really terrible — just bad reviews. Certain stans being like, "I don't get what this record is about, it's all over the place!" It's not like a 50/50 divide at all. I've never had such a strong response in either direction and now I have a little taste of what it's like on both sides and I like it. I feel like it's a good sign. It just proves to me that how I hear my music is not necessarily how somebody else hears it. If we're going to talk about production on Cape God, myself and Oscar Görres, who produced the whole record, we really thought we picked specific sounds and we used the same type of sounds. It feels really cohesive to me.

Rina: It is so cohesive! Fuck 'em, fuck 'em. I think the writing is insane, I think your voice sounds incredible and I loved the song you did with Troye. Your belted voice sounds so great.

Allie: Thank you, that was actually the one song where I was like, "I'm just going to belt." I was holding back on the whole album, but with that one, I was just like, "I'm Beyoncé and I have to belt."

Rina Sawayama - Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys) Pre-order SAWAYAMA now - Directed by Eddie Whelan Creative ...

How do you both go about songwriting, then?

Allie: Rina, do you do outside writing or do you write purely for your own songs?

Rina: I only write things for myself. I would say with my new album, in particular — and yours as well — there's a lot of introspection going on. I kind of dropped right into my family. My family has been a source. I remember my grandma showed my old pictures of my dad and I was just realizing that people are kids to start with. I started from there, and it has a lot to do with words, memories and experiences. It wasn't really about going for a specific sound. It's more about, "What do I want to say?" I feel that there's so much music out there, and the stuff I love listening to makes me feel strong emotions, and lyrically has to be really solid for me to want to listen to over and over because I think it lacks value if the lyrics aren't good. So, yeah, that's how I write. This record was the first time I wrote with songwriters, which is amazing.

Allie: It's a completely different experience, right?

How do you both reconcile really fervent pop stan culture with the deeply personal process of creating art? Do you find that it affects your process, or do you just go with the flow and roll with the punches?

Allie: I roll with the punches. I'm grateful for how fervent the culture is because I feel like without it, I don't know where I'd be. I'm still not signed to a major and I don't know when I will be. Having a culture that so strongly appreciates what I do, and are hungry for what I do — I'm just grateful. I just roll with the punches, it's fine.

Rina: I take this pool, take the support, give out my gratitude and completely ignore what everyone is saying.

Good strategy!

Rina: The critics or the stans — you should not listen to anyone when making a personal record. You can't make music when you constantly look around you. There are people who support you. That first wave, there are also definitely critics.

Allie: Yeah, you can't get one without the other.

Rina: But yeah, I'm so grateful and I really love the support. When I'm writing, I pretty much ignore what people want me to do if that makes sense. If they're like, "Oh do this, or do that." As an artist, you've got to give back to your fans and you love them.

Allie: I felt a lot of that writing Cape God. It was such a different sound and it was way more personal subject matter and it was very melancholic. I had a lot of thoughts coming up during the process: "Are my existing fans going to like this?" I just had to shut that out. It was coming out, and I was happy with how it was sounding myself, so I just focused on that.

So, it's 2020 — it's the new decade, and a lot of artists feel like they're on the precipice of something big. What are some themes you're both looking to explore in future records?

Rina: For me, I've been very much fascinated by in the last year all the stuff with climate change, especially very much coming from a European standpoint. Obviously a lot of the pop culture is American, but to think that there's actually people that deny climate change is a very, very fascinating standpoint for Europeans because most Europeans are in agreement that it exists. As countries, we don't deny those happenings. I think it's really fascinating how capitalism just moves on, getting bigger and bigger, and on a human level that's been really interesting. People sharing the Australian bushfire with their "I'm so heartbroken" kind of vibe, but the same brand will be a fast fashion brand. It almost feels like a joke, the whole thing. Human extinction is very much a possibility, even in our lifetime to get really, really bad. In a morbid way, that's been fascinating because the human response to the world ending is very fascinating.

Allie: On my end, I actually don't know where I'm going yet with writing. It's just been such a different writing experience for me. I think in my past work, I felt like it was going through a crystal or something and these other new colors were coming out. This is the first time I've been intimate and direct about my feelings and that's been the new thing for me that I've discovered. And I haven't been writing, actually, recently. I've been so hardcore setting up this record, and touring and promo and other random stuff, so I'm very unsure of what's next. I do know that I want to write in the same manner that I wrote this record, not in Los Angeles. I wrote most of it in Sweden and I want to do that again. I want to work with Oscar again. I think I might want to move to a city in Europe where I write for six months to a year. Set up my own studio, do a little bit of my own production work that I used to do before I moved to LA, as well. That's kind of all I have going on in my head right now for my next thing. It's hard to think past this month! [Laughs]

Stream Cape God, below.

Photographer: Guillaume Thomas
Hair and makeup: Marlon Monroe
Styling: Kieley Kimmel
Wearing: Iris Van Herpen


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