It’s the moment that so many unknown musical artists have desperately attempted to secure: the recognition of his or her artistry from an influential figure in the industry. Last Thursday (Mar. 6), Katy Perry posted on Twitter that she is “obsessed” with the song “Catch” by the unsigned pop artist Allie X, calling the single a “SPRING JAM” and shooting her 51.3 million Twitter followers a link to the track.
Currently I’m obsessed with this song CATCH by Allie X: http://t.co/OiwWUjrd3r SPRING JAM!
— Katy Perry (@katyperry) March 6, 2014
For an aspiring pop artist like Allie X, having a mainstream superstar like Perry (who happens to have the most Twitter followers of any musician on the planet) recommend your debut single three days after it arrives on iTunes is more or less a dream come true. And while the singer-songwriter acknowledges the momentousness of Perry’s praise — “That was crazy,” she gushes to Billboard over the phone from Los Angeles, one day after the Twitter nod — Allie X doe not want to be Katy Perry.
Instead, Allie X wants to remain a mostly unknown entity, working in the shadows with similarly shrouded super-producers like Cirkut and Billboard, whom she met when she moved to the States last year. As “Catch,” an expertly crafted, remarkably vulnerable synth-pop showcase, continues to gain blog praise and listeners after being posted online in early February, its enigmatic creator is desperately trying to avoid label expectations while rolling out the musical ideas she has spent years honing by herself.
“All of the major labels that are interested in me now might have actually had people who had heard ‘Catch’ a month or two ago, and weren’t interested,” says Allie X, in her first major interview. “It’s also very interesting to me that the climate of the music industry and the landscape of it is very different than it was a few years ago, and I don’t know that artists entirely need major labels to get where they want to be… If I found the right team of people who understand and share my vision, then that would be one thing. But I’m not looking for some big advance or some ‘We’re gonna make you a star! We’re gonna get you on the radio!’ None of that interests me.”
Before she was Allie X, Allie Hughes was a Toronto-based musician who had performed with a few different bands in the city’s indie scene; at the same time, she was “hiding out in my shoebox apartment and making ideas every day,” experimenting with different songwriting styles as a solo artist but remaining too critical of her creations to post any music online. Last July, X scored a publishing deal and moved out to Los Angeles as a songwriter, but still viewed herself as a solo singer.
“When I was writing that material, and I was never thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a songwriter and write for other people,'” she says. “I moved into a place out here and picked up the pace even more. I think I’ve written 200 songs since I came out here in July.”
Allie X is careful not to reveal too much when telling her backstory: her age is described as “twentysomething,” and she does not specify how she scored a publishing deal with “Canadians that knew of my work and were ready to bring on a songwriter.” “I don’t see a reason for there to be a ton of personal information out there about me — at first, at least,” she says. “I think the content should speak for itself.”
She also does not elaborate on how she started collaborating with Cirkut and Billboard, the Canadian producers/songwriters who have worked closely alongside Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald on songs by Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Perry. Of Cirkut, who co-produced seven songs on Perry’s “PRISM” album, X says, “He’s like Billboard or any of the producers that I work with. I met them when I came out [to Los Angeles].”
Perhaps Cirkut tipped off Perry to the wonders of Allie X’s “Catch,” or perhaps the “Dark Horse” artist is simply plugged in to the pop blogosphere — in the past month, TIME.com has called the song a “perfect pop debut single” and Idolator has heralded it as “the best song of 2014 so far.” In the song, Allie X compares the false hope of a dying relationship to a doctor-patient meeting, in which she is given a “pill to take away the poison/Erase the writing on the wall.”
“That kind of a relationship that you have with a doctor is very personal and very clinical at the same time, which I find fascinating,” she says. “The idea of this person that solves all of your problems with a pill — that’s something that I wanted to play around with. Those concepts filtered through my romantic feelings that I was experiencing at the same towards other people. It’s about not even necessarily love, but that feeling of dependence on somebody and being completely paralyzed.”
Allie X says that posting “Catch” online last month, after patiently wading through about 20 different versions of the self-produced song, had a healing process on her as an artist. “I have been locked in my bedroom for two years making music, and not sharing it with anyone, because I wasn’t ready,” she admits.
But now, the floodgates are open: the songwriter says that she has a very specific release plan for “the next few years,” a nontraditional rollout that incorporates original artwork, videos and GIFs. The details, not surprisingly, are vague: a new single will be released “very shortly,” and Allie X says that “there will be definitely be some live shows in the coming months,” but nothing is booked at the moment. A song that she made with Cirkut will likely surface in the next few months, but most of Allie X’s material will stay self-produced, or produced by some unnamed friends in Toronto.
Allie X’s post-“Catch” plans are ambitious, but then again, ambition is what drove her secretive songwriting process, and the quality she looks for in her musical idols. “I think what Beyonce just did [with her album release] was really disruptive and brave and bold,” says Allie X. “Macklemore, the Weeknd, Lana Del Rey — these are all people who broke untraditionally, so I’m sort of inspired by them.”