The sun is rising on a new era of music from Allie X. Last Friday (Sept. 27), the avant-garde pop star unveiled the music video for her single “Fresh Laundry,” giving fans a first look at the follow-up to her breakout 2018 project Super Sunset.
The eerie visual marked a sharp left turn for the Canadian artist. Gone were the off-beat personas that inhabited the Sunset EP cycle — quirky and ethereal Sci-Fi Girl, the fame-chasing Hollywood Starlet and the Nun, who personified Allie’s music in its purest form — as well as the synth-driven sound that had become a signature of her earlier work.
Instead, “Fresh Laundry” gives Allie X space to experiment with a completely fresh sound. Written with producer Oscar Görres and songwriter James Alan Ghaleb while on a trip to Sweden, the new single found the Toronto native stripping away the poppy, synthetic sonics she had harnessed so successfully on Super Sunset in favor of a previously unexplored minimalism. “I want to be near/ Fresh laundry/ It’s been too many years/ Of not folding,” she sings over an echoey, pulsating beat, her quiet chant filling the void.
The single’s evocative video is equally haunting. Directed by Cody Chritcheloe and filmed in Kansas City, Mo., the clip stars two disparate incarnations of Allie X. Surrounded by a host of creepy life-size, papier-mache dolls, the dual version of the pop star wander the confines of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Sondern-Adler home, alternately eating Twizzlers and setting fires before coming face to face with one another.
In between tour rehearsals for her upcoming gigs supporting Marina and Charli XCX, Allie X spoke exclusively with Billboard about the inspiration behind the new song, reconstructing her 13-year-old self for the video and why her next era of music is her best work yet.
How has it felt moving on from Super Sunset into this chapter?
Well, one of the interesting things is I’ve been anticipating this era of music for a long time. I wrote this before Super Sunset even came out — not the whole thing, “Fresh Laundry” and some other tracks were written before “Focus” even came out, which was the first song of the Super Sunset era. So I’d been thinking about this for a while and really looking forward to it. I feel like this is my best work and it’s…who knows, it just feels like I’ve reached a point where I’m able to express myself fully musically, which is what every artist, I think, wants and what I’ve been trying to do for a long time.
Was there a reason why this era needed to gestate a bit longer and for you to do Super Sunset first?
Well, Super Sunset was already coming out when I went to Sweden [to write]. Because it was bigger producers I was working with, I was like, “I’m probably gonna write something for [longtime friend and collaborator] Troye [Sivan] or whatever.” But I had this one idea that I went in with, just in case they wanted to do something for me, and that was the “Fresh Laundry” lyric and also an a capella that I had written that morning.
They ended up saying that they wanted to work on my stuff, and we sort of just went in with zero preconceived notions of how it should sound and didn’t really reference other music too much. We just sort of dove in. I was jet-lagged as fuck as well, which is always kind of a weird but cool way to write, because you’re just super out of it [laughs]. Like you’re not thinking too much. On the first day we wrote “Fresh Laundry” and on the following days we wrote other songs, and everything just felt so strong to me and so cohesive and like such a fresh sound that I was like, “This has to be my next record.”
How did trading Los Angeles for Sweden impact your songwriting and your creative process?
Oh, majorly. I just felt like not only was I in a time zone where I wasn’t distracted by my inbox…like, I run my entire business; I have a big team but I have a hand in almost every aspect whether it’s the financial, visual, what gear we need for the tour. So it’s kind of hard for me in Los Angeles to break away from being in my inbox and being on phone calls and conference calls all day. So just in that way, it was awesome to be in Sweden, ’cause I was in the opposite time zone. And then aside from that, just the culture of pop writing in Los Angeles, I feel a pressure from it. I feel, like, a radio pressure and I feel like people here — including me — are used to writing a certain way. It’s very money-driven, very hit-driven. And I just felt like the environment that I was in, in this studio in Sweden, even though those guys also are hit writers, we sort of just forgot all the constraints of pop music and…I dunno, we just let it happen. And I just felt this huge pressure lift and this big creativity and excitement well up inside me. It was a really rewarding process, very exciting.
Where did that inspiration come from for “Fresh Laundry?”
I had been very ill, I think it must have been 2018. I woke up one morning, and sometimes if I’m having a hard time, I’ll start my mornings in the bath. So I went in the bath, and it was really early. It was my first apartment in Los Angeles. It was very small, dark and kind of dirty feeling, and I was just in there thinking about…it was an actual thought that I had, which was, “I want to be near fresh laundry.” You know? White towels that are fluffy and smell really good, and they’re still warm from the dryer. I just wanted to be curled up in a huge pile of them and feel clean and feel taken care of.
So I wrote it down, and then after I wrote it, I was like, “That could be an interesting lyric.” And then I thought, “It’s been too many years of not folding,” which can be interpreted in a few different ways, and I thought that that was an interesting lyric. And that’s all I wrote, and that must have been in 2018 some time, or 2017 actually. Then when I went to Sweden, I woke up all jet-lagged and I was like, “Okay, I should have some idea when I go to the studio, because these are producers and writers that I really respect. I don’t want to show up empty-handed.” So I put a melody to it and that was the [vocalizes] and then I also added, “These days, no one’s botherin’ me ’bout nothin’/ These days, no one’s botherin’ me ’bout nothin.” And that’s what I showed up with. In my head, I wrote that on this blues kind of scale, but once Oscar [Görres], the producer, started putting music to it, he put it on this sort of major scale. So there’s that interesting modulation that you feel and that surprises you throughout the song. It sort of just unveiled itself during the day in a really cool way.
How did you go about crafting the new sound?
It just happened, man, and I didn’t question it. I don’t think any of us — me, Oscar or James [Alan Ghaleb] — that were in the room when we wrote that song were like, “Let’s go for this sound,” which is usually how you start a songwriting session, honestly. You’re usually referencing another song, like, “Let’s do a throwback to this ’80s song.” But this just…happened. Oscar picked sounds and I gave my input, but it was pretty organic. And then we just didn’t question it; we didn’t say. “Oh, this doesn’t sound like her old stuff, let’s make it sound like your old stuff.” We just kind of let it be, and those sounds were so fresh to me and so exciting that I was like, “Let’s work with the palette, you know? As we write more stuff, let’s work within this palette and explore it,” and that’s what we did.
How would you describe that palette?
Hmm, that’s a good question. I definitely describe the sound as minimal. There’s definitely more live sounds in there, but it’s certainly not rock. I mean, certainly not. There’s very carefully chosen percussion sounds, there’s definitely more guitar. One thing that Oscar kept doing was, he never actually played bass as far as I remember; he was running a guitar through…I forget which plugin, but it was pitching it down to sound like a bass. And that was kind of a signature thing. We put a lot of work into making pads out of my vocals and James’ vocals, and we did a lot of background vocals. We always wanted the vocals to be the centerpiece. How would I describe the sound though? Yeah, I would say fuckin’ fresh [laughs].
The lyrics also, in particular, really struck me as something a lot of your fans can relate to.
Yeah, totally. A lot of these songs that I’ve written lately are just about being an outsider and kind of what it is to be alive, really. I think “Fresh Laundry” is a super simple idea. There’s a lot of nostalgia in it and feeling like you can’t go back in time, you know? That’s what it’s about, I guess. Longing for things that you can’t have.
You said that when you started the song, you didn’t really have any preconceived notions or jumping off points, but did you have any references in mind when you started thinking about how the song would translate visually?
With every body of work, I always have a loose idea of visually what I’m going for as I write it, and then I dive into visuals once it’s complete. So while I was writing in Sweden, I was thinking a lot about the color blue. And I was thinking a lot about Gregory Crewdson’s photography, he’s an American photographer who does these very striking scenes. They’re very cinematic but very mundane at the same time, of kind of East Coast, Americana, everyday life. There’ll be, like, a kitchen looking out at a snowy lake and a woman staring out, but then you see like a nude figure grotesque in the corner or something like that. That’s kind of what I was thinking.
Then, once I started to really dive into visuals, I started to think about how I would look and I picked a hairstyle for myself that I had as a 13-year-old. A lot of my writing was based around feelings that I had as a teenager that I wasn’t able to express at the time. So I thought in honor of her, I would do the hairstyle that I did at that time, which is the blonde streaks at the front. And yeah, I did the video with [director] Cody Critcheloe, who’s a big Gregory Crewdson fan as well.
Is there symbolism to any of the recurring visuals throughout the video? The Twizzlers, the fire and the mannequins are all revisited multiple times.
[Laughs] The Twizzlers were a reference to me again at 13 years old; I used to wake up and I had a bunch of Twizzlers on my bedside table — I would just eat them in the morning. And then there’s a lot of identity stuff, which is a theme throughout all my work. There’s references to past trauma, and you know, the fires…but it’s really open for interpretation and made to make the viewer feel something. Which I think we accomplished.
What was it like filming in an original Frank Lloyd Wright home?
It was crazy that we got that location. That was part of the appeal of shooting in Kansas City. You don’t have to go by the rulebooks and a lot of people are just willing to loan out their spaces, ’cause it’s exciting to make a music video. There was this whole kind of art school vibe to our shoot, like just a bunch of people doing all-nighters. The Frank Lloyd Wright house was recently sold around the time we did the video. The producer had been location scouting and we found a few good options, and she was like, “You know, there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It’s, like, probably not gonna happen, but I’m just gonna hit up the owner and see if they’d be interested.” And the owner was totally willing. He was like, “Yeah, we just sold it, we’re moving out in two weeks, you guys can shoot here.” He even let us use all the original furniture and stuff. So yeah, that was really good luck.
With me, you can always expect exploration of identity and duality, but this isn’t really an alter ego thing like with Super Sunset, where there were the three fully-blown and figured out alter egos. This is more abstract. Me in the white dress is sort of the present me. And I think the Twizzler girl in the mustard-yellow coat, she’s a little more sinister and represents maybe the self-destructive side or perhaps the side of me that enjoyed trauma and bad things that I went through. That would be my interpretation of those two characters.
One of the things you’ve talked about in the past is your fans’ almost scholarly approach to your music. Now that the video’s been out for a week, have you gauged fans’ reactions to it?
I think I went into this new era knowing that some fans…it’s a different sound, right? Like, quite different from what I’ve done before. So I think I went into it with the expectation that there may be some fans that wouldn’t like it as much. And so I was prepared for that, and then on release day, my fans loved it on the most part, from what I can see. And I don’t go deep into the pop forums, but I do have eyes in there [laughs]. There are a lot of scholarly guesses at what it all means — I love that. And it means all those things, you know? To me, it means whatever it means to you. That’s what I want out of a music video. I’ve been really pleased and happy with how my fans seem to be ready to go on this journey with me. Like I said, this is work that I’m very, very proud of and it just means so much to have their willingness to watch me evolve and to change and to come along for the journey.
You’ll be touring with both Marina and Charli XCX. What do you respect about them?
I mean, I’m a big fan of both Marina and Charli. I’ve been following them for so many years and admiring both of their ways of going about the industry. They’re really strong women, and stubborn, and lift up their fellow female artists. And they’re totally different from each other as well; I don’t mean to put them both in one box. But they just happen to be two female pop artists that I’ve been really respecting and sort of looking up to as a template of what I would like to be for a while now, so it’s really exciting that I get to tour with both of them.
What do you take away from touring and working with female artists like Marina and Charli?
I think with both Charli and Marina, they’ve chosen all female or female-identifying or queer artists for their tours and I really respect that. Because it’s all about giving visibility and opportunity to those that may not get as much in the greater music industry. So I really appreciate that and respect that. I also saw Marina post about only wanting to work with female producers for her next body of work, which I think is totally fair game, you know? It’s such a male-dominated thing right now, being a producer. There’s no reason why women can’t do the same thing. If you look at like, the Grammy nominations and the Billboard charts and everything, I think it’s like 90 percent male-dominated or something. So I think, there’s probably male producers that are aspiring like, “Well why can’t I work with Marina?” And it’s like, well…I think girls just need to be given a step up, actually. So that they can actually prove themselves. We need some things in place to give them a step up right now, so that they have the confidence to pursue a highly male-dominated industry. I think it’s important to give platforms and to lift each other up right now.
What are you most looking forward to on the tours?
I’m especially excited to go on tour in Europe with Marina, ’cause I’ve never done a big European tour, so that’s really exciting. I also want to talk about my friend Bryan Hindle. He’s been my best friend since college and he helps me creative direct my tours. I’m not a dancer, but he helps me with movement and then he helps me with lighting cues and just overall ideas. And he’s just super talented, so I kind of want people to know about him.
What are three words to describe what fans can expect from this next era?
Hmm…there’s so many to choose from. I would definitely choose melancholy…North American melancholy, I guess that’s three words. Yeah, North American melancholy!