Allie X‘s next album Super Sunset isn’t due until this fall, but the synth-pop singer plans to keep fans warm by releasing a fresh track every month leading up to the final unveiling. “I wrote this as a cohesive story and a body of work,” Allie X tells Billboard about the record, “I’m just choosing to release it month by month this time.”
The “Paper Love” singer has also begun ushering in this new era by introducing three complex alter egos, hosting a group of intimate listening party-type events and unloading a handful of quirky lyric videos. Somehow, she’s found time to write on about half of pal Troye Sivan’s upcoming album Bloom, too.
Ahead of her debut performance at Chicago’s Lollapalooza on Thursday (Aug. 2), Billboard caught up with Allie X to talk about her two most recent releases — the lush, pounding “Focus” and cheeky, Lana Del Rey-esque “Not So Bad In L.A.” — as well as what’s in store once the sun sets on Summer 2018.
You’ve wrapped up a few intimate fan events in New York and Toronto, and have more coming up in London and Los Angeles. What can fans expect from these shows?
These fan events are in small venues. L.A will have about 250, and London is just going to be, like, 40 people. Some of the shows are acoustic and really intimate, more of a little hangout with the fans. New York was more full-band; I played through the record top to bottom. We’re also doing Lollapalooza — I actually have a wedding in England the next day, so I’m flying from Lolla to London. I’m excited for that [Lollapalooza] and a little nervous as well, I hope it goes well. I hope that people like me, it’s an early slot. Then it’s Hopscotch Festival [in Raleigh, N.C.].
You’ve released two tracks so far, “Focus” and “Not So Bad In L.A.” What do these songs mean to you?
They are very different. “Focus” is one of the more heartfelt songs that I’ve written. It’s sort of an apocalyptic love song. You’re painting this picture of the sky kind of parting, and chaos everywhere, even though it is beautiful, the way that I see it. You’re frozen when you look at this other person, and you’re just sort of suspended in this stillness while there’s chaos all around. It’s about how when you have somebody — or even just within yourself, however you want to interpret the lyrics — for me, it was about another person, how you can find a peace and stillness in that. That’s such a wonderful and valuable thing because life is hard. It’s painful. I don’t think I understood what love was for a long time, and I feel like I’m just such a late bloomer. I’m just starting to understand what it is and this song is an ode to that.
What’s “Not So Bad In L.A.” about?
I had just gotten back to L.A. from somewhere. I always have mixed feelings about coming back, like, do I want to be here? I got in my car and was driving to get something dry cleaned, and I was just looking around at how perfect and glamorous everything looked and how it was pretty easy to get a parking spot at the dry cleaners! I said to myself, “It’s not so bad in L.A.” I started laughing and singing that phrase, then I just pulled out my voice memo thing and it all just came out, which never really happens to me. I always do melody first, but the concept and the lyric came with the melody. So I had the voice memo, then I got on the piano and took that to a producer and produced it.
How many of the things mentioned in the song have you actually witnessed?
Oh, all of it. I mean, it’s sarcastic and demented. “Angels all left, but we’ll stay.” I mean, it’s a song about how L.A doesn’t suck, but it’s also a song about how L.A does suck. It’s very sarcastic.
You recently put out the “analog” version of “Focus” as well. What does that term mean?
That’s what I chose to call it, because people usually do an acoustic version, but I didn’t want to use acoustic instruments. I just got my friends from Toronto to come and play a stripped-down version. We used a drum machine, synthesizer and synth-bass, and just recreated it in a different arrangement.
You released CollXtion II in June of last year, and now we can expect Super Sunset this fall. Was there a pressure to release another record so soon?
Yeah, because I learned that putting out a record, you burn through it really quickly, in terms of online engagement. These days, when you put out an album, that’s the end of the journey, which I didn’t think about. What I should’ve done, and what I’m doing for this record, is releasing it single by single. With CollXtion II, I only put out two singles, then the whole body of work. In today’s music industry and the way that people are consuming music now, there’s a lot of songs on CollXtion II that I wish had had their moment. That’s part of why I’m doing it this way now. I think it’s just going to be more of a journey for the fans. But I love writing conceptually, and there’s no way that I could just write a bunch of random singles and put them out.
Well, I’m not complaining. How did you come up with the concept and title for Super Sunset?
When I started writing new work, I didn’t exactly know what the concept was, because you usually don’t before you start writing. I just kept writing about my experiences in L.A. and I just realized I have something I need to say about this right now, for myself as an artist, to express and get it out. So I was like, “Okay, this is where it’s going,” and it just felt like it needed the title Super Sunset.
You’ve recently introduced three new personas, or alter egos. What’s the story here?
I’m figuring it out as I go. It’s really as much of an exploration as it is a conceptual, planned-out sort of thing. There’s Sci-Fi Girl, and she’s closest to the Allie X persona. People have always said, “You’re kind of like an alien, you’re kind of disconnected, you’re a witch.” I guess I have a quality in me that makes me like that and I really embrace it. That’s what I did when I started putting out music under the name Allie X, and so the sci-fi girl just sort of personifies and exaggerates those traits. The style is retro-future.
Then, the Hollywood Starlet is blonde, and can be grotesque-looking. There are definitely drag elements to all of the looks in this campaign. I’ve been very inspired by drag. I hope that everything I do is respectful, because I don’t want to ever seem like I’m stealing. The starlet basically represents the desperation of Hollywood. The desire to push-up your tits and cinch your waist and blow up your lips and make your hair really big and blonde and just be very shiny. She’s delusional. She’s like, “I’m a star.” I think I’ve definitely learned about that, and maybe even become that at some points.
Then the Nun is just the purity, the spirituality, the authenticity and the rawness of being an artist and how I picture myself as a kid. Even how I got off the plane when I arrived in L.A. The habit [as seen on the album cover] is actually my hair!
How did you end up choosing that persona for the album cover, as opposed to the other two?
It just looked like the album cover to me. It’s a nun with plastic tears and she’s being positioned on a Hollywood set. I always pictured it being a yellow background when I came up with the name Super Sunset and I picture her saying, “I want to be an artist, I want to do it but they’re trying to make me do all these different things.” This was just an outtake — we weren’t posing. It was also the first photo of this set-up, I think. The hands are Dustin Baker’s, my hairstylist. I was like, “You’re not going to sue me, right?” I asked him how it felt to be a hand model and he was like, “It honestly feels natural, I think I found my calling, I’m switching careers.”
You have writing credits on just about half of your longtime friend and collaborator Troye Sivan’s upcoming album, Bloom. Can you talk about your relationship with him?
Troye’s been a good friend. I feel like most relationships I have in L.A., they’re friendships…but they’re not. I don’t know how many people I could call crying to, but Troye’s been a really nice person to me. He’s really shared his success in a generous way. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a joy to work with, he’s helped me so much and he’s just a really genuinely nice person. One of the nicest people I know, and that includes non-celebrities.
You wrote on “The Good Side,” which is featured in the trailer for the upcoming movie Boy Erased.
Oh yeah, I’m so excited about that. It looks like it’s going to be amazing.
What were the sessions like for Bloom?
We wrote this album the same way we wrote the first one [2015’s Blue Neighbourhood], though Troye and Leland went to Sweden and did “My, My, My,” and “Bloom,” so I wasn’t there for that. The rest of it we wrote with Bram Inscore in his garage studio. It’s just super casual, and that’s another thing I love about Troye. He doesn’t want any thrills or anything like that, he just wants to work with people. For “The Good Side,” I think we were listening to The Smiths, because he had just gotten into that. Around the time we wrote the record, he was just being introduced to The Smiths and The Velvet Underground. He’s like a very modern pop person, [but] he’s been introduced to more vintage stuff. So those were influential. The whole album [Bloom] is about love and being in your first grown-up relationship. And it’s about sex!
Where does Leland fit in?
I’d say Leland and Troye are truly best friends. We all have the same management, we’re all friends, we have a really good creative dynamic. Leland — Brett is his real name — is a person who has done me so many favors and introduced me to so many people. When I moved to L.A., he’d already been there for maybe four years, and he’s just a really generous, hard-working, social person who has a great network. He just plugged me in in lots of places. When I met Leland, he was still working a teaching job and hadn’t had a big break yet, and I got to watch him do so well since I’ve met him. It’s really cool to watch a friend of mine just rocking it.
As for other writing projects, Mitski recently name-dropped you in an interview.
Mitski is so cool. Can confirm, we’ve been rocking together. Mitski’s been trying out pop writing. I feel like I’m a good kind of bridge into the pop world because I don’t really approach songs the way a lot of pop writers do. We get along really well and we’ve written some stuff that I’m really excited about.
You’ve spoken before about how you are totally fine chilling in your house by yourself. Do you feel like you’ve become more social since you moved to L.A.?
Being in an intimate relationship with someone for a long time, which I’d never done before this one, has taught me a lot. I now understand how to share. I know how to be completely naked in front of someone. I was so guarded and kind of messed up in a lot of ways, so that’s been great. In terms of actually going out and having a circle of friends, I’m still bad at that. I’ve never felt lonely in my life. I’m just very solitary and I’m okay with that. I’ve always felt a certain pride in being by myself. The thing is, when I am forced into social situations, it feels great and I forget all my problems, so I think I just need to really make an effort!
Finally, what does it mean for you to be “feeling X” these days?
It’s very specific to all the feelings that the city [Los Angeles] gives me. I think being in this industry, or at least trying to be an artist in the entertainment industry — it sort of dehumanizes you in a way. I don’t want to sound like, “Oh, poor me, I live in Hollywood and get to make music every day,” but I’ve just become a lot more jaded. I know so many people, but I don’t feel the connection with them that I wish I did. I think that this record is a search for connection in a heartless place. It’s all about the navigation of being in the industry. At the same time that I have been doing that for the last five years, I also fell in love and have a very real intimate relationship with someone in this soulless city. It’s about both of those things.
The idea behind this whole project is to keep searching for my truth until the “x” has been solved. I have not done that yet. It’s such an open-ended thing. I feel like I’ve got my whole life to figure it out if I want, so I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.
Aug. 1 — Chicago, IL @ Schubas
Aug. 2 — Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza
Aug. 7 — London, UK @Her Upstairs*
Aug. 14 — Los Angeles, CA @ Moroccan Lounge*
Sept. 7 — Raleigh, N.C. @ Hopscotch Music Festival
Nov. 4 — Costa Mesa, CA @ Big Adventure Music Festival
* Indicates ‘The Super Sunset Xperience – A Hollywood Thriller’