There’s a scene in Allie X’s recent video for ‘Regulars’ in which the artist wanders into a laundromat – 10-inch heels, shaved eyebrows, dressed head-to-toe in black – and picks out a plaid jacket from one of the machines. As she totters back out and tries it on, still stumbling in those insane heels, the jacket seems to say: here you go, fuckers, I’m one of you now; it screams into the suburban parking lot. “I don’t take shit anymore, I really don’t,” the artist tells NME, calling out a male-dominated industry that’s been judging every step of her career for years.
But then Allie X has always operated on the peripheries of pop stardom and goth chic, caught between one desire to be embraced as a commercial success who speaks in universalities and another to sing eerie lines about her proximity to fresh laundry. “I feel like there’s this desire to disappear into the crowd and be normal, but also this real desire to be seen,” she explains to NME over the phone from Brighton, where’s she set to continue her support slot on the latest Marina tour that night. Disappearing into the crowd feels like an unlikely option.
Perhaps it works occasionally. Five years ago, Allie was still a relative newcomer to LA, having moved there in 2013, but after Katy Perry declared that the Toronto singer’s track ‘Catch’ was her ‘spring jam’, people started taking notice. An EP, ‘CollXtion I’, followed in 2015, as well as some work co-writing and touring with a young Australian singer by the name of Troye Sivan.
Now with a new album ‘Cape God’ due out early 2020 – including a duet with Sivan, ‘Love Me Wrong’ – on top of a year spent touring in support of chart behemoths like Marina (“so down to earth and kind”) and Charli XCX, it’s starting to feel like she might already be part of the new decade’s pop Justice League.
“There is that feeling right now,” she says when NME mentions the idea of an international musical community. “I mean, ultimately we all meet in LA. If you’re in pop you’re bound to be in LA, if not full-time then part-time.” There’s more to it than that though, surely? “It’s a very exciting time in pop music, and I think the era of streaming has allowed for a lot of creativity and a lot of intelligence in the younger generation. It’s a good time to be doing it I think.”
It’s a very exciting time in pop music. There’s creativity and a lot of intelligence in the younger generation”
‘Cape God’ is, among other things, the weirdest album Allie’s made, despite the fact that it’s still jammed full of radio-friendly potential hits – ‘Regulars’ sounds uncannily like Sheryl Crow in places, albeit Sheryl Crow maxed out on downers in an LA dive bar. Strangest of all is opening track and previous single ‘Fresh Laundry’, a slow-burn electronic piece that constantly veers between soothing and sinister. The record is interspersed with experimental moments like this, stacked alongside stadium-sized electro-pop bangers. Somehow, it works.
Allie flew out to Stockholm, Sweden last year with one line from the song stuck in her head – “I want to be near fresh laundry, it’s been too many years of not folding,” and it ended up becoming the catalyst for a new album. Working with producers Oscar Görres and James Alan Ghaleb, the musician found a team capable of creating in a way that transcended the “four-chord pop of LA writing rooms” as she puts it: “With Oscar and James, who were the big collaborators on this album, I felt like I was able to say stuff I hadn’t been able to say before.”
The further we go into conversation, it becomes apparent that Allie’s saying more and more things these days that she perhaps felt unable to speak about before. So why now? “I think that being a certain age and a certain maturity level, and being able to reflect on all these things that had happened to me in my teenage years, I felt like I had an understanding of what I went through,” she says. “And that was also very useful in getting the note finally. When anyone goes through something tough, at the time you can feel very dissociative and disconnected emotionally, and that was certainly the case for me.”
She looks after herself a lot more these days – the singer says she “stopped drinking a long time ago” – and recognises where her limits lie. “Artists generally are predisposed to being sensitive in one way or another, and I certainly am,” Allie says. “I struggle with mental and physical stuff. I feel like if I don’t really watch that I’m getting enough rest and eating well, I get thrown off balance so easily.”
She’s also done being told what to do. “I’m not going to be talked to in a certain way or talked down to,” she says. “I’m independent, and most of the dinosaurs that are still around are at the majors,” she tells NME, adding that her career has been “so much easier” since she hired a female manager two years ago.
It’s a philosophy that extends to her dealings with the industry at large, where Allie’s dealt with more than her fair share of bullshit. Nonetheless, she sees change on the horizon. “It still feels very slow and outdated in those circles. In the up and coming business side, I do see a lot of change. I see a lot of gay men moving into positions of power. I see a lot happening for the LBGTQ+ community; I see visibility for trans artists. There’s a lot of great stuff happening.”
More than anything, Allie X comes across as an artist who may well be destined for mainstream success at precisely the moment she’s learned to live without it. “I have confidence in this work, that it’ll get me to the next level – but even if it doesn’t, I’m just so proud of it,” she says. “When you make something that feels so you, so authentic and so truthful, it’s just a really liberating feeling to put it out and have it heard.
“I expect there’ll be a lot of adventures and surprises along the way, some not so pleasant, as always,” she adds. One thing seems certain: Allie X is never going to be one of the regulars. And for that, we love her.