Interview: Allie X’s new album, ‘Cape God’, is about bravery and healing
Alexandra Hughes — most popularly known for her stage name, Allie X — defies the expectations of a pop star’s trajectory: there was no Disney breakthrough, no glamorous or romantic discovery or children’s talent competitions. Self-made is not usually an expression applied to female pop-stars, especially when they are also songwriters, is it? That is not to say that Allie X’s second album, Cape God, is not a collaborative effort (produced by Oscar Görren and written with James Alan Ghaleb). Her best work yet, it marks the beginning of a new chapter for the singer-songwriter, whose work is more mature and darker whilst still being delightfully pop and even catchy (in a good way). As we sit to talk to Allie in between the launch of her album and the start of her US and European tour, there’s an imminent feeling that something big is about to happen — almost like following the beats that kickstart her album in ‘Fresh Laundry’. Check out our conversation below to know more about her career trajectory and why Cape God was so healing and brave for her.
KALTBLUT: I wanted to start with your new album. Allie X: Good place to start!
KALTBLUT: So, ‘Cape God’ being your second album, what’s changed in between? Allie X: Yes, it’s my second album and my fourth body of work, I did a few EPs as well. A lot has changed. I think, very notably, the sound has evolved. This was a different type of production. It’s more of an intimate, personal record. I really got to the essence of who I am and not just the alter ego version of who I am. That’s more honest, I think.
KALTBLUT: How was the creative process different? Allie X: It was way more pleasurable this time. The whole thing started because I came to Stockholm to do some writing with a producer named Oscar [Görres] out there and a writer named James [Alan Ghaleb]. And we didn’t know at the time that we were doing would become my record. I just thought it was a normal writing trip and I did most of it with them in one room. Whereas, you know, in L.A and in my other records, it’s been a lot of working with so many different people and then kind of pulling it together at the end. This process was more like writing a classic album. It was really fun and… It was just easy! We didn’t feel pressured to try to write a hit or try to follow anything that’s popular… There’s always pressure for that when you’re working in pop. Because it’s popular music [laughs]. It was very seamless. If you add up all my days in Sweden, it was probably three weeks and a half. That’s it.
KALTBLUT: What did you think of Stockholm? I like it there. Allie X: Yeah, I loved it there. I mean, I barely saw the city. I would always just be in the studio. No natural light. I had like one day off, two days off maybe, where I walk around a bit. Or sometimes, after we’d end early, I’d just walk around listening to demos. It was a good vibe in Stockholm.
KALTBLUT: Do you have a favourite city in Europe? Completely random question, sorry. Allie X: Well, it’s funny you ask because I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve been thinking about maybe moving here for a little bit. It’s very refreshing when you live in Los Angeles to come here, it’s so different. I’m thinking about maybe living in Paris. I really like it there. I’ve been spending time there recently. I love Stockholm. Stockholm feels very clean and well-run. I love Switzerland – I just love lakes and greenery and mountains. And Berlin is cool, but I feel too old for Berlin. My sister lived here for a bit. She was partying and stuff. I’m at a place where I want more of an adult, nice life, you know? Italy is so beautiful, I went to Amalfi last summer, that was cool. I love Milan. But yeah, maybe Paris.
KALTBLUT: I read that you moved to L.A. to become a songwriter. Allie X: Sort of. I always wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t write songs till later on, which is weird because now it’s completely how I identify. What I learned is, if you want to be a singer, you have to write your own songs. Unless you’re really cute and hot and some person “discovers” you and puts you in a little outfit… Which obviously was never going to happen to someone like me.
KALTBLUT: Why not? Allie X: Because I was never that. I was never an obvious choice. I was never someone sought after by anyone. It was always me believing in myself. I mean, people thought had a good voice as a kid. But that was about it. So I really had to learn how to write, how to present myself. What imagery I was presenting. How I was dressing myself. And in the process, I wrote so many songs… Usually, if you get a publishing deal, which is what a songwriter is after, it’s because you have a song that’s doing well with another artist. My demos weren’t that good, but I guess they must have had some potential because I got a publishing deal and that allowed me to afford to move to Los Angeles. They got me a visa. Gave me a place to live. That’s how I got there. It’s hard to move to the States if you’re not from the States, you know, because it’s like… I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket! And to get a visa, you need like all this press. And it’s like, how do you get the press if you’re not… You know? So I was just really lucky that I got that publishing deal because that gave me about six months where I could write in L.A., where I could find people. And then I released my first song and it did well. Which was really lucky. I should say: before that, I released a lot of songs in Toronto that did nothing [laughs]. So that’s how I got my start.
KALTBLUT: What made you continue? I think as an artist, that’s… Allie X: That’s the question.
KALTBLUT: Yeah. Allie X: I think what makes someone continue as an artist is what makes an artist, an artist. It’s someone that can’t do anything else. I remember when I was on my first day of college at theatre school, my teacher said to the whole class: I just want to say, if any of you in this room think you could be happy doing absolutely anything else, you should go do that because this is not an easy life. And it’s true. But I can’t do anything else. I have to do it. So… [laughs].
KALTBLUT: Well, I agree. I think that’s exactly it. Allie X: Can you relate as a writer?
KALTBLUT: Yes. Like, that’s the only thing I can do. And I have to keep doing it. Allie X: In a way, it’s nice because your choice is made for you. Actually, a lot of people that were in that room on that day thought that that was what they wanted to do. They are doing different jobs now or they have families or they stopped doing it. I’m one of the only ones left. Some of them are working professionals… At least the limitation simplifies your choices. You’re like, well, this is what I’m going to do. So I might as well just stop worrying about another life! I’ve always known since I was a kid, this is what I was going to do.
KALTBLUT: Do you remember that kind of turning point or your earliest memory around it? Allie X: My earliest memory was performing for my parents and wanting to be on the camera in the 90s [laughs]. I came from a family that knew nothing about show business or the entertainment industry. So their way of helping me was to put me in singing lessons, piano lessons and stuff. Then I went to art school, which was cool. It took me a long time to understand the industry, though. It wasn’t until I moved to L.A. that I actually understood: OK, that’s how you make money, you know? This is how you pay your rent. That’s only been something in the last six years for me.
KALTBLUT: I think as artists, most people can’t put these things together. They know how to be an artist, but they don’t know how to make money. Allie X: Yeah.
KALTBLUT: Does it make sense? Allie X: Yeah. And some of the best artists have that problem. By nature, if you’re artistic and creative and passionate about making art, you’re probably not thinking about business or money. I want to say that’s unfortunate but it actually isn’t! As long as you’re happy, it’s fine. I’m very ambitious. The more I do it, the more I sort of come into liking myself as this person. And I feel good about that and comfortable with that, I think. But it’s not for everyone. Some people are lucky because they’ll find the manager that they can trust, who will guide them through the business so they can just be creative. I’ve never had that experience. I mean, I’ve got great management now, but I’ve had a lot of bad management in the past. That’s kind of why I’m the way I am, because I’ve really had to learn: nobody is going to want this as much as you, no one’s going to stick up for you as much as you are. No one’s going to understand the ins and outs of what you’re doing. No one’s going to care as much as you… Experiences really taught me to be the boss of the company or whatever.
KALTBLUT: That’s awesome. It’s a good role model for other female singers as well. Allie X: I was going to say, particularly for female singers, I think there’s a long history of being told what to do. I never signed to a major label. I’ve really, really gone in for good and for bad to do things my own way. And I kind of have this fantasy that one day I’ll be able to do a workshop for young girls… You guys don’t have to fit into the Britney Spears model or whatever. Like, here’s the alternative way of doing things. I hope I’m successful by that point and that’s inspiring [laughs].
KALTBLUT: It is inspiring! Which reminds me of something you said: you celebrate weirdos and outsiders. Do you think you’re weird? Allie X: I mean, do you think you’re weird?
KALTBLUT: Yeah [laughs]. Allie X: I do, too [laughs]. I think it’s because… What’s the word? Circumstantial? When I was a young kid, I didn’t think that I was weird. It was all the kids that told me I was weird, you know? Then I learned, okay, well, I’m weird. So I’m going to be weird and I’m going to make the most of it. Now it’s like a badge of honour, but only because of… What’s the word I’m looking for? When it’s because of the way that everyone else views you…
KALTBLUT: Circumstantial can work. Allie X: There’s definitely a better word but English is your second language so that’s not fair!
KALTBLUT: It is my second language [laughs]. But going back to being weird, you celebrate that in your album as well. Allie X: I do. I made this album for my younger self who had such a difficult time. It’s her story. It’s her story told in the way of — almost as if I made like a movie or something. You get to sympathize with the lead character, it’s told in that way.
KALTBLUT: Do you think it was a form of healing or cathartic somehow? Allie X: Yeah, definitely. It’s taken me so long to be able to talk about it. And now that I’m confident and I’ve grown into myself, I can talk about it with pride. No matter what comes of this album, it’s been really healing. And I know that for some people, it will really help them. I know that already. So that’s enough, you know? And it’s for those people as well.
KALTBLUT: Anything you would like to share about your own teenage years? Allie X: I mean, it’s so hard to say in a few words. The whole record was inspired by this strange documentary I saw about opioid addicts in Massachusetts [called ‘Heroin, Cape God, USA’, 2015] and I related to them. I didn’t even know why at the time because I never had a substance issue. I had other addictive issues but not that. I started to write from the perspective of one of the characters. And then I ended up writing very personal words. It somehow propelled me into the thoughts of myself in high school. When I was in high school, I had a lot of difficulty with physical health. I got a chronic illness when I was about twelve and it sort of overtook my body. I was so ashamed and scared that I wasn’t even able to tell anyone. It really took over my whole youth. I became very detached emotionally. All I really had was the thought that I could be an artist. That’s what got me through. I think that’s why it’s taken me so long to come into myself. I’m not a young person [Aliie is 34] compared to other artists. But it’s taken me to this point to really have my voice, I think, because I was delayed…
KALTBLUT: In pop culture, they sell this idea that everyone’s an artist by the time they are 22 or 17 or something. Allie X: It’s quite crazy! A lot of people that age have their big song and their big moment. And then they have a lot more growing to do. It’s not always a sad ending, but yeah, it is a strange expectation. I’m grateful for my journey. I’m glad that I’m over that part of my life. Life always has its challenges and I have new challenges now. I feel very glad to have made the record. To put something out that is really honest and I don’t know if people interpret it as brave, but I interpret what I do as brave because it’s something that I literally couldn’t even say the words 10 years ago or 15 years ago. And now I’m singing about it and talking about it in interviews. It feels good.
KALTBLUT: The other thing that I really like about ‘Cape God’ is that you take your adolescence and create something incredibly universal about it. It speaks to me as an adult, and to teenagers who have a completely different context growing up now. Allie X: ‘Regulars’ is really the song on the album that’s the most direct outsider anthem. People have asked me in interviews to explain the lyrics and it’s hard for me to explain… Part of it is: no one is really the regulars. I’m not saying like ‘I’m special and everyone else is a regular’. It’s the experience of being human and questioning where you fit in, what is normal and am I normal. Visually, when I was writing that, I was seeing like the regulars at the bar, of course. But then I was also oh, what a feeling hanging off a building – I was seeing like nine to five workers in there, blazers and skirt suits and stilettos, hanging off the side of a skyscraper… Just being alive – there’s a desperation, you know? Trying to find your place and your purpose.
KALTBLUT: What are you planning for the future, after the tour? Allie X: [Sighs] I don’t know, actually.
KALTBLUT: I mean, the tour itself is long… Allie X: Yeah, the tour takes me till the summer. I imagine there’ll be more touring after that. In terms of what’s next, though, for writing, all I really have is this idea that I might come base myself in Europe for a little bit. I want to get away from Los Angeles creatively as well as physically. There’s a great deal of pressure because of the way music is written there. It’s very quick. It’s like you’re in a machine. Before I moved there, I used to write by myself and produce by myself, used to spend months on one song. Now you write two songs in one day, you know. Not even joking!
KALTBLUT: How’s that possible? Allie X: Two sessions, you know, four writers each. It’s not the way that I work. I have friends that do that. I want to move somewhere where I don’t feel the pressure and where I can set up my own little studio. Thematically, I’ve no idea what I’ll be writing about. I don’t know what I’m going to feel – right now, I feel a release and a relief. That’s almost scary as a writer because it’s not inspiring to write about [laughs]. So we’ll see. I’m sure you relate to that, right?
KALTBLUT: Yeah, when you’re happy, it’s like… Allie X: Oh, what am I gonna write about? So yeah, we’ll see. I feel like this is my best work and my most honest work. And my hope for the year is that I really find my audience. I’ve always had a small, very dedicated fanbase and I hope that fan base grows to the point where I don’t feel it is as much of a struggle to be in the entertainment industry. It sounds sort of silly to be ‘oh, I just want the numbers to go up’ because it’s not about that. I want to be able to do what I want to do without feeling pressure from the industry. I just want to feel empowered, I guess, and a bit more free, too. I want to feel like I can slow down. I’ve been churning out records and I want to be able to take my time on the next one. That’s what I hope for.
KALTBLUT: One last question. Do you think it’s easier to be a teenager now? Allie X: That’s such a good question. [pauses] I wish that I’d been a teenager now, I think. A lot of the solutions I found to my health problems came from the Internet and resources being so widely available. I think I wouldn’t have felt so isolated. I feel like kids now are more intelligent and have more open dialogues, at least in metropolitan areas — it’s just where I spend my time. In rural places, I don’t really know. As a whole, I feel like people are more educated and open-minded now. That said — cyberbullying and cancel culture, that stuff makes it difficult to be a teenager… But yes, I think I would have preferred to be a teenager now.
KALTBLUT: Me too. I think there’s more support. Allie X: There is more support! There’s a greater voice for this generation. This generation has more power. You’re not able to silence them because of their presence. It’s so strong. I feel glad to be witnessing this and to be at the age I am, encouraging a younger generation. And my audience is so young that I feel this camaraderie and almost a maternal sort of feeling.
KALTBLUT: Anything else you’d like to add about the album or the tour? Allie X: ‘m really excited about the tour. Tickets are selling really well in Europe, which is cool because I’ve barely toured Europe. Berlin just sold out and Cologne’s almost sold out. I’m really excited about those dates. That’s really all I can think to say!