Allie X Talks Cape God, Visuals, and Virtual Shows
"I've always just kind of had music and performance in me. I think it's always validated my identity and made me feel better about myself."
After the widespread success of her synth pop heavy album "Sunset Sessions," Allie X explored deeper and darker sonic tones, centering around the release of her project "Cape God." From fashion to music, the Canadian singer likes to brand a new era with each album release. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Allie and discuss the making of "Cape God," image and identity, and her love of drag.
I know you're Canadian, but what area did you initially grow up in?
I'm from Toronto, but if I find someone from Ontario, then I tell them I’m from Oakville or Mississauga. Those are the two suburbs outside of Toronto that I mostly lived in growing up. We moved around
quite a bit, but it was usually within the two cities. I’m a suburban girl. I graduated college and then I moved to downtown Toronto and I lived in the East side and the West side in a few different places.
Do you have any specific memories from when you were a child that you think were directly formative towards your career path as a musician?
In my early memories, I was always kind of wanting to be like the center of attention. I used to write, direct, and star in my own plays on our camcorder. I always loved singing. I used to sing to animated films and at the time I loved Disney films. I always just kind of had music and performance in me. I think it's always validated my identity and made me feel better about myself. Like without that thing my might life would have been really different. I think it’s always kind of been the case of being a weird girl. I guess like where people wouldn't want to be friends with me, but if I performed, then they would. I think that having that experience over and over again during school was really formative and made me addicted in a way to doing this. So much of it for me is about just creating, being creative, and self expression. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’m just going to have to be doing something artistic for the rest of my life.
How did you get involved in the drag scene and the queer community?
Throughout school, even in elementary school and through college, all of my closest friends have been gay boys. On the weekends they always went to gay clubs. I hated going to regular clubs, which was really popular amongst my classmates. When I was in high school I felt uncomfortable and really out of place in Toronto, and I think going to Buddies in Bad Times, which was a theater that turned into a big gay club every night, was so fun for me. There were queens there. I’ll never forget when I was like 10 years old I went on a family vacation and we stopped in Provincetown. I remember seeing drag queens there and really being transfixed with them. I thought they were so tall and beautiful. I had just always been so into it. In terms of music, I never sought out to make like queer music or music that was focused towards the queer demographic but I’m not really surprised that my audience happens to be the people that I’ve always been the closest to.
Your visual aesthetic for this era definitely reminds me of Jean Paul Gaultier and club kids. Who are your biggest fashion inspirations and your favorite designers?
Oh man so many. I really love Jean Paul Gaultier. I do love Prada and Miu Miu, although I have no association with them at all. There’s smaller brands that I love that I’ve been working with. I’ve been working with these Swiss designers called OTTOLINGER lately. I think Iris Van Herpen is amazing. I love Gucci. Alexander McQueen definitely. There’s so many and being part of the fashion world is super new to me so I’m still kind of wide-eyed. This is the first time that I’ve really started working with designers and not just working with a stylist who’s pulling from whatever showroom in Los Angeles. My thoughts and focus became a lot more concentrated and serious this year. I’ve really enjoyed dressing up with my last record, Super Sunset. I was doing way more colorful, corseted, cinched, drag looks. Now I’m doing a completely different thing. I really like to brand each different record with a distinct look.
It’s so interesting how some artists, you included, are very attached to the duality of a visual and an audio. The visual can just enhance your music so much and I think that’s really cool how you’re so passionate about your visuals. Speaking of your music, tracks on your new album like “Fresh Laundry”, “Madame X”, and “The Devil I Know”, definitely have a sinister undertone. The way that you mesh that with bass heavy pop in “Super Duper Party People” but then will jump to a hyper 80’s inspired track like “Susie Save Your Love” makes the album very eclectic. What was the production process like for this album and how involved are you in production?
I'm always super involved. With this one I took a step back further than I usually do, working with a producer that I totally trusted for the first time. His name is Oscar Gomez. It's funny because people talk about Cape Cod saying that the sound is eclectic. Like you said, but to my ears, it's actually very cohesive. The songs are quite varied and distinct from each other. But production wise we went for a lot of live sounds, but a couple sparkling synths, since we had the same vocal production on every song. We used a lot of interesting percussion. We like to keep it minimal. We used a lot of guitar tones. Most of the time it was a live bass guitar sound, with one exception, "Super Duper Party People." So it’s quite cohesive in terms of sound, but I’m open to everyone’s interpretation.
On your new album Troye Sivan sings on your song “Love Me Wrong.” How did that opportunity come about?
He’s a friend and I just asked him if he wanted to sing on that song that we actually wrote together already. It wasn’t too complicated.
Do you have a song in particular on the album that you put a lot of work into and you’re really proud of how it turned out?
I think “Regulars” is probably that song for me. I think the most unique and well-written song is probably “Fresh Laundry”, but I think “Regulars” is the one that pulls my heartstrings.
You have a somewhat elusive quality to your image and you’ve previously said that the X in your name represents an unknown variable. Do you think that your element of mystery attracts people to your brand and your image?
Hard to say. I'm sure some people are attracted because of that. I know with myself, I get attracted to more elusive artists because there's a certain magic and mystery to the whole thing. So probably.
Your ambiguity is so refreshing in this era where a bunch of artists kind of lack the ability to leave stuff up for interpretation. Who were the lead creatives in your newest project and do you think it’s important for you to keep a small group of people when writing music?
I always struggle with keeping the group small because I love collaborating and I get so excited by certain people’s skills and talents. I’m kind of that person that wants to work together with everyone and then it gets over complicated. I will say that I pick very carefully in terms of the people that I collaborate with. I go as far as saying that I kind of creative direct and curate the whole thing depending on what the record is and what my vision for it is. I seek out my own hair and fashion stylist. I find my favorite photographers and video directors for what I have in mind. My team, my management, and my label. I really do all of that myself. It’s really a conversation between me and my creative team which I think is a bit different than the way that most pop artists do it. I think these days pop artists are definitely coming more into their visual side which is cool.
How has the pandemic affected you as a musician, especially as you’ve just put out an album and would normally be doing press and touring?
Well the tour’s been canceled for the foreseeable future. It will be rescheduled as soon as we are allowed to reschedule it. We had two weeks where I was able to promote the record in Europe and things really just escalated while we were there. We left early and came back here. Before we knew it we were all locked down. In terms of streaming and people listening to the album, that’s been really good still. That’s good for artists that make a living on royalties like me. When you can’t get out and physically promote your record, it definitely has an impact, so it’s too bad because I’m super proud of Cape God and I was really ready to give it my all and really believe in it. I know on the other hand that I’m in a very privileged situation compared to a lot of people in the world right now. I know that I’ll eventually get to tour again and to be honest, having time off and having the time to think, reflect, and be slow, has been very valuable for me. I don’t know that I would have been able to slow down like this prior, on my own accord, so I’m grateful for this and for the chance to slow down. It’s so challenging for performers and the industry is just being ripped away, other than the virtual shows.
How do you feel about the virtual shows?
I don’t know. It’s not as exciting to me as being in a room with people. I’m kind of limiting the ones that I do so I can get really excited about select shows. That’s usually shows to raise money for people who really need it. We’re all just doing our best and I wonder what will become of entertainment when we’re allowed to do concerts again. I wonder if there will be some new technology for consuming live music other than just live streams. It’s really scary to think about the future of performing, especially when that’s what you’re passionate about.
Why do you think it’s important for us to support performers right now?
The entertainment industry has just taken a huge hit and it’s so important to support the ones that make their entire living performing live. Right now they don’t have anywhere to turn and their skills are limited to live streaming. I just think it’s important that we all help each other get by.
You can follow Allie on Instagram and Twitter @alliex.