Allie X’s Is the Girl She Was and Still Is On ‘Cape God’
Issue 3 | Beyond International Women’s Day
Allie X has always been an outlier. In pop music, that’s called innovative, entertaining. As a person walking around in the world, that’s a hard identity to carry. The Canadian-born, L.A. based artist, and frequent Somewherelse collaborator, is an astonishing and spectacular pop artist. Allie X is such a rare pop act that few compare to the high-concept, pristine aesthetics she attaches to her phenomenally written and produced songs. But were Allie X anyone but Allie X as she is now, the othering of that vision is very real and difficult.
For her second full-length record, the dramatically titled Cape God, Allie X went inward. In part, Cape God was inspired by the HBO documentary, Heroin: Cape Cod, which tracked the opioid crisis in a Massachusetts tourist town. Cape God is both thoughtful of this emergency and also her own personal journeys as a person. She tumbled back down to the girl she says she was to discover the woman she is because of it. The album’s opening track “Fresh Laundry” sounds sumptuous with pulsing, thick beats. But Allie X’s honeyed vocals glide overtop as she sings, “these days / no one’s botherin’ me bout nothing / these days,” forcing the listener to consider a loneliness woven through the intoxicating sounds. But the track is a rebirth, Allie X tells me via email, in-between doing press for the record. It’s about letting go of what was.
Allie X traces the contours of ordinariness on “Regulars” (“I’m with the regulars / just like I never was”), party aesthetics on “Super Duper Party People,” and wicked love on “Love Me Wrong” featuring Troye Sivan. The record is bookended with “Learning in Public,” complementary to “Fresh Laundry,” where Allie X reconciles her reality with a sense of profound optimism.
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From the rediscovery of those repressed feelings, Allie X says she feels lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of her shoulders. There is no question that being a woman in this business is hard and demanding. But it’s also very difficult to be an ordinary person when you specifically aren’t other people’s definition of ordinary. Amid the drama of Cape God, there is a very real story of a woman who, critically acclaimed now for her artistic vision, was once not accepted.
In our interview, Allie X talks about on the visuals on Cape God, the Women in Harmony Brunch she attended during Grammys weekend this year, inclusivity in pop music, and her message on International Women’s Day.
Somewherelse: Let’s start with Cape God. I’m struck by the dramatic, almost sacred imagery for the album art. How did you come to this concept and how does it speak to an overall theme woven through the album’s tracks?
Allie X: Thank you! The imagery was inspired by photographer Gregory Crewdson. I actually reached out to see if there was a chance he wanted to work on this with me, and his studio very politely let me know he had 12 gallery exhibits this year, ha ha. So, I went back to the drawing board and remembered a young photographer named Brendon Burton who I loved. Since the age of 17, he has been driving around the U.S. by himself, shooting ghost towns, derelict and abandoned buildings and the like. He [doesn’t] normally have human subjects, or any element of fashion, so the whole thing was a bit of an experiment. I brought in my hair and makeup team who I’d developed the glam look for Cape God with, and my fantastic stylist Kieley Kimmel. We all got in a van and drove to Upstate New York to shoot on locations Brendon had pre-scouted: a cave, a creek, in front of a church, in a huge field etc. [It was] a really incredible experience that resulted in a unique look that we’re all very proud of. Gothic Americana are the words I use to describe it. I never wanted anything to look too posed or fashiony. The clothes should look a bit abstract in the setting to play off the liminal space feel and the photo should tell a story.
What is your process going from project to project? I’m largely thinking of going from the high-concept Super Sunset, a surreal exaggeration of your life in L.A., to Cape God?
Well, I usually don’t start with a concept. I usually shape the concept around what is coming out naturally. With Super Sunset, I just happened to be writing a lot about my experience in LA. Then when I had decided on that as my concept, I knew aesthetically I wanted it to be exaggerated, grotesquely glamorous, and YELLOW! With Cape God, a trip to Sweden and inspiration from an HBO documentary resulted in me singing about my years of being ill and how difficult that was in high school and with my family. It is probably my most intimate work. But of course Cape God isn’t a real place. I still needed an element of removal and fantasy for full enjoyment.
This record is incredible. It’s sumptuous and pulsing. The song I listened to on repeat was “Learning in Public.” Beginning the record with “Fresh Laundry,” gesturing toward this sense of a “new” you, and ending with “Learning in Public” are beautiful bookends. Is the song an examination of your growth as a public figure, as a pop music force?
Thank you so much. I like sumptuous. Thank you for noticing the book ends! “Fresh Laundry” is a bit of a rebirth. A letting go of what was. An acceptance of nothingness. A perfect introduction to the record, in my opinion. “Learning in Public” has a sense of reality and optimism. Neither really have anything to do with me as a public figure or pop force. The record so much more to do with the girl I was and still am underneath all that.
I read forums and Reddit threads dedicated to you and consistently your collaboration with Mitski on this record was written about by your fans with such extreme excitement. How do you approach features for your songs with other artists, particularly this one with Mitski?
I usually just like to ask people that I am a fan of. In this case, it was fairly simple. Troye [Sivan] was a co-writer on “Love Me Wrong” and Mitski was a co-writer on “Susie Save Your Love,” so it made sense for them to feature. The crazy part is that they are both very picky artists about who and what they choose to work on, and they both said yes!
I want to mention the Women in Harmony Grammy brunch you attended recently. How often have you been able to have these opportunities to speak/discuss with your peers and do they make you more optimistic about this industry being less exclusionary to women?
Yes, good for Bebe Rexha for putting that event together. It’s very important that we women come together and relate to all the unfairness within the industry—and all industries for that matter. We typically are made to feel in show business that we have to be competitive with each other: the most beautiful, the youngest, the coolest, the most popular, the most relatable. Because there are limited opportunities. As Bebe pointed out, it’s not about getting a seat at the table with the men, it’s about making more seats at the table for the women!
Your advocacy goes beyond having more women in music; you champion an intersectional visibility and inclusivity in the industry. Pop music has never been this openly diverse and representative. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on what pop music is doing well and where it needs to improve.
I think it’s a good time in culture in general for intersectionality and inclusivity. A lot of progress has been made even in the six years I’ve been in LA. I think it’s about EDUCATION. Not just doing stuff [because] it’s trendy and cool. Making decisions with purpose and an understanding of who they effect and how, i.e. don’t hire a drag queen for your video and not pay her! Just don’t! And don’t give her $100 dollars when you’re paying your director of photography $10,000 either.
This is our International Women’s Day issue. I re-read your Twitter note from last year on IWD and that while you wrote about experiences you personally went through that were defeating, it emphasized such celebration and joy. I’m wondering what your thoughts are for IWD this year.
Pretty much the same! Cape God has been the record where I really explored those feelings from a sympathetic, mature viewpoint. I let go of some weight that I’ve held on my shoulders from that time for a while. I feel lighter and I hope the same for my fellow female-identifying humans. If any straight young men read this, I hope that they treat the odd ones out at school with compassion and kindness.
Somewherelse will be presenting a special elevated ‘Cape God’ experience on April 2, 2020 at the Phoenix as part of Allie X’s North American tour. Tickets for that and all upcoming tour dates are available here.
Written by Sarah MacDonald
Lead graphic by Marta Ryczko
Photo by Brendon Burton