Occasionally, from interview to interview, you end up meeting a musician that perfectly embodies what art is about. More than a machine creating hits after hits, that person seems to give 100% of herself to every aspect of her work. Such is the case with Allie X.
By Marie-Ève Venne
Photographer: Royal Gilbert
Fashion Editor: Randy Smith
Since the release of her single “Catch” in 2014, she has been grabbing the attention of the public and the critic. But it was with Super Sunset in 2018 – a total explosion of synth-pop beats, eerie vocals and mellow lyrics – that she solidified her position in the industry as a complex artist with many layers to explore.
Offering to the public a world featuring three distinct alter ego characters and recurring kaleido-scopic visuals, the Toronto artist accompanies her ever-evolving sound with requisite avant-garde visual elements. As a result, she has cultivated a portfolio that establishes her as so much more than a musician.
At the occasion of the release of her brand-new album, we took the time to catch up with her between two shows of her European tour.
Hi Allie! I am so happy to talk to you today because I remember the last time we met at Osheaga back in 2016 and how generous you were. Usually, when you meet an artist, they don’t let people in that easily, but you didn’t have that kind of barrier. Thank you. Yeah, it’s true. Usually if a journalist, you know, has done their research and they ask good questions, I am more likely to enjoy the conversation.
I was listening to “French Laundry” yesterday and I was blown away by the maturity of the song. Although I’ve been a fan of your music for a while, I feel like you are totally going in a new and exciting direction. Do you feel like you’re more in control of what you’re doing now? Yeah, I do feel like I finally found my voice in a more direct way. I kind of boiled down the essence of who I am and what I have to say. And yeah, it feels good. That’s who I am and I’m just fully embracing it. It’s an empowering feeling.
Do you feel like more musicians should just explore as many kinds of music genres as they want without overthinking it or being scared to lose some fans in the process? You should be allowed to explore as many genres as you want. That’s how I feel. I mean, I understand why people get upset when artists change or when they do something unexpected. Because it’s like, if you eat at the same restaurant every day for your whole life, and you expect a certain meal or taste from the restaurant and then they radically change from American grill to Caribbean, I understand. But, the nature of being an artist is to explore your own expression and truth and I personally never get upset as an artist when someone goes in a different direction.
You once said during an interview that, with your writing, you are trying to express what you were too shy to express as a teenager. How does it feel to finally be able to let it all out? It feels good. I mean, it’s not really that I was just too shy, but I wasn’t really writing when I was a teenager. I also needed the maturity to actually put it out there and in a way that does justice to my feelings at the time.
The music I’m doing now is complex enough that it allows for a complex range of emotions and lyrics that maybe you don’t find often in pop songs. As an example, my song “French Laundry” wouldn’t make sense to me with like a four-chord progression and a top 40 radio production. So yeah, it’s like I found this sound and musical expression that allows me to let go of some of these emotions that have been there for a long time but while being in control of the process.
Would you say it’s like you’re allowing yourself to grow up all over again, but this time, while being in control of the narrative? Yeah, I think so. And I think, on this album, I’ve taken my own experiences and turned them into a fictional kind of story. It’s me, but…I don’t know. You know, it’s how I would describe Cape Cod. It’s like an East Coast setting that’s reminiscent of my childhood, Toronto, but it’s slightly different. That’s what my album is like to me. And to go back to what you were saying, I think that it allows me to retell the story in a more enjoyable way as well because I get to pick the aesthetic and I get to pick the look of it and I get to put it all in a sort of fantastical setting and incorporate some fashion elements to the mix. It’s always nice to retell your story when you make the rules.
Yeah, but in the end, you can control the creative process, but not the reaction of the people who will listen to your music. Despite that, I am blown away every time I read online comments left by your fans. No matter what you do, it seems like they love you unconditionally. Yeah, I’m lucky to have really good fans, even if I don’t see myself as such a popular artist. I feel like the fans that I have are so devoted and look so deeply into my work that it’s very satisfying, and that the people that come to my shows are very cool and amazing.
But don’t you think that people are looking too deeply for a meaning in your music without simply enjoying it? I don’t know. It’s sort of like looking at an abstract piece of visual art. And some people say, oh, it’s just a splash of random colors. Like, what does that mean? And someone else will see something very deep and complex in it. And I think that’s just the nature of art. Like even when you’re talking about pop music or anything really like Valley theater or Fine Arts, I think everyone just kind of takes from it.
I put a lot of thought into what I do, and it is usually really layered. Sometimes, when I read an analysis from a fan of my work, it’s actually more complex than what I originally intended. That doesn’t make it not valid because, like I said, that’s just the nature of art.
I see myself as a visual artist. I’m not actually good at drawing or painting, but I think what I’m good at is curating a whole experience.
I always have strong visions and I’m able to execute them and I’m able to pick the right people to bring things to life. That’s kind of my skill. That’s my strongest suit. But the visual aspect of my work is important to me. People don’t get a full sense of who I am, I guess, and I feel like I really just want people to fully understand who it is that I am. Maybe that’s what drives me to put so much effort into the visual side of things.
I feel like it all circles back to what we were saying earlier, about being in control of your own story. Maybe putting so much effort into the visual aspect of your work is another way to be in control of your narrative. Yeah, and I think I am just a control freak (laughs). You can ask anyone on my team. But I think it’s a strong skill. It just means that I know what I want in life. It’s a good thing.
You’ve been known, since you started in the music industry, for embodying different characters and alter egos. But with your new album, I feel like you are simply showing the duality inside you. Like, this is who I am, I can be both darkness and light and I am not hiding anymore. It’s all really stripped down. You’re totally right. And this is the first interviewer that said that because most people keep asking if what you see in my video (for “Fresh Laundry”) are new alter egos and I’m like, no, it’s just me. And yeah, I’ve always explored different themes and this duality that comes with the shadow self and stuff and I think it’s simply me expressing two sides of myself.
I feel like sometimes, people don’t allow artists to be many things at once. They just want to put them in a category. And when you show them more of your personality, they just don’t get it. So maybe that’s why you also must control the visual aspect of your work to help them understand. And I mean, I know a lot of people that don’t get me but at least I’m doing something that I feel is my truth and that I can stand behind it 100%. That’s probably the most important thing to me.
I also want to explore the fashion aspect of your work because you have such a strong distinct look. What’s your approach to the whole fashion and dressing up thing?
I just did an interview and they asked me about what my idea of beauty was growing up and stuff. And as a kid, I was always doing stuff, trying just to fit in while trying to feel pretty. And it’s weird because all the things and choices that I would make, like wearing a turquoise eyeliner that I thought was cool, they’d be like, “well, this is weird.” And I think at some point, I just started to really embrace that. I just started to embrace that naturally — being an outsider.
When I started going to an art school, that’s when people started applauding me for looking different and I just started to enjoy it. I’ve been always so insecure about my body and so I was always finding creative ways to hide it and that’s something that still is with me to this day with the way I dress my silhouette.
Now, with having to dress for events and shows and photo shoots, I’ve become more and more passionate about discovering designers and playing with materials. I think it happens to a lot of people when they become a public figure. Fashion is just so much a part of it that you become kind of educated and you really start to enjoy it. But to be honest, right now, I’m wearing no makeup, yoga pants, and one of my dad’s huge shirts. I’m not one of those people that that makes an effort every day. But it has to be one or the other.
I think I love to be fully done up or in pajamas basically. Once again, it all comes back to that duality inside me. It’s always going to be a part of me.
Photography Royal Gilbert
Fashion Editor Randy Smith at HUMANKIND MANAGEMENT
Makeup Leslie Ann Thomson at THE PROJECT
using MARC JACOBS BEAUTY and AMOUR PROPRE BEAUTE SKINCARE
Hair Steven Turpin at TEAMM using ORIBE
Assistant Brit Phatal
Assistant photographer Mitchell Write and Emily V. Gilbert