Photo Courtesy of Allie X webpage
This story originally appeared on Noisey Canada.
In the landscape of Canadian pop music videos, it seems like a lot of the homegrown talent have resorted to story lines about crushing over the neighbour next door or coming down with a debilitating case of Williamsburg-bound dancing fever. Paired with such company, the darkly theatrical dream pop of Toronto-raised, L.A.-based chanteuse, Allie X achieves instant outsider status. Take, for instance, her latest video for "Catch", a hauntingly upbeat earworm that doubles as a comprehensive, medically-minded allegory. She sings, "Stuck a needle right into the vein / You let me take it like a soldier / Thought for a while I could ignore the pain." The dreamlike video, directed by Montrealer Jérémie Saindon (Yelle, Coeur de Pirate), delivers a surrealist jolt to the senses, with disturbingly jerky and anatomical imagery that would startle even homegrown body horror baron David Cronenberg.
"It comes from somewhere in my unconscious mind," explains Allie X in regards to the dark themes that underscore her music. "It may have to do with [the fact that] I was rather sickly as a child, so the time spent in the doctor's office, and all the sort of mixed feelings that go with that. But those lyrics just sort of come out. For me, writing songs is about letting out all those unconscious and sometimes dark thoughts and embracing it."
By the same token, other artists have taken to her song-writing abilities including pop diva, Katy Perry who provided her with the kind of viral push a label's marketing team could never afford: a tweet to her 50 million plus Twitter followers. Since then, Allie X has unveiled loads more kaleidoscopic videos, spinning GIFs, nods to Carl Jung's "shadow self," and projects bearing her ubiquitous 'X' stamp. "In mathematics, X is any possible variable. It's an unknown quantity. Once it's solved, it's no longer X. With that in mind, X is the identity that I take on as I go through my journey of self-discovery. It's these questions that I'm trying to grapple with in the public sphere. If I ever find that piece that I'm after or solve the equation, as it were, then I will no longer be Allie X."
Equal parts artful creator and curator, Allie X just unveiled her debut album CollXtion I, which she will perform live for the very first time April 30—the culmination of an ambitious, two-week multidisciplinary residency at Montreal's Phi Centre, an event billed as "telling the first chapter in the story of X."
Noisey: From your videos to your lyrics, every piece of the #XPuzzle seems to have been carefully mulled over. Were you already honing the project prior to your move south of the border?
Allie X: Absolutely. In Toronto, I was learning how to produce, and really change the vision and scope of what I wanted to do. I was trying to invent a sound. I was crossing over into pop music. I was proud of the work I was doing, but I knew it wasn't ready. It just took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to put out.
So it really took moving to Los Angeles to zero in on your signature sound?
I'd say I found it right before I came to L.A. I came here as a writer and I had a couple songs I was really happy with sonically, but then I wrote like a maniac last summer, and put out "Catch." That song did well, and then it was just a matter of curating and finishing all the songs I'd written since coming here.
Prior to moving, you were performing in indie acts and auditioning for musical theatre gigs. What's your take on being an aspiring pop artist in Canada?
As an audience member, Toronto was awesome and amazing. I had many, many talented friends who were making relevant, groundbreaking music. And even performance wise, there was so much happening. I loved being a part of that scene. I always felt there was no venue for the music I was creating and nobody was really excited by it. If anything, I had to be self-deprecating when I said that I wanted to make pop music, and laugh about it. As soon as I arrived in L.A., I was like, 'This is where I'm supposed to be! This is where my music fits in; this is where people find me exciting and interesting in the pop world."
Have you gleaned any insights about songwriting since moving to L.A. and writing for other musicians?
I've definitely gotten better, especially in the lyrics department although they still tend to be a little abstract for the pop culture in L.A., so I still have a ways to go. But for me writing is an obsession that I'll never be able to shake. I can't imagine there'll ever be a time when I won't be trying to write better songs. I feel like I have a lifetime to hopefully become the great songwriter that I aspire to be.
Alongside folks such as Björk and Tom Petty, you've mentioned Haruki Murakami as a key songwriting influence. Why is he so special to you?
It's hard to put into words, but it has to do with the surreal landscapes he creates. They're never crazy enough to be called science fiction, and they're always based on the real world, but they feel so surreal. I felt very inspired by that, and that's how I see the world that I'm trying to create with my music. And then, his characters I really relate to because they're so vulnerable, but detached at the same time.
You've spoken about being inspired by artists such as The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey, who've sidestepped the traditional blueprint for a record release. Given that you cultivate a strong online presence, it makes sense for you to also embrace a different paradigm.
Yeah, the internet has everything to do with that. I'm very inspired by YouTube stars, because that's a whole new thing that wasn't happening ten years ago. Now there are kids in their bedrooms and they're building businesses in front of their computers. It's really remarkable and fascinating and something I'm very inspired by.
You also seem to be carving out a different type of path to pop success, chiefly through your ever-growing fan base where you encourage your followers to share their creative work. Will those contributions be featured at your upcoming Montreal Phi Centre XHIBIT?
Well, it's an idea that's still in its embryonic phase, but the response so far has been really cool. I have a virtual gallery on my Tumblr where I showcase all the XART that I find, and many fans have submitted really cool pieces that picked up on my aesthetic. Not that they have to do that, but it's very flattering to notice that people are picking up on all these subtle, symbolic things that you put in there. It's a very personal and intimate experience.
The 48h of Allie X event happens April 30 at Montreal's Phi Centre.
Michael-Oliver Harding is a culture writer living in Montreal - @olivermtl