For Alexandra Hughes, better known by her stage moniker Allie X, music is a vehicle for memory. “Each song is a piece of me — a memory, a fantasy, reality. The idea is to sort through it all and try to piece it back together,” explains the Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. This phantasmic restructuring manifests clearly on her recently-released debut album, CollXtion II, the much-anticipated follow-up to last year’s CollXtion I EP.
Though pop is often derided by outsiders, Allie X reminds listeners to not mistake simplicity for flimsiness. The artist successfully uses her music to navigate life’s rougher patches, construct her identity, and as a means to better understand her relationships with the people around her. In the case of CollXtion II, clarity is delivered most impactfully by a solid pop chord.
These themes run strong throughout the entire album, from the leading single “Paper Love”, which is a painful recount of heartbreak, to the closing track, “True Love is Violent”, a song was originally written for Madonna, but one that X loved so much she kept it for herself. “Vintage”, co-written with Australian powerhouse Troye Sivan, plays across the screen as a supercut of any great timeless romance. In “Need You”, X trades verses with guest vocalist Nate Campany of Valley Girl much in the same way that ex-lovers linger over their final goodbyes. “Simon Says”, which evokes the breathy tragedy of Lana del Rey, chronicles the alarming isolation that grows like ivy out of toxic relationships.
Balance is key on CollXtion II and energetic beats are tempered with raw one-liners; for instance, the rising crescendo of the pop anthem “That’s So Us” is kept close to the ground each time Allie X deadpans, “You make me not wanna die.” The best example of the singer-songwriter’s masterful play between light and shadow, however, is “Old Habits Die Hard” which is a slice of synth-pop heaven with its crisp beats, stuttering vocals, and unrepentant lyrics.
The delicate balancing act of delivering raw lyrics with heady synth-pop is a tough one to manage, but Allie X nails it on CollXtion II. Filled to the brim with punchy, synth-happy anthems, CollXtion II explores the grimmer side of love and relationships with the singer-songwriter’s signature kaleidoscopic flair.
We caught up with Allie X to talk about CollXtion II, out now.
I love the themes of medicine/treatment in your music. Where do you think this comes from?
I’m not exactly sure. It comes from my subconscious, I think. I spent a lot of time in hospitals and a lot of time in mistreatment.
What themes did you explore on CollXtion II?
The theme of identity is always in my work. Specific to CLX II is the concept of losing and reclaiming one’s identity. Each song is a piece of me — a memory, a fantasy, reality. The idea is to sort through it all and try to piece it back together
How has it developed from your previous sound?
CLX II is far more minimal, production-wise. In the past, I took the opposite approach and kept layering sound until I could layer no more. Now I try to keep it focused on only the best, most important part of the arrangement.
You’ve been pretty restrained in your public persona. What were some of your reasons for keeping mystery at the center of Allie X?
When I became X, part of the intention was to wipe the slate clean and give myself the freedom to be whoever I needed to be. To create my own truth. I feel a need for privacy in order to do so.
Do you ever feel like you have to fight to keep the mystery around? Has the industry grown to be more accommodating for artists making decisions on their public personas?
Good question. I haven’t so much fought as I have gotten more comfortable with my fans and being a public figure. I think the industry allows for more freedom, but the internet era allows for less privacy.
What’s your songwriting process like? How does it differ from the co-writing process?
When I write for myself it goes so much beyond the initial idea. I really take it under my wing and work it until it fits. Production, lyrics etc. In the co-writing process, I’m much less attached and just happy to see a song find a home.
What’s the story behind ‘True Love is Violent’?
Wrote it with Leland and Chris Braide in what was supposed to be a pitch for Madonna, I think?! (Laughs) We all fell in love with it right away and I claimed it for myself.
The visuals behind your music are incredible – they feel like the visual aspect to a larger creative product. Who are some people that have been inspiring you, visually and sonically?
Oh, thank you. I am inspired by fashion, film (Kubrick, Polanski…), Tumblr and drag and theater and color and mood.
I’ve read some interviews where you discuss mental health and anxiety, and you seem to navigate all of that with an incredible level of self-awareness and grace. How do you keep your head in a good place in such a dizzying industry?
Girl I’m glad I give off that impression. I will give myself credit for self-awareness, but I am a very sensitive person and lose it behind closed doors on a regular basis. All the spinning makes me dizzy.
What will the rest of 2017 look like for Allie X?
I hope to meet as many of my fans as possible and I hope that as many people as possible hear my songs.
Lace dress by OTT Cage piece by Diana Couture Face mask by Archives Showroom
Photos + Creative Direction / Angelo Kritikos
Story / Freza Palermo
Graphics / Gary Coutts
Styling / Alyssa Greene
Makeup + Hair / Jeanne San Diego using Anastasia Beverly Hills, Sigma Pro Brushes, T3 Micro
Makeup & Hair Assistant / Angie Briceno