Moving from post-communist Albania to the United States with her mother and sister gave Xhoana X a fierce appetite for the different musical styles that were being heard at the time and that implied a huge contrast in relation to what she was used to.
Today she is an artist who exudes confidence. A big fan of filmmaker David Lynch, of color, movies, music, and everything that has to do with art. We had the chance of talking to her about one of the latest EP “The Villain” so check this out.
Provocative, sexy, haunting, ready to hook you but slowly and seductively. Those are just some of the words that came to my mind when I first heard your music and saw your “The Villain” video. Can you please describe the song’s production for us? What were you thinking? What was your inspiration?
Everyone involved understood the assignment then.. haha The song is the title track to THE VILLAIN EP I released a few months back while in lockdown.. It’s a concept album. The song itself is about a toxic push/pull relationship, though I wrote it in an overall happy period in my life.. the song is emotive and sometimes dark so I wanted the visual to portray that but in a beautiful, intense, cinematic & poetic way to match the downtempo 90’s feel of the song. Deeply inspired by film noir, deeply inspired by trip hop.
“The Villain” video was shot by TJ Scott (Gotham, Xena Warrior Princess, Spartacus etc.) and was shot on a phone. Tell me more about the concept of the video and what TJ Scott brought to the project?
The visual was shot and directed by TJ Scott and by Skylar who also plays my lover in the video. I’ve known TJ for years. I was part of his “In The Tub” book (a coffee table book created to raise funds for breast cancer research) and we’d been talking about shooting a visual for one of my songs since before covid. He’s directed some amazing shows so I was really excited to see what we could do on a music video together. We shot Villain in March when I returned to the states after living in Mexico City for 3 months.. LA hadn’t opened back up yet so we decided to shoot this DIY-style on a smartphone. I always wanted to portray an intense same sex relationship in the visual for Villain. The way TJ shot this makes you feel like you’re up close and in the story too.
The video has a very film noir feel and is in black and white. Speaking of that intriguing genre, name some of your favorite film noir movies?
That’s exactly what we were going for: a modern spin on old 1930’s noir. The moodiness of the lighting, the high contrast and the movements are all inspired by noir. One of my favorite old films of the genre is “The Scarlet Empress” with Marlene Dietrich.
The other thing that came to my mind when I listened to your music is this “Massive Attack” and “Portishead” style of sound. So how would you describe your sound, your music?
This EP is definitely heavily influenced by 90s downtempo, trip hop and even industrial, but with an emotive modern spin. Massive Attack and Portishead are 2 of my favorite bands ever and forever an inspiration.
This album’s well-defined aesthetics seem to be a message in itself, a concept. Is that right? Was It planned to be this way?
THE VILLAIN EP as I mentioned is a concept album through and through. By the 3rd song we wrote (the producers Jim Kaufman, Joey Ariemma & myself) I knew which direction the ep was taking, but it was entirely organic.. I didn’t go in with a set idea of what album or songs I wanted to write… We got together summer of 2018 (seems so long ago now in a pandemic) and just hit it off (writing) as soon as we met. In the 1st session we wrote ‘Endless Crime’. By the second or third session we had ‘Deepest Pleasure’ and ‘The Villain’ came next which solidified the direction of the EP for me. As soon as that was set, I had a crystal clear idea of what I wanted the cover art and accompanying visuals to be. I wrote the treatments, creative directed and styled the shoots etc. So, yes it was very much planned and executed the way I envisioned it.. I love collaborating with different directors and photographers but I’m very much the captain driving the ship so to speak when it comes to visuals accompanying my music. I don’t have a team in that sense to go to and show them things I’d like them to duplicate lol which some artists do. In a way I prefer it that way. It sets my work apart.
Lead us through your musical career. How has it been so far? What are the challenges you’ve been through?
I started writing music a long time ago, so this career is an ongoing process. Musical artists have plenty of challenges, period, especially independent women artists. There’s so much judgement, dismissive attitudes and closed minds but I feel like everyday we also break more barriers and continue to open more doors with our art, diversity inclusivity and acceptance which is inspiring. My challenges/ challenges for indie artists are ongoing because I’m still aiming to carve my own path and create my own world (musically) where I do what I love and it sustains me. I know its also the case for many fellow artists. But as long as we all keep pushing forward and breaking ground we all benefit as well.
Where do you see yourself musically in the medium term? What would you like to achieve with your music?
My music is cinematic AF. I feel like film and art are both such deep inspiration to me. I want to have my music in movies/shows and I want my live shows to feel like a movie too, like moving art.. an installation.. Xtallation. I love what Kanye has done with music/art/live shows. I see myself doing something along the lines.. Marry visual and auditory in a way that encompasses what’s expected. Push, bend, stretch and expand everything. That’s what I’d like to achieve as an artist.
Can you describe a normal day for Xhoana?
a normal day.. wake up @ 7am : gym, then art x repeat.. my favorite routine is when I’m writing a new record cuz I’m just laser beam focused on that.. Wake up, clear my head then delve in and create. Those are my favorite ‘normal’ days and the ones worth mentioning at the moment. 😉
So, at the end of some interviews, we like to do a ping pong questionnaire. Short and quick answers. As honest as possible. Ready?
I’m terrible at short and quick! fuck! lol
– Your favorite movie ever:
how can I pick just one? ok ‘Eyes Wide shut’
– Guilty pleasure:
– The song you are currently obsessed with:
BIA’s ‘Whole lotta money’ .. BIABIA lol
– If you could have a conversation with somebody alive or dead, who would it be?
again how can I pick just one?? ok, ok Kanye West.
– Favorite book ever:
Madame Bovary.. I love deeply flawed & tragic characters.
– If you could be a superheroine, who would you be?
I’d rather pick a super villain.
– The first concert you went to:
Aerosmith: with my mom & sis. late 90s NYC
CONNECT WITH XHOANA X
photos / TJ Scott
story / Mariana Gonzalez