Allie X once embraced maximalist pop. With each project, she’s introduced us to alter-egos, embracing the hyperbole, vibrancy and mystery that pop music awards you. For her next project, she’s inviting us to ‘Cape God’, a fictional world loosely modeled off the East Coast of America and gloomy monotony. That character in the middle of it all? Well, it isn’t a character at all. It’s Alexandra Ashley Hughes AKA. Allie X.
“I’m at a place in my life where I’m ready to tell my story and not a totally abstract version of my story,” she says sitting across from me at a bustling hotel in Soho. An embracer of pop eras, she’s dressed in monochrome as if she’s straight from a Cape God promo shoot. You have to appreciate the way Allie X throws all of herself into an album – considering it as both a sonic and visual world. This time around, it’s meant embracing herself on her most honest and fearless record yet.
Cape God gave her a chance to deal with “all the repressed feelings” she gathered throughout high school – a time when she wasn’t writing music. Thematically, it deals with being an outsider but also knowing you can find a community and embrace acceptance. Its title is the setting of the record and while it’s fictional, aesthetically it has ties to the East Coast.
Far from the bright, sunny visuals of previous record Super Sunset, it’s inspired by the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson who transforms images of suburbia into dramatic pieces of cinema. Songs like Regulars and Fresh Laundry place the record in suburbia but in true Allie X style, she brings it to life with alluring, mysterious pop music. That’s not to say this album sounds like all the others. Sonically, it’s the most intimate music she’s ever made, using more organic instrumentation than ever and placing an emphasis on her voice.
“It feels very liberating and very me. Nothing has felt difficult. This has been my favorite creative process,” she says which is interesting considering that lifting the veil on characters can often mean confronting difficult subjects.
Part of the reason for this shift is the shake-up in the creative process. Instead of creating in LA, Allie X worked on a large portion of this record in Sweden with producer Oscar Görres (Charli XCX, MARINA, Tove Lo) who she calls her “partner in crime” for Cape God.
“He was very focussed on minimalism,” she says.
“Picking the exact right sounds. It was very vocal-centric. We created lots of pads and synths with vocals. There are a lot of background vocals.”
You can hear that from the unexplored depths of her voice on Devil I Know to the paired-back fragility of Learning In Public. It’s stripped of the gloss of her previous projects and replaced by an emotional grit which cuts through when she sings lines like, “I know you told me, I didn’t believe it, for that I’m sorry, ‘cos now I see it.”
While there are songs that deal with a sense of displacement (Regulars), there’s a community that forms throughout the album creating a sense of belonging. “It’s all from my memory and my feelings but I did create a group of people in Cape God that have their own perspectives,” she says.
“It’s a community of outsiders or maybe it would be like if you’re reading a book of short stories. They’re all about a similar theme but you’re hearing it from a few different perspectives.”
Allie X has had to come to terms with being an outsider, even as she’s found a committed audience who follows every creative twist and turn. When she arrived on the scene with 2014’s Catch she thought she, “was an indie artist,” as she put it. Her friends were in Canadian groups like Broken Social Scene and it felt like the natural move for her.
Her music started catching the attention of major labels though and finding favor with co-signs from Katy Perry. Suddenly, she was cast into the pop world. “I was like ‘I guess I should be writing for radio’,” she reminisces, continuing, “I never imagine that I’d be keeping company with Katy Perry.”
Since 2014, the pop world has been shattered into many different pockets. Top 40 still exists but artists like Charli XCX, Kim Petras and Allie X herself have proved that you can operate in the genre and still be wildly experimental. She says that much of this can be owed to streaming because artists no longer have to specifically write for radio.
“Now, music can find its own audience. That has been huge for the way that music is now written and the risks that artists are willing to take.”
That’s resulted in pop music becoming the genre where, “you’re hearing the crazy shit,” as Allie X proclaims.
“It’s an undefined sort of time and trying to give it rules, I think it’s pointless.”
Cape God features two genre outcasts in Troye Sivan and Mitski. Sivan and Allie are longtime writing partners but Mitski is a newcomer. Of Sivan, Allie is nothing but complimentary calling him, “one of the most positive people and experiences in my life over the past six years.” Their song together Love Me Wrong was written for the film Boy Erased but didn’t make the cut. It was a blessing in disguise as it finds a natural home in the center of Cape God.
Mitski arrives on a slinky, rock-tinged cut Susie Save Your Love. She has a general rule of no features but she loved the song so much that she asked Allie whether she could feature on it. The pair are a natural vocal fit, delivering airy vocals that waft over grinding guitars. It’s hard to imagine Mitski fitting on any other Allie X record but her inclusion feels natural here – partly because she’s a New Yorker herself.
Allie tells me that the album was initially meant to be a sister EP with Super Sunset representing the West Coast and Cape God repping for the East Coast. She had “so much to say” that it naturally evolved into an album and it now represents her as an artist as a whole.
“Musically and visually, it doesn’t feel like a temporary experimental thing. I feel like that now.”
Cape God is out whenever it’s Friday 21st February where you are.