With her alternative anthems and avant-garde sensibilities, Canadian singer-songwriter Allie X has made a name for herself as an icon for queer music fans.
Her songs have always embraced the big pop staples – as far as irresistible hooks and beats you want to bump in the club go, she’s got it down – but there’s always been something slightly off-the-wall and unconventional about Allie’s music. Early dark-pop standout Bitch with its distorted vocals and eery synths sounded like it belonged in a low-budget 80s sci-fi series, while the sugary-sweet That’s So Us celebrated a relationship between two people who “wear black at the beach, looking pale, feeling chic” while struggling with anxiety together. But when she kicked off her new era with Fresh Laundry, many of those signature Allie-isms were left behind. Gone were the synthesisers and brash choruses, and in its place came lush, minimalistic production and angelic, drawn-out vocals. It’s not an instant hit, which Allie knows, but it’s a song that grows and grows until it works its way into your brain, enveloping you in the same warmth and comfort that comes from – yep, you guessed it – fresh laundry.
“That’s the first song I wrote in Sweden, and I feel like it’s the perfect introduction to this story and this concept,” she says when I ask why a quasi-ballad was the right choice for a first single. Considering there are several radio-friendly bops on the album, it’s an interesting move. “If I were Camila Cabello, then I probably would be more concerned with putting out that Top 40 single that’s gonna rise in the charts, but that’s really not what my fans admire me for and it’s not what I’m about. For me, it was more important to bring them into the world. Fresh Laundry distills the overall feeling of the record – and the song that’s second closest to that is Regulars – that feeling of being lost and feeling like an outsider and maybe longing for things you can’t have.”
When the song came into existence, Allie didn’t even know who she was writing for. She was promoting Super Sunset, her heavily 80s-inspired EP, and had been flown into Stockholm to work with a “bigger producer”, which she says usually happens when writing for another artist. But when she shared her idea for Fresh Laundry, singing the lyrics a capella, producer Oscar Görres set the bassline to her melody, and everything came together remarkably quickly. “It felt so different from what I’d done in the past, but it also felt so ‘me’ – I’d never been able to put those feelings into lyrics before, and I’d never had music that lent itself to lyrics like this before,” she explains. “From then, I had two or three more days of writing with them. We did Rings A Bell and Regulars next, and so the sound had emerged and by the end of the trip I was certain that was my next record. Those first three songs were our map of sonics and we tried to stay within that world. Ultimately I did the whole production and over half the writing in Sweden.”
One of the most captivating aspects of Allie’s career is that every song, every visual, every moment is carefully considered and has a story behind it. Take new track Super Duper Party People, for example. It’s the album’s most experimental highlight, on which Allie delivers a spoken word account of a house party that sees a “lady in a hat with a siamese cat and a really, really bouncy butt” brush shoulders with “Marsha in the bathroom, breathing in the bath fumes” over quirky synths and a heavy bassline that’s begging you to dance. Aside from sounding like it was made for the gays – ”in a way it was,” she laughs – it’s also a song four years in the making. It started during a trip to Niagara-On-The-Lake, when Allie’s partner suggested Super Duper Party People as a potential song title. A year later at a writing camp in Denmark, she heard a loop by Olligee from disco-DJ group Oliver, and the title came to mind again. “I called my partner and we were just killing ourselves laughing, I was doing this silly rap and I made the shittiest demo ever, so shitty I couldn’t send it to anyone on my team because they wouldn’t understand,” she recalls.
Fast forward to 2019, as recording for Cape God was wrapping up, and Allie decided the record needed something “more fun, more upbeat” as a departure from the melancholy. “I realised, ‘Fucking Super Duper Party People! That’s the one!’ So I sent it to Oscar right before I got to Sweden for the last time to finish the record, and I wasn’t sure if he was gonna get it, but he totally got it. He was like, ‘This could be fucking cool’, so we started it from scratch in Sweden and finished it,” she says. “That was so fun. I actually had the manager of the studio, Julius, doing the backing vocals, and it even influenced the way I sang the words because all these Swedish people were singing this song. I’ve been performing that one live and it’s so, so fun. I’ve never had a song where the gays are going crazy for it before it’s even been released. I can only imagine how fun it’s gonna be to play it live when they know the lyrics.”
It’s no surprise that Allie places support from her queer fans on such a pedestal. Since the very beginning, when she was a rising star beloved by the Tumblr generation, LGBTQ people have made up a large portion of her loyal fanbase – and that support goes both ways. With numerous Pride appearances, collaborations with Drag Race legends Violet Chachki and Sasha Velour, and a successful songwriting trio with out-and-proud gay artists Troye Sivan and Leland, Allie has earned her place as a queer icon. While other celebrities appear to jump on the bandwagon later in their career, Allie has been there since the start. “I feel like it began right out of the womb, honestly,” she jokes about her allyship. One of the best childhood memories she has is seeing drag queens for the first time in Provincetown, and falling in love with them. She recalls how her first boyfriend “was definitely gay… and the second one too,” and how she found a sense of community through her fellow outsiders.
A recent Twitter meme saw queer people decide which pop divas are (hypothetically) allowed to say the word ‘faggot’ based on their level of LGBTQ allyship. I suggest that Allie is one of those artists, and while she cheekily replies with a “no comment” she does admit it’s “the ultimate compliment” to be so beloved by the community. “Without my gay friends throughout my life I would’ve had way less confidence and direction, I would’ve taken less risks, even how I carry myself now in a meeting or something, it just gave me this fire and this confidence I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she says. “I was bullied at school, I was made fun of in terms of how I looked and how I dressed, and the gays were the ones who got me through that. I just feel like I owe it to the community to be a voice for them and to contribute and help wherever I can. Obviously we have a long way to go, but in the last 10 years I’ve seen such a shift. Even with major corporations getting on board, you roll your eyes because you know they’re just doing it for marketing reasons, but still it says something really important. We’re so loud now you can’t ignore us.”
It won’t surprise fans to see a feature from friend and frequent collaborator Troye Sivan on the new album, but it is surprising that it took so long to happen. Allie says they’ve been wanting to record a duet for a while, but their schedules never lined up. It finally happened with Love Me Wrong, a heartbreaking ballad that sees the duo’s voices soar with theatrics over haunting production. “We actually wrote it for a film,” says Allie. “It didn’t make it, but we both thought it was this great song and melody, so when I was finishing the record I asked if he wanted to do a feature and he said yes. It was pretty easy.” The song feels especially relevant for a queer listener, as it explores how a parent’s love for their child doesn’t always include every part of who they are. “We were writing songs exactly from that perspective for the film we were working on,” she explains, “but I really just started thinking about my own experience with my family. When you grow up you have this deep love for your family but you change into a new person and even that can be kind of heartbreaking, because those feelings you had when you were a kid, you can’t have them anymore because you’re a different person now. It can be about a lot of things and it’s open to interpretation, but for me it’s about loving someone deeply but not being able to connect anymore, and how difficult that is, whether that’s a parent-child relationship or in a romantic context. There aren’t too many songs about that feeling, and that’s what I think makes it so special to me.”
With such an innate connection to the queer community, you’d be forgiven for assuming Allie herself identifies that way. She doesn’t claim the label, but does reveal that two songs on Cape God are heavily inspired by an “extremely loving relationship” she had with another girl at school. “I left a light on for you, Sarah, won’t you come home? I’ll just hold my breath, ‘til you hold me again,” she sings on the gloriously poppy Sarah Come Home, while the more chilled, guitar-driven Susie Save Your Love sees her beg, “Save your love for someone like me… save your love and take mine from me.” As someone so ingrained in queer culture and music, the decision to put out two songs that can easily be interpreted as expressing romantic feelings towards other women won’t have been made without some consideration. Was that her intention?
“You’re the first person to ask me that, although I was certain it would come up at some point,” she says, taking pause before delving deeper. “For me, that stems from a non-sexual but extremely loving relationship with a girl in high school, she was my only close female friend – the rest were my gay boys – and we had such an affection for each other. I had to leave high school halfway through and I was literally heartbroken to be away from her. I think because high school was such a difficult time for me, she gave me this safe feeling, she was really cute and she always stood up for me. If we had a party she’d always make sure I had a place to sleep and watch out for me, and I really loved her. That’s the female character that I have in mind around Sarah and Susie. Both are different stories, one is about someone who’s run away and the other is about being in love with someone. I don’t want to exploit it and imply that I’m queer because I don’t think that’s really what it is, it’s just about this person that was really important to me during that time. Everything in Cape God is a step removed from reality, it’s not a documentary piece. I took a reality and I just pushed it into Cape God, a place that doesn’t actually exist. That’s my best explanation for that.”
Since she burst onto the scene with Katy Perry-endorsed debut single Catch back in 2014, Allie has released some form of new music, whether that’s singles or an EP or an album, every year. With her most accomplished body of work and a tour of the United States and Europe on the way, is she ready to slow down? “With this album I feel like I’m in a transitional and crucial point in my life. I believe so much in this record, I’m going to put everything I have into promoting it and letting it find its audience. I don’t really have a next body of work figured out, and I can’t see myself at the moment evolving again,” she explains. “With that said, I will be writing. As a writer you need to keep writing. I don’t necessarily know if it’ll be for me or other artists, I’m just really living in Cape God right now so it’s hard for me to think beyond that. I was writing Cape God while promoting Super Sunset, but this time it’s different. I think I also just need to savour a bit, I feel like I’ve been grinding out records and I’ve pretty much worked myself to the bone for the last four or five years. So I wanna enjoy this one and let the next one happen when it happens.” She may not be ready to leave the world of Cape God for a while yet, but that won’t stop us speculating about where her sound will go next. A heavy metal track? How about a drum and bass album? “That would be sick, actually. I need to do that,” she laughs. “Or just a single this summer, something for the clubs.” Allie X the drum and bass star? We’re here for it.
Photography & Creative Dylan Perlot
Words Daniel Megarry
Fashion Donna Lisa
Hair Tania Becker using Oribe
Makeup Francesca Martin at Walter Shupfer using NARS Cosmetics
Photography Assistant Vincent Luu
Location Rose Studios, LA