By Ivan Guzman
Charli XCX and I took a seat out in the glistening sun at 10 AM on my second day of the adventure that was SXSW. The dark bubble-goth pop diva was dressed in some, I would say, 7-inch, black platform boots with a green plaid, high-waisted school girl-like skirt and dog collar choker – a 90’s, soft grunge style that is always apparent in what she does.
Her debut album, True Romance, was released a few weeks ago, and many have been inclined to stick her in with the new batch of young, underground pop girls that have been recently spotlighted. She DID appear on the cover of V Magazine with Sky Ferreira and Grimes, after all. But I think XCX is making a way for her own material to prevail, even more so after being able to gain some insight about her – face to face.
Read what Charli had to say about how, and IF, she can categorize her sound, being featured in a horror movie, and her surprisingly long road getting to where she is in her current career.
How is SXSW so far?
-Crazy, stressful, manic – but amazing. Just wild. I love the craziness of the shows, and how many shows you get to play in a short period of time. The craziness of the shows. Everything.
You are featured on and wrote the song , ‘I Love It’ for Icona Pop. How did this collaboration come about and how does it feel now that it’s such a big hit?
-Well, to be honest, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I know it’s doing well, but since I’m still kind of distant from it and am just watching it grow and do its thing, it’s really strange for me. It’s amazing, though.
What had happened is that I went to Sweden about a year ago to work with this guy, Patrick Berger, and he sent me some tracks when I landed and was like, “Yeah, have a listen. I’ll see you tomorrow,” – that kind of thing. He sent me one which I wrote my song, ‘You’re The One’ over and one which I wrote ‘I Love It’ over, and I wrote both of them in about an hour in my hotel room, went to the session the next day, and he was really impressed. From the beginning, I knew that it wasn’t right for me, so when Icona Pop came down and heard it, they really wanted to fuck with it, and I said, “Sure! Do it.” And they did.
What can we expect from your debut, “True Romance”?
-You can expect emotional brooding, but still light-hearted pop music at times. It’s all love songs on the records – the album is about love and is dedicated to romance. I wrote it while growing up, so it’s kind of like a coming of age record for me. I guess I have changed my views on love and life while writing the record, so it’s all of my different view points on that. It’s a pop album with pop perks, but it’s done my way.
You call your music “pop,” however, you have toured with Coldplay and Santigold, who are kind of unrelated in a sense. Would you say you have a distinct sound?
-I think I do! When you hear the record, it will all come together for them. Since I’ve done so many mixtapes, EP’s, features, etc., I feel like some people may only have a random dubstep track I was featured on ages ago or something, so if they don’t have all the pieces, this album puts everything together. I like to call it “purple pop” music – it’s dreamy, dark, floaty, and emotional, but the songs are still structured pop songs.
So do you think you have a distinct audience for your music as well?
-I don’t know, actually. I personally don’t care who the audience is – if they like it, they like it, and I love that they like it. I don’t just want to play to hipsters, because hipsters are boring. I want to just let go and be free – performing for whoever.
You started at 14, writing songs and playing shows, but what do you think was that first specific moment that got everything started and sparked your interest in music?
-I’ve always wanted to be a musician. I suppose I just started putting songs online, and people started noticing, so I realized that, “Oh, I guess I might as well just keep going.” I was never a stage school brat with pushy parents – it was never some Macaulay Culkin shit or something like that. I’ve just always loved music and playing the piano when I was younger.
Are you a trained pianist?
-I am. I did my grade seven, but I can’t read music, so it’s pointless.
You came up with the name Charli XCX when you were 14 as well. Where did the idea come from?
-It really was just a scrambling mess. I met this guy Chaz who was running raves and parties in East London, and he asked me if I wanted to play a rave. I was like, “Wow! A rave! That sounds so cool. Yes!” He asked me what I wanted him to put on the flier, and I didn’t have a name. I would always sign off on my MSN chat as “XCX,” which stands for “kiss charli kiss,” and I guess it just stuck.
It took you a relatively long amount of time to make it to where you are right now in the industry. Was that at all a struggle?
-No, not really, because I think that, even though I’ve been making music and was signed when I was 15, my label never pushed me. They just had me there. I wanted to finish school and everything, so they were never like, “Why aren’t you writing a hit?!” They were just like, “Yeah, let her do her thing.” Then one day, just about 2 and a half years ago, I wrote my song ‘Stay Away.’ That’s when it all fell into place. Then half a year later we released it, and that was just about one year ago. So I feel like I actually started a year and a half ago. Before that, I just had some coverage online, but I wasn’t really doing anything in those years. I was still growing as a person.
You’ve done a lot of writing for other people – I even read that you did a score for a horror movie. Do you feel more comfortable in the studio or on stage?
-Yes! It was actually THAT guy’s horror movie, Elfie Hopkins. *points to young, scruffy movie director Ryan Andrews sitting behind us.* To be honest, I love performing. I feel so free and alive when I perform, which sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I think both. That’s why I do it – because I love all aspects.
What are some current artists that you draw inspiration from for your music?
-When it comes to drawing inspiration for writing my own music, I look more at films, photographers, and magazine pop culture – things like that. Chris Cunningham’s music videos for Bjork, The Horrors, Portishead, the Marilyn Manson video for tainted love, David Lachapelle’s photography, Sophia Coppola. I kind of look down those lines to get an atmosphere generated in my head for my music and lyrics.
You’re touring with and are close friends with Marina and The Diamonds, who has gotten pretty big. How is it like touring with her?
-I know! Last night her song was on ‘Glee’, which is so good! It’s great. We’ve got to know each other over the Coldplay dates when she was also opening for them. It’s just fun – a girly, sleepover vibe all the time. We get on well, and it’s nice going on tour with someone who isn’t an asshole. You always hear horror stories of girls going on tour together and it being a nightmare, but that’s not the case with Marina. She’s great.
Since we are Indie Houston, who are some of your favorite indie artists we can check out?
-I’ve just started getting really into Peace. I love them. I’m also freaking out right now over Kitty Pryde. I’m trying to see her show today. Sky Ferreira, of course. I’m a big fan of her EP. Also, IO Echo and Kitten, who is my girl. She’s the coolest.
Watch Charli’s new video for ‘What I Like’ below!