Photo by Jessica Lehrman from Rolling Stone
It takes a lot of sheer exuberance to effectively write and perform pop music-- and luckily for her, when I caught up with 20-year-old UK ingenue CHARLI XCX, on the eve of a tour that brings her tonight to Brighton Music Hall in Allston, she had exuberance to spare. We profiled Charli in a feature that ran in last week's issue, but to psych you up for tonight's gig, here's the whole talk, where she dishes on getting attention from Pitchfork, who she does and doesn't love in the current pop music world, and what her future plans are...
So we’re really psyched to see you in Boston; I saw you when you played SXSW at a big church with Grimes and Purity Ring...
Yeah yeah, the Pitchfork show, that was really weird, wasn’t it?
Yeah, you seemed a lot more... uh, exuberant than the other artists playing that night, you actually moved around.
Yeah, I know, I felt a bit strange about that. Pitchfork has been a really big supporter of me and I've always kind of wondered why, to be honest. My music is really pop and at that show everyone else was really serious with lots of reverb and stuff like that, and I'm just kind of doing my aerobics on stage kind of thing. It turned out fine though in the end.
Why do you love pop? Why is your music pop?
To be honest, every since I started writing I've wanted to write a really good pop album. I think my strength lies in writing melodies and cinematic lyrics and the aim of my album is to write 10 or 12 songs that are all very passionate and emotional pop songs.
I want to prove to people that pop can be beautiful and real and emotional again. in the last year or two, there hasn’t really been an amazing amazing pop artist who’s written about emotion and I want to make pop music more real again and make people believe.
Yeah-- it seems like people are really confused right now about pop-- like what it is, what it means, etc. Do you feel like you have to kind of fit in with people’s expectations of what pop is?
I don’t really think about genres or the audience or, like, hooks, or anything, I just think about what I want to write and put my soul into what I'm saying. I try not to calculate anything too much, I think about that after I've written the song. I mean, writing is a quite selfish process, really.
How did you get started; when did you become “Charli XCX”?
When I first started I was 14 and I knew I wanted to be a musician; when I was younger I listened to the Spice Girls and Shampoo and All Saints, and I wanted to be like that. Then I got a bit older, and I was into Lily Allen and Kate Nash, and I started picking up a guitar. And then my real kind of thing when I knew I wanted to be a musician was when I found out about Ed Banger Records, all the artists on that, Justice and Uffie and everyone on that label. I was really excited by them and it really made me want to make dance music, like electro and stuff that I would dance to in the club. so I tried to do that, but I wasn’t good with computers and technology, so what came out on the other side was me making these really crappy beats on a Yamaha keyboard that my parents bought me on my tenth birthday. [I was] doing my own weird raps over it, rapping about being a dinosaur or being a five-year-old, and then I put it online and a guy involved in the warehouse scene in East London contacted me and wanted me to play a show, and from there I kind of started making it my sound, nursery rhyme rappy thing, and I kind of did that for a couple of years, and it was really DIY but also quite juvenile.
And then I fell out of that scene for a little bit and then got signed. and at the time when I got signed all I wanted to do was make my dinosaur beats and childish raps, and I didn’t see the point in making pop music, because at the time I didn’t like pop music. so I kind of like was in a battle with my label because I wanted to do my thing and they wanted something else, they wanted me to work with other people. And when I was sixteen I met Ariel Rechtshaid, who has been working on the song with me for a long time now. But back then we had a few hours to work on stuff and we wrote “Stay Away” in just a few hours.
Back then, I was really young and didn’t know what I wanted to play, as a musician, I was just replicating things around me, all these party people types. but as I got older, I kind of figured out what kind of person I am, and I think that’s why there’s two sounds on the album, there’s this dark mystical sound and then the more sort of heavenly happy upbeat glittery kind of sound which is more what I'm like when I'm on stage or when I'm in a better mood. But it was all a process of finding out who I was.
It seems like you almost have a love/hate relationship with pop music.
I guess... I mean, at the moment I really love pop music, from Britney Spears to Miley Cyrus. Like, “Gimme More” is one of my favorite songs of all time; it’s brilliant and dark and the beats are amazing.
Totally. That whole Blackout album is sheer genius.
Yeah! And I mean, sure, there’s stuff I really don’t like, like Flo Rida and Pitbull, because they’re slow and boring and it’s been done to death, but otherwise I really love pop music nowadays, totally.
So how are you feeling about your upcoming album?
I’ve had so long to work on it that I feel really confident about what I'm putting out-- they’re good songs, I just know that they are. I know everyone isn’t going to like it because everyone doesn’t like everything all the time, but people who like good music will like it, so that’s a good thing. I mean, making this album, it’s kind of like having a baby, only if you drop it no one’s gonna yell at you for being a bad mum.
How have you been translating this music to the stage?
Well, it’s DIY, kind of punk, it is what it is, a drummer and a keyboardist, but when I have more money, I'm gonna make it into some crazy fucking shit, I want the stage to just like... blow up. I want to get a bunch of VHS tape and put it all over the stage, and it’ll all blow up and there’ll be a big tornado onstage. So that’s what I want to do, eventually.
That would indeed be a sight to see. What inspired you to do your gendered mixtapes you put out this spring?
I’m a real fan of this idea of Girl Power, so I made this mixtape of my favorite girls, artists who inspired me, artists who could inspire other girls my age, just this whole emerging girl power that’s happening at the moment. And I feel definitely part of it, that whole girl power scene, so I put that out to acknowledge old girl power, to acknowledge all the icons.
How do you feel about Girl Power in the present, as opposed to the 90s version?
It’s beginning to come back, massively-- the next year, the next couple of years, it’ll be back in the forefront again. I personally feel like there are loads of girls out there who all know each other, we’re all friends, it’s not a competition, it’s like being in a girl band, and it’ll be amazing, especially when we all break through.