Disney Kid // The 405 meets Charli XCX
Mid-way through my interview with Charli XCX, her attention is caught by the television in the background and she's distracted. "Is it weird that I'm kind of totally obsessed with Connor Maynard?" she asks, professing her love for him. Considering Charli, real name Charlotte Aitchinson, cites her influences as the Spice Girls and Nirvana, it doesn't really seem weird at all.
After first releasing music under the XCX moniker aged only 14, Charli has since been working on her debut album, set for release this October. Recorded in London, Sweden and LA, her debut has been 5 years in the making, and in that time Charli's been touring, recording and writing worldwide. Her earlier work, including singles 'Emelline/Art Bitch' and '!Francesckaar!', got Charli noticed in what she calls the "East London Party/Rave scene" and some high-profile support slots (Coldplay and Justice to name a few) secured her a fan base. From there, she was signed to Atlantic records, and given the opportunity to work with producers Ariel Rechtshaid (Glasser) and Patrik Berger (Robyn) on the new album, which she is keen to release.
I met up with Charli in her studios in London, where she's putting final touches to her setlist for her upcoming US tour.
How would you say your music has changed since releasing your first few singles in 2008?
When I was putting out my very first stuff, I was only 14 and I had just been introduced to this world of London raves. I was going to these warehouse parties and rave scene, and I was very overwhelmed. I didn't really know who I was as a person yet, so I guess when I was younger I was just replicating a lot of sounds that I like, and making that into my own version, but not really succeeding. When I put out my first stuff, which I personally think is really terrible, I was just experimenting and I didn't really have much of a goal for it. I guess I went away, got signed, and started writing and travelling with loads of people. I feel like 'Stay Away' is the most representative of my sound, it was really like starting again, and I want this to be my sound and my direction.
As you started on MySpace, a lot of your earlier work is still available online. Do you wish you'd been a bit more reserved when you started?
Not really, because I feel like there are two sides to that. If I hadn't put that out, I wouldn't be where I was today. I feel like those songs were just really in the scene that they were supposed to be for, which was the east London party/rave scene, and people loved it. I guess by putting it out when I was still encapsulated in that world, I didn't get a chance to step back and see what it would sound like in the wider game of things. I don't regret it, but I wish that maybe they'd been a bit better informed, and a bit better!
How do you approach writing songs, in comparison to how you used to when you were younger?
I never really had a set way of writing. I just kind of write when I feel like it, it doesn't matter where I am. It's often from personal experience, but sometimes it's something that's happened to a friend. My writing process is very much a mess.
Do you remember what first inspired you to start writing music?
It was the Spice Girls! I was obsessed with them when I was a little girl, and I still think that they're songs are amazing. They inspired me to want to be a pop star, like most little girls did, and I just pursued it. I think the 90s were the perfect era, because you had the cheese pop like Shampoo and Aqua, and then you also had Hole and Nirvana, I feel like now people are beginning to mix those two things in terms of sound and look.
Wikipedia describes you as goth-pop, do you think that's a fair representation of your music?
I think in very basic terms, yes. I feel my style is pop with emotive, passionate melodies and beautiful cinematic lyrics, but with like a sprinkle of magical glitter, so if Wikipedia could say that, that would be great. But simplified, goth-pop will do.
You just covered V magazine with Grimes and Sky Ferreira, how was that?
I'd never worked with such a high fashion publication before, and it was amazing. The whole shoot was inspired by Robert Palmer's video, 'Addicted to Love'. We got to wear incredible Givenchy clothes, and the funniest thing was that because we had real mice, they were just shitting on us and weeing on all our amazing clothes, and they kept saying "just go with it!" but I guess that's fashion. I feel like me, Grimes and Sky are all sort of up-and-coming female artists, kind of like the second rising of Girl Power.
Why do you think magazines like V and Pitchfork are so responsive to your music?
Pitchfork find it interesting that I make pop music that's quite emotional and passionate, but is inspired by people like Spice Girls, and at the same time I'll listen to These New Puritans. I think in general pop music is having a rebirth, and it's cool again, and people care about it again. I feel like for a while it's just been kind of Vanilla, and now in the music and fashion industry, there's a real rip it up and start again attitude, and it means that good shit is going to come out.
How's preparation for the album release coming?
I've been making this record for so long, that I just need to get it out there and see what people are saying about it. Until yesterday, I thought it was definitely done, but I listened to it like 12 times on the plane and decided I wanted to do more, I wanted to go to write in France, and do all these different things. I need to step out of that mindset, because it is good enough, and I'm very proud of what I've written, and I think it's going to get a good reception. Half of me thinks 'Fuck it, let's just do it' and the other half is thinks I could just keep it for another year, but then it'll never get out.
You recorded the album in LA, London and Sweden, what did you find were the main differences?
LA was my favourite place, because I really like the atmosphere there. Like it's this stereotypically beautiful place, but underneath it's quite twisted, and dark. I feel like Sweden and London are kind of the same, so I've picked 3 places that are really representative of how I want my music to sound. When I was recording, I wasn't really living anywhere; I was just travelling between places. It was fine though, and because I don't have a set way of writing, hectic works for me.
Do you consider your image, and the clothes you wear, an important part of Charli XCX?
Definitely! This is just how I dress and I don't want to have to conform to a fashion thing. I feel like a lot of my look is about Riot Grrl and Girl Power. It's all about a kick-ass look and girls who run the world. Image and visuals and that side of things are very important for me. I studied at Art school, and I think I learned a lot there about my own visuals, what I like and what I don't like, in a live setting as well.
How would you describe your live shows?
It's very emotional for me, very energetic. I dance like Isadora Duncan on crack, so it's very weird. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I get totally absorbed by what I do, and I feel like I drag the audience in with me. Like, if I'm going down, they're going down with me.
You're playing a run of festivals this summer, which ones are you most excited about?
Definitely Bestival, because I feel like it's everybody's favourite festival. The theme this year is wildlife and I'm going as a unicorn. What's really annoying about some festivals is that you drive there, play, and leave, and I was at a Swedish festival where I could hear the Cure playing as I left, and it's the worst thing. I'll definitely be sticking around for Bestival, though.
If you weren't releasing music, what would you like to be doing with your time?
I'd be a Disney kid. Or a rapper, Eminem style.
Purchase and listen
Back in the 80's I had The Goonies on VHS and watched it pretty much every day. This is where my fascination with Cyndi Lauper bagan. Considering her age, the same connection may not be true for Charli XCX, but by kicking off her 37 minute mixtape with 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' - she's on my list of people I want to meet. [read more]