October 25, 2013

An Interview with Charli XCX

Six months after the release of her critically hailed debut, True RomanceCharli XCX is set to begin her first North American headlining tour this weekend in Las Vegas, and expectations are high—especially hers. “I have a new band, an all-girl band, which I’m super excited about,” says the 21-year-old British synth-pop star. “I’m just happy I get to finally do this record justice and play it live with a proper tour. It’s a very different experience live than it is on the record.”

In addition to having recently completed a UK tour with Paramore, Charli XCX has also opened for the likes of Coldplay and Marina & The Diamonds, and while she says she doesn’t deal too much with stage fright she nevertheless concedes to suffering one particular anxiety of playing live. “I’m always worried no one’s gonna be there,” she admits. “That’s what one of my biggest fears is, that I’ll look out and no one will be there. I always have that insecurity.”

She needn’t worry. In fact, she’s already garnered a faithful-though-still-burgeoning audience and a handful of smash singles like “You’re the One” and “So Far Away,” making True Romance one of the year’s biggest hits. Composing the album was a labor of love, she maintains, while adding that her original ambition was for its songs to reflect not so much a particular genre or style but rather a different palette altogether. “I wanted all the songs to sound purple, like the color purple,” she says. “That was kind of where I was at. I wanted them to sound mysterious and floaty and quite lo-fi and luscious.”

Now with her latest single, “SuperLove,” which is the lead-off track from her forthcoming (as-yet-untitled) sophomore album, Charli XCX radiates a whole new shade on the spectrum. 

Is “SuperLove” indicative of where you’re going with the second album?

It’s definitely the most pop song I’ve ever written for myself and definitely the most pop song I’ve written so far for the second record. The second record is all really inspired by the color red and also by, like, French yé-yé pop and Bridget Bardot and then movies like Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains as well as New Wave bands like the Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow. I just feel like all the songs are red for this record, and feel like it’s kind of like a shout/fight/fuck record. It’s about sex and it’s about anger and it’s about passion and about femininity.

Do you write all the time? Like, are you always quote, unquote always on?

No, I’m definitely not always on. There’ll be months where I can’t think of anything in my brain and I feel like I’m caught in half gear. I can’t do anything. I can’t sing anything. I just lay in bed. And then there’ll be times when I’m in the middle of something and have to go write because suddenly I’ve got it again. Right now I feel like I’m in a really creative space.... It’s weird. I don’t have a process so I can’t figure it out. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it totally doesn’t. 

Does it worry you when it doesn’t happen?

Yeah, that’s kind of scary, I suppose, because you never know if it’s going to come back. Also, I’m not one of those people who knows when a song is good. Like, I’ll be in studios with producers and I’ll finish up a song and they’ll be like, “It’s a hit!” And I’m like, “Is it?” [Laughs] I don’t know. I just know when I like something, but that’s also kind of scary because sometimes I like really weird, bad songs.

You seem like someone who fiercely follows her instinct. How do you maintain that integrity, though, as you get more successful and as your audience grows when you’re on a major label and there are forces around you who also have a vested interest in your success?

Well, I think I’ll always just do what I want. I think the term “major label” is bullshit anyway. A label’s a label. Every label wants to make money off their artist anyway. I released my first record in the UK on a major label, Atlantic, and it’s not a massively-selling record but it’s the record that I wanted to make. I was very selfish with it and I’ll always be selfish with the music that I make because the number-one person I care about when it comes to making music is myself. It has to be therapeutic for me and it has to be something that I’ll always love and not just something I’ll enjoy for fleeting moments and then hate myself for for the rest of my life. 

Also, I feel like pop music’s changing. You don’t have to make boring pop music anymore. You can make amazing, emotional, real pop music and still be, like, a big deal or whatever. But I feel like I wouldn’t do what I do if I wasn’t in control and if I didn’t have final say on everything.... I don’t want to just make music to make money. I could’ve done that ages ago if I’d wanted to do that. I just don’t really want that. I don’t want to make music that I hate.  

—All photos by Dan Curwin

For more information on Charlie XCX, please visit her official website