Vortex Of Authenticity: Allie X Interviewed

Canada’s misfit goth is challenging commercial pop...

“The commercial pop industry in Los Angeles has definitely hurt me,” says Canada’s misfit pop music alchemist Allie X, or Alexandra Hughes. Ahead of a handful of in-stores, talking with Clash, she’s jet-lagged and deliriously conversational. The night prior, she landed in London, where her “biggest market” has an established taste for her. Expectedly, she’s kinetic — third studio album, the ghoulish, leathery, 80s-indebted ‘Girl With No Face’, dropped earlier that day to rave reviews — and intoxicated (beaming, even) from sleep deprivation. She admits such a cathartic album requires “letting it go like a balloon” and spending some time apart from it, but not just yet. It’s her most authentically Allie X endeavour, and, ten years since her debut, reveals a refusal to continue to contort herself to industry at large. “[In the LA pop industry] I felt confused, displaced, frustrated and misunderstood. I questioned my value. I bent to fit in.”

At the time, restless to conformity, the only solution was control: a completely self-produced record. During the Covid-19-hijacked Canadian summer of 2020, where ‘Girl With No Face’ was born, she “indulged in [a] taste for experimental late-70s, early-80s [post-punk, new wave] music,” she explains over Zoom. Over time, she fidgeted with beats and yielded to burgeoning desire for cathartic authenticity in her sound, but emulation of those genres — inspired by UK and German bands like New Order and Kraftwerk, respectively — demanded upheaval of established modes of imitation. Put simply, the commercial pop industry wasn’t scratching the itch. Allie ditched popularising inauthentic 80s plugins, instead scouring for bygone analogue equipment to pay homage properly. “I got sick of hearing the modern version of 80s synth pop. I was craving something that sounded authentic to that time. No modern drums like with Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ or a lot of The Weeknd’s stuff. Those are great records, and I’m not criticising them, but there was a gap for authentic sounding post-punk music.”

Vintage tech in hand, led by the raw DIY production and avant-garde experimentalism of post-punk and 80s new wave sensibilities, ‘Girl With No Face’ began to form, resisting mainstream pop scaffolding in favour of imperfect guttural instinct. Her third is a stark contrast to the picture-perfect alt-pop of previous cycles: it’s a screeching, frenetic, time-displaced trip. Sewn together by vintage sci-fi soundscapes — and perhaps slightly influenced by her reading of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four at the time — the record sees an anarchic Allie at war with the modern dystopia: an “energetic retrospection to digest all the mundane, vulgar, maddening and unsettling future contemporaneity she faces.”

But ‘Girl With No Face’ — originally titled ‘Weird World’ — is more than dystopian freedom fighting. The solitary and claustrophobic creation process allowed self-reconciliation and recognition of identities long suppressed by conformity. It was like “staring into a mirror,” she says, and the ‘Girl With No Face’, a pop-music entity, looked back, cracking Allie’s mask open to usher complete ego-death. “I was sucked into a vortex and tossed around and battered and bruised. I was so in it. […] This is the first time in my life I’ve let myself sink into who I actually am, which is an eccentric, direct, masculine [person]. Someone that rubs people the wrong way.” The darkly confessional ‘Girl With No Face’, then, is a careening into self: a breakdown of ego that allowed Allie to express trippy, maniacal glee at her darkest corners, including her health. 

Across ‘Girl With No Face’, raving dissections of her own biology become its primary oddity, a favouring of authentically depicting what it takes to be Allie X. Prior, in 2022, Allie cancelled a North America and Canada tour, citing chronic illness that had affected her for over 20 years. “I just want to keep it real,” she wrote on X. “Sometimes, despite all my best efforts, my body stops working. […] I’ve always had such big dreams and […] I’m not going to be able to give them up. […] I’m far from an ideal candidate for a pop singer.” Having been unwell at numerous points throughout her career “without anyone knowing,” Allie had become concerned she was a “liability in the music industry.” But then, one day, she no longer cared to let it stand in her way. “This condition I have will be part of me for the rest of my life. It may eventually kill me. With the writing of this album, I felt like letting that out.” 

Lead single ‘Black Eye’, a sinewy anthem, describes the normalisation of chronic pain to the point of pantomime and euphoria. “A hit feels like I’m dancing in the rain,” she sings loudly over punching synths, “Gimme that beat/There’s no need to cry/It’s just a black eye.” Allie explains that succumbing to her dark reality was empowering, and is undeniably relatable: “It’s a specific pain I’m speaking about, but it’s a universal pain song, too. Anybody in an abusive relationship, or with a shitty family, or a chronic condition… Pain is so universal. ‘Black Eye’ is a jaunty embracing of pain.” Then, third release ‘Off With Her Tits’ is undefinable postmodern feminist scripture: across the campy affair, Allie expresses “really deep feelings” that would have been stifled by radio writers, she says. Self-production ultimately allowed incubation of “darkly humorous, painful” ideas far outside the norm. “Imagine me in an LA songwriting room trying to write ‘Off With Her Tits’ — it’s impossible. I was communicating feelings that had tortured me for years about my own physical form. I felt empowered in taking the piss out of them. It felt great to satirise that. But even if I tried to sit down with someone and explain the specifics of that feeling, I barely know how to.”

And, as with any great post-punk record, it still returns full-circle to its dystopian roots, incidentally laden with critique of capitalism and technocracy, exploring the relationship between her body and the world around it. Brimming with satire and wit, Allie, an agent of fame and money, criticises the very system that she craves, confidently screaming her own idiosyncrasies. “Hail Satan/At least he keeps a promise/Big Brother’s always out of office,” she spits on ‘Weird World’, then on ‘Hardware Software’, “I wanna line my bed with a mountain of debt/I wanna burn my face on the internet/I wanna kill, kill, kill ’til my world is dead,” and later on the flowers-demanding ‘You Slept On Me’, she commands “Time to get down on one knee/Tell me why you slept on me.”

This comedic ransom for accolade is not all derision, mind, nor was ‘Girl With No Face’ born solely from desire for authenticity. Prior to sinking her teeth into ‘Girl With No Face’, and following previous album ‘Cape God’ — a collaborative shoreline fantasia — Allie sought to better understand her position within the pop economy. “My goals, long-term, as a creative and a person in business started to change. I had a lot of revelations that led me to start self-producing [‘Girl With No Face’]. I looked at my contracts, my financial statements. I was seven years into my career and I was like, where’s my money? I was shocked at what I’d signed. A lot of different things came to my attention that made me angry. This coincided with the [decision to self-produce]. If you produce an album with someone else, or you write with someone, you’re only getting a third, or a quarter, of the royalties. From a practical standpoint, I was interested in making something where I had all the rights.”

The darkly humorous ‘Girl With No Face’ era, then, represents autonomy, too: it’s a near-complete sonic overhaul driven by psychological-, biological- and industrial-scale frustrations that concludes with a recommitment to self. On penultimate track ‘Staying Power’, she states: “The world can hurt me, I don’t mind/That’s ‘cause I’ve got staying power/Minute or hour/I’ll wait you out, I’ve got all night.” Indeed, Allie X, at the helm of the contemporary pop vanguard, stands stubbornly in antithesis to the norm, persistent in her authenticity, but addicted to the pain of resisting the mainstream industry. Reliably up-front, Allie, with subtle self-analysis and seriousness, drenched in pertinent ‘Girl With No Face’ jest, says: “I think I’m going to die young if I don’t change my ways. I need to find peace and quiet. I’m addicted to high-stakes situations and working through challenges.”

Ultimately, then, perhaps the ‘Girl With No Face’, in flouting convention, is as much a reflection of the pop machine it veers from as it is the complete opposite of it. “It’s as if, if something’s not difficult, I don’t believe in it. That makes for a chaotic and loud life. For my own health I hope something more peaceful awaits me in my life and writing process for the next record,” she says, and then, finally, when questioned on what an Allie X utopian record would look like, she concludes, ever-true to herself: “I’ve never written a record from a peaceful place. I don’t know that it would be interesting and I fear that it wouldn’t be. We need pain to commiserate and connect with each other.”

‘Girl With No Face’ is out now. 

Words: Otis Robinson
Photography: Eleonora C. Collini

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