Interview: Charli XCX

| October 2, 2012

Words by Ash Kissane

She first popped up at the tender age of 14, playing illegal raves in London. Now 20, Charli XCX has already toured with Coldplay and Santigold, worked with people like Blood Orange and has put out a successful record and an EP. Dubbed as the “Dark-Pop Princess”, Charli has brought her impressive blend of Dark-wave/pop which she describes as “ethereal gangsta-pop” to a string of European festival audiences, and just added Australia to her repertoire. Ash had a chat with Charli XCX after her set at Parklife, about her journey from underage rave kid to international star, touring with Coldplay, and seeing music as colours.

C: I Like your skirt!
MM: Thanks, man! How are you doing?
C: Really great!

MM: Is this your first time in Australia?
C: Yes!

MM: How are you liking it?
C: You know, it’s weird, like it’s not what I expected. Not in a bad way, but I expected to see surfers everywhere. Like, surfboards and surf wax and everything. But it’s amazing, this garden is so beautiful, I love it. It’s been really great and the people are so lovely. I love it here.

MM: So have you done many festival shows in the UK?
C: Yeah, in the UK I’ve done quite a lot and I also did some festivals in Germany and the States. I enjoy festivals a lot, I like to go to them as punter as well.

MM: Do you prefer these shows to club shows?
C: I don’t know, they’re so different. I guess at a gig, people are paying to see you so they know all your shit already, but at a festival, you’re exposed to a load of people who might hate you, might kill you, or really like your stuff. I think festivals are always more exhilarating because people are always way more pissed, so there’s more potential for fun to occur. So I really like festival shows.

MM: It must be really nice as well to have new audiences here dancing along, singing the words.
C: I know! It’s weird! It was cool, I was just happy to see that more than one person came. I’ve never been here before, I’ve never played a show here before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if it was going to be empty, I didn’t know if people were going to be standing there like, “What? I don’t understand,” but it was cool, everyone was really up for it and dancing, people knew the words. It was good.

MM: So you first popped up when you were 14, when did you decide you were going to pursue music seriously? Obviously you were interested from a young age.
C: I started when I was 14 and I was putting my music online, and I was contacted by this guy Chaz in the UK, who was running a lot of illegal warehouse raves and shit like that. So I started playing at these raves and I became part of the scene, I suppose. I didn’t know whether I wanted to…well, actually, at the time when I was 14, I was like, “This is my life! This is all I want to do! I just want to play these raves and I want to take loads of drugs and get really fucked up and have no money and this be my life.” I came from a countryside town, where I’d never seen anything like that. I wasn’t living in London at that time and I was so in awe of this party scene. I was like, “I’m living in ‘Skins’! This is amazing!” I didn’t understand that it’s a very fickle world. So at the time, I just wanted to do that forever. I was like to my parents, “Mum, Dad, I’m going to live in a squat when I’m older and that’s going to be my life,” which is cool, you know. I was so sucked into that scene, though, when I was sixteen I thought, “OK, this is really bad for me, I need to take a step back and realise that it’s not actually that great.” It was once I stepped back, that’s when I realised I wanted to pursue music properly. Once I got out of that scene, I started writing proper songs instead of just gimmicky dance tracks. That’s when I started exploring different types of music and learning about the world, I guess.

MM: How do you go about writing? Is much of the stuff on the EP songs you wrote when you were younger?
C: Actually, a lot of the stuff I’ve put out recently is all new, but the songs off the record was written when I was 14, so it’s like a real coming-of-age record for a teenager or something. Writing-wise, I don’t really have a way of writing. I enjoy writing with other people but I also enjoy writing on my own. I think primarily, I’m a singer-songwriter so I’m good at sitting at a piano and doing my thing. But I also really like writing over beats. I would, in a dream world, be a gangsta-rapper. That kind of gives me that vibe, when I’m sitting with my headphones on, I’m like, “Yeah, this is what Eminem would have done back in the day.”

MM: You’ve been described as a “Dark-pop Princess,” where do you think some of your influences come from?
C: Originally when I started, I was really influenced by the artists on Ed Banger like Justice, Uffie, Sebastian and people like that. Then I really got into hip-hop, original Eminem, and people like ASAP Rocky Micky Bianco. I’ve also always liked pop music like Britney and the Spice Girls. I kind of wanted to blend all of that together and have a prominent base through all of my songs because I came from the club scene, and even though I write pop music, I wanted that to be there and have these hip-hop beats but a Bjork-esque, ethereal magic over all of it. I feel like that’s what the record is like: magical, ethereal, gangsta pop.

MM: You’ve worked with some amazing people like Blood Orange, is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
C: I would love, feature-wise, to collaborate with Uffie. I think she’s the baddest bitch ever. I just like her whole style, I think it’s really cool. Producer-wise, I’d like to work with Pharrell (Williams). I think his stuff is amazing! Obviously, all of his Neptunes stuff that he does, all the stuff he worked on with Gwen Stefani, is incredible. I just think he’s really great and Slave For You is one of my favourite tracks, it’s just such a great production. A variety of people, I suppose.

MM: I read that you think about music as colours, and I totally do that! I just thought I must be weird, I didn’t think it was a thing. How does that come in when you’re writing your music?
C: No, it is! For me, I’m not a very technical person. I can’t sit at Logic and make a track and I don’t know the terminology to do that. So, when I’m in the studio, I’ll be like, “Make it sound more like an ocean. Make it sound like blue with sparkles and dolphins.” Luckily the people I work with are equally as crazy as me and they understand, and it’ll come out and it’ll be twinkly and perfect. I feel like in my head, the colours of my record are… actually, recently the colours have changed. Originally I thought it was black, red, pink, and gold. Now I feel like it’s changed to gold, purple, and blue. That might sound mad, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

MM: Yeah I read that, then I watched the video for “You’re the One” and there was a lot of pinks and black…
C: Yeah, right, see if you relate to this, I feel like to me, dubstep is like, the colours green and yellow and brown.

MM: Yeah I get green and dark blues.
C: Dark blues… I think Grimes is dark blues. And purples.

MM: Yes! I get purple too.
C: Oh my god, we’re so on the same wavelength, I love it.

MM: So, you’ve supported some amazing acts like Santigold and Coldplay really recently. How was it?
C: Yeah it actually only finished up like three days ago. It was amazing! Touring with Coldplay, they’re one of the biggest bands in the world. I got to play to like, minimum ten thousand people a night which was really great. They’re just lovely guys as well; they really looked after me and treated me really nicely. Chris was like, “I’ve got a couple of your songs on my iPod.” It was really nice, it made me feel like, “Wow, I want to be a superstar. I want to play these shows and have people singing the words to every one of my tracks.” It was really cool.

MM: How was it supporting Santigold?
C: Santigold was great, totally different vibe. Really cool, she’s got it down. It was really interesting watching her sound check, she knows her shit inside out and I don’t. I’m lazy as fuck when it comes to that. I’m like, “Just put it in, we’ll just do it, whatever.” So it was good because I’ve never really learned that, it was nice learning from her. It was really funny, everyone is terribly white, and they’re really gangsta. Also, their dancers are amazing! Absolutely incredible. So we were like, “Can you please teach us how to be cool? Teach me some of your moves.” Trying to body pop, we didn’t quite pull it off…They were lovely, really great.

MM: For your singles like “You’re the One”, do you write from personal experiences?
C: For me, when it comes to writing, it’s not always about me, sometimes it’s just about a situation or a fantasy. “Stay Away” is just a fantasy; that song is kind of based on a relationship, but mainly based on a fantasy relationship. “You’re the One” was written because I’m massively in love with someone, so I wrote that about orgasmic love, when you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m in love! Nothing else matters,” which is something that I think is really cheesy and didn’t really get until I fell in  love with this dude. I suppose I write personally but I always find that it kind of bugs me when people are like, “I write better when I’m depressed.” I feel like sometimes you write better when you’re happy and when you’ve gotten over something. Obviously people like Tom Waits write very traumatic, painful songs and I’m sure he’s not bouncing off the walls happy all of the time, but it doesn’t work for me like that. I have to be happy to write, I have to get through shit and then I’ll put it down.

MM: What else is coming up for you that you’re excited about?
C: I’m actually putting out my second mixed tape, it’s going to be called Super Ultra. It’s going to be out in a month or so. It’s just a whole load of new tracks and I’ve been working with producers like Jesus Million, Karma Kid, [and] this amazing rapper called Brooke Candy. It’s going to be really good, it’ll be a free download thing.

MM: The last one you did was so good, how do you choose which tracks you’re going to use?
C: I’m not sure, I just know. I just do something and if it clicks, if I’m singing it the next day, I’m like, “Cool, this is a good one.”

Get more Charli XCX here.

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