Nuclear Season: An Interview With Charli XCX

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When I first heard of Charli XCX, she was a pint-sized teenager who was playing gigs in London venues she technically wasn’t old enough to enter. It was the glory days of MySpace, and Charli was all tangled mane, manic energy, and neon-colored tutus. And while the latter has changed, her fashion style a little less raver today and a little more industrial-pop-princess, the former aspects haven’t changed much.

Nestled inside that gorgeous tangle of thick dark hair is an arsenal of melancholy, sparkling emotional lyrics, and that manic energy has channeled into an infectious live show and audio-visual experience that is at once heavy and brooding and celebratory. One of my favorite artists and one of music’s newest, brightest stars, I was thrilled to be able to have a chat with Charli a few weeks ago, where we talked about her journey, her upcoming and current music, and finding the balance between aggressive and beautiful. Read below:

Hi Charli! How was the iTunes music festival?

It was amazing! Yeah, it was really, really cool. It was probably the first time that I had a proper full on stage set-up with amazing screens and, you know, everything looked perfect. It looked really great. It was amazing and I had a night show… It looked perfect, so it was awesome.

Amazing! And you’re also on this really massive tour with Coldplay right now, too. What has that been like for you?

It’s been pretty crazy. It’s been amazing to play such large venues and to have so many people exposed to my music at once. That’s amazing. The crowds are really receptive… I think they really like what I do which is really nice. It’s such an honor to be invited on tour with one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s bad though in a way ‘cause now that I’ve done it I feel like my own expectations for my own shows has been raised. I only want to play stadiums now! [Laughs.]

Well hopefully someday you’ll be doing your own big stadium tours, I’m sure. What do you think your tour would be like?

It would be insane! I would have unicorns, there’d be tributes to Britney and The Cure, and loads of stuff like that. And fireworks that rain roses! My dream is actually to have a self-destructing stage that has huge industrial fans that blow everything around. Then the whole stage goes up in a whirlwind of roses and gold dust and black smoke and collapses onto itself. That’s like my dream. But I think it’ll take a while to get there. [Laughs.]

I think so too, but that sounds so cool – I definitely want to be in the middle of all that! Anyway, your reception in America has been really amazing. I was flipping through some magazines and there you were, right in Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue! I think it’s so cool the warm welcome you’re getting over here. We’re having a little bit of British fever right now with a lot of British artists on the radio. What do you think it is about the music coming from the UK right now that’s being so embraced?

Well, I guess I feel like, I don’t really know much about the whole UK artists being received so well in US… I know it’s happening, but I feel like it’s more of a girl thing at the moment. I think there are loads of great girls out there right now. I feel like people wanna have a piece of them, especially artists like myself and Azealia Banks and Grimes. We bring a raw energy to what we do. I feel like with me, I really wanna remind people of that raw punk energy that was happening in the 70’s, and that whole attitude. That’s kinda what I’m all about as an artist. I think that whole thing is coming back around and, like, fuck it! All the genres of music and have cross blended and faded so much that I think the whole thing will self destruct and go back into that raw energy again. I feel like that is something the world is creating, not just the US, but maybe they’re leading the way.

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I can definitely feel that hardcore energy to your music and shows. We’re definitely having a girl power moment! Speaking of which, I hear you were a big Spice Girl fan…

Yes, I was! I was a massive Spice Girls fan!

Amazing. What would your spice name be?

It would probably be Goth Spice or something like that. [Laughs.]

Your music has been described as dark and moody. What are your personal thoughts on the vibe of your music as an artist?

I would say that aspects of my music are definitely moody and darkm but sometimes it’s completely not. Sometimes it’s gloriously golden and beautiful, like lavish and luscious instead of moody and dark! I think one thing is that I write visual and cinematic and very real lyrics, and sometimes they are desperate and depressing. I like music that sounds happy and that sounds sad. I like to have a generally ethereal vibe over hip hop drums and have those contrasts of darkness in the lyrics countered by something glittery and beautiful in the way it sounds. It’s kind of emotional music for me. Maybe like emo-pop! [Laughs.] It’s emotional pop music I suppose.

I can definitely hear that, especially in one of my favorite tracks, “You’re The One.” That has a beautiful video, by the way. I love the outfits! How do you tie in your personal style to the music?

I just feel like I wanna look like super fierce all the time, you know? That’s why I wear what I wear, like my Buffalo shoes and crop tops. That’s obviously a reference to girl power artists like Shampoo and the Spice Girls and people like that. Clothing wise, I feel like my style is cross between Sporty Spice meets Robert Smith of The Cure. Those are my influences, I suppose. I just want something super kick-ass and fierce, something aggressive but still beautiful.

I love that you just said “aggressive yet beautiful,” because I feel like that describes your music perfectly, too. So far you’ve released a few tracks, an EP, a great mixtape… What stage is your album in right now?

So my album is getting very close to finished. It’s funny because I’ve been asked this question a lot over the past few months, but up until recently I kept saying, “It’s finished, it’s finished!” But then I went back into it and said, “Let’s change this, let’s change that…” All artists are perfectionists, and if they’re not, then they’re not very good artists. I feel like I want to continuously make these changes as I discover new things. And then I have to eventually stop at one point and just say, “Put it out!” So it’s kinda nearly done, really. I know that’s such a crap answer, I’m sorry! [Laughs.] But there’s always another song to write, and another hit to be had, I suppose. So yeah, It’s getting there!

That’s good enough for me. I’d rather listen to a full, well-rounded package that the artist is really stoked about releasing than something whipped up or rushed.

Exactly! I’ve spent five years making this record, and getting to this stage. I think it’d be just hilarious and so wrong to put something out that’s shit, and to waste five years of my life. I definitely wont be doing that.

You’ve come such a long way from your early rave-rapper years. I used to listen to your early music on MySpace, tracks like “Art Bitch” and “I Wanna Be Darth Vader.” I’ve really been listening to you since you were a tiny little thing, wearing tutus and jumping around on stage. [Laughs.] How would you describe your journey thus far, Charli?

Totally fucking mad! [Laughs.] It’s hard to describe it, but I guess I’d describe it as a normal kind of… “growing up” journey. I was 14 when I started, and I feel like I’ve just grown up. That’s the journey for me. I did it in different circumstances. I did it in the rave scene, in the music industry, but I still just grew up. And the musical journey for me, too… I started out making these very immature, high-pitched, bouncy kiddie rap songs and then I discovered different music and I discovered who I was as a person. I became confident as a person and found that I didn’t have to just yell and shout to be noticed as a good artist. I just kind of grew up. I discovered directors I liked, like Shane Meadows, David Lynch, and I also discovered it’s okay to be an artist like Miley Cyrus, you know? And I put that all together and it came out the other end as some sort of post-90’s girl power romantic aggression girl, I suppose.

A special thanks to Charli XCX, her management, Paul at I Am Sound, and Peter at Various Artists Management for coordinating. Charli’s new EP, ‘You’re The One,’ is out now in both the US and the UK, so grab it on iTunes! Stay tuned for more information on Charli XCX and visit her on Facebook here.