Allie X has found a new sanctuary to be herself in the idyllic setting of Cape God, the alluring yet deceptive paradise and namesake for her second studio album, released today (Feb. 21) Twin Music.
As the follow-up to her 2018 project Super Sunset, the alternative pop artist is no longer standing behind a host of alter egos or high-concept lyrical abstractions. Originally planned as a sister record to its preceding West Coast-leaning, three-character focused mini-album, Allie quickly realized “this has to live on its own. It's a record.”
She likens her approach to previous projects as putting herself through a crystal prism and “going off in a bunch of different directions.” Now without hesitating, she volunteers, “Yeah, it's me. It's stuff that I've never been able to put into words. Complicated feelings. I think all the experimentation with alter egos — and I wouldn't say that Allie X is an alter ego, and CollXtion I & II was me too — but there were glasses on, there was a shield out.”
If every previous release was spun to weave a type of esoteric fairytale, Cape God is Allie X as an open book. With a notably spare production pallette, the characteristically maximalist songwriter removes the veil to reveal the voice behind it all on her most straightforward and introspective record yet.
“With this one, I'd say there's a thin layer of ice but that's it,” she tells Streets Talkin. “It's a pretty personal, pretty intimate body of work.”
The initial thaw for X began several years ago before Sunset had even seen the light of day, when she viewed the impactful 2015 documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, USA about the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.
“I've never used that kind of a drug and I've never been like a real addict with any sort of substance abuse, but something about it really struck me and I was thinking about it the next day and the day after,” she admits. “I grew up in the suburbs in a privileged kind of position; upper-middle class, never struggled for anything. Obviously, I'm white. I'm not queer. So in some ways, I felt like I could relate. I related to the fact that the kids in this documentary were the same.”
As an experiment, Allie wrote a lyric in her iPhone notes from the perspective of one of the subjects that became the opening line for Cape God’s debut single and album opener “Fresh Laundry,” where she laments the absence of ordinary pleasures like clean white sheets or the satisfaction in being able to take care of oneself. It was a major turning point that stuck with her when she met with producer Oscar Görres and fellow songwriter James Alan Ghaleb for a session in Stockholm later that month.
“As we were writing the lyrics, without telling either of my collaborators in the room, I did the same thing and…put myself in that girl's shoes again and wrote from her perspective,” she recalls. “But because that lyric was from my perspective, this sort of meld happened where I was imagining my own experiences.”
It was a watershed moment that tied together the core of Allie X’s artistry. Where the personality and details in her songwriting would normally originate from the personas and situations she crafted, these were words born from her own unfiltered thoughts and feelings.
“I really started to delve into experiences that I had in high school and how isolated I felt and how dissociative I was with my emotions and how detached I was from my family and how shameful I was,” she admits.
Having discovered a new path to her next record, it was time for Allie X to do some world-building. She found inspiration in the everyday people featured in Heroin, who suffered in a hopeless struggle behind the backdrop of one of the most lavish American locales, as well as in the photography of Gregory Crewdson, who took idealized photos of American cities that could appear to Allie as “drab, but cinematic and sometimes very depressing.”
It’s that dichotomy that made a fictionalized Cape Cod such a compelling microcosm of the outsiders’ perspective that much of her art centers on, only now the difference between the have and have-nots could mean life or death, extreme happiness or severe pain. For Allie, it was the temporary safe haven to reflect and confront her past.
“I started to write from my own personal experiences as a young adult whilst also creating this sort of Cape Cod style thing in my head and thinking about outsiders in general,” she says. “It's about an East Coast town that doesn't really exist, but I'm going there and I'm living through all these things I went through to process them properly because I wasn’t writing songs at the time that I was going through that stuff.”
The transformative experience has opened Allie up to a fresh songwriting process that feels “seamless, therapeutic, and very enjoyable,” but she credits Görres with unlocking the sonic equivalent of her reinvigorated songwriting style through his production, saying, “Oscar was doing stuff that was musically lended to the words….the music really allowed for the layered kind of complex lyrics that came out because they just sounded like he was doing things that were harmonically so interesting and emotional to me.”
Allie also called on the help of collaborators old and new including frequent songwriting partner Troye Sivan and a long-rumored feature from indie-rock darling Mitski.
She first teased to Streets Talkin that she and Mitski were “rocking together” in 2018 before Super Sunset was released, and though the duo seem to have polar opposite styles, the ensuing track “Susie Save Your Love” could not sound more natural for either.
“We wrote ‘Susie Save Your Love’ in the first session,” Allie recalls. “I asked Mitski immediately if she would want to feature on this, and she's like, ‘Oh, no. I don't do features.’”
Sure enough, she could not resist a pass at the undeniably warm pop song and made it on the final cut. “What a gift,” Allie gushes. “Mitski doesn't do features!”
Similarly, her collaboration “Love Me Wrong” with Troye Sivan was a long time in the making. The song stretches back to when the Australian artist was working on music for the 2018 coming-of-age drama Boy Erased. Allie spots similarities in her writing process for Cape God as she wrote from the perspective of the main character while imbuing personal touches in her own life.
“I think people wouldn't guess that because the song is thematically so on-point for what Cape God is about, which is being an outsider and struggling to fit in and struggling to relate to your loved ones,” she offers. “[The movie’s] intense relationship between father and child and how horrible it can be when you grow apart, and when you want to connect but you just can't anymore, and when you know that you're loved but not for the full person that you are because you've grown up, you've become someone else. That's something that I went through.”
Though many of Allie’s confessions are upfront and direct on the album, there are also revelations hiding in plain sight. On the immediately entrancing “Life of the Party,” a seemingly innocuous night out unravels as the revelry escalates and harsh reality sets in, while the badge of distinction touted in the song’s chorus transforms into a point of shame in a well-executed turn of phrase.
"’Life of the Party’ is one of the last songs written for this record,” Allie recalls. “I was just thinking of this scenario that in a lot of ways I experienced, though not exactly as I wrote it out, but being somewhere and getting f—ed up and getting your confidence in that way. You kind of know that the people around you are making jokes about you and laughing at you, but you're laughing along…even though they're bullying you, you're a part of something.”
The song touches on themes of isolation and otherness that typically comprise an Allie X’s track, but she explores those feelings to a new depth that leads to one of her most poignant and visceral moments yet.
“In the bridge, there's a lyric, ‘Oh, I'll never forget. I don't want to forget. Oh, I want to forget’ going in a loop.” She imitates a conflicted inner-monologue, saying, “‘But that was kind of cool, right?’ and you're like, ‘No, they did horrible things to me.’”
She continues, “I was never sexually assaulted, but I also made [“Life of the Party”] as a song for people that were. I don't want to be a voice for something that I didn't experience but I wanted to really go there with a song that people who have been through stuff like that could relate to.”
It’s in moments like this where Allie X proves how the infusion of her own individual voice creates profound change in her songwriting and her ability to affect others.
“I'm ready to tell this story. I'm ready to be vulnerable about it. I really don't feel shame or embarrassment anymore,” she declares. “For so many years, I carried so much weight about these things that I went through, and now I don't feel that way anymore. And I've been through such turmoil within the industry that I also don't care what they think. I don't care if this record makes it to radio. I just want it to find its audience. I want people that relate to my story to find solace in it.”
A few short weeks before the album’s release, Allie X appears completely unburdened from the process and is downright beaming at the thought of her new creations reaching her fans. She distills the personal journey to Cape God in one word: “Liberating.”