Allie X on Ian Curtis, Christiane F., Kate Bush, and Other Inspirations Behind Her New Album ‘Girl With No Face’

    “I used to be a dream girl/ But the world interfered,” Allie X, the Canadian singer-songwriter and visual artist born Alexandra Hughes, sings on ‘Weird World’, the opening track of her electrifying new album Girl With New Face. She describes the record, her first since 2020’s Cape Cod, as a document of “intense struggle for power and control – creatively, professionally, mentally and physically,” a struggle that led to her being hospitalized in 2022 and consequently retreating from the public eye. Having racked up writing credits for BTS and Troye Sivan, collaborated with Mitski, and released four LPs under the moniker, Hughes’ experience in the music industry is just one facet of her identity she probes on Girl With No Face, which revitalizes her sound by drawing from genres such as early post-punk, synthpop, and new wave. Self-produced with the help of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the album finds Hughes blazing through curiously unsettling yet danceable songs with fearless abandon, even when her humour tends toward ironic self-awareness (‘You Slept on Me’). Allie X’s assessment of the world in all its dark mundanity may be widely relatable, but on Girl With No Face, she’s more interested in keeping the dream alive by continuing to build her own – raw, twisted, and unrelenting.

    We caught up with Allie X to talk about some of the inspirations behind Girl With No Face, including Ian Curtis, Kate Bush, coffee, Breaking Glass, and more.


    Ian Curtis

    Joy Division is a clear reference point for the album musically, but I’m curious if there’s also a thematic and personal significance to picking Ian Curtis.

    Yeah, there’s a few facets to it. First and foremost, Ian Curtis had epilepsy, and ultimately, indirectly, that led to his suicide, because he was pumped full of different drugs, overmedicated, and lost his bearing mentally. I mean, that’s not a fact – that’s just my interpretation of what happened. And then he hung himself. I think the story of Ian Curtis, the idea that he was in this super vulnerable state yet being in these really tough situations – he’d be on stage with these crazy punk audiences and he would throw a fit, and people thought it was part of the show, and he would just collapse on stage, and he just had to keep going, and nobody around him in that at that time was in the mindset where they really could support him in the way that he needed – that really breaks my heart, and I see a lot of my own story in that. You don’t really hear about artists often that are in that situation, and that’s sort of been similar to aspects of my story and my fight through the music industry.

    So there’s that, and then there’s the obvious answer, which is, yeah, he was in Joy Division, which was instrumental in this transition from punk music into post-punk and Goth and new wave, and what became synthpop ultimately, which is what my record is all inspired by. It was even Ian Curtis that introduced the other band members to Kraftwerk and to synthesizers; which, obviously, once he was dead, they formed New Order and all of those influences were instrumental in the sound of New Order, which also revolutionized music. I’ve watched both the Joy Division films and read a little bit of a book about him made by his wife, and I just really feel a connection to him. I love his stage presence as well, the way he moves on stage; I also feel like I kind of move awkwardly like that. He’s definitely a hero of mine.

    Coffee

    I’m curious if this is in reference to the verse in ‘John and Jonathan’, or if it was a more literal influence.

    No, it’s just that I literally discovered coffee in 2021. Like, I did not drink coffee until 2021. I was like, “This is awesome. This takes away depression for a few hours.” [laughs] I had a route where I was on a late schedule, so I would get up kind of late, take my time getting ready and just making myself feel cute for the day, because I would spend so much time on my computer. I didn’t want to feel like I was in pajamas. And I would make a coffee – I usually made a bulletproof coffee where you blend butter in it – and then I would sit down and drink that and get all hyped and watch YouTube videos about Joy Division or gear or Vince Clark, that sort of a thing. It would be a really fun way to start my day, I’d get myself all sorts of excited and then proceed to work forever and go to bed really late.

    Were you conscious of it affecting your creativity in any particular way?

    It affects me in that I get optimistic. I’m a person with big ideas and a lot of ambition, I’ve always had that part of my personality, and coffee just would help me go on those tangents without doubting myself. But of course, it would also give me anxiety sometimes, and I’d get a crash sometimes in the afternoon. But it was all worth it just for that feeling of, like, “I can do this, let’s go!” Because this was a very hard process, so it was helpful to have something like a substance, I guess, that helped me have a kickstart every day. And as someone who never had it before, it literally just felt like I was taking up cocaine or something. [laughs]

    Christiane F.

    This one was very on the periphery, like you were saying some of these inspirations might be. I actually didn’t even watch the film in the process of making the album. I watched it the day that David Bowie died, because my partner suggested that we do that, and it just gave me this real attitude of the ‘70s and the ‘80s and where the youth was at; the darkness and the industrial feeling of Berlin and Germany. It’s almost as if I had it on my mind’s wall, as a painting or something, to abstractly pull moods from.

    The latest single, ‘Weird World’, definitely feels like an expression of that.

    For sure, I definitely see that. Obviously it has the German in it, but I almost see ‘Weird World’ as a song that a band would have sung on tour in Berlin, and it happens to be my song.

    Cloud slippers

    Is this a similar thing to coffee?

    Yes, exactly. [laughs] It was a comfort thing. Again, just that extra little thing in my day that would help me feel a bit more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, what felt like an impossible flight at many times. Just having my feet on soft ground like that was very comforting. It’s almost similar to – my dog was there with me under the table a lot of the time, and I would sometimes take my feet out of my slippers and put them on her fur. It just felt very – comforting is the only word I can think of.

    Kate Bush

    The final song, ‘Truly Dreams’, comes to mind, but I’m sure she was an inspiration more broadly as well.

    Yeah. She was definitely one of the artists that I was reading about and watching things on when I drank my coffee. I was really inspired by her wherewithal and her story – her refusal to tour, her insistence upon producing her own work, her casting her brothers as her team and creating a management company – these are all things that are parallel to what I was doing. Her exploration of new technology, and then vocally, her total quirkiness and weirdness, which I also relate to. We both have very high and bright voices, and on this album I really let the freaky and eccentric side of my voice ring out loud and clear, which I’ve never done before. She was definitely giving me inspo on that as well.

    On the production side of things, with self-producing Girl With No Face, was that an aspect of her story you explored in ways you maybe hadn’t in the past?

    I’ve always been a fan of Kate Bush, but I’d never gone deep into the production side – the business side was really what I was impressed with, just being a woman in that time and all the business moves she made. It’s an amazing story. I forget the label that signed her as a teenager, but they let her develop and study mime for like three years before she put out anything. That time has passed, you know, no one’s gonna do that nowadays. But the idea that there was this girl who was very weird and unique, and it was celebrated – and if it wasn’t celebrated, then she was just insistent upon doing it her own way. And it worked commercially. It’s one of those things, kind of like Björk, where you look at the level of of success and how she’s so widely known, and then you listen to the music and you’re like, “Oh my god! What an amazing occasion for this very strange and unique artist to have made such a worldwide impact.”

    When you’re working with these fast synthpop songs, was there a part of your brain that, looking to someone like Kate Bush who was able to balance her artistic sensibilities, went, “How can I make this a little more eccentric?”

    Not really. I think I am eccentric, and when I’ve been in co-writing rooms and when I’ve tried to write something that is aimed commercially, I’ve really tried to hold it back and control it. Despite or due to me working alone in this process, my eccentricities came out, and I just let them happen. But I did look to Kate Bush and say, “If she did this her way and had success, then I feel Ia bravery from that to go this route if that makes sense.”

    The 1980 film Breaking Glass

    If I’m honest, I didn’t even know this film till the album was wrapped, so it’s almost unfair of me to use it as something I’m citing. It was Moni Hayworth who told me to watch it, she’s the photographer that did all the ‘Off With Her Tits’ videos for me. She’s British, and she was telling me how much this particular album reminded her of that film. So I watched it, and I was like, “Oh my god, she’s totally right.” I just relate so much to that character. Her journey in the music industry is so familiar, even though it’s set in a whole different decade, her stubbornness and the way that she presents herself – I just saw a lot of myself in her. And it really reminded me of this album. Even though this wasn’t an influence when I was writing the album, it almost became one after the fact, if that’s possible.

    Did it illuminate parts of the album you weren’t totally aware of before?

    Yeah, and that’s not the only thing to have had that effect. Sometimes I’ll even read a really well-written review of the record, or speak to a journalist such as yourself and they’ll ask a particular question, and it gives me a different perspective on what I made. Because when I made it – nothing is that intentional, usually. Certain aspects are, but most of it just kind of came out, and you don’t really analyze it. But now that I’m analyzing it and talking about it so much in interviews and reading people’s reactions, I am seeing things in a different way, and it’s quite fulfilling to have that almost fly-on-the-wall impression of something that you created. I guess I wouldn’t feel the same if I didn’t like people’s interpretations, but I’ve really liked them so far. [laughs]

    What about Breaking Glass in particular helped you see Girl With No Face in a different light?

    I’ve always seen this doing this record as sort of an act of rebellion, and just seeing my own story in her, equating her insistence upon certain things with my own – it’s hard to explain beyond that.

    I think that happens with the things we relate to the most.

    It just tingles a certain spot in my body. [laughs] It just gives me a connection and a reaction that I don’t even… I think art just does that; even people that aren’t artists, they get those feelings. And that’s what makes it so meaningful.


    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Allie X’s Girl With No Face is out now via Twin Music.

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