9:30 Club presents at U Street Music Hall. - Early Show
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
"Before, it felt finished. Now, it feels perfect. It's feels like a proper thing."
The proper thing on the mind of 20-year-old shooting star Charli XCX is an album long in the making, one which finally sees the light of day in 2013. The wait has been as agonising for Charli as it has been for her fanbase -- rapidly swelling on both sides of the Atlantic ? but patience has paid handsome dividends. The debut album she releases in 2013 -- perhaps unlike the album she could have released in 2012, or even 2011 -- finds XCX's vision fully realised. Sweeping synths, crunchy beats, emotive vocals, coy raps, spiky and persuasive lyricism and big ideas about life, love and everything else: The album tracks (and soundtracks) Charli's journey from teenager to young woman, but deftly swerves coming-of-age cliches.
"There were all these questions while I was making the album," Charli recalls. "Like how can I twist something mundane to something really amazing that's never been done before? How can I make beautiful pieces of pop? How can I just let my mind go and let all the colours flow out?" Many of the answers have only really appeared in the last twelve months as Charli's vision has finally come into focus. And now the album is finished, its ample vindication for one of Charli's most firmly-held beliefs: "We need to reboot British girl power."
Honed during support slots for artists like Sleigh Bells, Santigold and Coldplay, Charli's live performances, like her music, are raw but multi-layered, sometimes stark but with a clear beating human heart. Her collaborators -- Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Usher, Alex Clare, Solange Knowles), Patrik Berger (Lana Del Rey, Robyn), J£zus Million and Blood Diamonds -- have helped unlock a unique talent. All pop is here, from Siouxsie to Spiceworld, The Knife to Nirvana. To achieve her intricate, post-modern pop with its evocative titles like 'Nuclear Seasons', 'Stay Away' and 'You (Ha Ha Ha)' she is a lightning rod, pulling influences out of the sky and channelling them into the crunchy beats, fuzzy synths, bittersweet melodies and idiosyncratic perspectives that combine in the absorbing multi-media output of this compelling new artist.
Charli's world view is splashed in vivid colours across her artwork, her videos and her Tumblr but with a dark edge. Her personal style she describes as "Wednesday Addams meets Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice meets Baby Spice". She obsesses about Pierre et Giles and David La Chapelle, just two of the names whose work she fell in love with at art school. "I love hyperrealism in every aspect of what I do," she says. She'll also look to her favourite films -- The Craft, Carrie, Party Monster, Clueless -- for inspiration. The brilliant but brutal 'How Can I' is directly influenced by Carrie. "I think of John Travolta being a dick, and that sweet guy with the terrible hair dancing, and the moment when she goes apeshit at the end. It's like 'how can I fix what I fucked up?' Well, Carrie, you can't. You are now dead in a grave with your hand poking out'."
As we know, Charli XCX's story is no overnight success. In 2006, when Charli was 14 she organised her live performances through MySpace and regaled crowds with "nursery rhyme-esque rap pieces with me shouting 'DINOSAUR SEX!' while standing on a crate in a warehouse". As a live promoter her dad had, once upon a time, booked acts like Bob Marley and Siouxsie & The Banshees at his club nights, but even he couldn't prepare Charli for the parties she found herself performing at. "Call me sheltered," she says, "but at 14 I'd never dreamed that I'd be singing while people were running around half naked on ketamine squirting each other with glitter guns."
Her life split in two. During the day she'd be at school -- she loved art, hated music ("an awful dictatorship") -- and afterwards she'd write songs and produce raw demos in the bedroom of her parents' house. By night, she'd be in London in a "colourful, glittery world that didn't really mean that much, but never claimed to either". Soon songs called things like 'Art Bitch' and (in reference to a crap girl from school) '!Franchesckaar!', created quite a buzz even soundtracking catwalk shows in London and New York for the likes of Marc Jacobs and Victoria's Secret. For Interview magazine, she was photographed by David Bailey in a skintight Pam Hogg creation ("I had no idea what I was doing and left my pants on, so there's a huge knickerline!"). These were exciting times, and then... Well, she'll admit it now -- she just didn't have enough decent songs. The buzz buzzed off, as it does. In the unforgiving world of next big things, some thought Charli XCX had disappeared. "So did I!" she roars today, laughing her head off. "It was tough, and frustrating. I had a period of just asking myself, 'how do I get out of this rut?'."
Charli met Ariel Rechtshaid on a trip to LA and wrote and recorded 'Stay Away' in their first morning together. The song marked a turning point, going a long way to defining her sound and causing blog fever when posted on line. Soon afterwards she travelled to Sweden to work with Patrik Berger who sent her some tracks the day before the session. She was instantly captivated by one of them, wrote to it all night in her hotel room, and the next day turned up to meet Patrik with 'You're the One', another key release and now a live favourite (She also wrote the global hit IconaPop song 'I Love It' that same night). As Charli hit her stride she grew to realise that her early stuff -- the parties, her diy releases, the jumping up and down shouting about dinosaurs -- wasn't a false start, just a chance to experiment when nobody was looking. "If I'd rushed to put out more songs when I was younger I know I'd be regretting it now," she admits, "but I know that I'll never fall out of love with 'Stay Away'."
Between starting and finishing the album she found herself listening to acts on the fringes of pop like Salem, Purity Ring, Hercules & Love Affair, Art Of Noise's 'The Seduction of Claude Debussy', and through collaborating with Ariel Charli had discovered the a darker, less transient style she'd been heading towards for the previous few years. "I'm fascinated by pop music being picture-perfect on the outside and warped and fucked up underneath," she explains, and it's a stance that's hard to ignore when immersed in her debut album. For instance there's 'You're The One' ("the ultimate 'wow I'm so in love that I'm exploding from every orifice' song"), but then there's 'Stay Away' ("the flipside, the dark side when it's emotionally heavy and it gets warped and fucked"). And then, she adds, there are "party jams, but not bad party jams that make you hate the world. They're not 'I'm in a club with my ho's', they're 'I'm in a Japanese club filled with amazing neons and I feel like I'm in the 80s but I'm not'."
2011 and 2012 were all about perfecting the sound, and honing her impressive live show. The Alex Metric collaboration 'End Of The World' created the right ripples in the right places, while the low-key release of 'Nuclear Seasons' (complete with a video made by Charli and her film-maker boyfriend over a weekend in Wales, that brought Charli's vision to life in broad, epic, colourful-but-distressed strokes), as well as contributing a song to the soundtrack of British movie Elfie Hopkins all added to Charli's momentum. "Some of my music is still very teen orientated -- I'm still pretty much a teenager -- but there's love in there and darker thoughts in terms of relationships," she says of her album "True Romance," due out later in the year. "And there are still couple of fuck you songs on there -- I have a lot of up days and a lot of fuck-the-world days, so there are party jams and dark warped depressing songs."
In 2013 XCX sees herself slotting in alongside sparky teenage girls who grew up in the shadow of the Spice Girls -- think artists like Grimes and Sky Ferreira, and who seem inspired by the useful bits of girl power. "90s kids are pretty fucking cool when it comes to music," Charli notes, "and pop's being taken seriously again now, which is exactly what it deserves".
Any other ambitions? Well, apart from continuing to write and create with people who inspire her, there's also Charli longing to have "these huge industrial fans on stage with loads of streamers that kind of turn and it's a bit epic, and there are glitter cannons and coloured smoke that make it completely apocalyptic". So if you see that happening on stage at any point, you'll know everything's going to plan. Until then there's an album of abnormally excellent, forward-facing pop that creates its own universe just as effortlessly as it will fit into yours.
For Chloe Chaidez, frontwoman of the electrifying rock group Kitten, the trajectory from rock fan to rock star began in carpool. “Growing up my dad had to drive an hour and half every day five days a week to take me to gymnastics,” she recalls. Chloe’s father, a drummer from LA’s early punk scene, used this time to communicate the important things in life to his young daughter: Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin. “We listened to lots of classic rock,” Chloe recalls. “But we also played the new CMJ mixes. This is pre-internet and that’s how you learned about new bands, from little CDs that came with cool magazines. Bands like Sigur Ross, Band of Horses…”
By ten Chloe had begun playing bass and had formed her own band. By 12 she was opening for indie artists such as Midlake and Conor Oberst with her blend of hip covers and precocious originals. “I probably watched School of Rock 100 times,” Chloe says, laughing. “That was all I wanted to do.”
It’s not a surprise that Chloe was so naturally drawn to the rebel artists’ life. Both her mom and dad are creative and the singer’s older brother, the scholar in the family, also dabbles in music. “School is really his thing,” Chloe says. “ Mathematics. But he’s also a really natural musician.” School was not Chloe’s thing. “I got into a lot of trouble from a very early age,” she remembers. Music was all that ever held her attention but within that particular world she is as educated as they come. A consummate rock nerd, she can easefully narrate the creative through-line from My Bloody Valentine to Washed Out, discuss her appreciation of everyone from Cat Power to the Notorious B.I.G., then pivot to music business speak to dissect Grimes’ marketability in the mainstream. “People always say, oh she’s so young but the thing is, I have been doing this for a really long time already,” Chloe says. “I love it. As cliché as it sounds, it’s my life. It’s all I do.”
While writing songs, recording, and performing live have been a major part of her daily life over the last few years, what’s been more of a challenge, she says, is learning how to focus her vision. “You can write a song on an acoustic guitar and it can sound any way you want. It can be anything you want it to be” she explains. “But over the last year or two, I’ve realized the particular music that I actually wanted to make, the sound I wanted and the point of view that I wanted it to come from.” The path to this realization wasn’t without it’s rough patches. Ironically after signing her record deal, at the peak of her first small wave of success, when she should have been the happiest, Chloe nearly lost herself in rock and roll cliché. “I would drink before and after shows… do drugs,” Chloe remembers. “The real problem was that I couldn’t stop myself. It wasn’t just about fun. I was frustrated, scared and confused and I wanted to kill those feelings, but I justified it by saying this is the rock and roll life style. It’s okay to do this ‘cause so did Iggy Pop, so did Lou Reed. Maybe I would write my own “Heroin” someday. But the thing is, drugs really do kill your creativity and they almost ruined my career before it even really started. That lifestyle, how I was living it, it lowers you. We almost had to shut the whole thing down. Part of the turnaround of this record is that I looked around and said, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t a joke. This is my life. This is what I care about. What the hell am I doing?’”
Back in LA, away from distractions, Chloe was finally clear-headed enough to truly explore what kind of music she wanted to make. Through songwriting collaborations with her manager and musical mentor, Chad Anderson, the singer started to hone in on her now signature sound. The ferocious power of late 70’s post punk blended with the textures and rhythms of 80’s British new wave and the shoegaze wall of sound, executed with an emotional delicacy all too rare for today.
Soon after Chloe started messing around with computer rock at home with her brother, the stage was set for Kitten to rise. “I felt stuck with the band format’s mostly organic instruments so I started making beats with my brother in our bedrooms,” she remembers. “I found it really liberating.” Soon after I started falling in love with 80’s new wave, most of it British. Pet Shop Boys, OMD, Psychedelic Furs, New Order, The Eurythmics, American artists like The Motels and ‘till Tuesday, Prince…
Liberating is a good descriptor for Kitten’s EP. A blend of the sophisticated elegance of dream pop with the jagged directness of rock and roll, it’s a declaration of intent and an auspicious announcement of the arrival of a new force in music. The title track “Cut It Out” has the sweetness of a delicate pop song underscored by a massive futuristic backbeat. “G#” is a reverb-drenched reinvention of classic shoegazer rock, slashed through with razor guitars and songs like “Sugar” showcase Chloe’s willingness to be intimate and vulnerable even from within these layers of raucous noise.
From considered near-ballads, to epic walls of sound the EP showcases the dynamic range of Chloe’s young band.
It’s almost as if Chloe Chaidez has been in training for close to a decade and is now ready for the major leagues. She’s always had the talent and the belief but now she has the sense of self and identity to back it up. “What’s going to make this band different is our live show,” says the singer, when asked what truly distinguishes Kitten. “I love being onstage more than anything. When you are up there you can do whatever you want. You can be whatever you want. If there’s one person in the back of the room not involved, then that’s my audience. I’ll do whatever I have to do to blow that person away. I want everybody in the audience to remember where they were when they saw Kitten for the first time.”
We can’t get enough of LIZ. With two singles released via Jeffree’s, this Los Angeles R&B princess has all the unmistakable signs of a superstar in the making. From her unmistakable style to her breezy attitude and a sugary, sun-dripped voice that sticks in your head like a wad of pink bazooka bubble-gum, LIZ is an artist you don’t want to sleep on. Her debut Jeffree’s release, Hush, is reminiscent of that perfect Pop/R&B tune from the 90s that you couldn’t wait to burn onto a CD so you could play it endlessly in your car after dropping your summer crush off at their house. For the ladies, it’s going to be your feel-good shower anthem and fellas, it will be your best guilty pleasure. LIZ is here to stay, so get used to the name.