Allie X hasn’t always been Allie X. Though the pop songstress, known for her uniquely upbeat dark pop and work with Troye Sivan, seemed to have crashed into the scene out of nowhere, the woman behind the Allie X project, Alexandra Hughes, has been in the business since 2006.
Hughes' musical journey goes back to classical training in voice and piano, which led her to begin her career, releasing albums under her own name, Allie Hughes, that fell mostly into the indie pop category. These recordings have since been more or less lost, and Hughes herself doesn’t spend much time looking back on them. It didn’t take long before she began to search for her true self in her music.
“When I was making other music,” Hughes says, “I had just begun songwriting. I knew very little about production.” With backgrounds in classical music as well as musical theater, new sounds began to emerge in the music she listened to. “Over the years,” she said. “It became an education."
“Once I began producing and making my own arrangements, all of a sudden I had this power and sonic prowess that I didn’t have before. It all just kind of started to come to life.”
Since then, Hughes has taken on the alter ego of Allie X, releasing three EPs and her debut album, CollXtion II, in June. Taking the reins on production and her own artistic visions, X created a universe for herself and her fans that orbits around an idea of self-discovery. But when did Hughes become X?
“It was an evolution and it wasn’t an overnight change,” Hughes says. “The Allie X project has always been there. I’ve always been a person that’s not quite sure who she is. I’ve always had sort of a longing to find my place.”
When she was younger, Hughes felt an almost constant need to hide herself to fit in, something many of us can relate to. In her evolution from Allie Hughes to Allie X, Hughes put thought into the concepts and the name, choosing the X as a representation of the unknown variable in algebra, a way to erase the past and create a new space for self-exploration.
“Taking 'X' into my name gave me the freedom to ask these questions and explore who I am, and not be tied down by who the people in elementary school thought I was, or who my parents thought I was. It’s not that you know what your truth is, it’s that you give yourself permission to be whoever you want to be and time to figure out who it is you are.”
This message of self-discovery and acceptance is one that has resonated with her loyal fan base, many of whom have also chosen to take on an 'X' in their name on social media. Not only has the music and self-empowerment stuck with the fans, but it’s allowed Hughes herself to express herself and explore her own mind with a blank canvas.
Hughes started the Allie X project with the release of her debut single, “Catch,” in 2014, and the subsequent release of her EP, CollXtion I, in April of 2015. Prior to this, Hughes had moved from her home in Toronto to the bustling city and scene of Los Angeles, forcing her into a new world of songwriting she didn’t know.
“When I moved to L.A.,” Hughes says, “I had always been used to writing songs by myself, and taking a month on my computer just trying to get it right. In Los Angeles, I had to make a song in a day and work with other people, learn how to bounce ideas off and have this sort of synergistic experience.”
When it came to the creation of her next work, CollXtion II, this high-energy and fast-paced environment held her back from her true potential.
“Two years passed, and I had tons of downloads, but I still didn't have a body of work that I felt was cohesive. I found myself in a very exhausted state. I kept waking up and just crying and I thought, ‘I have to get out of L.A.’”
So she did. Hughes returned home to Canada, taking a break from writing and allowing herself time to find inspiration once again in a natural way.
During this time, the sound of CollXtion II began to unveil itself. Hughes spent a lot of time listening to music, leaning heavily on the recommendations that fell into her "Discover" playlist on Spotify. With more exposure to instrumental-driven artists and lo-fi pop, the powerful and polished textures of her debut formed.
“I began to understand minimalism a lot more,” Hughes says. “With CollXtion I, I was layering and layering and layering sounds until it was almost like you were swimming through them, and you really had to listen to pick them out from each other. But my taste evolved to appreciate the minumum amount of instruments.”
This less-is-more realization led to the creation of CollXtion II’s first tracks. In one week, Hughes wrote “Paper Love,” “Vintage” and “Simon Says.” Aided by producers Cirkut and Billboard, as well as L.A. producer Jordan Palmer, a mind she says deserves all the credit for standout track “Casanova,” Hughes began to build from a new foundation. Though the well-known producers helped to polish the finished products, Hughes’ vision was clear. Building beats and lyrics, and modifying them to her satisfaction, the process of its creation took many different approaches and a lot of time. The finished product shows the dedication and work put into it.
CollXtion II builds on the story of X told previously on CollXtion I; Hughes sings of love and heartbreak, displaying her fragility and own realizations in a powerful display of pop songwriting. Through Hughes' journey from Hughes to X, the realization that comes to the listener is that Allie X is forever evolving. From her beginnings to this latest release, Hughes is constantly finding new parts of herself. The X is an unknown variable, and the creative inspirations it could hold are endless. As Allie X continues on this path of pop self-discovery, we all will hold our breath to find out what new wonders may still be revealed.