Interview: No-compromise Charli
PUBLISHED: 12:42 16 June 2015 | UPDATED: 12:42 16 June 2015
Charli XCX has taken her sassy pop music from Bishop's Stortford to the world - and at just 22 is the talent superstars are calling on
Charli XCX – otherwise known as Charlotte Aitchison, but nobody calls her that these days – might be only 22, but she’s been paying her dues in the music industry since she was just 14 years old. After some missteps, changes in direction, much self-promotion on social media and gigs in clubs, the singer-songwriter hit the big time when she co-wrote Icona Pop’s smash hit I Love It, which stormed the American Billboard and UK charts after being featured in an episode of HBO’s New York 20-somethings series Girls. Having picked up several award nominations and winning the prestigous SESAC Songwriter of the Year, Charli followed up with her major label debut album, True Romance, before dominating radio stations in 2014 with Fancy, her duet with rapper Iggy Azalea. The accolades the pair received for the song as well as the accompanying Clueless-inspired music video, took Charli’s career to the next level. She released her second studio album, Sucker, at the end of 2014. Rolling Stone magazine crowned it Best Pop Album of the year – not bad for a girl from Bishop’s Stortford College. The former Herts resident reveals that her school days started with a blast of her parents’ music tastes from the 60s and 70s. ‘My mum used to play Bread in the car on the way to school, and the Monkees. My dad would play ELO,’ she recalls.
Other than that, her childhood home wasn’t particularly musical, and Charli was ‘left to my own devices’ when it came to discovering music for herself. ‘I remember when I first started writing songs and I would read interviews with people saying “I loved the Beatles growing up” – I didn’t even know who the Beatles were until I was 16! What my parents did for me however was get me to play the piano. I had piano lessons, so I suppose that’s where it all started.’
As anyone who has listened to Charli’s lyrics can attest, this particular pop rebel doesn’t cope very well with authority structures. This was especially so when it came to music lessons. ‘School was ok, but I actually didn’t study music for very long. I studied it until I was 16 and then stopped because I hated it so much! I had no appreciation for classical music when I was young and had no appreciation for music theory. So I was like “sack this off”’, she laughs.
Despite her distaste for formal music lessons, Charli, before she had even taken her GCSEs, had recorded an album of her own songs and continued to develop her sound throughout her teenage years.
‘When I was younger, where I was growing up was an influence, because I was writing about stuff that happened to me. As I got older, less so, because what I really wanted to do was to live in London. That was my ambition. I would read on the internet about all these cool parties. Not that there is anything wrong with Hertfordshire! It was a good place to grow up, that was just my headspace back then. I was obsessed with playing in London. I’ve actually just bought a house back there – I thought it was important to be near home, because things can get crazy.’
Charli’s desire to secure her roots highlights just how intense the past 12 months have been for her. Her achievements include contributing the song Boom Clap to The Fault in our Stars film soundtrack and duetting with Rita Ora on top 10 UK single Doing It, as well as supporting Katy Perry on her Prismatic world tour. Aside from these stellar achievements, the second album, Sucker, marked the moment Charli began to establish herself as a rocky, sassy pop princess in her own right. ‘I knew exactly the album I wanted to make, I didn’t want any compromises. I made a plan and I stuck to it, which was really important to me,’ she asserts. ‘I wanted it to be a bitchy record, I wanted it to be my comment on the music industry. That’s what this record is to me.’
Having collaborated with so many artists and producers, Charli was determined to lead the charge on the album and insisted on complete creative control. ‘I would not do what I do if I didn’t have that. I executive produced this record. So I got everyone in the room who I wanted, made the decisions and as far as I’m concerned, that’s how my voice best gets heard.’
Charli’s gigs, as she tours the UK promoting Sucker, are an explosion of that confidence. She struts around the stage, showing off the stagecraft she has perfected, as well as her favoured 90s’ fashion looks – Charli’s style influences flit between grunge, rocker and goth. Her look is an extension of her art and she has recently worn daring designs on the red carpet by Moschino and Vivienne Westwood, while also supporting up-and-coming British designers like Clio Peppiatt.
Fearless and hugely driven, Charli is completely focused on keeping her career – and her music – moving forward, especially now she has found success on her own terms. ‘I’ve had to fight for this,’ she says. ‘Especially on my first record, because I was a young girl signed to a major record label and I was new to the industry, so I didn’t really know which producers and songwriters that I liked. I was learning as I went along. With this record it was easy; I had a mutual understanding with my record label. It takes a while to figure out who you are, figure out your sound. There’s much more to it than you realise. You don’t know who you are when you’re 16. I’ve only just found out who I am.’