Q&A: Charli XCX + “SuperLove (Yeasayer Remix)” (Stereogum Premiere)
Less than six months after her tremendous debut album True Romance dropped, the young and artful UK pop singer Charli XCX gave us the first taste of her next record, a bubbly post-Spice Girls disco banger called “SuperLove.” It’s a hell of a lead single — the synth-swirling, heavily percussive Yeasayer remix we’re premiering below is something special, too — but when we chatted by phone earlier this week, Charli told me “SuperLove” is not necessarily indicative of the rest of the new album. Per our conversation, sessions for XCX LP2 are well underway in Stockholm and are sounding “quite raw” as well as quite red, but (with all due respect) not quite Red. Press play on Yeasayer’s great “SuperLove” remix and dive into the Q&A with Charli, which touches on her stress about being asked to repeat “I Love It,” her current musical and cinematic inspirations and her vision for the new record; she has a projected release date for you too, but don’t hate her if that doesn’t pan out.
STEREOGUM: Where are you today?
CHARLI XCX: I’m in Stockholm right now. I’m just working on some new stuff.
STEREOGUM: Originally I was going to talk to you on Friday but you ended up going to the studio then too. Are you able to say what you are working on?
CHARLI XCX: I’m working on my new record. So yeah, I’ve been working on it for maybe a month now, I think. It’s kind of just in the beginning stages, but I’ve got about 10 songs. But I always overwrite, just ’cause I like to write songs. But I always write a lot, I think. It’s really cool. It’s inspired by French yé-yé pop and by ’80s New Wave bands like the Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow. And then also other fun things like bands like the Flying Lizards. And yeah it’s quite raw. It’s very feminine, but it’s also really aggressive and angry. And it’s a lot more live than anything I’ve ever done before. And it sounds fucking cool, actually.
STEREOGUM: You say it’s a lot more live, as in live instrumentation?
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.
STEREOGUM: You also mentioned that it’s kind of raw. Do you attribute that to the live instruments or the writing, the songs themselves are just raw? What do you mean by raw?
CHARLI XCX: The songs themselves are raw. Everything’s like aggressive and shouted and, I don’t know. I feel like it kind of has a punkish attitude, but I also felt like, and with a lot of the yé-yé pop stuff, the songs sound kind of childlike, you know? Yeah, but I don’t like to take time when I’m writing, so it’s naturally been quite raw anyways. But yeah, the attitude is very aggressive and passionate.
STEREOGUM: Is “SuperLove” from those same sessions, or where did that song come from?
CHARLI XCX: “SuperLove” was like the first song from the second record. But that’s definitely like the most pop song I’ve written so far for the album. I guess it’s like a little taste, I suppose. But I actually wrote that a while ago. Maybe a couple of years ago I started working on that song, and it kind of laid around for a while. And then I was like, “Oh, maybe this is kind of cool. I quite like the chorus.” So I went back in and fucked with it a bit and yeah. That’s the first song from the record.
STEREOGUM: It’s a great lead single. Stereogum made it song of the week when it came out.
CHARLI XCX: Oh, cool. Holla!
STEREOGUM: So that song definitely seems maybe more bubbly and just kind of, as you described it, poppy. It’s more poppy than the other material you’ve put out. So that’s not characteristic of the new stuff you’re working on?
CHARLI XCX: Well, I mean, it is a pop record, but that’s definitely the most pop song at the moment. Everything else is a lot more, yeah, like I said, a lot more angry and shouty and more aggressive than that. I feel like I don’t want to write another record about love, even though that’s just kind of naturally always been my instinct. I’m trying not to just write songs about love all the time because people probably get bored of my antics.
STEREOGUM: Maybe I misheard you, but did you say the circumstances around the songwriting were raw as well? What did you mean by that?
CHARLI XCX: I just like to write really quickly all the time. Like I hate spending time on things. I hate having to go back and re-edit things, I’d rather just scratch a song than rewrite it. So I’m working with Patrik Berger at the moment, who I’ve worked with on some other things in the past, and we just write really fast together. When I was there last time for five days I think, we wrote six songs. So it’s really great. And sometimes they’re really awful and sometimes they’re amazing. But that’s just how I like to do it. I don’t like spending time on things. Even though I feel like I’m a perfectionist, I feel like part of it being perfect means it has to be done fast. Like I hate fucking around. If I had it my way I’d write a record every month, or something like that, and just keep putting them out. But I think I’d probably die if I did that.
STEREOGUM: Well that definitely is in keeping with the kind of punk-rock thing you were talking about — the value of immediacy, the idea that sometimes things seem to lose their power if you spend too much time laboring over them.
CHARLI XCX: All the best songs are written in like half an hour. Definitely. Or it’s the first idea that’s the best anyways, so why bother trying to come up with 10 better ones? That’s what I think.
STEREOGUM: I saw an interview with you where you were talking about movies inspiring your songwriting, or putting you in the zone for songwriting. Have you been watching any lately? Or what’s been putting you in the zone lately?
CHARLI XCX: This film called Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. That’s been really what I’m into at the moment. And it has this English actor, Ray Winstone, in it when he was really young. And it’s basically just about this girl… have you seen it?
STEREOGUM: I have not.
CHARLI XCX: Oh, it’s so good! You should check it out. It’s like this girl starts this punk band, and she’s actually really cool and wears this awesome makeup that’s all red. And the color red is actually really inspiring me right now, so the whole second album is going to be red, but not in a Taylor Swift way. I think she’s great, but not like — like when I said on Twitter, “The album is going to be red,” and everyone’s like, “Oh, like Taylor Swift.” I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean that’s the color theme of my record and that’s the color that I feel like all of the songs are. And I’m really inspired by red lipstick and red Chanel blazers and red guitars and that whole sexy, fucking angry color. Does that make sense? I’m not sure. But yeah, that film, and also The Crush, with Alicia Silverstone in it. Which is kind of like Lolita a little bit, like same basic storyline-ish. But that’s another film that’s inspiring me at the moment.
STEREOGUM: It’s definitely not like Taylor has a monopoly on the color red or anything. So you also mentioned ’80s New Wave bands have a big influence right now on what you’ve been doing. Do you think that comes out in the sounds of the songs? Or more just the attitude?
CHARLI XCX: I feel like it’s a lot to do with the lyrics and, yeah, I think the attitude as well. But like this one song I’ve been listening to, “I Know What Boys Like” by the Waitresses, that whole kind of vibe. I’m really feeling that at the moment. It’s like kind of so dumb it’s amazing, and that’s kind of what I’m getting at I think with all of these songs. They’re very simple and quick and dumb, but that’s what makes them great. I think one of the best choruses ever written was “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow. Like, simple and amazing, and it’s stupid, but that’s why it’s so good.
STEREOGUM: I think sometimes people want to imprint too much meaning on pop music when a lot of it is about that kind of simple, release.
CHARLI XCX: Exactly. And I think it can still be meaningful, but I don’t think it has to be overly clever and ridiculously meaningful. I think stuff can be dumb and easy and be really important.
STEREOGUM: You name-checked some songs already that are really great examples of that. Also, I was reading one feature about you where you went to the karaoke bar and were singing all of these great pop songs, and it seems like that kind of fits into the same idea that you don’t have to be overly clever.
CHARLI XCX: I’m a massive fan of pop music when it’s done well, and I think all of the best pop songs are very simple. And they don’t even have to be universal, just simple and amazing. Like the Flying Lizards’ song “Money.” I think it’s a classic and that’s what’s on everyone’s minds but no one wants to say it. You know? Like I want money. Everyone fucking wants money, you know what I mean? And that’s why I think it’s so good cause they just went there and didn’t fucking care.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of the karaoke thing, is that a regular thing for you? Is that the way you like to party, with karaoke? Or is that just what you happened to be doing that night?
CHARLI XCX: I’m not like an avid karaoke champion or anything. But yeah, it’s kind of fun. I do like doing it. And I feel like sometimes maybe I take it too seriously, especially when you’re a singer. I feel like if you’re a singer you can’t do karaoke well cause everyone thinks you’re a fucking idiot if you do. Know what I mean? Yeah, I enjoy it. My ultimate karaoke song is “Kiss” by Prince. That’s the best one definitely.
STEREOGUM: That’s interesting because I’m someone who’s not able to hit the notes, so I always just imagine doing a karaoke song where you can just go for those glory notes. I guess I feel like Prince is a restrained choice; it’s all about subtlety.
CHARLI XCX: Maybe you should try like Sinéad O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U” or something. That could be your song. Plenty of notes to fail to hit in that.
STEREOGUM: I like to fail to hit the notes in “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis sometimes. So you’re working on this next record already, and “SuperLove” has already been released, and it’s just been a few months since the last record. Do you feel like time is of the essence right now? And I know you said you like to write fast, but do you want to release something fast too?
CHARLI XCX: If I had it my way, which I think I do, I want it to come out in March. But I might have a breakdown in two months time and decide that I hate everything I’ve done, which has happened before. So at the moment I’m aiming for March, March-ish. I hate saying dates because I say March then everyone’s like “it’s coming out in March” and then it doesn’t come out until May and everyone hates you or something. But I want to get it out as soon as then. That would be my plan. And I think it will. I’ve written quite a lot of things, so yeah. And I just feel really creative right now. And I think especially when there’s been months and months of being uncreative and feeling that pressure to write certain kinds of songs, and then finally when you can get into your own space where you just ignore everything around you and ignore what everyone’s saying and I can just do my thing, I can make myself super in the zone. So I kind of just want to focus on that at the moment.
STEREOGUM: So you felt like you were having some writer’s block for a while?
CHARLI XCX: Not even that. Just feeling like I was getting requested to write “I Love It” 20 different times for different people, and it was kind of like not good anymore. So it’s just nice to now be back in Stockholm and be able for me and Patrik to just do our thing again without people being like, “Oh we want ‘I Love It’ for this cover and this cover” and that’s not going to happen. That won’t be that song again, ever. So people have been kind of doing that, but it just won’t happen. We’ll never write a song like that ever again. I just kind of want to get out of that for a bit and do my thing. That’s why it’s nice. I think that’s why I’m more creative because I’m just feeling it right now, I don’t know.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any idea what the next record is going to be called?
CHARLI XCX: I do, but I’m so not going to tell you, just in case I change my mind. I’m like 50 percent on two different names at the moment. But I feel like I know so much about this record and everything I wanted to do with it, and each video, which is kind of cool because it all comes in quite fast. Which is great. It feels like I’m in this weird, red whirlwind, which is cool.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned you kind of already know what you want the videos to be like too. Is that an important part of writing the songs for you, having that visual element?
CHARLI XCX: Definitely. I feel like I connect with a song once I can picture what it’s going to look like in my head. It’s when I’m writing a song wondering what I’m going to do for the video that I know it’s not the right song for me. I know I don’t want to sing it because I haven’t had that visual connection. I guess because I get so inspired by movies and music videos. I have to have that connection with it. And that’s what was cool about “SuperLove,” I knew that we were going to film it in Japan. We had to film it in Japan. There was no other place where we could film that music video. So yeah.
STEREOGUM: That must be liberating to have that idea and then actually be able to say, yeah, let’s travel to Japan and do it.
CHARLI XCX: And I’d never been to Japan before so it was kind of crazy. We were only there for like two days, and we basically shot the whole video. I got off the plane at 4 a.m., we started shooting at 6 a.m., and then we kept going for like six hours we were just running around like fucking crazy people. And the police shut the video shoot down, which made me feel so badass. I was like, “Whoa, I’m like Ke$ha or something.” But yeah, it was kind of cool. The police came because we were with this real biker gang, and it’s illegal for the people in Japan to ride with more than, I think, two people. So the police came and shut our thing down, and the biker gang tried to run away, and I was still on a bike so they tried to run off with me. And the director Ryan Andrew had to chase after them like, “Wait, wait, stop!” because they were going to, like, take me on the highway on the back of their bikes. It was kind of crazy, but it was great.
[Photo by Dan Curwin]