Synth-Pop Singer-Songwriter Charli XCX Talks True Romance, Tasting Sweat, & Lena Dunham

Charli XCX is no newbie to the music scene, though her age might indicate otherwise to those not in the know. The 20-year-old Brit, born Charlotte Aitchison but recognized by her hotly debated stage name, has been making people move since she was an adolescent.

At 14, XCX was already on the radar, albeit far from mainstream, discovered on MySpace and invited to play raves at the weekend. An only child, her parents would drive her to and from performances—sometimes staying, watching on like ever-adoring chaperones—then take her to school come Monday. What might have remained a fond memory or a passing phase, however, evolved into a career, with a capital “c,” her warehouse party past giving rise to a girl who knew her pop hooks and dance beats.

The past half-decade has seen her morph from girl to woman, as well as release several solid songs, among them one of her best, “Nuclear Seasons.” At 16 she signed a record deal, catapulting the former club kid from promising act to legitimate artist with a single signature. For the past four years she’s worked towards today, which sees her major label release of True Romance. Her lyrical prowess and knack for catchiness continue to impress with this sweeping and anthemic debut, a 13-track album featuring favorites like “Lock You Up,” “What I Like” and “Cloud Aura.”

XCX, who also co-wrote Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” (which, if you’ll recall, was a huge hit following a particularly entertaining episode of HBO’s Girls) is currently touring Europe and the U.K. with Ellie Goulding, and will touch down in the States come May. New Yorkers can catch her supporting Marina and the Diamonds at Rumsey Playfield on May 29 and alongside Little Daylight on May 31 at Glasslands Gallery.

In the meantime, hear from the hard-hitting goth-pop princess herself. She’s got plenty to say, from her outlook on love (which she’s in, with Ryan Andrews) to her fantasies surrounding calling all the concert shots (think outlandish creative direction as it pertains to set design, à la Girls dreamboat douchebag Booth Jonathan).

You titled the album True Romance. Is this record the embodiment of “true romance,” to you? It’s such a bold statement to make. To say, like, Here it is. This is the definition.
This record is, for me, what true romance is. I’ve been writing the record for the past two to three years, but one song I wrote when I was 16. So, I feel like I’ve been writing this album as I’ve been growing up. Your views on love and life change over time. You experience different relationships, that kind of thing, and I think the record is kind of about that. It’s about love from different angles. Different periods of your life. There’s a bratty breakup song, when you went out with a bad boy. Then there’s a song about falling in epic, amazing, real, true love. And I feel like that’s what happened to me during the process of writing this album. I feel like I’ve fallen in love, massively. I feel like the record looks at how you can be on this love trip, in this dream state, but at the same time you can feel lonely and isolated. I think it’s interesting how schizophrenic love is. And that’s what the record is to me. It’s schizophrenic. It sounds that way. It sounds like love.

Did the title come at the end?
The title came last, actually. It was kind of, like, a reflection. I never wanted to make a concept album and come up with the title track and write songs around the title. I wanted to write the songs as naturally as possible and as naturally as they came to me. It just so happened they were about love. Once I started writing them, I supposed that was an appropriate title.

Makes sense. Can you tell me a bit about being so young coming up in the music scene?  
It was kind of crazy. At the beginning, I was very, very excited about everything. I was 15, signing a record deal. I was so elated by it. So, whenever there were highs and lows—which there definitely were, and still are—I took them really personally. It was a quite traumatic experience making this album, especially when I was younger. It can be emotional making an album, putting all your thoughts and feelings on a CD. I found the industry very difficult. There were so many expectations I thought I had to live up to. I was unsure who I was. I wrote the song “Stay Away” then. I began to find myself and what kind of music I wanted to make. I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I realized I don’t have any criteria I need to meet. I’m just doing my thing. I’m not feeling like I have to please anyone.

Even with the tumult, it had to have been a blast.
It was really fun. When I was younger, I’d go to raves, and that was crazy. Then, I’d go to school on Monday, and that was weird. But, it was cool. I kind of feel like I got sucked into that. I’m glad I left that scene and started making real music on my own.

Oh, yes. You’re talented, your debut’s a gem and, on top of that, you’ve traveled the world touring in support of Coldplay, Santigold, Ellie Goulding. Was it difficult to adjust to the limelight? MySpace and late-night raves are one thing, but stadiums are another thing all together. That’s rock star status.
For me, I can’t think about going on stage as the “limelight.” I think about it as playing my songs for people and losing my mind. When I’m on stage, I feel completely free. I feel completely inspired. I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m getting lost in the moment. It’s like one big trip.

Speaking of trip, do you have a favorite place to play?
I love America. I love L.A. and I love New York. And I haven’t been there yet, but I know I’m going to love Tokyo so much when I go. It sounds so magical.

It does. So, which one: New York or L.A.?
I don’t know. People compare them, but they’re so different. It’s so difficult to compare the two. I feel like L.A., maybe, for me, just because it’s so different from London. Whereas New York is so similar.

Aww, shucks. So, do you have any down time when you tour?
Never. It’s constant. But, that’s fine. It feels good to play shows and have people come listen to my music. That’s really nice. I mean, it’s weird doing promo every day. You have to talk about yourself all the time, and I don’t really like doing that. It’s just strange. I’m starting to get used to it. It’s all right.

You’re adjusting. How’s tour going so far with Ellie?
It’s fun. The crowds are big. She’s cool. I think I managed to convert her into a platform shoe-lover. She tried on my Buffalo platforms and was like, Oh my god, these are amazing!

How would you compare the experience of performing at big venues versus small?
Playing big venues is always less personal. Like, when I was doing the Coldplay tour, there were, like, seven screens. Only the front, like, five rows can see you up close. But, in a club it’s wild. You can taste everyone’s sweat, which I really like. I feel so much more alive. You can really get in touch with the crowd and make it, like, an apocalyptic, end of the world party. So, I really like that. Obviously, it’s a dream to play in front of as many people as possible, so big stages are good. But, when I have my own massive shows, I want the walls and ceilings and floors to be made of screens. So you’re in a screen box. And it’s, like, my favorite videos and mash-ups of my favorite movies playing. It’d be a mindfuck.

Do you watch Girls?
Yeah! Like that artist [Booth Jonathan]’s thing. Exactly like that, except on a massive scale.

That’s also, as you know, the episode featuring the song you wrote, performed by Icona Pop.
That was really cool. I’m a big Lena Dunham fan. I feel like she’s this sexy, hilarious, fierce super-girl. So, it was really cool seeing her singing that song. It was quite funny.

Is Hannah your favorite character on the show?
I don’t know. I also really like Adam. And I really like Shoshanna. And I love to hate Jessa, because I know so many people like that and they’re so frustrating.

Do you have a lot of super-fans?
I do, actually. They’re all sweet, but they’re crazy. It’s cute, though. They’re all young. They message me all the time. Like, everyday. It freaks me out that my music can mean that much to someone. I didn’t have that. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have had the power to tell them, because I didn’t have Twitter. Now, everyday, you can build up this false relationship in your mind. It’s scary. It’s mad.

I’d agree with that. After all this, the journey so far, what do your parents think?
They’re proud. Whenever I’m in London they’ll come to my show. They’re really supportive. They took me to the raves when I was younger, came with me and were really cool. I’m really thankful for that, actually.

That’s awesome. I imagine a lot of parents wouldn’t be as nurturing when it comes to their young daughter rocking the sometimes seedy rave scene. You also dress pretty provocatively. From where does your aesthetic sensibility derive?
I’m really inspired by movies. The Craft. Clueless. Empire Records. I just love that nineties aesthetic. I like basics, grungy stuff. I’m a big fan of the Spice Girls. Some of their music videos are my favorites. Like, “Say You’ll Be There.” I feel like I came through the third wave of the club kids in London. I was watching Party Monster, finding out who Michael Alig was. Part of me will always be interested in that world. DIY, but high fashion at the same time.

So, do you have a dream collaboration?
I’d love to work with Bjork. She’s incredible. I admire everything she does. Her voice is like butter. So angry but so sweet and beautiful at the same time. I think she’s wonderful.  

Whose music are you really into right now?
Jai Paul. I’ve always been a big fan of his. Kitty Pryde. I think she’s really cute. I love her lyrics. I always listen to the same stuff on repeat. Like, Uffie, Kate Bush, The Cure. Robert Smith is, like, my hero.

Last but not least, what would you be doing if not this?
I’d be crying probably.