Charli XCX Dishes It All With ALMA
The bestie and powerhouse pop artists talk to V about Charli's new mixtape, their raucous ways, and how they work together.
The bestie and powerhouse pop artists talk to V about Charli's new mixtape, their raucous ways, and how they work together.
Text: Jake Viswanath
Charli XCX's inventive new mixtape Pop2, appropriately her second of the year, features a slew of top pop girls like Carly Rae Jepsen and Tove Lo and exciting up-and-comers on the music scene like Kim Petras and Pabllo Vittar. But perhaps no collaborator is closer to the pop star than ALMA, the lime-headed artist that brings her own fire to pop and works constantly along Charli to bring it to life. The duo became fast friends in and out of the studio, doing regular writing sessions followed by major hard partying sessions wherever in the world they may be. Charli even directed the video for Alma’s latest single, “Phases,” a party in itself.
Their most recent collaboration comes in the form of “Out of My Head,” a bouncy ode to love addiction with fellow pop songbird Tove Lo, from Pop2, that hits all the right spots. And even if they’re singing of despair, they sound like they’re having the time of their lives, just like they do in any situation together. We linked the duo back together from opposite ends of the world (Charli in LA, ALMA in her home country of Finland) so they could chat about their work, favorite memories, and just how crazy they can get on a Monday, exclusively to V. Read the chat below.
CHARLI XCX: Oh, hey, ALMA.
CHARLI XCX: How are you?
ALMA: I’m great. I’m home chilling.
CHARLI XCX: Oh, you’re in Finland?
How cold is it right now?
ALMA: Finland is very cold. There is snow. Very dark, but very much fun.
That’s awesome. I always like to go back to the beginning, so how did you guys first meet and become friends?
CHARLI XCX: We met, tell me if I’m wrong, ALMA, we met at this really weird showcase in Sweden I think. That’s right, right?
CHARLI XCX: It was this Warner Music thing and it was pretty dry, like, it wasn’t the most awesome night ever
ALMA: No. No.
CHARLI XCX: [laughs] but ALMA was there with her sister and they played and then I played afterwards, and I just remember for all of my show, they were the two craziest people in a very non-crazy audience and they stood out because of their hair and they were just having a fucking good time. And we met in the dressing room afterwards, and we just kind of said hi. We were like, “Hey, what’s up?” It was pretty brief, but then afterwards – when did we meet after that? Because I feel like we just saw each other constantly for months. I just feel like I was with you all the time. What happened after that?
ALMA: Yeah. I don’t know. We saw [each other] in L.A., we were both working in L.A.
CHARLI XCX: Oh yeah.
ALMA: And then we had a session and then we made those songs. And from then on, we’ve just been writing and partying and we played many shows together and festivals. So then we just became friends.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, I guess it’s weird. You were hanging out in my house without me. I just would go and someone would be like, “Oh, ALMA was here,” and I would have just missed her because we have a studio here, so there’s always people doing sessions. But I think the funniest part –
ALMA: I didn’t even know that it was your apartment. When I was doing the song, it was like, “That is Charli’s apartment,” and I was like, “What? Charli XCX’s apartment? What the f*ck? Okay, nice.”
CHARLI XCX: So, yeah, it’s been awhile. We’ve been hanging.
I remember following your Instagram story and you guys were always just doing something. You were on a boat in a swamp at one point if I’m remembering correctly.
CHARLI XCX: [laughs] That was crazy. That was in Finland. I went over to Finland for this festival and ALMA was also playing and that’s when we kind of jumped on each other’s stages and we partied so hard that weekend. We were going to clubs and kicking the DJ off the stage and we were taking over, even though we can’t really DJ that well. But, the boat thing was this...
ALMA: Yeah because we were making “Phases,” we were writing the bridge or whatever, and the studio was in like a cottage flat in Finland, but we needed to take this very weird boat thing, which was a boat. It was like a plastic thing which had a motor and I felt, I can’t remember that –
CHARLI XCX: No, when we got on that lake, it was just a piece of wood with a motor. We all sat on it, that one to go across to the summer house, which is where we were recording.
ALMA: That’s a very Finnish thing. That’s not even a big thing. Everybody has those kinds of things. People that don’t have boats have those kind of things. It’s easy.
CHARLI XCX: I was into it. It was cool. That was a party.
ALMA: Yeah. It was a bit dangerous.
I love that you guys made something that was so Finnish and potentially dangerous into a massive party. So, let’s talk about “Phases” itself. You directed the music video, Charli.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. ALMA kind of asked me, did you? Or did I suggest it? I don’t remember. I think you asked me.
ALMA: I asked you and then you said when we were making the song in Finland, I said, “Would you do it?” because you had crazy ideas while we were making the song and then you got back like, “Hey, actually, I really want to do it,” and I was like, “Fuck yes!”
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. I had so much fun doing that because I haven’t really [directed]. I directed “Boys” and I have directed a video for RAYE, but that’s kind of it, actually being behind the camera and doing sh*t. So, you know, I was definitely nervous because ALMA is signed to a major label. There’s expectations of what is to come out of a music video and I know that labels aren’t sometimes going to trust me over a director who’s directed like a hundred pop videos on that budget, so, I get it. But I think everyone was pretty chill, actually. Like, it wasn’t super, super crazy. I think everyone was happy, which is cool –
ALMA: I think more than happy.
CHARLI XCX: Great. But for me it was cool just because I feel like I know ALMA so well, that it was very easy to be able to get her vibe. Like, I don’t know if I could do a music video for anyone. I feel like if I’m ever going to have to do more videos, it would have to be for somebody that I know really well, like I understand their personality and I really understand what they want, and because I have a hard time connecting with people, that’s only going to come with someone that I’ve actually hung out with. And we’ve hung out so much that it made sense. I felt like I was really able to understand her vision and what she wanted. So, it was cool. I think it was really easy and I think we worked really well together.
ALMA: It was maybe the first time when I really felt comfortable in front of the camera, because I usually don’t like photo shoots, and I hate music videos. I just don’t, they’re not my vibe, but with Charli, it was like, we were just hanging, we were just partying. And because you know who I am and you know that I don’t like to pose and I don’t like to stand and blah blah blah, it was just very natural. And I just did what I usually do, just party and do my stupid hand moves.
CHARLI XCX: [laughs] Yeah.
ALMA: A dab!
CHARLI XCX: A dab, yeah. I was like, “ALMA, you can’t dab that much in the video! You can dab like once or twice,” and she was like, “Okay, okay.” Yeah. That was good.
ALMA: It was very hard actually.
Was it a party vibe on set like it was in the video, or was it more work than what we see?
CHARLI XCX: It did really get crazy at the end. I like broke the set because I was getting everyone to run backwards and forwards and the roof kind of fell down on everyone. It got really fucking crazy at the end. It was a mess. Like, ALMA and her sister were covered in champagne and cake and it was really cool.
ALMA: Yeah, it was a party. And people afterwards, everybody was like, “Where should we go? We need to go to clubs.” And we went actually, me and my sister, we went to this club with some cast members.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. We had a party.
What has been your guys’ favorite memory together?
ALMA: I really liked when you visited in Finland.
CHARLI XCX: That’s my memory, too! That’s the same!
ALMA: Yeah because Finland is chill. When you’re in Finland, it’s always very relaxed and people are nice and it’s a very isolated place, you know? I feel like if we’re in L.A. or we are in New York or whatever, it’s always kind of busy and blah blah blah, but in Finland, we were just hanging and having a good time and partying.
CHARLI XCX: I really loved that trip as well. Like, going to Finland because we did chill and hang – and what’s that burger place? Hesburger? We went there.
ALMA: Yeah, Hesburger.
CHARLI XCX: Hesburger – shout out. That was pretty good. But we also really f*cking partied so hard one night. It was crazy, you were crazy. It was wild. Where were we? Where was that?
ALMA: That was in the middle of the city. Yeah, it was just a big random club, a good indie club.
CHARLI XCX: But that wasn’t in Helsinki though, was it? That was in, like –
ALMA: No, no, no, Turku.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, Turku. That was crazy, we partied so hard. I ended up in the f*cking park at 7 a.m. with ALMA’s sister and all these Finnish rappers. Like, it was really wild.
ALMA: I don’t remember much from that night.
So, “Out Of My Head,” the first single from this mixtape, features both of you guys and Tove Lo, how was that experience in the studio for you guys?
CHARLI XCX: Well, this song actually came out of a session that we were originally doing for ALMA for her record. We were in L.A. and we were writing with Sophie at her house. It was just me, ALMA, and Sophie, and we just hung out there. We did a couple of ideas, it was a pretty chill session. We were just there kind of like –
ALMA: We made lots of, like ten ideas.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, we made a lot.
ALMA: Yeah. This one was just I think our favorite.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, totally. And then Sophie put this together and sent it to me and sent it to ALMA and I was like, “This is crazy, dude! Like, this is great!” and I feel like you were always from the beginning, you were like, “This is cool, but maybe this isn’t my song, you know?” So, I asked whether I could have it and you were like, “Yeah, you can have it. That’s cool.” [laughs] and then because this one was actually maybe the first thing that was touched on for the mixtape. This one was done a long time ago, maybe earlier this year, there was no mixtape even in my head at this point. But then there was and I was listening to the song and I was like, “F*ck, we have to put this song on the mixtape,” so I was like, “Maybe we could get Tove on it.” I asked ALMA if she would be cool with that and she said "yeah" and so then I asked Tove and she loved the song. And basically, Tove wrote the verse lyrics and all the melodies were done by me and ALMA and Sophie and we all actually cut it separately because we were all traveling, but then we all met, you and Tove met at her birthday party, which was the beginning of November. And that was a crazy night, that was really crazy and we just kind of solidified it.
ALMA: Yes, one of the best L.A. nights ever.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. It was crazy. She had like a nipple castle plate, like nipple cover glitter bar, so you could put glitter on your tits and stuff, and the DJ was so wild. It was really good. And I remember actually, ALMA, you saying to me, “She’s like one of the nicest pop stars I have ever met,” and it’s so true. She really is.
ALMA: Yeah. Like, you never know how a pop star is going to be in real life. Sometimes they’re a bit annoying, you know?
CHARLI XCX: [laughs]
ALMA: Tove is so freaking nice. She’s like a normal human being, you know? She’s super nice and I love that about her. So nice. But you never know.
CHARLI XCX: She’s special for sure.
There’s so many collaborators on this mixtape. Who are your dream collaborators? Who is left on the list?
CHARLI XCX: ALMA, you can go first.
ALMA: You know, I think Sia would be sick. Like, the biggest female pop star ever. She would be sick. Or, come on, Rihanna or Kanye.
CHARLI XCX: [laughs] Or who?
ALMA: or Drake or Kanye. But Sia would be – Sia is the first.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. I mean I’m into all of those ideas for sure. For me, I try not to think about collaborations as I feel like some artists think about collaborations, like, “Okay, this year I have to do one collaboration and it’s going to be a really big deal. It’s going to be the single, blah blah blah.” I hate thinking about collaborations like that because I just want to do them all the time. I just love collaborating with people. If I could do a collaboration for every single f*cking song I release, I probably would because not only is it more fun for me, it just also means that you don’t have to go and do interviews alone, you don’t have to be in a music video alone. It can also be just a really nice comfort thing to be able to hang out with your friend.
ALMA: You know what, Charli, I’ve learned from you that, also. Usually when I started, I was thinking like, “People just make features when it’s like, say five features, six features,” but I think since I’ve been hanging with you, I understood how important it is to collaborate with anyone. It doesn’t even have to be a big name if you justvibe with someone, then it’s like, “Let’s do it.” That’s what I like.
CHARLI XCX: Totally. I think now more than ever, you know, there doesn’t have to be all this pressure on the music that you release. You know, we’re in a climate in the music industry where you can just put cool songs out. It doesn’t have to be the biggest song ever. It can just be a cool thing, it can be for fun. It’s all about, letting people know who you’re into and who you want to support. I think that’s cool. Sorry, I didn’t really answer the question. But, I’ll just say Rihanna anyway because ALMA said it.
That’s okay actually. Obviously for many people, the music industry can be an almost sometimes uncomfortable place depending on who you are – do you see collaborations as a comfort zone in a sense?
CHARLI XCX: I mean I do definitely because it’s like, I don’t hate doing sh*t on my own – I love doing sh*t on my own, actually – but just certain things I would rather not do alone, like red carpets. It’s so practical. Honestly, the reason I like collaborating is because I love working with other artists and I love being inspired by them, but just on a practical level, doing boring sh*t with fun people always makes that boring sh*t more fun, you know? So it’s a practical thing and like a creative thing
So how did this mixtape come to life? What made you want to make another mixtape?
CHARLI XCX: I mean it just kind of happened. I’m working on an album, but I’m not even really sure if I’m going to put an album out. I mean I will, but I don’t know whether it will be a 10-track album with like two lead singles, I don’t know how I’m going to release stuff. I released Number 1 Angel earlier in the year and then I released “Boys” and I just felt like it would be cool for me to make something before the end of the year to release that really gets people excited, but also satisfies my creative brain because I work in the studio all the time.
ALMA: You're writing so much and work on so many songs and I think it’s part of you to just put things out.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, totally.
ALMA: It’s hard to put just one single out and then put just one album out. I think when you’re a songwriter, you just make songs every day and then you end up with a hundred songs and you’re like, “Okay, what should I do with these?”
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. Like, even just thinking about the songs that you and I have done together, we’ve done so many. We’ve done like an album. We’re in the studio all the time and I think ALMA is someone that I have begun to collaborate with quite frequently. Also A.G. Cook is someone that I collaborate with all the time. Sofor me and him, it’s very easy for us to just be like, “Okay, we’re going to fucking do this, let’s do it.” So just before I went on tour, we were like, “We should do another mixtape. That would be cool,” and we had two nights in London where we did some ideas for stuff, and then I went away on tour and he flew out to New York and we had like four or five days in New York, which was just so hectic. We were in the studio every day until 4 a.m. just banging things out. And then he went home and I went on tour and I had been cutting certain vocals, and that’s when we starting hitting up everyone else like, “Come and do a feature on this. Do a verse. You know, write the chorus, whatever." So it was kind of over two months and it was a lot of hustling, but it happened, and honestly I wouldn’t have been able to do this without A.G. He really is so important to this process. He really, every time, puts his life on hold to really make this music the most amazing possible and I really thank him for that. He’s really on another level.
ALMA: Yeah and he is cute. Cute as could be.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. What a cutie. What a cutie.
ALMA: And has great dance moves.
CHARLI XCX: Really good. [laughs] Yeah, that’s true.
So is there a song for either of you are excited that stands out specifically?
CHARLI XCX: I’m really happy that our song came out definitely. But I’m really excited for people to hear this song I’ve done with CupcakKe, Brooke Candy, and Pabllo Vittar just because I feel like those three such gay icons, they have huge LGBT fanbases. I don’t think I’ve played it for you, ALMA, but the song is really aggressive, people are either going to love it or hate it, so I’m really interested to see how that one goes down because it’s really f*cking crazy to listen to. So, who knows? People might be like, “Ugh, turn it off.” I don’t know.
ALMA: I haven’t heard the song and I’m a big fan of CupcakKe and Brooke Candy, so I’m very excited.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, I’ll send it to you.
And one song I was intrigued about was called “Track 10.” Is that actually the name of the song?
CHARLI XCX: That’s the name. That’s also maybe one of my favorite songs, that’s a special song. It feels like a song that could be a really big pop song, but we f*cked up and made it crazy. But I love it.
Let’s say you guys are the first two members of a super girl group. Who are the other girls that you would bring on if you could?
ALMA: I would say MØ and Tove maybe, because they’re both very nice. I like their music and then when we were hanging, it would be no drama, just chill.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah. I feel that. Those two would be pretty good. I would also throw in, if we could pick anyone, I would also probably pick Rihanna.
ALMA: You know who we’re going to pick? Cardi B.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, Cardi B! I would love to f*cking hang with her. She’s just such a f*cking bad ass. Let’s just have like five Cardi B's in one band. That would be tight.
ALMA: Yes, that’s it.
Do you have a friendship bucket list of crazy shit that you need to do?
ALMA: Bali, New Year’s Eve.
CHARLI XCX: Oh, yeah, are you coming?
CHARLI XCX: Great. So, that’s going to happen. We’re going to go to Bali together and party.
ALMA: More festivals and, you know, maybe go on tour together sometime.
CHARLI XCX: Yeah, touring would be fun. Definitely. I actually think we should take up a really f*cking random hobby like horse riding [laughs], like, some really stupid hobby like ice-skating or pottery together. That would be kind of weird if we both suddenly got really into pottery.
ALMA: Or surfing.
CHARLI XCX: Surfing. Yeah, totally. I’ve done it. I did it once. I was so bad.
It’s intimidating. So, for both of you, what's next?
ALMA: I’m going to release an album and I’m going to release something jus, before the album. I just want to put out music, just like Charli did, because I’ve been making so many tunes. These couple years I’ve been in the studio like every week, so I just want to put out music, but an album definitely is coming next year.
CHARLI XCX: I’m going to write for like January and February. I think ALMA and I are going to write for a little bit more then.
You guys have mentioned how much you’ve written together, has there been any memories in the studio or like a light bulb moment?
CHARLI XCX: I feel like there’s been like good days and bad days, not bad days as in we hated each other, but just like days where we didn’t come up with anything great, but then there have been days, like, we’ve done this one song – ALMA, you know the song I’m talking about that you love, that we both love. We were actually in Suffolk and I rented this big crazy house. We all went down there for a week and just wrote songs and there was this one song that we made and we wrote it in maybe like ten minutes. It was just flowing and it’s just like us. I don’t want to say the name of it because I don’t want it to get out there, but it’s cool. Maybe something will happen. Who knows?
That’s awesome. Any final words?
ALMA: “Out Of My Head.” Go listen. Also, go listen to “Phases.” We got the music video out.
CHARLI XCX: [laughs] You’re so good at that. Whenever anyone asks that, I’m like, “No,” and you’re just like, “Phases! Out now! Out now!” [laughs] Yeah, what she said basically. I just want to say I’m really happy that this song has come out. I’m really happy that we’re on a song together, that people can hear this side from us. And I f*cking love you, dude, you’re the best.
ALMA: F*cking love you. I commented on your photo that I love you.
CHARLI XCX: I know, I saw. I woke up this morning and I saw that. Thank you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.