This Conversation was wholly-produced during quarantine. Since we obviously couldn't send over a photographer, we asked Allie to shoot some of her own.
My legal name is Alexandra Hughes. I never say that in interviews, though. No one has ever really called me Alexandra, except for doctors. I’ve been called Allie as long as I can remember.
The whole concept behind putting an “X” in my name was to give myself some freedom and anonymity. It was a way of declaring myself an independent individual and that I didn’t consider myself part of any group. I wanted to make my own “X” group.
I think the way that you present yourself to the world—whether it be through the way you dress, the gender that you identify with, or the name that you give yourself—is a really powerful thing. I think it’s a statement to the world that you, well, how do I say it? It’s one thing to know something inside of yourself, but when you actually declare it to the world, I think it’s really powerful. It was for me.
I grew up just outside of Toronto in a pretty normal, upper-middle class, white way. No one in my family is an artist. But I was always an eccentric kid. I used to get bullied for being weird when I was younger. I went to a performing arts school in Michigan called Interlochen Arts Academy for high school, and that’s where I got into musical theater. I always loved singing.
For a long time, my whole artistic journey was about trying to find my place. In some ways, I’m still doing that now. I did a few musicals after college–in the ensemble and stuff—and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I felt really underutilized and like I had way more creativity to offer than what was being used of me in a musical, where I was just learning some dance moves and singing the background vocals.
So I started writing very seriously. I moved back to Toronto and met a lot of cool artists. I began recording and playing with other musicians. All of a sudden my mind was opened to this whole other world. Toronto had such a strong indie rock scene at the time, like Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, and some of the folks from Broken Social Scene. That became my friend group.
The whole concept behind putting an “X” in my name was to give myself some freedom and anonymity.
I also started going to these free jazz concerts at the University of Toronto. I began listening—actually listening–to music and to the different parts of music, not just what the vocalist was doing. It was really an important time for me, and it completely changed how I thought about music, how I thought about myself as a musician, how I wrote, and how I recorded. I was looking for my sound. I was experimenting. By the time I got to what people now hear as Catch, that’s when I felt like I had a sound. It was also time for me to get out of Toronto and get to L.A. I realized that for pop music, I was probably better off in Los Angeles—and I was. I wish that I could have stayed in Toronto, but even though I had such a great scene and such great friends there, my career was going nowhere.
Cape God, my latest record, is very much about my adolescence. About being an outsider. I was never considered attractive by the boys in my class. I was never sought after. I was never a “pretty” girl. I was always just trying to find acceptance. I wasn’t that kid who didn’t give a shit, who hated everyone and just focused on their art. I was constantly trying to find acceptance. I wanted people to like me, for better or for worse. I’ll forever think of it as the record I released during the pandemic—how could I not? I’m still very proud of it.
It was in high school that I became very ill with an autoimmune disease. I still have it today, it’s just way more under control. But in high school, I was very ill. I was in and out of the hospital, and I was very ashamed and embarrassed about it. I didn’t tell anyone—not even my closest friends—what was going on. As a result, I was very small and sickly-looking. People would comment on how I looked constantly, like, “I could break you. You’re so tiny. Why are you so tiny? Let me see under your shirt. What are you hiding?”
I became a master of hiding my body with clothes, and I think that’s how I got into my aesthetic. I started to understand that I could deflect attention that I didn’t want with how I presented myself. I would experiment with makeup, as well. I learned the importance of silhouette quite early, and how I could hide the things I wanted to hide. All of that definitely had an influence on the visual choices I make now.
I became a master of hiding my body with clothes, and I think that’s how I got into my aesthetic.
I’ve always wanted to create my own worlds, probably because the world or the reality that I actually lived in was hurting me. I’m all about fantasy and the idea of falling down a rabbit hole. I don’t think I’ll ever be an artist that is dressed casually in a realistic setting in my album art. It’s always got to have that sort of elevated surrealist feeling. I have a strong affinity to the queer community—95% of my audience is queer—as I like to explore identity and truth. Those are the through lines in all my work, though my visuals and my phonics tend to evolve drastically from record to record.
Creative control is really important to me. I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be someone like Selena Gomez, to be picked to be in a TV show when you’re a teenager, and then have all these people telling you how they’re going to make you rich and build your brand as long as you do this and that. No offense to Selena Gomez—I actually think she’s a really cool girl. But you know what I mean, that Disney experience? I just wonder what that’s like. I want it and I don’t want it at the same time. It seems like it could be freeing, like it could free me up to focus exclusively on the creative side.
If you ask anyone who I work with, they’d be like, “Allie’s a drill sergeant and she’s way too controlling. She’s involved in too many aspects of the business side.” I’ve tried to change that and then realized that I’m never going to be great at changing that. I’m almost resigned to it now, and so I just focus on finding new and innovative ways to manage my stress, including cannabis. I didn’t become a believer—at least in the medicinal sense—until a few years ago.
I started smoking weed in college. Well, my first time was in high school, but it was that typical first time experience where you think you’re high but you’re not. That was just before I left to go to that art boarding school—the policies were super strict there. You were instantly expelled if you were caught smoking weed. Alcohol was easier to sneak into campus because you could have your friends mail it to you. People used to take Robitussin back then as a drug. That’s a whole other story.
But I didn’t smoke weed at that school because it was just too risky. And then when I went to college, I had this big health awakening. After all those difficult years in high school, I decided to try alternative methods. I changed my diet and I stopped taking all the drugs for my autoimmune disease. I also stopped drinking alcohol at the same time. That’s why I started smoking weed: I’d be going to parties with my friends and sometimes I just wanted to not be sober. And then the next day I would feel so good. I was like, This is so great. I don’t have a hangover, I don’t feel depressed, my stomach isn’t hurting. I had a great time last night, and actually feel more relaxed today.
[Cannabis] has never failed me. It just always gives me relief.
But I still thought of weed as a way to party. I had friends who were potheads and they would tell me that it was therapeutic, but I didn’t really believe it. I was of the mind that even though it made me feel good and relaxed the next day, it was probably still a bit toxic, and it’s probably not good for inflammation. I just wasn’t doing the research. I didn’t think about it or care enough.
One summer a few years ago, I had a really bad flare up and I was bedridden for a couple of months in so much pain. I had a friend who was also very ill at the time. She was suggesting all these different things to try, and one of them was THC-CBD softgels. Oh god, it was just such a huge relief. All my symptoms went down. I finally had a break from all the pain and anguish of what I was going through. I was laughing again, and I slept through the night, which I could never do before because I woke up in pain.
I started reading about cannabis and I realized that there weren’t really any negative side effects. Since then it’s been like a practice for me, especially when I’m stressed or jet lagged, or when I have bad inflammation or a flare-up. It has never failed me. It just always gives me relief. The act of smoking is not something that I really enjoy. If I’m out socially and someone passes me a joint, I’ll partake. But for me, it’s about the tinctures and oils, and the softgels and tea that have become a part of my routine. It’s just helped me in so many different ways.
I put out my album, Cape God, at the end of February. My boyfriend had been taking COVID-19 really seriously from the first news that we got at the end of January. So I was definitely aware of it, but I was also moving full steam ahead because this album was so important to me. I put everything I had into it. I went out to Europe for Paris Fashion Week and did a little bit of promo in Berlin, Hamburg, and London. Being out there as the situation just got worse and worse—there was such a sense of foreboding.
I remember flying back to L.A., and already there was barely anyone on my flight. There was barely anyone in the international terminal. I did one last interview at Apple Music, and that was the day that my tour was officially canceled. I had to pretend it was still happening. Then everything came to a halt.
I’ve mostly adjusted to this new normal. Some days it’s difficult, but most days, I enjoy it. It’s just my personal reality in this apartment that I’m in. It’s given me more opportunity to be creative and to reflect. I haven’t been able to really sit down with myself and my own feelings in a while. I’m a bit scared for it to go back to “normal” as well, because I don’t know what that’s going to look like. The world was going so fast. I don’t think any of us, as a culture, quite realized how fast. It’s almost a sign that we need to slow down. My hope is that after we come out of this, we all continue to go at 50% or 75% speed. But I guess we’ll just have to see.
My hope is that after we come out of this, we all continue to go at 50% or 75% speed.
There is definitely a silver lining in that I always feel this immense pressure, and that’s been lifted for the first time in six years. That is a nice feeling. It’s been very liberating to have more time. Like I said, I’m so involved in the business side that I get really stuck in my inbox and not in my creative brain. I’m producing my own music for the first time in a while. I’ve been learning Premiere Pro, learning how to edit, and making content at home. I’m also developing an idea for a podcast. All of that just feels so good. I haven’t been able to feel like this for years.
So that’s the silver lining for me, and it’s a true silver lining. Financially, it’s been difficult for all of us. As for Cape God—my baby, my record that I really believe in—it’s been a bit heartbreaking to not be able to promote it and to not be able to sing it in front of my wonderful, devoted fans. But in the grand scheme of the world, that is a very minor problem and people are going through way, way, way worse than that. I hope that I get to do it eventually. I just have to wait it out for now.