Bonnaroo 2013: Charli XCX Talks Songwriting Superstardom & Stateside Success

By: Sam Lansky / June 19, 2013

This year’s line-up at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee wasn’t particularly pop-heavy, but even if it had been, Charli XCX still would have been my favorite: The alt-pop siren is an electrifying performer, a prodigious songwriter and one of the most sincerely likable people you’re liable to meet anywhere. (Yes, even at Bonnaroo.)

Sitting in the Tennessee sunshine after her performance, Charli and I covered a lot of ground — from her journey to success to the shape of the rest of her year — but most noteworthy was what she revealed about her plans to turn into a one-woman hit factory after seeing the success of her co-write with Icona Pop, the ubiquitous “I Love It”: “I’m doing some big sessions over the next two months,” she said. “It’s kind of what I’m focusing on.” Mum’s the word on which artists might be cutting her tracks, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll be pretty major.

Read on for more with Charli.

On the success of Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” which she co-wrote:

“I knew it was gonna be a hit but I didn’t know it was gonna be as big as it is. Yeah, it’s great. I’m really proud of Icona Pop as well. We did a show together like a year before ‘I Love It’ was even written and it was in London at this place called The Lexington and Icona Pop supported me, which would never happen now. But there were, like, 50 people there, and we came off stage and we were like, ‘This is amazing — this is like the best it’s gonna get!’ We were freaking out about it, and seeing everything now, it’s kind of crazy.”

On her journey over the last five years:
 
“When I was younger, I was just making songs. I was 14 — I didn’t really know who I was as a person, let alone who I was as an artist. So that whole thing was kind of me just experimenting, and then I got signed, and luckily I worked with a label who didn’t push me. They were just like, ‘You just do your thing’. Like, grow up, do what you wanna do, which was really cool. I’m glad it happened when I wanted it to happen because that’s when I had my songs. That’s when I really felt I found myself as an artist. So, I’m happy.”

On her Bonnaroo experience:
 
“It’s cool! I haven’t really seen many bands. I saw a bit of DIIV and apart from that it’s kind of been my show, and that’s it. But I wanna see The xx tonight and I wanna see Wu-Tang and Porter Robinson. It’s gonna be good, I think.”

On touring with Marina & The Diamonds:
 
“It was crazy — I feel like we have a lot of the same fans. Marina is on some Justin Bieber shit in the states. There’s kids crying and screaming and having breakdowns. When we played in LA, there were so many ambulances outside the show, people being taken out with wheelchairs and stretchers. It’s great! When I was playing in LA, we played at the Shrine. I mean, it was insane. There were like 10-year-olds getting fucking carried across the crowd. The tour’s been great and, like I said, we have very similar crowds, so it was kind of perfect for me. And she’s a great artist and a great friend so it was cool to go on tour with her.”

On what she’s doing for the rest of the year:
 
“I did a mini-headline tour this past month, but just of the East Coast. Now I’m going back to the UK and Europe doing festivals, but in September I’m coming back to the States. I’m doing a full headline tour for all of the US, which is gonna be really cool. I’m really excited about that. I really want to do this album justice, I really want to play great shows and make it amazing for people. But apart from that, just working on the next album.”

On the sound of her next record:
 
“I do have a vibe and a sound, but two months ago I wanted to record the album in India, and now I wanna record the album in France. I’m still thinking about it a lot — it’s changing everyday. All I know is the music videos are gonna be really dope: The music videos are all gonna be shot in one room and at the moment in my head, it’s gonna be inspired by Serge Gainbourg and Brigitte Bardot. It’s gonna be good.”

On her song of the summer:
 
“My song of the summer is probably [Justin Timberlake's] ‘Mirrors’. We play it all the time in the car — like when we leave a hotel we put it on. It’s the ultimate cinematic song — when it’s like [sings bit of instrumental] it’s like the end of any film. So, playing JT at the moment. I’ve also been obsessed with Tegan And Sara. That album is so good. It’s probably one of my favorite albums of the past five years. Every song is fucking amazing.”

On hitting the studio with Greg Kurstin:

“We worked together when I was 16, but I’m going back in with him to do some sessions for other artists. He is a genius, so I’m excited. He’s great. He’s brilliant.”

On collaborating with producers beyond her core team:
 
“To be honest, I’m very closed off when it comes to working with producers. I don’t really like experimenting with new people just because I’m very shy when it comes to sessions. I like keeping my ideas to myself. I wanna work with Ariel [Rechtshaid] on the next record. I’ve been working with Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow recently, and he’s great, and we might do some stuff for the new album. But apart from that, I like keeping it small unless it’s features and stuff. I don’t really like expanding my field. I like to keep it small.”

On writing more songs for other artists:
 
“Yeah — since ‘I Love It,’ that’s been a real opportunity for me. I can’t say with whom, though. But I just signed a publishing deal with Tim Blacksmith, Stargate‘s manager. Their schedule is crazy. It’s not for myself — I don’t see myself making a record with Stargate — maybe we could with other artists. But I’m writing for some people that I’ve always wanted to write for. I’m really new to this world of writing for other artists. Like one day it’s like, ‘You’re getting the next single!’ and the next day you’re not even getting on the album. But it’s crazy and it’s cool and the shit that’s happening right now behind the scenes is really great. Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have some hits with, like, three other artists. I can’t say who. I really want to tell everyone, but I can’t!”

On being a pop artist while maintaining her credibility:
 
“I think I can. With this album — I never wanted to write a hipster record. I’m grateful that Pitchfork liked what I do, but it’s a pop album. Even though it’s not a Top 40 pop album, I feel like maybe four years down the line this could be a Top 40 album. It’s just not where Top 40 music is at the moment. The aim is to write pop songs. I don’t want to compromise my artistry or my dignity: I’m gonna write pop music because the music that I write has a pop melody, but I’m not gonna do ito fucking Pitbull bullshit just to get a hit. But I feel like can do that for other people easily while I focus on making my weird pop record that might do something in a couple years’ time.”

On evolving as an artist:
 
“I feel like I evolved very naturally as a person. I feel like I’ve grown up while writing this album. Like when I was releasing stuff at the beginning I was 14, 15 — and now I’m 20, and I feel like I’ve just gone with it and grown as a person as well as an artist. It’s been very organic — and I hate when people say that because it makes it sound really unorganic. But it really has been that. Like, my label would be like, ‘Take some time out, finish school, finish whatever you wanna do, and just like grow up as a person.’ And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

On the critical reception to her album, True Romance:
 
“I know like I shouldn’t care, but it’s my first album — it’s like my baby. I fucking cared. If I had read loads of terrible reviews, I probably would’ve locked myself in a room and cried and put a gun to my head. But luckily, that didn’t have to happen. I’ve read so many great reviews. I’m obviously really happy about that because I worked really hard on this album. It’s not something that I just fucking churned out with 50 different producers in 5 minutes. It’s something I’ve worked for 5 years on with a very select group of people. I’m really proud, actually. I feel like I deserve it as well, because I’ve worked really hard and a lot of people have doubted me, which I don’t really give a fuck about, but I’m happy and I really think it’s a great record.”