After opening for Maroon 5 on their sell-out tour earlier this year, rising Australian indie pop singer/songwriter CXLOE has gone from strength to strength.
She took time out of her rehearsals for her first solo tour to talk to auspOp guest writer Chris about her brand new single ‘Low Blow’, her artistic journey as an independent artist, and what she still wants to accomplish.
Q : You have two shows in Sydney and Melbourne this week, and it’s the first time you’ve had your own headlining tour.
A : It’s so weird because I’ve always felt like, ‘oh I can relax, it’s someone else’s tour!’ I can just rock up, and now it’s like I’m holding my own birthday and I’m stressing out! There’s so many variables. I’ve played at Oxford Art a few times and I love it there, but that’s been support so it’s going to be really cool doing my own show.
Q : You’ve been in rehearsals for a few weeks. How is the setlist taking shape?
A : I’ve just been to LA and I wrote heaps of new songs, so now my MD is stressing because I sent them all to him… ‘can you just slot them in there?’ Now he has to rip apart the set, fit them in and glue it all together.
It’s hard in arenas because… (she catches herself and laughs) ‘It’s hard in arenas’! I’ve played three and it wasn’t even my show! But it was hard because you can’t tell what everyone’s thinking because they’re so far away. At Oxford Art, I will be able to tell quick smart if someone’s enjoying it or not! It will be market research doing that.
Q : What’s the setup for a CXLOE gig? How do you fuse the electronic side of your music with a live concert experience?
A : The drummer has triggered pads as well, so any drums that are electronic he’ll play. If there’s a synth line, it will run through the keyboard. So it’s all being played live, which is crazy! I want it to still feel live.
My MD plays electric guitar as well, so we have two organic instruments, guitar and drums. My keys player is incredible. He is insane! He has to emulate what some of the producers I’ve worked with in LA have done, and he picks it up so fast.
Q : Will there be any surprises in there?
A : I’m figuring out a cover right now. Maybe Billie Eilish… but we’ll see. I remember when we were practising for Maroon 5 we had a few songs and we were like ‘ooh, that felt really not right’ so you have to switch them up. When you play a cover, people love that because it’s something everyone will like. Most of the time it will be what they don’t know, so I want to give them something they can sing along with.
Q : I don’t think you’ll have any problem with that now that you have five singles to your name, including your new track ‘Low Blow’. Tell me about that song.
A : ‘Low Blow’ I did with a producer called Andrew Wells. He does Bebe Rexha’s stuff, Meghan Trainor’s stuff. He did 5SOS’ ‘Want You Back’. He’s incredible. He did this one and I wrote it with another writer called Johnny Price. It’s really catchy, but it’s still quite dark – all the sonics of it are really dark.
It’s got all the elements of a song I’m loving at the moment, like when it drops out and switches. I don’t know whether it’s going to be more Triple J or more commercial, but we’ll just throw it out there and see.
Q : What’s the lyric about? It’s very on brand for you, emotionally.
A : It’s got sensual insinuations, but it doesn’t have to be… It’s about any relationship, when someone hits you below the belt when you never saw it coming. Like when someone lies behind your back and it feels like someone kicked you in the guts. It refers to being with someone and they only want you when they want you, but that’s how I felt the situation with the labels went too.
The lyrics say ‘stupid of me to get into this with all my high hopes’. One minute they’re on you, and then they’re like ‘nah actually, just kidding’. It’s still got that manic vibe that a lot of my songs have. It’s one of my favourites, lyrically. I love it.
Q : It’s been two years since your debut single ‘Tough Love’ came out. What did all the singles along the way mean to you in terms of your development as an artist?
A : If you look at the trajectory and each song, it says everything about me. ‘Tough Love’ was about me trying to fit into the industry and speaking up for myself. I looked young, so I felt like nobody really took me seriously.
‘Monster’ was about LA just taking me and spitting me out, hanging out with the wrong people, trying to make friends… you know, you hear all about it.
Then ‘Show You’ was next. That was not so much a journey song, but I really wanted to write a pop hit. I’d wanted to do it for a while and I was being really inspired by Tove Styrke. I wanted to do something brighter, and I did that with Maroon 5 so that was a period in itself.
And then I’d been in LA for a few years and I was finding it really hard to balance everything – that was the next single ‘I Can’t Have Nice Things’. It was like, I’m in LA and I’ve made it out of that weird period where I don’t know who my friends are, now I’m actually enjoying myself, but now I just don’t know how to balance everything back home!
Q : If you look at your song lyrics, they have that classic pop sensibility with some cheeky double entendres, but the actual narrative of what you are writing these songs about is very personal, and so authentic to your lived experience.
A : I want it to be deeper, but I want to be relatable. You want someone to connect to it, but then you also want someone to be like ‘ooh, is this how she’s feeling?’ because then you let people into your life. When I go to a concert, I want to hear the artist talk – I want to hear their voice.
So getting that balance is hard. But even with ‘Low Blow’, everyone’s been hurt before. It’s relatable, but it’s also quite personal to me. I want to always be really raw.
Q : What’s the plan from here? Is there more new music coming?
A : Everything can change like that, but what I’m planning right now is to do a body of work. There’s a few other cool songs that I’m really excited about. There’s one called ‘Sick’. The sentiment is ‘I want you to make me sick with love’. Everything I say is very dramatic! That’s how I twist my lyrics so they’re a little more intense and edgier.
I’ll always come in with a plethora of titles. It’s funny because ‘Show You’ was my biggest song, but it was the most vanilla title. I toyed around with changing the title of that for so long. But I’m glad the song went really well – I think I made the right choice!
Q : How important is the visual side of things for you? That’s been a real strength, even from ‘Tough Love’. The video for that was really striking, especially as someone who had known you from years ago I remember thinking ‘oh my God, she’s grown up now!’
A : Visuals are really important to me. Moreso for me, aesthetics in costuming excites me because that’s the sort of thing I love. I want people to be able to see my music visually. I love acting as well, so putting the two together is really fun.
With being independent and budgets… if you go too over the top, it’s just headed for disaster. A lot of my videos have been in one space, and then you can create different worlds out of that in post-production. We shot ‘Show You’ then ‘I Can’t Have Nice Things’ on the one day! We were like, ‘cool! Next one!’
Q : You’ve done the Maroon 5 tour in major venues here in Australia, and you’ve played at the iconic venue The Roxy in LA and the annual ‘G’Day USA’ event. What are your other ambitions when it comes to live performances?
A : Oh my gosh. I think the Troubadour would be a really cool venue. I’d love to play at the Hollywood Bowl – that would be amazing. I’m looking at booking supports over there, so that’s what we’re working on. Obviously Australia and the US is where I want to base myself, so that’s the next move.
Q : What does the rest of 2019 hold for CXLOE?
A : Do the headline shows, some festival lineups around the summer period, and then just release a bunch of music. When ‘Show You’ came out it went so well that we couldn’t really cut it off, so by the end of it there was a huge break after ‘Show You’. I have so much new music and I want to get it out. We’ve nearly got all the songs lined up.
Q : As a Sydney girl, the Oxford Art Factory show will be a real homecoming for you, I imagine. There’ll be a lot of friends and family in the crowd.
A : I’m so lucky, because you can’t lift off without support. It will be a fun celebration, I think. ‘We made it, let’s just have a fun show!’ My support is Troye Sivan’s brother, his name’s Tyde. So it will be very cool. I’m excited!
‘Low Blow’ is available now. CXLOE’s ‘I Can’t Have Nice Things’ tour plays at Oxford Art Factory in Sydney tonight and Howler in Melbourne tomorrow night.