“Boom” is an indie dance-pop hipster's dream. “Brand New Bitch” is a mainstream dance-pop clubgoer's dream. On the surface that seems like a bit of a leap.
It's actually more of a leap, because the original of “Boom” wasn't a dance song; it was a really down-tempo, jazzy lounge-y kind of song. I started as a songwriter in the industry, and I wrote that record in Toronto on guitar. It's very different from what I'm doing now, mainly because it was kind of the beginning of my evolution, just kind of figuring stuff out. Then I moved to LA and I started really getting into the electronic scene, and I did a dubstep song early on, before Britney did dubstep [laughs, seemingly unaware of "Freakshow"]. It was really cool, just a learning process for me, just figuring out how to put my vibe and my kind of swag over what was going on. So it was pretty natural. I mean I wrote “Boom”...it came out in 2009, but I actually wrote it two years earlier, so for me it's not such a big leap. I guess for people who hear both these records, maybe it doesn't seem like it's that far away from each other, but for me it's extremely far in the future.
Alanis Morissette started as a dance artist in Canada then found her way to the rock confessionals that you and I basically grew up on, and now you're kind of taking the lyricism and storytelling and personal aspect of that kind of music and bringing it back into dance. Can you talk a bit about your influences and the musical style you're working with on the upcoming album?
I mean, that's exactly it. I want to bring the stories and the lyric perspective that I have and that I love - in the great classic songs - and put it over up-tempo, aggressive dance music. So that's sort of the challenge, and that's what I was really aspiring to do with this record. The response to “Brand New Bitch” has been good so far, and I think it's because of just that: like, I'm not saying “Party!!! This is a dance beat so let's just party and get fucked up!” I'm talking about a breakup and a relationship and coming through that and coming from the other end of that and feeling like a brand new bitch.
I'm American but have spent a bit of time in the UK, but my readers come from literally all over the world, and it often occurs to me that my pop experience and understanding is quite different in some ways from that of, say, a Canadian like yourself. As an international artist, what do you find differs between the Canadian and American music scenes, and how does it affect your career?
I think that it affects a new artist's career less and less and less. When I was coming up, when I was 16, people weren't doing, like, Youtube shit and getting signed to fucking Usher, like Justin Bieber, you know what I mean? I think the world has become much much smaller and I kind of feel like it doesn't really matter where you are. But I felt when I was starting out that I needed to be in the States, it was all about the States, so I moved down here, got my record deal down here and started working. But in terms of how I perceive pop music? I think in Canada the one form of music that is really unknown and still is unknown – and I think it's because of the fact that we don't really have ghettos, there's not that hip-hop culture - is hip-hop music. So I don't really... even though I rap in my songs, I would never come across as an emcee or a hip-hop artist in that way. I flirt with hip-hop, but it's not really the statement that I'm trying to make.
How about in terms of an artist's career? I mean, is there a difference for opportunities in airplay and stuff like that? The single seems to be making great waves in Canada and here it's been more of a slow burn. Do you find your reception is different?
In Canada it's a little bit more like the UK in terms of radio - there's a lot of different things that are allowed on the radio; it's not just the same three artists over and over. It is a different landscape obviously, because in America you compete with the world, right? So [Canada is] less competitive. But I'm not sure why the record popped off so quickly in Canada. It really should have taken them longer because I am a new artist there, so it was kind of weird. I think it was the most added song, like with Nicki Minaj's “Super Bass” that week, and it's been in the top five, like, forever, so I think it was just one of those things where luckily radio djs started to support it and requests started coming in. But in America it's such a difficult landscape for a new artist, so what I think is really cool is I kind of have this ammunition internationally to bring to the States.
Tell me about the making of “Brand New Bitch.” Who did you work with? How did it come about?
My publisher at Sony introduced me to a really cool writer, Michel Zitron. He's from Sweden; a lot of the producers I work with are from Europe, which is why I call it a “global” pop record: I worked with people from all over the world. So we just got into the studio one day and wrote the song – it was really kind of quick and easy and immediately I felt like it was something really special - I invited all my friends to the studio and we were pumping it. Then I just felt like it needed a little bit more of a dance vibe so I gave it to this amazing new producer named J.O.B., who had just come out of the LA Riots recently and is just now getting into more pop stuff.
What were you trying to accomplish with the video, other than providing a pretty visual to support the single? I mean, you could have done anything with it, so why did you go the way you did?
Well I first started to get with the director, Hannah Lux Davis...there were a lot of females associated with my project in general, like from my band to my A&R to the mentors I've had along the way. So for that reason, we sort of gravitated towards telling a story from a female perspective. In the treatment it's kind of like I'm being “created,” which for me was a metaphor for a lot of artists in the music industry. I rebel against the creation and I go against my creator, who to me symbolizes that sort of L.A. Reid-type person who takes people and morphs them into pop stars, you know what I mean? [I laugh, hard.] So that's what it really was about: taking over from the machine and being your own artist. The title “Brand New Bitch” sort of summarizes that idea really well.
Perhaps this is inevitable in post-Gaga pop music, but the video has drawn a lot of comparisons to the work of Lady Gaga, which draws reactions accordingly depending on one's opinion of her – if they like her, they tend to like your new direction, and if they don't, you're a sellout. Is this all going to be rendered moot when the album arrives, or is this an issue you expect you'll be dealing with for some time?
Well first of all, I love her, so it's not like being compared to... I don't want to call anybody out, but it's not like being compared to Rebecca Black, so, it's cool. There's a lot of differences between me and Gaga, and yeah, definitely when you get to hear the second single, with what I'm about to roll out next, it'll be more clear. But yeah, I mean... [suddenly amused] the weird thing is that the comparisons seem to be about the way that I look more than anything, which is very strange to me, because...obviously, I'm brown...
Have you seen the video for “Yoü And I?” It has a similar thing with the operating table and...I mean, there's a reason people are comparing the two, but if you haven't seen it it must have been coincidental.
I only saw a snippet of it, I only saw her walking through a desert...so I should probably see the whole video.
Sort of a pet topic of mine is the issue of Asians in pop music, particularly how few there seem to be. I was SO excited when I discovered you, a legit pop singer of Asian descent, and your entire career is a big win in my mind. But I live in a country that is not exactly known for its hospitality towards brown people, and a pop scene that wants its Gomezes and Lopezes looking like Bollywood icons and increasingly pushes black singers toward the enclosed realm of R&B.
Well I'm not sure that America isn't kind to non-white people; I mean, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé are the biggest stars we ever had.
I was referring more to how we're kicking them out of Arizona, and such.
You mean in politics. [Sounding annoyed] I think art is the great uniter, you know? My brother works abroad and travels all over the world, and the thing that he said is “Everything is different – the food that you eat, the way that people look, the way that people dress, the culture, the way they dance, everything – but the only similar thing is pop music.” You get into a cab in any foreign country and you hear the same three songs playing over and over, so it's sort of like this universal subconsciousness of music. You could say 'you have to be beautiful to be a pop star' but then look at Adele: not that she's not beautiful but in that conventional way. I just think if your shit's hot, your shit's hot. I mean, maybe I'm an idealist but I don't think anybody cares.
You and Doctor Rosen Rosen made some great music on Girls: Volume 1. “Sex-Ed” should be a textbook example on how to invoke Madonna without ripping off Madonna.
The part that clinches it for me is the segment, with you chanting over a suddenly and decisively modern percussion beat in the midst of an otherwise 80s throwback. “Boom” also sounded exotic and had a sort of 60s James Bond vibe, but something about it was unequivocally modern. How do you do that?
I'm a great lover of music. I love pop music and I listen to all types of it, whether it's like power punk in the '90s or Tracy Chapman or Missy Elliott, or fucking Madonna, and it kind of shows when I make music because it just all kinda comes out.
What's on the horizon? When do we get to hear this album?
Well the second single [“Stand Behind the Music”] I believe is about to drop next week in Canada, which means we'll put out a viral online for it, and then I'm doing a bunch of club dates. We just played the Perez Hilton show, which was awesome.
I saw that; it looked great! How did that come about?
Perez, basically. He's been so supportive and it's awesome. I was just honored to be on a bill with Mary J. Blige; she's the most incredible performer I've ever seen.
Last question: brand new chick or brand new bitch?