CXLOE explores liberation, duality and self-acceptance on long awaited debut EP, ‘Heavy Pt. 1’
In 2017, Chloe Papandrea released her debut single as CXLOE titled ‘Tough Love’. After years spent working in the pop machine in LA, from the early days of going there by herself nearly a decade ago and not even being allowed in the room with session writers to finally finding her voice and her own sound, ‘Tough Love’ kicked off what would be a three year run of exceptional singles, unveiling the dark pop sounds we and many others instantly fell in love with. Equal parts relatable, refined and ready to combust at any moment, it was at once dark and brooding as it was electrifying, and set the scene for true domination in the years to follow.
From ‘Tough Love’, she backed it up in 2018 with ‘Monster’, proving there was plenty more going on in this project. If ‘Tough Love’ hit hard, ‘Monster’ was complete demolition. With a huge hook, a mysterious and almost-trap leaning beat and CXLOE‘s impeccable vocals, ‘Monster’ was the confirmation that there was something special here, something more than just another alt-pop project. ‘Show You’, a personal favourite, was another home run, as was ‘I Can’t Have Nice Things’ (which we premiered right here on Purple Sneakers), ‘Low Blow’, ‘Sick’ ft Gnash, and finally ‘Devil You Don’t’. All while remaining an independent artist, each single was different enough to showcase CXLOE‘s vastly superior versatility, but cohesive enough as well to fit into the bigger picture of what she was trying to portray. Each also continued to explore a duality in her artistry: she was as unafraid of emotional and real songwriting as she was of big pop moments, fusing her relatability with all she’d learned after years in LA to create something entirely her own — not to mention the 35 million streams and counting she’s amassed along the way as well.
In 2020, CXLOE finally announced a debut EP was indeed on the way. Titled Heavy Pt. 1, this EP would be her first body of work and with such an impressive catalogue of hits already under her belt, there was pressure to see if this would meet the high expectations. But, unsurprisingly for those of us who count ourselves as the CXLOE-faithful, it not only met these expectations but completely blew them out of the water. From grappling with the many forms of addiction that CXLOE and her family have battled on ’12 Steps’ to an examination of loneliness in ‘One and Lonely’; the fittingly heaving title track to the unashamed magnifying glass she takes to her swinging emotions; the hopeless devotion of ‘Plans’ or the acceptance of the fickle nature of habit on ‘Creature’, there is not a single misstep on the entire EP. Heavy Pt. 1 is so quintessentially CXLOE, succinct and cohesive, considered and refined. Representing the two sides to herself (CXLOE with her dark and deep complexity, and Chloe with her warm and organic vulnerability), this EP is not only representative of her literal journey from the early days of LA after she graduated school, but also CXLOE‘s metaphorical journey to accepting herself completely, acknowledging there is no light without dark and the two must exist together.
In just three years, CXLOE has not only elevated herself to the forefront of pop music in Australia, she’s redefined what it means to be a popstar in this country. Much like her own EP explores within herself, so too does she continue to explore duality in all that she does, continually proving she can do both. She at once straddles the alternative triple j world and commercial success, she is able to support rising rappers as well as major branded events, she can pull crowds at festivals and dominate industry events like BIGSOUND. She is unstoppable when crafting entirely relatable songs that double as pop perfection and hasn’t put a single foot wrong since the release of ‘Tough Love’ all those years ago. With Heavy Pt. 1, CXLOE cements herself not only as a superstar in the making, but as a serious force to be reckoned with and now moves into the next chapter of her journey with her most powerful weapon yet: self acceptance. And so, while it’s a cliche in any other circumstance, in this case it’s true: there is just no stopping CXLOE.
Your debut EP is finally upon us! How does it feel for this moment to be finally here?
Finally! It feels, I mean, it’s weird. It’s not how I thought it was going to be. I had lots of other kinds of plans around the EP to kind of tour it around and blah, blah, blah. I’ve had to shift that in my brain and be like, “Okay, well you’re home. You’re here, you’re doing everything by correspondence, but it’s still exciting.” It’s been a lot, but I’m really excited for it to finally be coming out because it’s been a long time coming.
How has it been revisiting some of these songs that have existed for a while now. They’re about to be out in the world. How is it having these songs that are now finally about to have this new life?
It’s weird because I do a lot of second guessing. I’m like, “Oh I’ve been living with this song for so long. Is it still good? Should it be on [the EP]?” I’ve kind of really had to just like trust that when the moment I heard it or I wrote it, I liked it, and remember that feeling because it’s very easy to go, “Oh, let’s just swap it out with something new I’ve done.” So I’m really excited for him to finally be out in the world and have the life that I’ve wanted for them for so long. I’ve been playing these songs in my shows for a long time. It’s going to be weird to finally have them out, so I’m excited.
Your approach this whole time, since when we first heard from you has been one that’s really full of considered and calculated steps. You’ve taken your time and you’ve really made sure that each move has been one that is absolutely on brand with you and that you’re behind 100%. Do you think the process of waiting until you knew for certain to release this EP has allowed you to release something that’s so totally “you”?
Definitely. That means so much to me that you just said that because it’s been really hard. I have waited and I wanted to release a body of work ages ago, but it wasn’t the right timing. When I do something, I want to do it well. I want to have all of the aesthetics of it slick and have everything look really on brand and sonically having it all like really neatly packaged. That has required a lot of patience, a lot of patience, but it’s also allowed me to get it where I want and to get the sound exactly how I want and not just settle. But yeah, it’s been hard. It’s been hard because just releasing singles, you want to give people something that they can like sink their teeth into. I’m really glad everyone’s kind of stuck by me in over the past couple of years, because I’ve been like, “Yeah, it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming!” But now, I’m in a really good place. I’ve just signed my first deal. I’ve got a really cool team around me and yeah, I was like, “Okay, this is what I’ve been waiting for. This feeling!”
Do you think then looking at this EP that you’re about to release that it has been worth the wait?
Yes. Yes, definitely. Oh my God. The thing that I always fear for a song is if it doesn’t get like the life that it deserves. You put something out there and you want it to reach as many people as possible. I’ve had the songs for a while, but I haven’t had the right people around me to put them out. So much of it, especially today is based around marketing and campaigns and stuff like that. I knew that a big part of putting the songs out, I didn’t have secured yet. Having that side of things then locked in, I was like, “Okay, cool. Now I’m ready.”
Looking at it from a perspective of being an indie artist, which is something that you talk about a lot, you do have more of a bit of a buy-in in regards to your music. You are involved in all of the areas and that’s been a big part of your journey as well. Do you think that has along the way taught you enough to know “Yep, this is the right time, now I feel confident enough to release this”?
Yeah, 100%, because I’ve had to trust. I’ve had to listen to my gut. I haven’t had anyone else to listen to it for me. I’ve been the one on who has had to go, “Okay, this is what I want to put out.” I’m so lucky and glad that that has been the case. I would hate for it to be in the hands of someone else. Knowing that feeling and getting to know that feeling has been really good because I listened to it and I was like, “Well, I don’t really feel it in my gut that it’s right yet. I know what it feels like and this isn’t it.” I’ve kind of never really thought of it like that but yeah, when I know, I know.
That’s a confidence thing. It’s only been a couple of years that you’ve been releasing music as this project, but you’ve been in LA for how long? Forcing yourself into rooms and, when you couldn’t get into rooms, having to make your own sessions and things like that. Looking back at that time now, and how far you’ve come to here, what is is like looking back at that period?
Exhausting! When I started going to LA like after high school, so in 2011.
That’s nearly 10 years, that’s a long time Chloe!
I know, don’t even. I’m panicking about that. That back and forth, it’s been a long time. When I think back to it, I’m really, I’m really glad that I stuck with it because there were so many times where I was like, “Nup! I’m done!” Because a lot of it I did by myself and I was independent and I couldn’t get in any rooms with anyone, it makes it now all the better. God, such a weird time, coming to terms with what I had to go through in the music industry to find my place. I’m glad I stuck with it!
Looking at the EP now, the concept behind it is so strong, but you’ve always had a powerful vision behind the CXLOE project. Everything kind of ties in, even though this is this one body of work separate to the other singles. Has the concept of “CXLOE” with the X always existed as a way to help you delve into the heavier sounds and themes? You’ve spoken about it almost like it is an alter ego. I wondered, has it allowed you to be able to dive into that part of yourself?
Oh my God, yeah! In in such a way where I can dive into it and I can play around with the dark sounds, the darker aesthetics and stuff like that — and then dip out when I need to and give myself the distance and time that I need. I’m still learning how to separate the two and leave a little bit for myself because I do put everything [in it]. I think every artist does, they put their entire self into their artistry and their work. But I was finding that I didn’t have anything left for me. So ‘CXLOE’ was a good way to put up that front and be that, and then also put that away for a second when I needed to, and then just have me for me.
I find it really fascinating because you’ve spoken about how you’ve realised over time that the two sides, your personality can’t exist without the other. You can’t have light without the dark. That’s such a powerful realisation to come to terms with, for anyone, let alone an artistic project. It can also be somewhat of a liberating thing as well if you can know that there’s going to be good and it’s going to be bad, there’s going to be light and there’s going to be dark. Do you think that realisation helped you be able to break through in the creative way?
Yeah, 100%. You are spot on with that. It’s a liberating thing, but for so long, I was just like, “Fuck, I don’t know who I am as an artist!” You’ve got these artists out there and they know exactly who they are, but I love dressing up in a T-shirt and playing acoustic. But then I also love the dark pop sounds that go so hard and I love dressing up. For so long I was like, “Bitch, get your shit together! Who are you like, who ARE you? Make a decision and then go with it!” So it was quite liberating to accept the light in the dark and be like, okay, well, this just makes me who I am. I think a lot of people feel the same and I never really looked at it like that out of the arts like, “Okay, well I’m like this, but I’m also a little bit like this,” and you can be both. I don’t know why I didn’t ever think you could be both.
Even just knowing that you can’t have one without the other, otherwise you wouldn’t know! You wouldn’t know that these are the good times if you didn’t have the bad times to know that that’s not this.
A hundred percent, they need each other to survive. That’s been a cool realisation.
The whole EP for me listening to it and listening to what you’re talking about with it, it’s a lot about self-acceptance. It’s about understanding who you are and coming to terms with that. Is that something that you want your listeners to take away when listening to this record?
Exactly. I also want them to see that they’re not alone if they feel the same way. A lot of the concepts are quite heavy and I think a lot of people feel it in some way or another, even if it’s just a little bit. If they can listen to it and go, “Oh my God. Okay. I feel that too. Thank God I’m not the only one.” For so long, I thought I wasn’t alien. I was like, why does my brain think about this? Why do I feel so much, for God’s sake?! When I heard Joni Mitchell, hearing some of her songs and how deeply she felt and put into her lyrics, I was like, “Oh my God, I feel that too!” I hope my listeners can get the same thing from it.
Well I definitely can. I think this is definitely a thing that is developed over time as well. Was there a moment in the past few years when you knew you could trust yourself to go there and know you were going to go all the way here?
Well I think it was before I put out ‘Tough Love’. I kept writing these darker songs and my team were kind of like, “Are you okay? Is this where you want to take your music? Then coming out with like ‘Monster’ as well which was very dark. It was before putting out any of those songs I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it. I’m going to just go for it. I’m not going to hold back in any way. I’m going to be honest.” I don’t have the time to not be or the energy to not be. It was probably before putting out “Tough Love”. I was like, “This is it!”
’12 Steps’ is a particularly big moment for you. It really felt like a really big moment for you as well, personally, but also artistically with dedicating the first week of sales to Lifeline and being so open in regards to that song. What did that mean to you to be able to do that? Especially given the experience that led to the song in the first place?
It was scary. Very scary. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared to put a song out. It was also quite freeing as well though. Because I was like, “Well, this is all of me now.” I knew that people would in some way relate to it because you know, it wasn’t just about the 12 steps of an AA program. It was talking about the toxicity behind relationships and whether it’s like, you spend too much money or you have [an issue] with food or something, everyone could relate to it somehow. That’s how I was like, okay, this isn’t just going to be like a weird personal moment when no one can relate, it’s going to be like, everyone can find a little bit of the song that they [could say] “Oh, okay. Yeah, I can relate to that some way!” And then take what they wanted from it, which was cool. But it was very scary.
The EP follows along similar veins as what we’ve already heard from you. For example ‘Monster’ as you just mentioned before. Does this feel like releasing this EP feel like it’s all coming full circle for you now?
Definitely. Especially writing these songs over the past couple of years, they’ve been sitting there waiting. The fact that they’re now all packaged up and ready to go, yeah, it does feel full circle. It feels like all of that hard work spent on finding those sounds is now all worth it, because I have a really good body of work I’m proud of and I put so much time into. It’s pretty cool to look back on it like that.
When people hear it, it’s going to be, it’s going to be, I think it’s going to hit home in a lot of nice ways so that people can kind of really respond to that. And I think we need it now. You know, this has been such a crazy year. People need to know that the artists that they’re listening to are going through the same thing.
With social media, like people don’t react well to things that aren’t attainable for them or they can’t relate to. Sometimes even when I post photos from photo shoots and stuff where I’m like, “I love this shot! Look how well we create curated it!” Then I’ll post a selfie in my bathroom and people relate way more to that because they do that as well. It’s been an interesting journey to see what fans want to hear and want to see.
Heavy Pt. 1 is out now. Buy/stream here.
Interview by Emma Jones
Image by SHEISAPHRODITE