Charli XCX Doc ‘Alone Together’ Q&A Highlights

March 20, 2021 by

360°Sound sat in on the live Q&A session following the SXSW world premiere of the documentary Alone Together about the making of pop star Charli XCX’s quarantine album How I’m Feeling Now. In a discussion moderated by Benito Skinner, directors Bradley & Pablo and Charli XCX talk about the challenges of making the documentary and the album, which was done in collaboration with Charli’s legion of fans known as “Angels” over a five-week period.

On how the documentary came about…

Bradley: We first met Charli on the set of “Vroom Vroom,” which is a music video we did in 2016. We love working with Charli; we have a really great connection. We’re Angels is how we’d describe ourselves. In the very early days of quarantine, we, like everyone else, were suffering a little bit. It was very uncertain, super anxious times. We caught wind of this [Zoom] party happening during the quarantine. We went in and saw thousands of people from all over the world connecting. It was just a really heartwarming experience. Being present with one another, there was something very reassuring about it. Pablo and I spoke about it and we thought it’d be really cool to try to document this. This seems like a new way of communication. About a week later, we saw that Charli announced her new album project. We thought it really encapsulated perfectly this new way of connecting to people during this time. We thought it’d be a great subject for a film.

On going live and playing demos for fans…

Charli XCX: It was definitely both liberating and scary, I suppose. Everything is so spontaneous and reactionary. You can’t really control what’s happening with an idea that’s really in its infancy. What’s fascinated me about BTS stuff – it’s part of the reason I wanted to make the album in such a public way, because I feel like there is this controlled version of BTS in the world of pop. There’s the BTS music video, which is so perfect. And they’re teasing seconds of songs, but no one actually shows the true process. You always see everything in hindsight. It was interesting to me to be genuinely truly open with my fans. One of the reasons why I felt comfortable to do it is I felt confident they would understand my process. [My fans] are very smart, and we have built a relationship over the years because of the musical choices and directions I’ve gone in. I knew they would get it. Even though when I did the first lyrics for “Anthem,” everyone was like, ‘These are the worst lyrics ever.’ I was like, ‘You guys, take a seat.’ And then it came out and “Anthem” was one of the favorites.

On directing a doc with a lot of raw footage…

Pablo: It was pretty scary for sure. We started this project once the public was seeing it as well so weren’t prepared. We were like three days late; we had to play catch up. We didn’t have a preset idea of what the film was necessarily going to be about at that point. We were obviously not able to attend any of the shoots in person. Every few days we’d receive a Dropbox with footage. It was a lot of information to take in and wrap our heads around. At the same time, we were talking to loads and loads of fans every day from all around the world by spending eight hours a day on Zoom. We were trying to make sure that whatever we were talking to them about made sense with what Charli was capturing. We were surprised by a lot of things that came in as well. I think the story ended up having a lot more depth and richness that we weren’t expecting. We didn’t really know anything about [Charli’s boyfriend] Huck and [their] relationship. We didn’t know he had moved in. That part of the story was unraveling before our eyes. It took us a long, long time to edit and pinpoint the stories that are happening and figure out how to weave them together.

On including the stories of Angels…

Bradley: Charli’s fans are like the best fans ever. The process of talking to these kids and really connecting with them will be something we’ll always cherish and remember. They really did open themselves up to us in a way that I don’t think we really expected. It really speaks to Gen Z, just unbelievably open, caring, compassionate people. The way we actually found them was we were browsing through comments on Charli’s posts and trying to find people who sounded like they’d been touched by the project. They would introduce us to someone else, and before we knew it we had an Angels production team helping us find people.

On doing music on-the-spot…

Charli XCX: I’ve never made music with a camera in my face as much as with How I’m Feeling Now. That was definitely new. I always try to film myself when recording, but I really just give up after about five minutes. I actually hate being on camera. It’s probably my least favorite part of what I do. I sound fucking mental without autotune. I was like, ‘Guys, you need to include a bit that acknowledges I sound crazy without autotune.’ When it comes to the spontaneity of music-making, I really do like to work quickly. I’ve never made an album in five weeks before. That was completely new and really crazy. [The albums] Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel were made quite quickly. I’ve sat on songs before at the request of my label. I’m not very patient. It makes me lose interest in the song; it doesn’t feel as current. I’m not sure that I will as intensely document myself again. I’m into quite strong contrasts and conflicts and aggressive changes. The next thing I do will probably feel completely opposite. That’s more inspiring to me.

check out more great SXSW 2021 coverage:

SXSW Film Fest: ‘The Sparks Brothers’ Q&A Highlights

SXSW Artist Spotlight: Ley Line

Witch Prophet on “Tesfay” in SXSW Music Video Competition

‘Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil’ SXSW Q&A Highlights

 

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