cali.xo Talks New Album, The Rebrand And Her Aesthetic World [Interview]

cali.xo has always been a unique voice within the wave scene. Her ambient-oriented approach to the genre has always made her my go-to artist when it comes to minimalist, emotional bass music or, as she puts it, dark romantically driven music. Songs like ‘deja vu’, ‘lust’ and ‘feelsohigh’, just to name a few of my personal favourites from her discography, are emblematic examples of how one can cultivate a sound identity without precluding experimentation of any kind. Thanks to this coherent approach, which she has also religiously applied to her ‘virtual presence’, or branding as you might call it, her “light, cutesy, pink aesthetic” has become an unmistakable trademark in the scene. An example of how simplicity and honesty are often more successful than any elaborate promotional gimmick.

After an aesthetic rebranding that saw her leaving behind her historical moniker ‘calicry’ ( “I thought the “.xo” was a much more fitting touch for the liminal and early internet vibes I’m leaning more towards now”), she kicked off the year with a full LP,  not coincidentally titled cry. Acting as a bridge connecting these two eras of the calicry/cali.xo project, the album is a delightful conceptual work that serves as a manifesto for everything her music stands for. The underneath thread that binds the eleven tracks of cry is more ambient-ish than ever. Every song seems to be built over a black hole, whose enigmatic, solid emptiness dominates the compositions. Around these “empty spaces”, gravitate a few key elements: languid synths, ominous subs and cali.xo’s own vocals.

Produced over the past three years, cry explicitly reflects the personal travails faced by cali.xo during this period. “I was going through a lot” she explains, “I think just the amount of grieving, heartbreaks, loss, and loneliness was what kept me motivated enough to continue to create”. cry is not an easy listen, there is no point denying it. It’s an album that just like it’s creator, possesses an explicit essence. It’s a beautiful but polarising auditory and emotional experience that rejects casual consumption. It demands a sacrifice (of time) but in exchange, it can give much, much to the listener willing to be lulled by its notes.

With so much on the line, I went straight to the source questioning cali.xo about the background of the rebranding and the process behind the creation of cry.

You recently went through a name rebrand, switching from calicry to cali.xo. Was it an aesthetic choice or there’s more meaning to it?

Honestly, I just didn’t like having “cry” in my name. I also felt that with my light, cutesy, pink aesthetic, along with my dark romantically driven music, the .xo was a much more fitting touch. Plus, I think it’s pretty on brand with the 90s/00s unsettling liminal and early internet aesthetic I’m leaning more towards now.

Is the title of your latest album a direct callback to this transition?

Yes, 100%. I’m glad you caught onto that because I was worried the name would confuse people. I named it cry simply as a shoutout to my old alias and to keep that part of myself still in there somewhere.

I’m extremely grateful for the hard times because they helped me push myself musically and try new things.

You wrote that cry was almost three years in the making. What was it like to balance your creative flow, your personal growth path and the pressure of an external world that changes at a crazy speed?

It was extremely tough. Within these 3 years, I was going through A LOT. The direction of the album changed so much throughout that time as well. The moment I realized I was finished with this project was also the moment when I felt I was closing an awful chapter of my life. I believe this album will ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart and I do feel every single emotion I felt throughout that time was recorded beautifully and honestly into every single track on the album. I’m extremely grateful for the hard times because they helped me push myself musically and try new things.

 What were the key moments of this long creative process?

I think just the amount of grieving, heartbreaks, loss, ending of friendships, loneliness, etc.  was what kept me motivated enough to continue to create and though it was awful to go through in the moment, I will always remember that there is no light without dark (in this regard, shout out to my EP “softly” iykyk)

I see two different souls in cry. On one hand, the visual concept of the album is very virtual. On the other one, your music has a strong sentimental footprint and your use of voice gives it an even stronger human touch. Did you live this duality while creating the album or is it a feature that emerged in the final result?

YES, and it makes me happy that you caught onto that. My music is very dark and almost analogue sounding while still being completely digital. I love the unsettled “raw and real” sounds mixed in with the electronic sounds. I am obsessed with the idea of “human and machine”. It’s a bit hard to explain in a practical way. To paint what I’m going for, think about flowers growing out of old forgotten computers. With my visual aesthetic, I want to give off that unsettling, lonely yet familiar look of liminal spaces and, like I said above, recreate the early internet look.

FIVE SUNS is the only guest featured in the album, what’s your relationship with him?

FIVE SUNS is an artist I’ve looked up to for a while. I was floored and over the moon when he said yes to collaborating on ‘hamadryad’ with me. I think the track with him is doing the best on the album so far and I’m sure it’s because of the brilliance he brought to it. He is a great artist and a super sweet guy! (thank you FIVE SUNS!!!). Originally there was another feature on the album, but unfortunately, I no longer associate with the artist involved and I cut our song from the final tracklist. If they happen to be reading this, I wish you the best.

I think albums are way more personal, they take more effort, they tell a story, they’re timeless to me.

We’re in a historic phase where albums are widely considered the most “inefficient” way to release music (performance-wise). Why did you decide to go along with this format?

It was only recently discovered that albums are kinda falling off, and to be honest this album was already in the works and I wasn’t going to just stop producing it. Moreover, I think albums are way more personal, they take more effort, they tell a story, they’re timeless to me. I will always reach for an album to listen to when going on long drives because it just does more for me than singles. I also love the amount of things you can do surrounding an album than just a single. You can create a whole world around an LP, with interactive websites, games, music videos, merch, and so on.  I unfortunately wasn’t able to do that with cry (maybe in the future) but you guys know what I mean. Death to albums due to algorithms and short attention spans upsets me, sure, but I’ll still continue to tell stories through big projects. I love doing it.

Your discography isn’t exactly dancefloor-friendly in the most common meaning of the term. However, If I remember correctly your performance at Pantheon last year was quite a success. How have you managed your live sets so far and what are your plans to bring cry live?

I do agree with you and I’m very aware that my music isn’t club-worthy. Honestly, my set at Pantheon went way better than expected. It was a completely original set and to see so many people vibing out to it and giving me good feedback on it… it was a shock in a good way!  Since then I played some shows and played out tracks from cry. To my surprise, they went off pretty well. Since my music isn’t club-friendly (and I usually only play originals), I don’t actively seek out shows dates. But if I get asked and they know what to expect, of course I’ll take it! As far as performing the tracks live, I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I’m very stage-shy when I dj so I can’t imagine what singing in front of people actually feels like.

I put a lot of emotion into every single track I put out and I love imagining that someone is out there, listening and making it personal to their own situations.

How do you feel about the definition of “listening music” applied to your style?

I agree with it, for sure. I think I prefer it that way. I want people to feel something when they hear me. I put a lot of emotion into every single track I put out and I love imagining that someone is out there, listening and making it personal to their own situations.

Is cry an arrival point or a “new” beginning for your artistic journey?

Definitely a new beginning. I have so much more to come, so much already in the works, lots of different genres and styles I’m experimenting with as well. Stay tuned!