THEY were, it has to be said, a select band of people who caught Charli XCX’s performance at Live at Leeds back in May 2012.
Yet the then 19-year-old singer from Stevenage – real name Charlotte Aitchison – seemed undeterred as she stomped around the stage in her platform trainers, delivering her so-called ‘darkwave’ electro anthems as though she was playing to a heaving throng rather the two dozen or so spectators that were actually in the hall that afternoon.
Fast forward two years and Charli, like Live at Leeds itself, has become a whole lot more popular.
Two of her songs, I Love It and Fancy, have been massive hits for other people – indeed the latter, which she wrote for Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, recently spent seven weeks at Number One in the Billboard US charts.
This week she finally broke into the UK top 10 herself with her single Boom Clap, which featured on the soundtrack of the romantic film The Fault in Our Stars.
Next weekend she’ll be heading for Beacons Festival near Skipton.
As we speak, Charli is preparing for a magazine photo shoot. Her second album is finally in the bag – she “can’t reveal” its title yet, she says – but it will “probably” be released “towards the end of this year”.
“I’ve been finishing a few vocals this week but the songs are written,” she adds.
Writing and recording sessions began in Sweden with her “frequent collaborator” Patrick Berger of Icona Pop, with whom she scored the Europe-wide hit I Love It.
“Then I began to explore other people – Stargate [songwriters for Britney Spears], John Hill, Rostam [Batmangli] from Vampire Weekend, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. It might seem like a broad selection of people but I’ve been tying it together. I’m in control of this record. For me it’s easy to understand how they all fit together.”
Charli’s original intention had been to make a punk album. “That was what I went to Stockholm last year,” she says. “I’ve not completely scrapped it – there are a couple of songs from that time that will appear on the record.
“I was really frustrated with the music industry at that point. It was uncreative, people were starting to write the same song again and again. I did not want to do that again. So I thought I would make this punk record.
“I was screaming and rolling around on the floor for a couple of weeks. It was fun. It allowed me to be creative again, it got the frustration out.”
Though in demand as a songwriter for others, success as a singer in her own right eluded Charli for a number of years.
She’d shown interest in music from an early age. “I had a band that I formed when I was eight in the playground at school,” she recalls. In her early teens she recorded an album that was never released. At 16 she signed to the major label Asylum. “I finished my A-levels and went to art college for a year then I decided to focus on music. I did a lot with indie labels prior to releasing to my first album.”
True Romance, her debut album proper, came out last year. Despite including hit-worthy material such as Nuclear Seasons and Stay Away, it flopped in the UK.
But in the US it was a different story. She’s played three headline tours there and stars such as Britney Spears, Hilary Duff and Christina Aguilera have come calling for songs.
“Sometimes I found it frustrating,” she says of her low profile in Britain. “I’m from the UK, it would be lovely to be successful here as I am in the US. At the same time I’m not complaining. I think probably that’s going to change. I would love to do a UK tour.”
She says she enjoys writing for other people. “It’s something I’m good at. I want to be taken seriously as a songwriter, not just for me but for other artists. I want to have my fingerprints over the whole of the pop landscape for the next few years. Writing for other people has allowed me to do that.”
Although True Romance did not sell in the kind of quantities she would have liked, Charli says she still loves it. “I’m very proud of that record. I still see it as being an intelligent pop album. If it was released now I think it would actually be more successful. Pop music has changed a lot in the past year and it continues to change. It’s getting more real and more emotional. It might have reached a few more people but myself and Ariel Rechtschaid [her American producer and co-writer] can look at it in a positive way.”
Slowly but surely it seems she is finding a way to meld all her influences together. She talks fondly of her enduring fascination with Britney Spears. “When I saw the video for Hit Me Baby One More Time I was blown away. Blackout is my favourite album of all time – it’s really cleverly crafted.”
In her teens Charli moved on to French disco – “you know the label Ed Banger?” – and the “2007 pirate scene”. “I liked Uffie and Justice and Feadz.”
Her new album is “much more inspired by the Ramones, Bow Wow Wow, Weezer and The Hives”.
“It’s got more of a live feel than anything I’ve done before.”
She says she’s “excited for people to hear the record” now. “It’s really good,” she explains. “It’s more me than anything else I’ve ever done.”
Charl XCX plays at Beacons Festival, Funkirk estate, Skipton on Saturday August 9. Other acts playing at the festival, which runs from August 7-10, include Neneh Cherry, Darkside, Joan as Police Woman, Jon Hopkins and The Fall. For tickets visit http://greetingsfrombeacons.com/