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Artist Spotlight: XTIE is on her cosmic pop spaceship and invites listeners to join the journey on ‘Apollo-23’

Cosmic pop artist XTIE is on the journey of a lifetime right now. The Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter-producer recently released her debut EP and while these songs might be fresh in the minds of her listeners, the time it took to get here already has her looking ahead to the next project. We spoke with XTIE about crafting her solo music, connecting deeply with a live audience and seeing where this path takes her sound in the future.

Atlas Artist Group: Can you tell me more about the creative process of crafting this EP?

XTIE: I started releasing my music three years ago back in 2020. I always tell people I’m a COVID artist because I start my artist project right at the beginning of COVID. It was a roller coaster journey for me because there’s ups and downs but there’s something that is the same as I just love what I do and…I’m really lucky that I can be able to do what I love. So from “Flower Town”, which is my first single, when I released that one, I didn’t realize I want to build a sound like that. I think also as an artist, I grow with my fans as well. We learn from each other and inspire each other and then it kind of create my own cosmic pop sound. 

But in talking about the creative process, I’m very connected to organic sound- especially water. To me, especially in Chinese or Asian culture, water is a very special element to us because we have water [so] we have human beings. [With] water, we always use that as a metaphor because it’s the element of very versatile. Water can be soft and ice and it has to strengthen that and it speaks to me so much as an artist, so I use a lot of water samples to incorporate into my own sound. For example, I record raining sounds or babbling sounds and even my water tap and I make it and incorporate it into production. For “Skin”, if you pay attention to the instrumental, there’s a little water hi-hat that actually came from the raining sound. I just love using this organic sample into my songs- I think it adds a little of my sound of the organic and the spacious atmospheric influence into my own music. 

Atlas: Since you started releasing music during COVID, what pushed you to get this project out in the world?

XTIE: I actually started right before COVID- I’ve been writing songs and doing some gigs and covers and did musical theater when I was even younger. I’ve been wanting to do music full time but I didn’t realize I wanted to be an artist so I started out to be a producer first. I produce for other independent artists and also pop artists. Then during COVID I was like, wow, the world changed a lot- within a year, everything changes. Back then I was like I’ve been already writing some demos or producing demos and they’re all sitting in my Dropbox. The environment pushed me to want to release the song because I was like, I’m not going anywhere if I’m keeping producing my own sounds and sitting in Dropbox and nobody hear it. I want to grow as an artist and as a producer as well so I pushed “Flower Town” out and see what it can lead me. It’s just like an experiment for me.

Atlas: As a producer first, how do you approach creativity in the production realm as opposed to making your own music and writing songs? Do you have to separate them at all? How do you bring them together when working on your project? 

XTIE: Yeah, I got asked a lot and I’m actually learning as well because I started out producing for artists. When I produce for my own project, I feel like it’s more in sync in myself. If I produce for artists, I have to get to know the other artists first. Also, it’s more like an industry kind of thing- you have an A&R, you have a label and you actually have to communicate in that headspace. For myself, I A&R for myself, I write a song for myself and produce like me- everything is in my blood. I feel like everything is very smooth because I just have to communicate with my own self. For producing for other artists, I have to get to know the artists because when I produce for all the artists, communication is so important because it really brings out the personality of the artists and what artists are wanting to tell their story with my production. The approach is really different. For myself, I think I can be as risky as I could because it’s just me.

Atlas: When you’re doing this entire process yourself, how do you get to the point where you know that you’re done? Artists are perfectionists- that’s part of the deal- so how do you know internally that this is the body of work that you’re ready to put out there? 

XTIE: I struggle a lot during the first year of release, especially for the single “Flower Town” and by that time I really want to release my first single and I’ve been waiting- actually “Flower Town” had been sitting in my Dropbox for two years and I was like so nervous. I am a perfectionist as well because I’m a Virgo. I think I learned a lot. Sometimes when I feel that this is the best I could do, if I want to improve- next song. I learned to move on, not stuck into one song because I know this is a full time period, it’s a long term journey. 

My journey is building a catalog, not just to attach to one song. You know the standard and you hit the standard and sometimes when you feel it’s not perfect, it’s very subjective. But objectively, you know the standard needs to be there. I think the feeling is, as an artist, I have to deal with as well, because sometimes when I look back now in 2023, when I look back to “Flower Town”, I was like, maybe I shouldn’t do that. That’s the journey, right? That’s the amazing thing as an artist because you see your growth. 

Atlas: Now that you’re building your catalog and you’ve got more music coming out, is there a song that really resonates with you personally? 

XTIE: I have to pick “Skin”. “Skin” is the first song that I wrote back before releasing music. I have eczema and skin allergy issues so growing up as a teenager, I wasn’t growing up as a very confident lady. I was hidden behind my long sleeves. In Hong Kong, summer is so hot and I wear my long sleeves because I don’t want to show my skin to the people because I feel like they’re looking at my rashes or I’m not looking good. As a teenager when other peers start to do makeup, I cannot do that because I have a lot of rashes on my face. So growing up, I deal with a lot of eczema- even for now I do have eczema from time to time. But I start to feel like maybe eczema is a special thing for me so that’s why I wanted to write a song that inspired myself and were my self-healing as well. 

I wrote “Skin” to talk about my journey of having eczema as a person- not just as an artist [but] as a person- and how I deal with the body image issue. I feel like everybody may have body image issue and it’s not just about your weight or body figure but you have loads of things going on in your body. I want people to feel beautiful no matter what they look- at least for the three minutes when they listen to my song. That’s what I connect the most because it’s the most personal song of me. It actually took me some years to embrace my skin. Now I released the song and even now I sometimes want to hide myself. As an artist, I want to be the role model. The message I really want to convey…sometimes it’s okay to not to feel good but we have to love ourselves enough to tell the story. I love to tell my story to other people and I hope my little story can inspire you to have a great day. “Skin” is the most important song of my life.

Atlas: In terms of the EP as a whole, what do you hope that your listeners will take away from it?

XTIE: I have to explain why the EP is called Apollo-23. When I started releasing music, I realized I start to build the cosmic pop world of my little music universe. I’m very big into organic stuff and universe stuff so I was like maybe the EP can call like a spaceship. When I released “Spaceship”, I started to be like maybe my EP can be called a spaceship name. Apollo is also the god of sun and light, as well. So I feel like it’s the best of both worlds- it can be very sci-fi as well. Then they also take the meaning of Apollo because of the sun. I feel like my style is more happy [and] warm and I just want people to feel good. So Apollo-23 means I want our listeners- when they listen to my EP- they can jump on my spaceship and they can join me in a journey into finding our own inner peace [and] to find a way that we can feel good about ourselves. 

Atlas: How do you approach songwriting as a multilingual artist? 

XTIE: My mother tongue is Cantonese so one of my single in the EP is actually a Cantonese song with two lines of English- that’s the song called “Field of Gold”. I always write songs in English because when it comes to creative writing, I feel like my English is better than Cantonese. In Cantonese, when you go for creative writing, it’s a different way of doing it. When I approach my music, it’s basically all English. But I do want to say for that particular song, [it’s] about being grateful of your little joy in your life. 

In my life, I speak Cantonese most of the time so it’s time to release a Cantonese song. To me, I always feel like a third culture kid because growing up, I speak Cantonese but then I watched a lot of Disney Channel and that’s how I learned my English that time. I started to write songs also in English but then I speak Cantonese. Sometimes I really want to, as an artist, incorporate also my cultural roots as well. It’s just so hard to embrace a little joy of your life- like the water is half full or half empty, that kind of concept. I really want to bring that into the conversation and using my own mother tongue to tell the story.

Atlas: You’ve played shows both at home and abroad. Do you have any particular memories or experiences that really stick out to you from these concerts?

XTIE: This year is my year because as I said, I debuted in COVID and for artists based in Hong Kong, when we travel abroad, when we come back, we have to quarantine for weeks. Hong Kong started to open up in these six months, like late 2022. So that time, there are more live gigs and also the international artists came to Hong Kong to have a concert. Finally, we have concerts! This year, I had more opportunities to perform finally. I did my headline show in Hong Kong back this year in February and that memory was…I mean, wow! It just hit me so much because it’s my headline show. 

And that time, we have to wear a mask- this year in February, we still have to wear a mask! So I’m really close to the audience but I just see only their eyes. I remember that because when I was curating and planning my solo concert, I don’t want to do a traditional concert and I wanted to more to incorporate with other art form. I invited an artist who is a choreographer and also a meditation [specialist]. So I planned the setlist and after my first set, there’s a small session of around 20 to 30 minutes that they interact with the audience. With 100 people in a big room, they walk around with my song, with my instrumentals and do a little exercise- like breathing exercise to get to know their body, feel their body and drop their bags and and drop their phones and I want them to feel the moment. 

That hit me so well because that was a very bold move in Hong Kong because there’s no other artists do something like that before. I want to connect with my audience even more with different exercise- not just sitting in and listening to the music. After that session, I want my audience to feel with their body with my music and I told them everything you do is right or the body movement you want to do is right. Even if you’re not a dancer, even if you feel like I’m stiff today, it’s fine. Nobody’s gonna judge [and] you everything you do with my music is right. People start to dance and walk around with the music and they just dance with me and I was like WOW! It’s an inspirational process and that’s the most memorable moment of my life. 

Atlas: You’ve been on this musical journey for a while now and obviously it’s just beginning. Where do you hope it takes you?

XTIE: I’m on my spaceship right now. The most exciting thing is you don’t know where you’re gonna go. Of course, I do have wishes and little milestones that I want to hit. For example, I want to perform in the bigger stage, or engage with my fans even more- I do have these kind of goals. But in general, I feel like I’m really enjoying my journey right now. I’m so lucky I can do what I love and love what I do. So to me, it’s like this spaceship, I’m on this driver’s seat and I can go anywhere. And sometimes if I feel unsafe, I can always drive back home. To me it’s like I have these safe spot that I hit and I’m so ready to break out of my comfort zone and drive to somewhere new. I’m not sure but I keep writing music and see where it goes.

Stream Apollo-23, out now! 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo courtesy of XTIE