Canadian pop singer Alexis Lynn is not in the business of holding back. Her debut EP, 2019’s Things Get Good, introduced listeners to an artist whose bubbly, soul-infused pop prefers to cut right to the chase of LGBTQ+ realities, and Lynn carried that unflinching honesty all the way through the making of her sophomore album Real Talk. For her latest full-length project, Lynn turned pandemic isolation into an opportunity to dig deeper than ever, using the time to write and record a collection of songs that confront her relationship with mental illness head-on.
Less than a month after dropping Real Talk in September, Lynn put out “Something to Prove,” a track that began as a rework of Katie Gregson-MacLeod’s viral TikTok hit “Complex” from the perspective of a bisexual woman struggling with the lingering need for male validation. The Untitled Magazine caught up with Alexis Lynn to discuss Real Talk, “Something to Prove,” and making music to work through the hard stuff.
Since your debut EP Things Get Good, your work has been rooted in unapologetic confidence, and it’s rare that an artist finds that so early in their career. Where did it come from for you? Can you share some details about your upbringing and how you got into music?
Firstly, thank you! I think music and songwriting has always been therapeutic and a means of communication for me, so it really came as just an outlet to express myself, which is why I think a lot of my music has been so honest. I grew up in a non-musical family, but my parents have always been so supportive of my siblings and me in any of our passions, so when I begged them to put me in singing lessons as a kid, they did! I started playing piano and writing songs when I was 16 and it really took off from there.
Has growing up in Canada influenced your songwriting?
I’m not sure it necessarily influenced or shaped it, but I think living in a place where you have the freedom of expression and speech in art is a privilege we often forget.
Who have been some of your biggest musical influences or inspirations so far?
Of all time, I’d definitely say Amy Winehouse. Her raw, honest songwriting really inspired a lot of the way I write lyrically, and she’s just an iconic artist. I also grew up listening to and loving Michael Jackson. I’d say now I listen to such a wide variety of music that it’s hard to put my finger on just one influence, but I love taking inspirations from multiple genres, which I think shows in my music!
We’ve seen LGBTQ+ women bringing their voices and perspectives to pop music more than ever in recent years – artists like Janelle Monáe, Halsey, King Princess, etc. How has that progress inspired you as an LGBTQ+ artist yourself?
It’s so incredibly inspiring to see LGBTQ+ women bring their perspectives to music and art. I’ve felt so seen in listening to artists with shared perspectives and it really creates a space to share your own story and perspective, which is so freeing.
How does your sexual identity influence your music and storytelling (if at all?)
My music is really centered around personal stories, so I’d say that my sexuality definitely has an influence on that. I write most often about my life experiences, so it’s absolutely had an impact on the stories I tell and their perspectives.
Can you share the inspiration for your newest track “Something to Prove”?
It actually started as a TikTok! I did a re-write of the viral song “Complex” from a bisexual perspective fighting a male validation complex. For me, I’ve always been outwardly comfortable with my sexuality but struggled subconsciously with hetero-social norms. I think as a woman, it’s ingrained in us from the start to associate worth with male validation, and the song came from my own experiences with that. It talks about falling for a woman who checks every box in what you want in a relationship, but still feeling like you need a male sense of approval to be “enough.” It’s messed up really, but I think it shines a light on what a lot of bisexual women have struggled with.
Can you share the inspiration behind the album title Real Talk?
Real Talk is a multifaceted exploration of mental health and its effects on our lives and relationships. I wanted to title it Real Talk because a lot of the songs are hard conversations about difficult topics, and the title track acts as a preface to all of that. It’s an honest warning that the content of the album is going to get real!
When you started writing this album, you weren’t sure what direction it was going to take. When did it become clear to you what Real Talk was going to be?
I had written the first few songs almost therapeutically, and when I realized I was starting this catalog of songs that were all centered around mental health, it suddenly just clicked that it was the beginning of an album. I knew how much mental health had affected my life and my relationships, and I wanted to make something that touched on that for everyone because it’s truly such a universal struggle.
You are an advocate for mental health awareness – can you share why that’s important to you and how you incorporate it into your music?
Mental health and its challenges have always been relevant in my life and in the lives of so many people I love, and one of the common denominators of everyone’s struggle was being able to talk about it. There’s a lot of shame and stigma surrounding mental illness, and I think one of the greatest ways to combat that is by being open in the conversation surrounding it. It’s hard to talk about, and for me, my way of communicating was through music, and I hope others can find the same kind of healing through it that I have.
You’ve mentioned that Real Talk’s tracklist is very intentional, which is becoming more and more rare for pop music in today’s era of streaming and playlisting. What is the story you want the full album to tell?
It is! It’s this hard but beautiful story of struggling with mental health, adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms, and then finally coming out on the other side.
“Real Talk” is the album’s thesis. It prefaces the content of the album and includes all the titles of the rest of the songs, which I think is so cool honestly. “Bandaids” addresses the suppression of trauma, while “Fall Apart” is the coming undone after trying to hold it together for so long. “House on Fire” and “Ana” are about specific maladaptive coping mechanisms – addiction and disordered eating, specifically anorexia. “Good Enough (Interlude)” addresses the shame and feelings of not measuring up that are at the heart of eating disorders, and how they’re reflective of a person’s self-worth. “Honest” embraces the start of healing and the strange (but necessary) duality of happiness and struggle in the healing process. “Make U Happy” is the take-home realization that a person can only find happiness and healing within themselves, and that no one else can do the work for them. “Outro” is the last interlude and the closing response to Real Talk that wraps up the ways that every song is tied to each other. The songs each tell their own story, but the album tells the story of the process and the journey a lot of us go through when trying to heal. There are also some really cool lyrical overlaps: “10 feet away” in both “House on Fire” and “Ana,” “Temporary fixes” in both “Bandaids” and “House on Fire,” and the parallels of “static on the TV” and “changing the channel when it gets too real” in “Make U Happy” and “House on Fire.” I think that also really shows the commonality of the struggle with mental health and mental illness, despite each individual’s unique struggle and story.
“House on Fire” is the first song you put out from Real Talk. What made you decide to release it first? Can you share the inspiration behind the song and lyrics?
I wanted to put it out first for a lot of reasons, I think the track itself is definitely an upbeat single, but it also serves as a somewhat jarring intro to the content of the album. The song is really personal to me; it’s about watching someone you love struggle with addiction. I’ve seen some of the closest people in my life battle addiction and “House on Fire” represents what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. I wrote it with my friends and amazing writers Brandon Rogers and Will Jay, and I came to them with the concept of seeing someone fight addiction like watching someone in a burning house – you want to go in and save them so badly, but they’re not necessarily trying to get out. It’s also about realizing that what you might think is best for someone may not be what they want or are ready for, and that can be a hard truth to accept in itself.
You’ve said this album is your most honest work to date. Was it a conscious decision to get even more real with these songs? What influences your approach to your music?
It wasn’t really on purpose honestly, but I’m so glad it happened. I started writing this album in 2020 during the peak of the pandemic. The isolation and free time really gave me a lot of moments to reflect honestly and start a lot of healing. I think the vulnerability came from that time and space, and the songs were a reflection of that.
Is there a song you’re most excited for people to hear? Which one and why?
I think “Ana.” I wrote it about my experience with anorexia and I almost didn’t release it. After I wrote it and listened back, it was so terrifying to be so raw and honest about something I’ve only ever talked about with a handful of close friends and family, so the thought of sharing it with everyone scared the living hell out of me, but I also thought about how seen I would have felt if I had heard it when I needed to. I’m excited for people to hear it because I think it strikes a chord with so many people who have struggled with disordered eating, and I hope it can bring someone some healing or make them feel seen.
You now have a few years of releasing music under your belt – was there anything that was different about making this album versus your past releases?
This is definitely the first fully conceptual project I’ve put out! I spent so much time curating all of it and finalizing the whole vision, which was such a rewarding process.
Can you share what else we can look forward to from you in 2022?
I have another song, “Something To Prove,” coming out soon! I’ve also been writing so much and can’t wait to share all the things I’ve been working on with everyone!