“Everyone has a dark side. It doesn’t have to be ugly. It’s just, it’s internal. And it’s just how you kind of process (how) things are.”
Creative mediums, from paintings, to film and television, to video games and music, provide an opportunity for temporary consideration and indulgence of the darker and more taboo dimensions of humanity. When it comes to the latter art form, mysterious, multifaceted artist, Xhoana X, currently finds herself most at home conceiving, writing, and performing in that space – thinking of it very much in the way an actor would – which aligns with the fact that she’s active in several aspects of the creative processes behind her music, visuals, design, and more.
“I’m a huge fan of [filmmaker] David Lynch.” Xhoana X says.
“When I go into visuals, even if songs are on the lighter side, the visuals will have a tendency to be a little bit more intense, grabbing and darker. But it just becomes naturally; We just got in the studio – just me and two producers (and) like, when we wrote the record, it was super organic. We didn’t go in the studio with a mindset of like, ‘Okay, cool, we’re gonna do like, a concept EP,and it’s gonna be called this, and the songs are gonna be this…’ like, no, we just started writing. And the songs were wrote themselves basically a super fast and super easy.”
Yet, for as much as The Villain runs on a fuel of imagined fantasy, it’s not entirely comprised of facetious thinking. The central, underlying quality of Xhoana X’s sonic style – one rooted in bass-heavy trip-hop – lends itself well to Xhoana X’s thick-skinned and self-driven personality, which itself was forged from uncommon, hectic circumstances involving a lack of access to some of the most innocuous elements of society – things as simple as access to international television – that the U.S. public might unintentionally take for granted.
“So I was born in Tirana, Albania, which is the capital of Albania, and I was growing up in a post-communist Albania.” Xhoana X explains. “(W)hen I was little, finally you could watch different (television) channels in different countries, and MTV, and like, different kinds of things. Whereas, in my mom’s and my dad’s generation, they (lived) in the communist regime, so they couldn’t really do any of that. My dad (for example,) I don’t know, somehow was a huge Elvis Presley fan and I don’t even know how he was able to even like, (listen to Presley’s music) I guess, even before communism started to (end) was when he started to listen.”
While Xhoana X’s early years transpired as the communist foundation of Albania was dissolving, even hearing and coming to understand the vast contrast between what she was coming to perceive as permissible and possible in society and what her parents had to do in order to experience things conversely deemed unacceptable, grew to shape Xhoana X’s perspective and overall drive for a full life.
“I came to the States after my parents divorced.” she says. “My mom won the Green Card Lottery. So I came with my mom, (who was) a single mom and my sister. And basically, when I moved to the States, it was just such a major culture shock in every way possible. Like, it’s just so, so different coming from a third world, post-communist country into a place (that) you only saw in movies prior, you know, and like, only heard of that way.”
It was at this point in her heavily changing life that Xhoana X bonded in a significant way with not just music as an art form but with a cornucopia of artists new to her, that would encourage the kind of open minded approach to creativity she still calls upon today.
“I’ve always loved music and movies, and anything artistic. So I just kind of delved in. I came to the states in (19)96. So for me, you know, that’s when I discovered so many different kinds of artists. You know in Europe, of course, I started listening. But like it was different (in the U.S.). says Xhoana X.
“When I came here, there (was) like Biggie, and Tupac, and No Doubt, and Prodigy, and (it was) just so diverse. And so, I mean, I’d like to get all in. I was super, like––I love all genres of music. And I kind of like that is how I think when I create. It’s just everything just gets mashed in everything that’s that I’ve ever been into.”
Either way of course, everything about The Villain – its color palette, artwork, tonality, lyricism – transudes unapologetic boldness and for some that might present an unnerving identity. Still, the reality of societal personal preference doesn’t deter Xhoana X from putting the creative inspiration that speaks most to her, at the forefront of her artistic pursuits.
“When I first discovered like, certain artists that I guess would be considered niche, I just kind of liked it. Like, I just dove in. So when I write or when I create, I just kind of like, try to stay in that same (mindset.)” Xhoana X explains.
“I feel like that’s what helps kind of anchor me or, you know, kind of make (writing music) more seamless, are the people that I collaborate with, like producers and whatnot. They know more of (the A&R side of the industry) or like, they have their ear on things more in that sense. So they basically paved the way for me to be myself and helped me (in such a way), where I wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about things like that.”
Keenly aware of the experiences that most shaped her outlook on the world, her artistry, emotional character, and musical preferences, Xhoana X is very much about letting the audience who resonates find her. “I don’t want to make something (just so) someone wants to hear (it). I’m just kind of creating (freely) and I think my desire for wanting to create, it just means that someone out there is searching for something, if that makes sense.” Xhoana X says.
While this kind of creative approach might sound somewhat self-oriented, what has given Xhoana X the most joy in terms of feeling connected with people and expanding her listener base, is in the idea of music from The Villain EP as well as her other music, perhaps widening others’ horizons around thoughts and feelings they hadn’t previously allowed themselves to fully consider on their own.
“(In regards to The Villain,) I hear things like, ‘I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s so much better than what I expected!’ So I’m like some glad that it’s, I’m glad that it’s kind of like that. Maybe initially, I don’t know, (listeners) see me without going into the art or into the into the music or into the work, and make some kind of like, assumption of some sort.” Xhoana X explains.
“(But) then they hear (the music) and they’re like, ‘Oh!’ so I’d rather that, which I’m glad I’d rather get (as feedback), than (for listeners) to be like, ‘Oh, I thought it’d be so much better.’ So for the most part, it’s been that and I feel like everyone, like more and more people discover (that mindset.) It makes me happy to hear that they’re surprised in a good way.”
Ultimately, while not everyone resonates with the villain in a story, one can’t argue or dismiss the display of confidence it takes for Xhoana X to chart the course of her debut with a musical map that isn’t the easiest for listeners to digest or most straightforward for them to traverse.
“I didn’t set out to have a concept but, I feel like The Villain is a concept.” she says.
“I would say that when I go into like the next EP or next project, it won’t be––like, they’re never in line. maybe something connects them all but it never stays in the same like straight line as a past project, I always like to kind of like delve deeper and deeper. And with that, like, if one thing changes, everything else is about it is bound to move as well. I love change and, and love that it’s not about like (the idea of), ‘Oh, I gotta like, switch it up. It’s just doing exciting, artistic things. That’s space is the place to live; where things are not, like boxed in or linear. And that’s where like, magic happens if you give yourself that space for infinite possibilities, for your art, and for yourself as a human. (T)hat’s the ground where you create, that’s where you are the creator.”