INTERVIEW: Uffie breaks the aesthetic for something real

Uffie, Anna-Catherine Hartley

Uffie. Courtesy photo.

Though tour aggregating websites show no trace of past Bay Area gigs, Uffie has in fact performed in San Francisco once before. It was at the Rickshaw Stop in 2006. The French-American electro-pop artist, living in Paris at the time, recalls the show as one of her firsts in the United States.

MPHD, Starfari, vverevvolf

7:30 p.m., Friday, March 1
The Independent
Tickets: $22. 21+

“I want to say there were like 20 people there,” Uffie says on a recent phone call. She laughs as she continues: “I just remember everyone who had worked the event that night was super nice, probably because no one was there.”

Self-deprecating jokes aside, this by no means reflects Uffie’s impact during the mid-aughts. Her single “Pop The Glock” had taken MySpace by storm that year. Its addictive mix of flashy beats and strikingly self-assured vocoderized prose made her queen of the alternative scene. She followed with several standalone singles, on which she honed her ear for party anthems, before releasing Sex, Dreams and Denim Jeans in 2010.  

In the four years leading up to her debut album, Uffie (whose real name is Anna-Catherine Hartley) would record, tour nonstop and navigate young adulthood all at once. A lot happened as she entered her early twenties. She broke up with collaborator and then-boyfriend DJ Feadz. She got married and then divorced before giving birth to her first child. And always present were the pressures of a rockstar nightlife. Uffie eventually withdrew from the spotlight. It wasn’t until 2016 that fans heard an update from her on Facebook.

“I definitely discovered that I got into a state of living where I kind of completely avoided myself—like, just not dealing with things,” she says on the reason for her six-year hiatus. “Going through teenage angst straight into [an industry] that encourages all of that, I needed a moment to step back and become a person that I liked again.”

Now 31 and living in Los Angeles, Uffie is getting ready for her first performance of 2019 at Noise Pop. Last week she released an EP, Tokyo Love Hotel. On the phone, she sounds excited to perform again, which she’ll do alongside producers who worked on the new EP with her. She speaks of her music with a sincere mindfulness.

“Coming back to music, it was really important for me to analyze what it is I want to do and whether it’s going to be detrimental to my family life or health in any way,” she says. “I [say to myself], ‘Do you have something to share?’ and ‘If you’re going to make another record, do it for the love of what you’re doing.'”

On her current favorite artists:
“I really love Kendrick Lamar. He’s just obviously an incredible artist and human, it seems like. I really like Billie Eilish too. I don’t generally pay too much attention to ‘new’ new stuff; I kind of just have a continuous playlist of not discovering new things, but I’ve always been a fan of The Knife and Fever Ray.”

Uffie describes her move to Southern California as the turning point that made her relationship with music feel brand new again. There, she met songwriter Ammar Malik and several other musicians. That network became a patient and positive environment that helped Uffie rediscover her voice and explore different sounds. While her previous studio experiences focused on creating a certain vibe and writing just enough material for a record, she’s now fallen in love with songwriting and feels confident as a studio artist.  In the last couple of years, she’s collaborated with Charli XCX and released four singles of her own that recall her unique blend of rap and electro-pop, but with a new level of transparency

Most recently, Uffie released “Sadmoney,” a soft and gloomy cut off Tokyo Love Hotel about millennial burnout. With a minimal backing track, Uffie’s bittersweet vocals about being overworked and bummed out by social media come into focus. “I’ll be pretty ’til it kills me/ Pretty even if it kills me/ I just want to feel like someone else,” she repeats as the song fades out.

Uffie wrote “Sadmoney” after she and a friend heard a hip-hop track about falling out and being rich. She wanted to make a more relatable version, using a lyric she already had in mind (“pretty ’til it hurts”) as the foundation.

“You know how people post makeup-less selfies? It kind of felt like a way to do that in a song, where it’s … honest about the struggles that we all face, whether it’s the materialism that we put value in or looking at people that are photoshopped,” she says. “I feel like in the political climate we’re in, it’s so important to have real moments. Music is amazing as an escape, but it’s also fun to be able to just be real for a minute.”

Uffie has found a good balance of cathartic beats and authenticity, for which she credits Malik and her change of lifestyle. Cutting out drinking, making time for writing sessions and collaborating have allowed her to approach songwriting more seriously and organically. Her personal life now bleeds into the music she makes.

“I was going through a really hard separation during the record and I would come into the studio and be like ‘I had this line about papercuts—they don’t hurt enough,'” she says about her 2018 single “Papercuts.” “And listening back now, I’m like ‘Oh shit, that’s what I meant subconsciously!'”

Uffie acknowledges she felt nervous about opening up more. While revisiting her old songs feel both “crazy” and “like coming home,” she’s worried that fans of the electronic nightlife scene wouldn’t be too pleased with the deeper stuff. But from the smaller shows she’s done last year to the reception over social media, it seems Uffie’s fans have been growing alongside her.

“Everyone’s been so awesome,” she says. “And the response to ‘Sadmoney’ was really special, because I was kind of worried that it would be a little too emo. But to have people connect to it on their daily lives is so cool.”

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