If her ever-changing beauty look is any indication—her hair has been neon blue and Bubblicious pink (and, during our interview, a bewitching gray)—20 year-old Ashley Frangipane, known to fans as Halsey, isn’t afraid of experimentation. For her, pop music is a science, and she strives to have a character within the genre that she describes as being sometimes "mechanical."
She also, admittedly, has a lot to say: Her archival knowledge of movies and books allows her to footnote each thought with an acutely relevant cultural reference. One moment she is quoting Daisy in The Great Gatsby for break-up advice. The next, we are talking about teen cult-classic films. She's like an M&M: A hard coating with sweet insides.
I am sure people always ask you about your name, but why did you decide to spell Ashley all scrambled?
Halsey is an anagram of my first name, Ashley. I grew up New Jersey, and I would always take the train into New York, and I was getting into a lot of trouble. When I was 17 I was seeing a guy who was 24 and he lived on Halsey Street in Brooklyn. That’s where I first starting writing music and where I started to feel like I was apart of something bigger than my town in middle of nowhere New Jersey. Halsey is kind of like a manifestation of all the exaggerated parts of me [Ashley], so it’s like an alter ego.
Where did you come up with the idea to put your single on a hotel room key? Obviously the EP Room 93 is a reference to a hotel.
The thing that’s interesting about hotel rooms is that it’s such a removed environment, there’s no external influence. When you’re having a relationship out of only hotel rooms, the only factors affecting that relationship are you and that other person. I did a lot of different things with this EP to try and tap into that intimacy. I wanted kids to feel like they could “check in” to Room 93. It’s a visual EP series. All the videos are based off cult-classic teen cinema, which has a way of removing the protagonist from the real world, and that’s the way it feels to be in a hotel.
I’ve heard you talk previously about how all the stories of your music videos are meant to connect in someway. They all use the Pink Motel as the setting.
Three of the videos are set in the Pink Motel. It’s fucking legendary. Thrasher’s done skate features of kids in the bowl, the bowl is legendary. All the kids I casted were straight out of a skate park. One of the videos features a couple going through this toxic relationship. It’s all a metaphor: If you engage in a toxic relationship it will kill you. Then there’s another video that’s more the innocent side of certain relationships. Then there’s another video that parallels a young couple with an old couple, both making out in a really sensual manner. It's kind of supposed to make you uncomfortable. I got this idea from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Besides his ability to make you sympathize with the villain, he also makes you think one thing and feel bad for the way you’re thinking. It’s like Room 93 is the judgment gates of the relationship when you’re put in that intimacy.
Are any of these stories inspired by trips you’ve taken to hotels?
Everything I write is autobiographical. Even if it’s not directly about me it’s a combination of things about me, things my friends have gone through, things that I’ve witnessed. I thought I was invincible when I was a teenager. Breaking into a hotel room is definitely something that I’ve done more than once; probably something I shouldn’t have done, ever. That feeling of fleeting recklessness and that feeling of sneaking away to be removed from everything in a place that doesn’t belong to you I think was so liberating and that was something I wanted to feature, it’s also inspired by the guy I dated who lived on Halsey Street. He and I would go with friends and drive up to Montauk, sleep on the beach, break into cabins Eternal Sunshine-style. It’s all harmless in retrospect, but it’s that believable, un-believability that I wanted to feature.
Since your writing is already so personal, how do you decide what experiences are too intimate to share in a song?
There’s two things I think become too personal: One, when it crosses the line of vulgarity, because I’m not seeking to be vulgar, I’m not seeking to shock anyone. I’m just trying to talk about my life in a way that romanticizes and immortalizes what I’ve done. Most of this is for me, to immortalize my life and my experiences in a concrete entity. The other thing is sometimes I get nervous when I think I’m sharing stuff about other people where it’s not my place to share. One of the things that’s hard for people who aren’t artists to understand is that sometimes a muse is a lot smaller than they may seem. Sometimes it can be misinterpreted and people can read too far into all of that. It’s kind of like bearing all so people don’t feel like they have to dig.
Is there a hotel you can’t wait to stay in on your upcoming tour?
I’ve seen so many. I have a collection of room keys at home, like hundreds. Its ridiculous. I’m kind of disappointed that we won’t be staying in as many hotels. I love The Standard, I love The W. But every now and then my day-to-day manager, Anthony, will fuck-up and put me in a really shitty motel and I’ll be like, “Yes! This is awesome!” I want to smoke inside when I’m not supposed to and not get charged $500 for doing it. There’s no point in being in a hotel that’s really fancy because its like being in a house that’s covered in plastic, you can’t be comfortable. That’s the whole point of being in a hotel.
You obviously have a very distinct style in real life and aren't afraid to experiment with dyeing your hair, but how do you decide what to wear on stage?
My performance is entirely dependent on what I’m wearing. I remember one night in San Diego I wasn’t feeling well so I wore jeans and my whole show was off and I couldn’t figure out why and it was because I was wearing jeans. I can’t communicate the way that I want to, communicate the ethereal-ness that I think my music brings in the live experience; I can’t bring that in jeans. My fans call me a pixie, me performing is me literally spinning around with LED shoelaces on my combat boots, flashing lights flipping around with blue hair.
Do you have a favorite vintage item in your closet?
I have a pair of Calvin Klein overalls that my mom’s wore before she got pregnant with me in college. I also have a Levi’s denim jacket that I actually got from a video shoot that the stylist picked out and let me take home. The neck is coming off. It’s held together by safety pins all along the collar. But it’s the perfect color, perfect amount of distress. I’m obsessed with it. That’s pretty much it. Besides, like, this bathing suit from the 1960s that I wear with high-waisted shorts. It’s a really obnoxious print. It's so ridiculous but I wear it all the time.
We know you’re into comics. If you were a superhero what would be your superpower?
If attributed to how my personality is in real life, I’d definitely say mind control. I think I would also like to have an extra sense. Not like a sixth sense, like psychic. I would like to have something different because I would like to feel something new. I think that would be a super power in a way because it would give me a unique perspective like no one else in the fucking world.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
I want to work with The Weekend, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance The Rapper. Mostly rappers. Growing up I listened to The Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, The Wombats, and The Fratellis. Music that was like, “I’m in the car with my girl, we're smoking cigarette going to the beach.” Now I listen to a lot of rap music because they’re like, “I’m in a hotel room alone tonight and I just spent way to much money and I have a show tomorrow.” So I think I started relating to rap music more. I’d love to work with Banks, the 1975. I’d love to work with Ed Sheeran. He nails that super personalized lyric thing. I think it’d be fun to work with him. At the end of the day my songs are dressed up with all of this trendy, cool production that I love, but when you strip my songs down I think they’re all pretty much Ed Sheeran songs. That’s how it is.
Listen to two tracks from Halsey's EP 'Room 93' (out now) below!