The EV of Athens-born Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE already has two albums, a soundtrack, numerous EPs and a games commission to her name.
The new album ‘Better Than Electric’ sees KID MOXIE veer to the dark side to explore her love of DEPECHE MODE and THE CURE while also maintaining the dreamier atmospheres showcased on previous releases ‘1888’ and ‘Perfect Shadow’.
Featuring collaborations with FADERHEAD, MAPS and LOST IN STARS, ‘Better Than Electric’ signals a new attitude but retains light within the darkness.
Elena Charbila spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK from her home in Los Angeles about her latest KID MOXIE adventures, the romanticism of goth and an exciting new project that will be sure to turn heads…
You have said that the phrase ‘Better Than Electric’ has been key to conceiving this work, what do you mean by that?
The first song I did for it, ‘Better Than Electric’ with MAPS was done a couple of years ago. We started bouncing files back and forth. When I put the first synth lines on his melody, it was a pun on being struck by lightning in a way, that it feels “better than electric”. But I didn’t understand what it meant, I just knew the feeling was beautiful, loving and connected, but the phrase kept haunting me. Even after I’d completed the song, I was so in love with the concept, that I wanted it to be what the album was about, where every track has a certain sort of feeling but it doesn’t need to 100% make sense. Everything fell into that folder.
So there isn’t a concept?
I didn’t have a specific sound in mind, the album is like a mix tape that I’ve made for a night drive rather than a cohesive work with the same sonic landscape. Somehow, I felt it didn’t matter as they were all night time songs about love and sex, about Los Angeles and that was the common denominator, it’s not like I used a CS80 for everything, it’s not what I cared about.
The title song with MAPS is not a perhaps an indicator of the sound of the album overall and points to something more Lynchian crossed with Roy Orbison, it’s a like a bridge from your previous work to the darker material on this new album?
I guess so although it’s never been in a conscious way, I didn’t think about it that way.
Although your breathy continental style is still present on the album, there is a harder attitude as evidenced on ‘Shine’ and ‘Unbroken’?
That’s when the Germans came in and they made it harder, ‘Shine’ and ‘Unbroken’ are not my regular dreampop. But I was in Hamburg with FADERHEAD who is known for hard hitting electro and I was like “take me by the hand and take me there”, so collaborating with different people brought different colours. With MAPS, we were so dreamy, it was like we were floating on a cloud but with FADERHEAD and his bass, it just grounded me like… I wasn’t even on earth, it was like in the basement with him.
‘Lost In Time’ is another track with a heavier industrial resonance?
Yeah, I did it for the ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ game, that was one of the songs that was on the cutting board and eventually they decided not to use it. I liked the song so much and it didn’t sound like anything else on the album and so different that I decided to put it on there to see how it lives. It’s definitely the hardest hitting techno one!
How do you think the fans of your dreamier material will take to these harder songs?
I don’t know and I can’t control it, but they sound good to me… for anything we do, if we think about how people are going to react to it, it’s just not a good recipe. I never really think how it’s going to be received, I used to but I don’t think that led me down a good path either personally or professionally. I just know that if it makes me happy and I’m proud of it, that’s all really I can control.
So have you turned into ‘Miss Robot’?
Well, there is some android layers in the album, on ‘Shine’ in particular where there’s a fine line between a female sex robot and grooming somebody *laughs*
If we take ‘Miss Robot’ just as a track, it was me bridging the 80s and the 90s sonically, but if you’re asking about the theme of robots, I am fascinated by it because it’s retro-futuristic. Robots at this point are both retro and futuristic. Their depiction in media is super fun… ‘All Is Full Of Love’ by Björk has an iconic video directed by Chris Cunningham where two female robots are making out the whole entire time… that is fascinating to me, it’s all mechanical and precise yet there’s sensuality in it. So as long as there is sensuality to this robot, yeah, I’m down.
You’ve always shown an appreciation for goth bands and you get to go out to play with the appropriately titled ‘At The End Of The Night’?
Originally, I was thinking of doing a darkwave album, ‘At The End Of The Night’ and ‘Black Flower’ were from that; the album was even going to be called ‘Black Flower’ because I’m obsessed with that dark romanticism which is what I think goth is about in my head. They ended up on the album because I felt it was so 80s as well. During the lockdown, although I’m a horrible guitar player, I was playing it more, studying the sound of THE CURE and implementing it on my songs. That’s how ‘At The End Of The Night’ came about, I wanted to copy THE CURE and BAUHAUS and see what it sounded like with my voice.
You don’t have “dreamgoth”, so I thought, let’s do that! So having elements like the starker guitar and the driving bass with a voice like mine which is more ethereal and sweet would create an interesting sonic sandwich.
I was listening to that imperial era of goth during lockdown as well, what’s intriguing about that period of THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE SISTERS OF MERCY and THE MISSION, compared with what people might call modern goth rock, is how melodic it was despite the doom…
I 100% agree, if you think about it, you are not lured into a cave by somebody scary, you’re going to be lured into a cave by somebody attractive… it’s so alluring, the melodies are a vehicle to get you into the darkness and all those bands were genius in doing it that way.
Even BAUHAUS who are not the most melodic out of all of them, I think there is a romance to them that pulls you in, because if it’s all “undead – crucify – let me see you die”, that’s another genre to me… it’s not goth to me, goth is romantic and vampiric, vampires are some of the most romantic figures in literature and cinema. So live and love forever is how I think about goth, or else we are into heavy metal territory and human sacrifices, I’m not into that and I don’t think you are! *laughs*
Talking of heavy metal, what led you to do a cinematic psychedelic synth cover of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ with LOST IN STARS? What was your thinking behind the arrangement?
I love covers and I was thinking what one I could do that’s closely associated with male machismo and guitars so that I could strip out all of it and go the other way. ‘Thunderstruck’ to me sounds like teen boy angst like none other, it’s so male and the vocals are so rocking. I wanted a pure antithesis, ‘Thunderstruck’ just felt right. I like that he’s talking about female strippers, so I thought “how f*cking cool would it be for a soft female voice to sing about that? I’d like to hear that so why don’t I do it?”
I get the impression there a lot of liberation and positivity that has come into your life recently, so it’s interesting that you have channelled some more foreboding aesthetics?
It’s doesn’t feel like a conflict to me, because I feel that the darkness which you are perceiving in the videos and music just lives very happily with the sunny side of me, it feels like they are feeding each other. For example, if I don’t feel happy and sunny and free and all that stuff, I cannot really create that dark romantic stuff. My aesthetic is very much in that world and in order for me to pull from that, I need to be feeling great. I’m not one of those artists that work out of their darkness. If I’m feeling depressed, I am handicapped. You’re feeling this darkness and romanticism because I am able to go there without dropping anger in it.
Was ‘Odyssey’ inspired by your Greek heritage at all, it’s also perhaps the song that’s closest to the material on your most recent album proper ‘1888’?
Yes, I never thought about it with regards ‘1888’ because the whole project just felt like a departure without it being a different genre altogether, it’s more of a continuation as ‘1888’ was also a “mixtape” in its way. The title was definitely a reference to my heritage but also to the journey of having to be travelling so far away from home. I was thinking the wonders of that travel that has lasted over 15 years now and the sirens along the way, with people or situations that have taught me and lured me in, some that spat me out and some that put their arms around me.
I’ve never had to talk about it before this but yes, it’s all those things and when a concept like that happens, it definitely feels like word association, a stream of consciousness. So ‘Odyssey’, yes, travel, Odysseus, the siren and that’s how the song happens and freely associating it with more words, more imagery and something concrete to say about it.
‘On A Sunday Night’ is perhaps the most synthwave friendly offering on the album, having been on the fringes of that ‘Drive’ influenced scene, how do you see that musical form progressing?
Synthwave has a special place in my heart in terms of the feelings I have when I hear warm synths. ‘On A Sunday Night’ is one of my 2 or 3 favourite tracks on the album because it does feel very pure and emotive in its theme and sound, it’s very naïve which to me is what I think the 80s and synthwave kind of should be, synthwave is not a sinister genre, it has a nostalgia or retro-futurism… I was around in the 90s and although I was in the 80s for a big chunk, I didn’t actually live it. But I’ve seen images and enough stuff to know that it feels like a magical period.
A friend of mine said about ‘On A Sunday Night’ that it sounded like the 80s but none of the tracks that were written then and I was thinking “that’s exactly what this is”. I wanted to pull from that era which I love so much but filter it through my current sensibilities and aesthetic.
Hip-Hop and Country moves them here in the US but in Europe, synthwave feels way bigger and acts like THE WEEKND and DUA LIPA are bringing in so much synth goodness with their productions that it’s dripping into the mainstream without people really noticing. People respond to synth lines, ‘Blinding Lights’ to me is ‘Take On Me’ by A-HA from the first moment and it feels good, it’s sweet, romantic and jolly, there’s so many layers to it. I don’t know is America is as far ahead as Europe is with synth but it’s being brought in by the big guns, soundtracks and ‘Stranger Things’.
Talking about ‘Stranger Things’, Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ is No1 in the UK and doing very well in the US singles charts…
Kate Bush is one of my all-time favourites, she’s an icon and up there with Roy Orbison who is one of my big influences. The fact that mainstream America and young America is now getting into Kate Bush is so incredible.
What’s interesting is that ‘Running Up That Hill’ is quite arty, it’s not out-and-out pop…
Yeah, it’s not like they’re bringing back ‘Take On Me’, this is an angsty woman-in-chains type of song, so for kids now to love that because it’s on ‘Stranger Things’, I love that!
How do you feel the reception for the ‘Better Than Electric’ album has been?
I’m very happy as a whole, there’s been some good press and the videos have been well received, people seem to get what this is, no-one has said “what the f*ck is this?” although I’m sure someone is saying it somewhere, although I haven’t heard it or read it *laughs*
Basically, I feel pretty good so far but I’m very ambitious and always want more… the more people watch the videos and hear the songs, that makes me happy. Some artists say they don’t care, but I f*cking do, I want this to be big and moving. I want people to be talking about it and listening to it, I didn’t do it to be listening to it with my friends in my living room…
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I have an album with NINA out later in the year and it’s called ‘Lust Is A Crime’…
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by George Tripodakis
2nd July 2022