Here’s a sweeping generalization that just so happens to simultaneously sweep every ounce of incontrovertible truth on a matter into a neat little airtight leaf-heap: sophisticated intelligence is always interdisciplinary, or else unworthy of the name. Writing and performing under the moniker of Kid Moxie, Elena Charbila is an Eleusinian Mystery of a music-making movie-maven who makes of her life a living validation of this moving-picture mantra, and then sets it to a synthwave score. Her songs are dark theatres of urbanized romance and nightclub mysticism that approach self-absorption as a literary virtue and sexual avidity with novelistic detachment.
Splitting her time, cultural currency, and artistic consciousness between the City of Angels and the City of Aphrodite means the spirito-architectural shapes Kid Moxie has called upon to build herself, both as a woman and as an artist, have shadow-selves and cavernous corners no one will ever fully peer into, and these have made her a border-crossing thinker in every piece of art she produces. With her recent release of Better Than Electric, her fifth full-length studio album, the bel-esprit of the beaten streets brings her neon noir sensibilities to subjects as diverse as the eternal chemical of youth, the nature of fortunate flukes, the decortication of dreams, and the machineries of willful oblivion within our own cinemagraphic minds. The effect is one of turning the entire underbelly of the human sensorium into an ultra-vivid cocktail of emotional curare and catnip that you will want to drink.
As composer for motion pictures and studied conductress of the symphony of chance, Kid Moxie cites the scores to Requiem for a Dream, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s ‘The Three Colors’ Trilogy, and ’70s French films as primary influences. Her artistic stance is one of benevolent voyeurism that looks disconsolate images squarely in the heart, without flinching, and even ritualizes them. Originally signed to Undo Records, she has recently created the music for the new Orion/MGM logo, night-bitten a bright-day pop song with Nina, and scored a television series for Cannes-conquering Vasilis Kekatos. Any close examination reveals that Kid Moxie’s protective shaman’s pouch against cynical sequelization in her art is a constant, curious reinvention that turns on a deep understanding of the way the night can steal from the day – also, what that theft brings with it that nothing else can.
As with all thing ethereal, the dimensions of Kid Moxie are untakeable. Visit the subalpine forest of the Kid Moxie and Maps alliance and find a song that feels akin to the releasing of a great volume of love-doves, formerly for sale, taking off all at once to free skies and pastel horizons. You can go back to 2017’s “Dirty Air” or listen as currently as 2021’s “No Island (Temple Remix by Die Arkitekt)” to see that the yardstick you would need in order to accurately measure the Kid Moxie canon is the same one that would be required to take the accurate proportions of a stage career like that of actress Cherry Jones. These are indefinable women artists at the very center of the panopticon, though only ever seen through a lens of their own creation. They are making their own oligopticon by any and all means necessary – and also making their own backlit history in the process.
Thus, when Kid Moxie tore QRO’s ticket and saved us a seat next to her for a private conversational premiere of Better Than Electric, as well as scintillating trailers of the myriad other flickers moving across her sleek silver screen, we did not even stop for Milk Duds and Diet Coke. No candy is needed when you are sitting across from the art-wave Artemis and chatting with her about her Olympian oeuvre.
QRO: Hello there, Athenian goddess of L.A.! I love that we are getting this divine kitchen time together today!
Kid Moxie: Good morning! What a beautiful kitchen you have, I must say!
QRO: Thank you so much, though you know they are merely decorative to me–I don’t actually have the faintest clue what to do in one of these besides twirl around with coffee in one hand and chocolate in the other! [laughs]
KM: I am exactly the same way! I can admire a gorgeous kitchen, I just cannot put it to good use…[laughs]
QRO: That’s okay though because you have manifold other skills oozing from your filmic fingertips so I wouldn’t expect someone with that much glossy fabulosity to have time for the mundanities of cooking! Meanwhile, I’m not sure what my excuse is… [laughs] Can we start by having you talk a little about your intriguing bicameral career in music and film? Because that is very specialized to you and something that I see you constantly shuffling into new dual forms.
KM: Sure! To be honest with you, acting has gone into the background a little in the last few years for me because music has really taken over my time and my interest. I was a child actor in Greece working in television. When I came to the U.S. to study, I assumed that I would be doing more of that because, for as much as I was trained as a musician and playing in bands, I just didn’t know how to place myself in music as a career. I could not see that future yet.
I was doing voiceovers and indie films. Being in L.A. really solidified for me that I felt there was not enough freedom in front of the camera as there is behind. When you are acting, you are speaking somebody else’s words and taking somebody else’s direction. Ultimately, you have to go through all these filters for your performance, whereas a musician can kind of DIY the whole thing and say, “This is how I want to sound, these are the words I want to say, and this is how I want to say them.” That was so much more appealing to me.
QRO: I completely understand that need for an artistic place without a superimposed veneer. However, I would argue that what you have done is translate your cinematic instincts fully to sound because when I hear your music, I see movies.
KM: That’s exactly how I see them as well! I am ruled by visual elements because image is so powerful. Blending musical and visual elements is always the most alluring combination for me.
Being in L.A. really solidified for me that I felt there was not enough freedom in front of the camera as there is behind.
QRO: And you art-direct all of your own videos, do you not?
KM: I do, because everything starts from a scene in my head and I can’t just let somebody else interpret it their way. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing… [laughs]
QRO: I think it’s an exceptionally great thing! You know I’m all about taking up my entire space and not apologizing one iota for it. I’ve also learned that certain people use the word “controlling” when you do that because they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with women who do what men have done for centuries, women who refuse to compromise their autonomy. The word they mean and haven’t learned yet – besides “egalitarianism” – is simply “self-ownership.”
KM: You are absolutely right! I want and have to be involved in order to really enjoy it, and it is my instinct to be in control of a project from birth to delivery. I can get very hands-on even with something like the light because the atmosphere of anything, be it a music piece or a video, is so important and light is such a big part of it. We spend hours lighting up my videos before we shoot them.
That’s the number one thing for me: lighting something in a cinematic and evocative way. I don’t like realism and my videos are much more in the sphere of fantasy. My last few videos have all been shot with Joseph Rubinstein, whom I really love. We shoot inside, against a black background, always trying to get that warped sense of place and time, like a dream.
QRO: I think this is one of the most indelible parts of your always-unforgettable art for me because I am the sort of person that, if the light shifts a certain way in the afternoon window, it will make me cry. The light takes my mood with it, always, and I think the light takes your songs in the same way. Where did you learn all of this way that you have with scene-setting and storytelling?
KM: Well, I do have a degree in film but I honestly feel that I operate most of that from pure instinct because I come in knowing exactly what I want and then it becomes trial and error until we find it. That’s why I need a patient cinematographer! [laughs]
I don’t like realism and my videos are much more in the sphere of fantasy.
QRO: Oh, I’m sure I’d be intolerable to the point that the cinematographer would deliberately shoot me in ugly light for revenge! [laughs] But, in all seriousness, there is no such thing as being “too serious” or “too focused” about your work and people who have accused me of that have come to swiftly regret it because I will always be the first to call anybody out who wants to try to pass mediocrity off as necessity. A trend becoming disturbingly more common everywhere in art and beyond. Where do you find your fellow committed visionaries for these excursions into the light?
KM: When I find somebody that I really like, both on set and as a person, I make a point to bring them into my network because I feel that there is almost nothing more important in this process than not working with jerks. This is not a bank transaction or a job anybody has to do. Nobody said to me, you have to be a musician. I manifested this for myself and I want to be with good people. The core team I have had around me for the last few years, especially Joe, is a group of “yes” people. I like problem
solvers, not people who only see a problem.
QRO: I think there is, quite literally, no quality more defining to any human life, artistic or otherwise. Those folks that wear the negativity goggles and lean on the can’t crutch all their days not only never have the quality of life enjoyed by those that have the personal bravery to throw all that away, but they also age before their time. Plus, it is just mentally exhausting to be around human Eeyores all day! [laughs]
KM: Definitely! They may try to exhaust me but will find themselves disappointed! [laughs]
QRO: Just remember that being called “abrasive” or any of its corollaries is always a compliment and never lobbed by anyone who is doing more than you; you’ll only ever be criticized by those who are doing less. Something that I have heard ‘does the most’ is the Athens electronic scene, from which I know that your childhood aesthetics drew musical inspiration. Tell me everything!
KM: Oh, the Athens electro scene is extremely vibrant. Whenever I am back and staying for a while, I realize how much is happening in dream-pop here. For example, Keep Shelly In Athens is such a great band. The thing with Greece in general is that it does not really have the entertainment machine and it is super, super hard for Greeks to take those kinds of passions and make them into a career. The financial environment is not friendly to that.
So, there are so many talented bands and artists in Athens, and in Greece as a whole. Also, dreampop is not a mainstream thing. Greece is very much about hip-hop, trap, and Greek folk music.
I like problem solvers, not people who only see a problem.
QRO: That is extremely interesting! So, is there even a radio station that supports the underground scene and the dreampop dreamers?
KM: There are a couple of radio stations like KCRW or KXP that do support it, but it is not at the forefront of popular genres by any means.
QRO: Therein lies the bedrock of its cool, I would say! Or, as magical Kevin Parker sings, “When we were living in squalor, wasn’t it heaven?” There is definitely something lost when too many people or dollars know about a thing. Talking of genres, you have been called everything from “noir pop” to “cinematic pop” to “neon noir.” How would you describe your sound to any kid new to your musical moxie?
KM: I think it was actually me that first called myself “cinematic pop” because I feel that atmosphere is the defining element. It’s about enticing your imagination and bringing to life imagery that you have in your mind. It also goes hand in hand with what I do composing soundtracks for film and television. Every bit of music that I make is connected in that it is coming from or being made for movies.
QRO: You just created the world’s most beautiful and natural segue to what I wanted to ask you next, which is about where you believe the most fruitful or fascinating overlaps exist in these two intertwined art forms.
KM: Sound-tracking has really moved into the center stage of my life. I did my first indie feature a couple of years ago and Lakeshore Records is the label that put out the album. That opened a lot of other opportunities for me. I scored for Cyberpunk 2077, which was big fun because it is so popular, and now I am scoring a television show called Milky Way, which feels a little bit like the European answer to Euphoria. It is directed by Vasilis Kekatos, who got the Palme d’Or in 2019 at Cannes for The Distance Between Us and the Sky. I am scoring all eight episodes of Milky Way and am beyond stoked for that!
QRO: That is magnificent! Tell me about that process if you will: do you write the music independently, get the episode first, receive the series all at once, or how do you go about creating the sonic landscape of someone else’s writing?
KM: In this particular case I had to write the music before certain scenes were shot so that the actors could have that music in their space as they were performing. There were some choreography pieces that they needed in advance to shoot with, and then, as they were shooting, the director would send me footage to work with. Most of the work is going to happen afterwards when we block the scenes and write per segment. We have gone back and forth exploring what this town sounds like and what this character sounds like, just building themes on an intuitive level.
Every bit of music that I make is connected in that it is coming from or being made for movies.
QRO: It sounds positively magical. Is everything instrumental here or are there songs where you are writing lyrics as well?
KM: There are a few big power-pop songs involved, but most of it is very moody, esoteric, piano-based soundscapes. I do some vocalizations here and there that are less about words than they are about lending vocal atmosphere. This is the pinnacle of cinematic and the absolute dream for me–to be composing for film. I would not mind if it took over everything!
QRO: Everything except your latest record Better Than Electric, which is made of the kind of Papier-mâché ghosts and dark-disco popsicles that, I say, there can be no question the world needs more of! Your latest single, “Shine”, is a stunner of a synth-orchestral video that sounds and looks like it was born at a warehouse rave in 1980s Berlin – and you look like the hottest Robert Palmer girl ever in it!
KM: Oh, that’s such a poetic and warm thing to say, thank you so much! Well, I’m very proud of this record, I do have to say, because I feel that it is the nearest I’ve come to fully expressing my entire inner landscape. The song “Better Than Electric”, which you know I did with our wonderful James Chapman (Maps), whom I adore…
QRO: My sonic superhero! What is he, really? I run out of words because nothing is half good enough for the chest-bursts he inspires!
KM: You seriously could not pick a better one! He is such an unbelievable gift of a person and producer. That song we did together was a song about love, “Shine” is a song about sex, and the third single, “On A Sunday Night”, is about night drives. These are the recurring themes that seem to occupy me the most in my heart, head, and life, and I just wanted these songs to acknowledge that through sound and image.
I’m very proud of this record, I do have to say, because I feel that it is the nearest I’ve come to fully expressing my entire inner landscape.
QRO: As the infamous cross-country, night-driving highway harridan that I am, I can’t tell you how much I love that you place the night drives right up there with those other two visceral experiences because I would do the same and I do not feel that they have gotten nearly as much deserved press in pop music or anywhere else! Listening to your arc from Human Stereo to Selector to 1888 to Perfect Shadow and then landing here at Better Than Electric, I find your mileage miraculous.
KM: I am so thankful to hear you say that as I can be very self-critical about my older stuff. It is almost like reading your old diary. You just cringe!
QRO: I know exactly what you mean about that and do it all the time in my own life and art, but you should not do it with your music because you started at a higher place than many people could reach. You have a beguiling and ever-evolving body of work that speaks volumes about your openness and versatility. I try very hard not to regret first footprints because I tell myself, “They did put you on the road you’re on now.” Yours have led you to some pretty incomparable places! Can you tell us a bit about your music’s involvement with the David Lynch Foundation?
KM: Yes! I haven’t worked with them in a while, but I used to make songs that were put in compilations to raise funds for certain of their philanthropic causes. That was such a beautiful time. It was amazing for me to not only meet him, but get to indirectly work with him. I work with a composer called Angelo Badalamenti and we did “Mysteries of Love” for Blue Velvet together. He presented it at one of his big galas, like a premiere for the video, alongside some incredible artists that were there performing that night, like Duran Duran, The Flaming Lips, and Lykke Li.
From being a fan in Greece all those years ago, encountering his work and just being like, “What is this, I want to be a part of this” and then getting to experience it up close and have a little piece of mine in there, it was monumental for me. That was one of the most meaningful nights of my life.
QRO: I cannot even imagine how you felt that night! I really, really believe that there is something beyond sacred and spiritual that occurs when you meet and work with someone that has formed you. That artistic transfusion is the most special and sacrosanct kind in the world because it is born out of true love and the deepest kind of care. You can look at a career like Dave Grohl’s and all the wonder that came out of him meeting Lemmy, his greatest hero, and see why it matters to stay a hardcore fan of those that brought you to the party no matter how big you get. I do not think you are ever meant to lose that sense of scale and magic for the people who shaped you; it is something to be vigilantly protected and eternally honored.
KM: I totally agree with every word of that. It was beyond description! It really was a dream movie in my head come to life!
If we are talking music, I love eerie fairies like Grimes, Lykke Li, Björk.
QRO: I’m so glad you got to live that movie! You and I actually share one major film influence on our careers and that is Requiem For a Dream. The significance of that movie in my life would be hard to overstate. It is a legitimate before and after. I can certainly hear its voice in your music, largely from the angle of looking at things other people try to avert their eyes from. What other movies would make your must-have list?
KM: Well, my favorite movie of all time, in keeping with the David Lynch conversation, is Mulholland Drive because it combines so many things that I love. Dreams, love, sex, Los Angeles. The way all those themes are explored under his filter is forever magical. The music and the soundscapes in the movie are inexhaustible. That’s Angelo Badalamenti again, of course. You can just keep watching and find new meaning and continuously hear new things. For me, that’s the one great masterpiece of which I will forever be in awe!
I do love other things, like Nicolas Refn movies such as Drive. That one was huge for me in terms of making movies for films because it made me realize that everything did not have to be all violins! [laughs] Neon Demon is another that hits all of my pet themes of dark and light L.A., dreams, and so on. Every film I would mention has one or more of those!
QRO: Knowing what you love and recognizing the power in its patterns is very important! I respect people who have taken the time to figure that out and examine it because so many have never had a thought, just baseless reactions. I’ll bet you have also had a thought or ten about whom you’d like to work with next in that realm. Besides the magicians Maps and Angelo Badalementi, you have collaborated with some other genuine monster-talents, such as Astronautica and The Gaslamp Killer. Who is on your dream harmonic hookup list still?
KM: Oh my god, so many! [laughs] If we are talking soundtracks, I am so drawn to Nicolas Refn’s neon sensibilities and the worlds he builds. If we are talking music, I love eerie fairies like Grimes, Lykke Li, Björk. These are all artists that I admire and feel that I recycle pieces of.
QRO: I am the photonegative of your dark, eerie fairies, Elena–I’m the rainbow-lit, cheery fairy! [laughs]
KM: You are, and it is wonderful! Same magic, different color scheme. [laughs]
QRO: Ah, thank you! If we had been together in person, I would have insisted on slapping a “da-dum, chee” on the drum kit for my face-scrunching pun there though! [laughs] What about in-persons for Better Than Electric–will there be any? Will you tour it or is it all meant to be one of those replaying movies in our minds….
KM: I do feel that the videos tell the story better than any stage performance could and I am inclined to let them stand as the visual narrative of this album. I do love a well-curated live show now and then so I am going to feel around a bit to see if I might do a small run of dates in Greece, Germany, and England but nothing is solid yet.
QRO: Keep us posted on that and I will be there with bells on, and of course you know that if you are ever in the south, you absolutely must stay with us and let us tour you around! What are you most artistically excited about that you are working on this year?
KM: I would love to see the south, and your hospitality is globally legendary. Thank you so much for that offer! Besides Better Than Electric, I am hugely excited about my single with my synthian doppelgänger, Nina Boldt, which is out on Italians Do It Better. We have done a dark synthwave cover of “Waiting For Tonight” by Jennifer Lopez and have a little collaborative EP called Lust Is A Crime on the way by the end of the year as well.
QRO: How utterly fabulous! I can’t wait for this! I am so impressed with your multi-pronged passions and the way you have experienced such layered levels in each one throughout your career. You are fascinating and completely unique, and I am thrilled you let me into your synth-tastic movie theatre today, Elena. I hope to catch you somewhere down the wild way sooner rather than later!
KM: I am really appreciative of your work and all that you do. Thank you so much for wanting to give my work some of your rainbow-Pisces lighting! I hope to see you soon as well.
-photos by Neil Krsyszak and George Tripodakis