The avant-garde artist Elektra, at this point residing in the Netherlands, has had an interesting career that is difficult to define or contain, she is in many respects a renaissance woman. She is not afraid to boldly stand up to bullies or do what others would not, like singing the forbidden revolutionary songs from Indonesia at a book presentation which created a media stirring. She has worked as a creative consultant frequenting the international film festivals of Cannes, the Netherlands, Germany, Iran, and Russia, and over the decade she was involved, she has met and socialized with many renown actors and masters of the cinema. Elektra speaks several languages and is often called upon to translate.
She competed in the creation of a theme song for the James Bond film. And she has created short films herself, most notably is the Binger Hollandia project with a collaboration on the film institute EYE and Teylers Museum. She is trained in various styles of dance, including flamenco, Middle Eastern and other ancient and modern world dance forms, which she also teaches. And as a writer she published a well-received poetry bundle. But in this interview we will be focusing on her music.
Q: When did your interest in music begin and what made you realize that music was the foremost artistic expression for you?
A: Apparently it began in the crib, as I would compose all day long, sing melodies, work on them, polish them. My stepdad recorded those sessions, and even used one of the melodies in one of his own compositions, while still giving me credit, which I own a handwritten copy of.
As a child and teenager I used to hear music in everything, be it a stream in the woods, or a ray of sunshine. The melodies cutting through me were so beautiful and at the same time seemingly so cruel… that they seemed unbearable.
Yet , at the same time I see music as nothing more but a soundtrack. The visuals around us play a bigger role, sounds do tend to give it all depth and meaning. So I wouldn’t say that music is the ‘foremost artistic expression’ for me, as it’s simply a part of the whole.
Q: You have released nine solo albums and twenty-three music videos, are you working on a new project and if so when will it be released?
A: Only a very small percentage of my creations makes it out into the world. So yes, I’ve been working, but very quietly.
There’s a ton of material that is ready to be released, including remixes I’ve done for other artists, and it won’t be anything anyone expects, as even I managed to surprise myself in the process.
In the past few years I immersed myself into a more in-depth study of subjects that I find necessary for my development. From orchestration, to the study of art, dance, you name it. I will start releasing in September this year, so keep both of your eyes on my newsfeed and site!
Another reason I was a bit quieter than usual in the past couple of years, was due to physical problems, as I was launched head-first into a brick wall during a video shoot. My skull had to be rearranged, and I spent a year dealing with three migraines a week and would collapse onto the floor with a slight turn of my head. For someone who was used to a non-stop whirling dervish style, this was very frustrating.
Q: You have lived in the Netherlands for many years but your roots are in Eastern Europe, do you feel your ancestry influences your music?
A: I am not sure, the most logical answer, however, would be: yes? As I grew up surrounded by all this musical wealth from the entire Soviet Union. I was more into my Georgian and Kazakh ancestry though, as it spoke more to me somehow. The proud stances, the female dances, the warrior spirits. Russian folk music was not something I appreciated while growing up, the female role models there were too flirty for my then-serious nature, haha, but I did learn to appreciate this genre as an adult, since I’ve studied it in-depth. The melodies are amazing, and I understand why so many classical composers have been greatly inspired by it. Another big influence is Roma (gypsy) music, which I also perform to as a dancer. The choral traditions of the Baltic States have become a point of interest for a few years, after a friend of mine introduced me to some of the greatest composers in this genre. I was blown away! I realized that perhaps one of the reasons I layer all those vocals, is because I grew up with this tradition. Including all the chants of Russian-Orthodox churches, which I also adored. There was a pop singer I loved when I was little, I would sing her song “Million Alych Roz” (Million of Red Roses) to anyone who wanted to hear it. Not that long ago I heard this song again, I was impressed with how amazing the composition and lyrics were. But mostly classical music from Russia has been my main influence. I sang along with “Eugeni Onegin”, danced to “Swan Lake”, cried with Rachmaninov’s themes, listened with fascination to the complex compositions of Shostakovich, and many others.
Q: You speak several languages fluently and have picked up a few others that you are in the process of learning. Do you record some of your music with lyrics in these various languages?
A: I do. On “Suicide Siren” there’s a Russian version of the title song, and on the album “Eudemonia” some Arabic. English remains my main language at this point, but never say never. I’ve been walking with an idea in my head for a full Russian language album, and I dream of knowing Persian so well, that I will be able to write with the same poetic metaphors.
I have told myself at one point that I can’t do and can’t know everything, as all I do is already a bit too much, and my body struggles at times keeping up.
Having already studied twelve languages I feel perhaps it’s best to take a breather, as it proves to be extremely hard to maintain all you’ve learned, since you don’t use all of them daily. A challenge many multilingualists know all too well.
The paradox remains that I’ve struggled with dyslexia all my life, but simply found a way to still pursue my love of languages and reading. The human tribe with all of its cultural wealth of differences is fascinating, and we all contribute to the whole of creation. I will be honored to sing in as many tongues as possible.
Q: Tell us a little about Blowpipe and how this recording company has supported and promoted you.
A: Blowpipe is such an exciting place! The variety of independent artist minds from all over the world makes it so. I was one of the two main reasons for it’s creation, back in 2000. Blowpipe was also the one who basically forced me to do everything on my own, at the time of my signing I was still pretty much a girl with a piano, with an already huge amount of songs. The debut recorded in 2004 never saw the light of day, for various reasons. In 2005, however, I was placed in front of the new studio, which made me land in a depression, I was convinced my career was over. At that time I simply thought that working with computers was not for me. After staying in bed for few days, basically feeling sorry for myself, I had a powerful dream. Afterward I dragged myself out of bed, and started recording. After one month “Helios Selene” was born, completely finished. It felt as if someone gave me wings, from then on I just kept on improving my skills, but still without ever opening a manual. I just found my way, experimented, and the good thing about all of this is that no one system indoctrinated me in any way. All that matters in this is a good ear, and having the guts to break the rules and do something different. Blowpipe believed in me even when I didn’t, as I am such a perfectionist, this character trait doesn’t always work in my favor. I also never stopped believing in Blowpipe nor seeing its possibilities, so from the very beginning it was a mutual give and take and a source of inspiration.
Q: Your music has a lot of variety, Pop tunes, electronic dance, all the way to the other end of the spectrum with the melodies of a poetic siren, it almost feels as if your energy is trying to burst out into the world in every form to make its mark, to transform, to define. What inspires all of these various musical expressions?
A: Music to me is not confined to any genre, it is everything, in every possible form. It does not censor itself, and it does not allow itself to be stashed in a box, sealed, a label with a limiting description attached.
I simply like to take risks. Do what feels right and seems valuable to me as an artist and as a person – as those two are logically intertwined, whether I am ready to admit it or not, whether I act on behalf of a character or not.
As an artist I am a medium, a tool for inspiration to become manifest.
Stay in one genre for long, and don’t dare trespass? I would simply get bored from such an approach, there’s not much challenge there.
Q: As a female musician in Europe, do you feel that you get the same exposure and support as male artists do? Could you briefly tell us what your challenges in this regard have been?
A: It’s hard to say, as female artists seem to continuously complain on this issue, instead of actually delivering work that would speak for itself.
Competing, and not just with men, is a pure masculine trait which makes men grow, and I always guarded myself in this regard, as my music is all about feminine energy, in all forms. I play my own game, and focus on getting the best out of myself, at all times.
But yes, there have been challenges, plenty of them. I do not like to focus on any of this too much, as negativity tends to drain energy, and bad behavior is always ego stuff, not soul oriented.
First: many men don’t seem to grasp the concept of a woman doing all that I do, and all on her own. Double standards are unfortunately still present, as if being a female, means you can never operate on the same level as a man. While in truth you can, and on an even higher level. As a woman you’ve also got the looks, the feminine charm, and magnetism; and you have the power to make men lose their mind and make them act solely on instinct. Those who hold real power never need to put others down, censor them, or limit their scope. I feel men are just afraid to lose out in some way, because they are not in-tune anymore with their natural cherish-and-protect traits, and not in-tune with their feminine side, all humans have both natures, the balance is simply different.
And as a female artist I have found that I am less safe, more vulnerable. As an example, when walking the long corridors after a performance a drunk male fan followed me to my dressing room. I also had to endure harassment from few male industry professionals, who had other interests in mind than supporting my music. Then there has been backstabbing, telling unkind stories about me behind my back, while still trying to get every sort of benefit from me; pretending to have my interests at heart… It’s hard not to lose your trust in others at times, and there were plenty of episodes in my professional life when I did lose it.
Q: As an avant-garde artist, the road you are paving looks pretty golden from the outside, but I imagine there are many challenges and road blocks, what has been your greatest disappointment, and your greatest triumph?
A: Perhaps because all the audience sees are the results and the success? Not the sweat, blood, tears, disappointments, sacrifices, betrayals, breakdowns, resurrections, a lifetime dedicated to extreme amounts of work, and power of will to keep going?
So let’s start on a positive note, with my greatest triumph.
It has been an Indie Top 40 placement, with the song “Crazy Baby”, which was also released as a 7”, with bonus downloads including remixes by other artists.
My greatest disappointment has been being dropped by the largest Indie record company, to whom I would license “Eudemonia” album. They had big plans with me: a press day, a band with professional musicians to accompany my live tour, everything. But unfortunately the economic crisis made its entry, and all new signings went away.
For two whole years I had to move heaven and earth to still release this particular album, which eventually proved to be a huge success and my biggest triumph at the time.
But I was so exhausted from everything that I was on the verge of collapse, and due to it didn’t even have the capacity to enjoy this success fully.
Q: You are also a visual artist, photographer, painter, writer, dancer and film-maker, with so many interests how do you find time to fulfill all your dreams, or can you?
A: There’s a metaphor I use. I call it: my galaxy. Music is the sun, the rest are planets circling around it. So it all depends on the planetary alignments of the moment.
In the past I used to feel like a mother with too many children (and you can’t put children in the closet and let them catch dust, can you?)
There is only so many hours in a day, and my whole life I’ve been neglecting the personal life aspect to such an extent, at times I didn’t know how to behave when around humans, i felt so shy.
Viewing it as a galaxy calls for a cooperative view. Music is my priority, the rest circles around it, giving it more meaning.
Q: You are also an avid reader, do you feel that you derive inspiration from what you read and study?
A: Sometimes I do, yes, but not always. Everything we take in, influences us, whether we are ready to face the music or not.
Sometimes it actually reinforces me in my own vision, as I realize I don’t want to go into the direction of what I’ve just read and thus experienced.
I also try to read books which are not lying directly in my own realm of interests, as it stretches the mind, challenges it, and prevents it from getting limited and closed off.
There’s no television in my house, so books take that place in, in a way. Curling up on the couch with yet another tome remains the ultimate bliss.
Q: You have chosen not to take part in social media, and as a young woman in this day and age, it is quite unusual, can you tell us why you opt out?
A: This is a very important question.
Social media is designed to connect people no matter where they are located. It is a wonderful concept, and must be operated in accordance with the freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is not a very comfortable aspect per se, and is often misunderstood. It means: every one has the right to express their opinions, no matter how politically incorrect it might be deemed by others.
Expressing those opinions in a graceful manner and with sufficient factual arguments provided only adds to the debate, which leaves room for others to agree, disagree, or stay neutral. Ongoing communication involving connecting all kinds of minds from all kinds of backgrounds only adds progress to the whole.
Instead the social media outlets continue to pursue the path of undemocratic control, censorship, privacy violations and deception, as every one can nowadays buy followers to their accounts, pretend their posts are popular by purchasing approval, and even get a verification mark next to their name while simultaneously violating certain type of laws which protect intellectual property.
These are the main reasons why I left, as it violates my sense of integrity. The kind of tactics those sites employ have never been part of either my personal or professional lives, and I simply refuse to participate at this point, while still waiting for the course to change for the better. In the past I have greatly struggled with maintaining social media presence, and was present for very brief amounts of time, and only after having been convinced of its necessity by my entourage. A few years back I predicted that privacy in the future will become a privilege of the very wealthy ones. I still hope that it won’t come to this, and luckily I observe many groups fighting for it already.
My art and presence manage to invoke very strong and in some cases severely extreme reactions, which in most cases don’t even have to do with anything of mine. As a young woman who is also perceived as beautiful you stand even more unprotected, as every unbalanced individual, male and female, can send you disrespectful messages. There’s a good reason why nowadays my direct email is nowhere to be found, not even through my official site. The thing is: I prefer real, physical, limbic resonance connection, for instance during live shows, as this is the only real connection which is not only gratifying to both the artist and the audience, but it also conveys your art in the best possible of ways.
Since June this year you can find my newsfeed on twitter, and that’s there for the only reason to keep track of all upcoming releases, events. I also post practice videos, and sometimes share personal inspiration and thoughts. As I said: I still hope that the online realm can be there to enrich our lives and make it simpler, and will become a welcoming place for all, eventually. People who act and react irresponsibly on f.i. social media should not be allowed to silence those who actually do have something substantial to say. Instead we see the ignorant masses with too much of time on their hands versus the intelligent few who are busy building, yet who allow themselves to get bullied away too easily, and in most cases vanish from online entirely. Create platforms of your own, I’d say. Collect the forces, don’t scatter.
Q: Can you describe your working process and what goes into the creation of a song?
A: This is a very difficult and complex question, as so much happens before the song reaches its public exposure, and not one song nor its process are alike.
Often I work in my mind; you will have to imagine all kinds of compartments there, like drawers.
When the time comes to empty them, that is when I will start to physically record, arrange, produce, mix.
Often the ideas come to me as visions, like short films. Then it sort of keeps you hostage until you’ve completed the process. It’s important not to lose your sense of reality then, as it’s easy to do so. In the past I had trouble emerging from it, but this has also evolved, with the amazing result that now I can go even deeper into the whole creational process, but snap out of it whenever there’s a need for it.
Once the creational process is complete, the final mix goes to the one who masters it. Mastering is like the final transparent layer applied to a painting which gives it its gloss, its final depth, and its colors more intensity. Although in the realm of music mastering this final stage on its own is an art form in its own right, so the comparison with a painting doesn’t really do it justice, work-wise, but only attempts to describe the metaphor of the process.
Q: When you create an album, do you find that during the time you’re recording you embody a particular feeling that influences the complete collection of songs? Is it a natural flow, and organic process, an overwhelming inspiration… that leads you, or do you set out for example to do an album with dance rhythms and then make music to fit that genre?
A: No, I never tried to fit any genre, in fact: people often refer to me as a genre in itself. Every album is a story that picks up from the previous one. It’s not something fabricated, it simply evolves.
The creation of every album is unique. For one album I don’t emerge from my studio for a month, while another album creates itself over one season, yet still manages to get released some years later, as timing also remains essential.
One of the upcoming albums is a case of the former, but I won’t reveal which one at this point in time.
Often ideas come to me in dreams, fully arranged and produced, with at times even finished video ideas attached. At other times a vision literally hits me. Then I can also have an idea in my mind, which I further work on as a chef in a kitchen, adding ingredients until a full meal is ready to be served.
Sometimes it all works out, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t – I just let it rest. In some cases the song behaves like the process of winemaking – it has to ripe until it’s ready to be bottled, ready for consumption, ready to be enjoyed to the fullest.
One must realize that it’s only after a huge amount of work, that you finally start to create something which is meaningful. It was only after I literally wrote my first thousand songs, that I really started to write songs. They are still filed, and sometimes I go back and pick one, and remake it into a song it deserves to be.
So even if I have no inspiration, which sometimes happens, all I have to do is go back to all the previous work, and choose songs to play with, falling back on my technique, with original inspiration still intact. If that does not leave me with satisfactory results either, then I just throw in more study, and / or just try to rest and discover something entirely new.
Q: You are very strongly supportive of the feminine forces. You are devoted to discussing topics related to redefined femininity and occasionally give dance workshops which are exclusively for women. How do these interests influence your music?
A: Wonderful and important question. Both my artistic endeavors and feminine activities such as dance and singing go hand in hand. They complement and inspire each other. For more than a decade I have devoted myself to the in-depth study of everything feminine, from ancient antiquity to the modern times, erotic arts included. It is something, as a woman, I feel is a prerequisite, one which luckily has been a big passion of mine for as long as I can recall. Needless to say it has influenced my creativity tremendously! Not to mention my personal life. What I especially found is that there is a lot of confusion on the matter of femininity and masculinity in our era, perhaps because we are all in the process of moving onto the next level? A process which, just as everything else in life, constantly evolves, yet change is at times chaotic and stressful, yet remains nevertheless unavoidable. Nonetheless, stagnation is worse. I am known to be outspoken on the issues of femininity, both in my art and in private, but then again: I have educated myself on this subject, and I approach it from this angle: Debates can only be conducted with the help of facts, not assumptions. As for being supportive of the feminine forces: I rarely see it in other female artists. They tend to only support those who do not threaten their self-image, as if it is someone else’s responsibility to shoulder the consequences of their actions.
Q: You chose the stage name Elektra a few years before the movie with the same name came out. Since the success of the movie in 2005 there have been some artists who adopted this name, has this caused you any concern or problems?
A: Luckily, it has only caused concerns for only short periods of time. Whenever someone uses another’s artist name, it doesn’t come across as very original to start with, so what is the impression you are trying to leave? A couple of those people also tried to lift along on my releases, by posting into my databases and such, pretending it’s mine. One even attempted to pass my music for her own! Ridiculous situations. This is literally my life’s work, and so many sacrifices had to be made; so much effort, energy, time and resources have been invested into making it all a reality. Are people even willing to realize it, I wonder at times? Can they see the difference between real following and a bought fake one? I can’t even go on social media if I want to, using my own artist name, as someone who has no right to it, and has nothing to do with it whatsoever, has somehow found a way to verify it. How is this even possible, I wonder? Is this the sign of the times, or the state of the world we live in?…
This name has always been very dear to me, but it was a synchronicity that made me choose it as an artist name as well. A book fell out of the bookcase open in front of me, with “Elektra” written in capitols on a page, in the same moment I was contemplating on the choice of artist name. There’s no logic to explain this. My life is often being guided by synchronicity, and I learned to take notice. Some people suggested I use Elektra as an artist brand, since was attracted to this name at the age of six, and would call myself Elektra, as a young woman I was at first too shy to own it, I really had to grow into it, fully embrace it, claim it. I have always identified with this ancient name, it goes back much further than the Greek tragedy versions. Mostly people associate the name Elektra with Euripides or Sophocles, “the mother killer” as she is often referred to, and it’s a pity, as the earlier mythological uses are so much more interesting.
The name Elektra seems to be carrying a stigma of sorts, which I find to be very undeserved and one-sided. It’s a powerful and very feminine name, and has nothing to do with any evil forces, and from the very first moment I adopted it as my artist name, I also felt called upon to contribute to the restoring of this name’s dignity.
Q: If you could do anything with full funding and support what would it be and why?
A: I would go on a theater tour! Risk once again. Hire professional and both classically and electronic music trained musicians. It will be a dream come true: to be on stage as a performer and as a musician, live out of a suitcase for a while, let my music and art expand its horizons, draw others into my world without distractions. If there will be profits, I will yet again invest them in future projects and it will be great to finally be able to renew my recording studio, so that I can work better and do more.
I am more than ready to spread my wings, and fall in eagle’s flight from this magnificent mountain, where the higher you climb, the lonelier you get. Next to that: I adore sharing. Engaging with my audience. Wiping sweat off my forehead. And inspiring, inspiring, inspiring, more, more and more! I’ve had many cases when people came over to me after a performance, telling me “they felt hope flowing through their veins again”. That is amazing and makes one realize what a grateful task it is to be born an artist.