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black nail cabaret by Katalin Vago LevaiInterview with

Emese Arvai-Illes (vocals) from Black Nail Cabaret

BLACK NAIL CABARET is an enigmatic and electrifying band that captivates audiences with their unique blend of Darkwave, Synth Pop, and Electronic Music. Founded in Hungary in 2008, this dynamic duo consists of Emese Arvai-Illes (vocals) and Krisztian Arvai (keyboards).

They have been creating a mesmerizing sonic journey since their inception. With hauntingly alluring vocals, intoxicating melodies, and a touch of gothic allure, BLACK NAIL CABARET transports listeners to a world of mysterious allure and emotional depth. Emese and Krisztian, the creative minds behind the band, share a deep passion for exploring the intricacies of human emotions through their music. Drawing inspiration from their own experiences and the world around them, they craft evocative lyrics that resonate with their fans on a profound level. Their sound is a harmonious fusion of vintage synth sounds, pulsating rhythms, and ethereal textures, creating an unmistakable atmosphere that sets them apart in the music scene. As trailblazers in the darkwave genre, BLACK NAIL CABARET continues to push artistic boundaries and evolve their sound with each new release. Their newest release ‘Woodland Memoirs’ filled with haunting melodies and evocative storytelling was a great occasion to ask Emese a few questions - about new music but also performance style and art in general

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: The concert and festival season is at its peak. You have already had numerous live performances and even more are ahead. Your shows seamlessly blend both music and theatrical elements. In your opinion, what is the essence of a live performance? What effect do you aim to achieve when preparing for live concerts?
Emese: For me it is connection. There is no control, something happens that is hard to explain with words. We are performing, the crowd is dancing, and we unite, we are both equal. One doesn’t exist without the other. Maybe that’s the reason I do not speak much on stage, I feel I have nothing left to say, because all is in the music. It is also a good opportunity to learn about ourselves. Like I do get nervous. My mind knows that this heightened anxiety is unhelpful, but it takes longer for the heart to learn this. It’s a fear of expectations, so when I sing “I’m sick of your/my expectations, why can’t we just let go for a while” I truly mean it.

blacknailcabaret byRichardBesenczi

RoD: ‘Woodland Memoirs’, released in 2023, appears to be a captivating fusion of profound soulful passages, whimsical sonic caprices, emotional interludes, and thought-provoking compositions. It emanates warmth and invites listeners in, yet carries a veil of nostalgia and a certain poetic sublimity. What were the influences or inspirations behind creating such an album?
Emese: I am a kid of the 90s, although born in the beginning of the 80s, so this type of alternative music, like SMASHING PUMPKINS, is close to my heart. I also love the atmosphere of Twin Peaks, or soundtracks by Josef Van Wissem. These are only my influences, but everyone brought their own little world into this project, so it is a fusion of different minds.

RoD: In comparison to your previous releases, ‘Woodland Memoirs’ sounds less electronic and dynamic, and instead embodies a more soulful, insightful, introverted, and focused approach. It also incorporates different instrumentation. What prompted you to pursue this direction?
Emese: The main idea came from the orchestral fusions of Dark Electronic and Future Pop acts, for example VNV NATION’s “Gothic meets Klassik” performance. I loved the idea of such a collaboration, but we didn’t have any orchestra around us, we simply had quite a few talented friends, instrumentalists, so it blossomed from there. We thought we could do something very different, which also moves us out of our comfort zone a bit.

RoD: When you sit down to write a new song, what is your process like? Was it similar when working on ‘Woodland Memoirs’?
Emese: ‘Woodland Memoirs’ was much more like a flow. Although sometimes it started the same way: one of us had a riff, or I had an idea or reference for the direction we may can go to. I feel it was much harder to fit in the instruments, to make sure all of them have their place and the song is not overplayed, and also not too empty.

blacknailcabaret byZoranVarga

RoD: People create art for various reasons. What drove you to create it in your case?
Emese: I had things to say. I wanted to express myself. I was also drawn to music from a very early age, I was analysing it, what makes it good to listen to, what are the hooks etc. I didn’t like to be at the centre of attention all the time, because that didn’t always end well for me at high school. But I did want to draw attention, with something deeper, so I found a way.

RoD: Is art primarily an escape from reality or rather a commentary on it?
Emese: I think art is a deeper reality, because it reveals pieces from inside that may not have a chance to emerge otherwise. Art is non-verbal, well, mostly, but you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to expect an answer. That is freedom.

RoD: Your stage presence is very powerful, distinctive, and evocative. Would you consider a live show to be a transformative experience for you?
Emese: Definitely. I wish we played even more, it would be so much easier to fight these demons. One can learn how to connect with other people on a deeper level, by being on stage, and also to learn about one’s emotions and fears.

RoD: If you had to identify a song that holds particular significance for you, which one would it be?
Emese: You mean our own songs? Maybe ‘Orgasm’. Also ‘Icarus’ or ‘Unrequited Love’. I think these represent us nicely. If it is to highlight a song from another artist, now I would pick CHVRCHES feat Robert Smith - ‘How Not To Drown’. Talking about beautiful lyrics, great melody and dynamics. I don’t listen to it often, because it makes me super emotional, if I sing along I tear up.

RoD: When observing your creations, it is difficult to ignore the impression that all forms of art sonic and visual intertwine and converge to constitute the entirety of your work. Would you agree with that?
Emese: I am very visual, so often the imagery comes as soon as I start working on a song. I also have strong feelings about what I am going to wear for the next gig. It rarely happens that I choose last minute, usually it comes to me weeks before the show.

blacknailcabaret byHelgeRoewer

RoD: Was there a specific experience, person, or work of art that has shaped you as an artist?
Emese: There are many, and I continuously find new influences which push me a little. There are many fragments that contribute to the music, visuals and costumes I create today, not only from the art world but from all aspects of living on this planet. A mixture of 90s rave, Old-school Goth, DEPECHE MODE, MADONNA, the world of fetish, Marina Abramović, Buddhism, womanhood, death. These are the first couple of things that come to mind.

RoD: You have released albums with various labels such as Basic Unit Productions, Dichronaut Records, and now Dependent Records. How would you say the collaboration with each of these labels differs and does it have any influence on the style of the albums you release?
Emese: Dichronaut Records was our own start-up, when we parted ways with Basic Unit, so basically it was like being self-released. Basic Unit was our very first experience with a label, and we have learned a lot, it was a nice, friendly connection with the raw sincerity of Dejan, for which I am forever grateful for. But after we released the second album with them (which was actually the 3rd studio album) we felt that we are kind of stuck promotion-wise, and since we were doing most of the promo ourselves anyway, we wanted to see if we could run this, and maybe help other bands too. So this is when Dichronaut came about. It was really good to see how much admin work goes into a release and to be fully responsible but we were still going in circles. I was banging on the same doors. This is when Dependent came about, and my main request was to have someone to help us grow, to get to more people. Dependent didn’t disappoint.

RoD: When it comes to bands that have been active for a long time and consistently offer success, I always wonder what keeps you going and gives you the drive to continue with your music and art. How have your inspirations and approach evolved?
Emese: I personally feel there is a lot more to achieve. Musically we are still learning, influences are flowing in, the tap is still open. Maybe one day it will dry out so best to use it until we can. There is motivation to show growth, to show what we learned since the last album. And to be fair, I think there are plenty of people who still don’t know who we are, we are still introducing ourselves to new audiences. That is also a good motivation, wanting to give a lasting first impression.  It keeps live shows fresh and dynamic.

RoD: I assume the upcoming months will mostly revolve around promoting ‘Woodland Memoirs.’ Are there any other aspects or surprises that you would like to mention and that we can anticipate from you?
Emese: We are already deep in the new studio album, and actually finalising it this month. We just shot a music video this weekend for one of the upcoming songs, but it won’t be released until 2024. Stay tuned!

RoD: Thank you very much for your time.

Pictures by Helge Roewer, Katalin Vago Levai, Richard Besenczi and Zoran Varga

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