Elena Alice Fossi (singer, composer) from Kirlian Camera
With every subsequent meeting with Elena Alice Fossi - the sparkling, vivid soul of KIRLIAN CAMERA - I have a feeling we are unfolding another chapter of fascinating sonic journey. The Italian formation proved many times their nature lies in transformation - they keep reinventing themselves anew with every new release - it’s no other way with their brand-new album ‘Cold Pills (Scarlet Dawn of Toxic Daybreak)’. Dark, disquieting tones take their music into another level and I was thrilled to discuss the content with Elena. But with KIRLIAN CAMERA is never purely about music - their songs always provoke to trigger a wider overview of the world, people, circumstances, events and by doing so they deliver not only amazing sonic content but also intellectual sparkle.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello Elena, it’s been a while since we last spoke… slightly more than a year to be exact… at that time in 2020 I didn’t think the lockdown would last that long and would have such a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives. How do you see the past year now, with all the experience and things that happened?
Elena: Just a few days ago I was watching a short documentary. It showed a laboratory in India, where you see barefoot children, intent on making anti-Covid masks, the very ones that we buy every day in any pharmacy. The reference period is February 2020, which is when everything was about to start. Well, almost all of these young workers are sitting on the ground and the environment looks like a huge and unhealthy non-floored cellar, where heaps of masks are placed on the ground at random and without protection. The same story goes for swabs. Even in a newspaper, I read “Scandal at the airport: Covid swabs with sticks already used”! And these are only peripheral illustrations of a “Covid” narrative full of contradictions and hypocrisies.
Meanwhile, in Italy, our politicians have been passionately discussing for weeks whether or not it is appropriate to postpone the curfew for one hour or two and someone launches the romantic idea for singles to apply a heart of glitter on the mask to recognize each other at the supermarket. Here military spending has increased by about 37 billion, while health expenditure, already violated for many years by almost all rulers of any colour and political tendency, has decreased by about 25 billion. On the other hand, I live in a country where our health minister has fiercely banned home health care to follow the “paracetamol and watchful waiting” protocol, although it’s now known that the real problem with this virus is that of not being able to catch it in time. I am referring above all to Italy because I follow the mechanisms of this pathetic and destructive policy every day, but I fear and believe that there is not too much difference compared to many other states. After more than one year, I could tell you an infinite number of anecdotes where the contradiction and the lies come out in the open with all the evidence. Then, whoever fails to grasp the absurdity we are experiencing should think at least of the extreme embarrassment that will assail us when we have to tell all this to posterity!
RoD: It seems like things are getting worse - also in terms of censorship we discussed last time. I’m getting many calls from my friends who are musicians or artists who actively speak their mind and are not afraid of open criticism. Their accounts get blocked, news removed. It seems the same happened to you with the release of ÄO sarai ribelle o non sarai’. Seems like the saying “the word is more powerful than the sword” still stands, especially given your song ‘The 8th President’?
Elena: The compilation ‘O sarai ribelle o non sarai’, conceived by the Italian musicologist Antonello Cresti together with Hellbones Records, made a big mess here. In fact, it saw the light on April 25th - obviously not a random date - but only 36 hours after its release on Bandcamp, it was censored without any verification, showing that, at least in Italy, we are approaching an artificial and illusory democracy, seasoned with an authoritarian flavour. Unbelievable how the juxtaposition of the two terms, democracy and censorship, doesn’t arouse suspicion to most, and, on the contrary, they manage to coexist harmoniously. On the other hand, people are now well tamed! I don't know what will happen with such a compilation, but already a couple of very popular Italian news, both on TV and on YouTube channels, have discussed what happened and it seems that the thing is gaining some true interest. We certainly won’t back down and this project will be organized and placed on a new digital platform, but also, I think, on CD and on stage. Quoting the words of the same creator Cresti, “the compilation was born with the aim of rebelling against a standstill position in which the world of music and entertainment, in general, have been relegated for more than one year.
The initiative has been renamed as a ‘sound gathering’, to give a sense of sociality to be regained, out of all this virtuality that damages art and creativity. The operation has no political/party matrix and brings together 115 participating bands with 3 very specific points: no to censorship; no to this unique politically correct thought, which is technically unsustainable within creativity and artistic narration because it creates harmful communication blocks; no to the so-called new normality, because streaming and similar forms of alienation to the social dimension create problems for those involved in entertainment”. No surprise, however, if you think about how this increasingly crazy “politically correct” is jeopardizing the historical and cultural value of every nation and people. Statues are thrown down in the name of a controlling, partisan and liberticide justice, up to the point of censoring ‘Dumbo’, ‘Bambi’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Peter Pan’, with the result of confusing people, especially those most lacking in a logical sense and domesticating them to hatred in regard of a thought that is not unique. The “cancel culture” we are witnessing puts a strain not only on true democracy, but also on the individual conscience, which loses the roots of a solid vision of justice and beauty, to weakly and supinely cling to media manipulation. In doing so, they don’t teach us to love other cultures, but simply make us all homologated and without any culture. Instead, it’s important to realize that respecting the traditions of others does not mean abandoning one’s own.
RoD: Change of subject - actually, the very reason we are meeting is the new album that is scheduled to be out on the 14th of May 2021. What is the general concept behind ‘Cold Pills (Scarlet Dawn of Toxic Daybreak)’? And, if you could speak of any leading motive on ‘Cold Pills’ - what would it be?
Elena: This is the first double studio album we ever made and it’s a very true report from a world that is unknown to many. This is the dark, toxic and sometimes dreamy-but-sick world of ‘Cold Pills’ and its sub-title ‘Scarlet Dawn of Toxic Daybreak’ reveals another side of the band, a landscape plagued by altered states and malaise, by rituals and facts that go beyond explainable limits, but also by a great desire to fly high and far off... elsewhere. It is born from a certain passion that surrounds Angelo and me in what we like to define as “esoteric art” and is full of traps, in fact can be easily misunderstood. The song form is altered by certain dark psychedelia, which here not seldom distorts the classic sense of verse and chorus. The lyrics look raw, more than in the past, because this time we want to deal with a truth that the surface world likes to deny. But it is in the basement that the true history of the world was born and continuously develops.
Choosing a leading motive is difficult, both because this time the album is really long and full-bodied, and because it works a bit like a puzzle. If you don't put all the pieces in place, a hole remains. The album basically consists of tense and deepest atmospheres, so feelings have been undermined by an inexorable gloom, whereas there is also the intention to “bring home” some alien soul, just like ours. For this purpose, essential rays of light appear here and there as necessary pieces to complete this picture. In any case, we immediately focused on ‘The 8th President’, making it the single on the album, because it’s perhaps the most outrageous track of the entire album and we were aware of the “danger” seemingly related to this operation.
RoD: I had a chance to see some videos promoting the new album, e.g. ‘Lobotomine 5’. It’s a metaphorical representation of the media stream slowly numbing us down, making our individual thinking, sensitivity and minds less sharp and unable to produce independent opinions - at least that’s how I see it. Tell me more about the song and the video making.
Elena: So true! In the video I myself played a kind of journalist who imparts one-sided knowledge and then, towards the end, laughs with a satanic grin, indicating she’s teasing users. Obviously, the track in question wants to represent the deep brainwashing that we are undergoing, whether consciously or not. Here we liked to use a bit of sarcasm, also visible at the end, where the toilet paper skit stands as a symbol of the deficiency now achieved. ‘Lobotomine 5’ is the clearly invented name of a medicine that makes the dystopian narrative of our times digestible and, in some cases, even appreciable. Citizens have been replaced with stateless consumers, unaware, perhaps, of being part of a social assembly line which in particular historical periods you could call slavery. We tried to reproduce such a form of alienation also through the rhythm and the computer-generated voice that acts as the intro of the song. This particular sound flow was performed by Alison Bergamini, Angelo’s American cousin, who in her life deals with computer videogames. Personally, I found this solution very cool, as well as effective for the song.
RoD: I cannot escape the feeling we are enacting Huxley’s ‘Brand New World’ this century - with people stupefied by news babble, irrelevant information and tons of red herring every day distracting attention from what’s important, pacifying senses with SSRI. What’s your opinion on it? Have we all became more vulnerable? Does art have answer to that?
Elena: The alienating nature that is preparing to dye our reality with dark and disarming colours, had already been highlighted by many writers in the past. Among them, Huxley, as well as Orwell, paint the catastrophe of an anomalous and undesirable society quite well. But it’s one thing to tell the facts through fantasy-politics novels, another one to analyse what surrounds us in a logical and tasted way, free from media stoning and vitiated mental habits. Seals of conspiracy theories are flying like confetti at a carnival. On the other hand, as Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize in Physics, said, “the problem is not people being uneducated. The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question anything from what they have been taught”. Into all this, art, which should at least rescue people’s souls, if not lull and accompany their conscience, ran away.
Perhaps we have never seen a lack of creativity, originality and spiritualism as in this moment. Art had already been confused for fun long ago. It is now an empty tomb. I’m sad to see how artists in general fit into this religious taboo state. And I’m sorry to admit that most of our fellow musicians, who are supposed to be untamed and nonconformist by nature, didn’t make the slightest noise. It’s ironic because an event of this magnitude is delicious food for the mind of a creative and for the soul of a rebel. Impossible not to treasure it! But isn’t it that behind the “bad and ugly” tattoos, behind the middle fingers raised by habit in every worn photo, behind the “fuck off”, granted with every t-shirt sold, there are many foolish and approved lambs?! Are you asking me if art can have an answer? I ask you “Have you seen any art pass through here, by chance?”
RoD: I’m asking this also because I have an impression the dystopian vision seems to be prevailing on the new music you release. For example, the video that goes with ‘The 8th President’ is indeed very poetic and beautiful, yet disquieting and dark, especially if we think about the vocalic dialogue between you and Angelo Bergamini. Your voices are intertwining, juxtaposing - dark and seductive matter against harsh, deep and profound - like light and darkness in one entity. Were you operating a lot on contrasts on ‘Cold Pills’?
Elena: We often like to use contrasts to oppose the slippery narrative of circumscribed reality. With ‘Cold Pills’ and especially in ‘The 8th President’, we want to “confuse” the listeners. These are times when manipulation plays its dirty game in practically all fields. The most skilled masters in this practice are journalists enslaved to power, but counterfeit is a dish of the day that is always fresh and for everyone. For this reason, the time has come to shuffle the cards on the table and try to remove the orientation that leads the lambs to the slaughterhouse, so that we can restore and rearrange the individual sense of logic. I like to insist that ‘The 8th President’ may appear as the choreography of a “satanic-shaped mystic”, for those who have no courageous touch with the subsoil of good. Everyone, in fact, thinks they are acting for the good, but what is really missing is the realization, the awareness of what the good is. ‘The 8th President’ is the emissary of an evil far greater than the one you think you are fighting here and now in his name.
RoD: After having listened to ‘Cold Pills’ I had a feeling it’s taking KIRLIAN CAMERA’s music to yet another level. The multi-layered sonic compositions and especially the vocalic richness of tones, the changeability and the provocative nature of the content makes me think of your music as one big mind opener and an “alarm clock” for lulled brains. I mean, as discussed before, nowadays we seem to be offered a lot of meaningless news, content of no relevance, warm-washed messages and so people forget independent thinking, they do not read, they stop understanding the things they read. In such an environment, you punch hard to wake the numb brain up. What is the secret behind such an impact?
Elena: I would not be honest if I said that we have always made music for ourselves, regardless of pleasing an audience. A musician has a strong desire to share his/her work with someone who can appreciate it. However, it’s true that for us the quality of the listeners is more important than the number of those who follow us. And this has allowed us to make choices of unconditional freedom. But now, having reached this point of the journey, expressing emotions in freedom is no longer enough for us. We also need to build a home where we host those people who feel alienated, misunderstood, caged in an often-illogical scheme, which however is the master. We have created these cold pills, but our purpose and desire are that they can warm the heart of those who do not understand and do not accept the scaffolding of this world.
RoD: I mentioned ‘The 8th President’ before to be carrying a new tone to what I’d call your usual sonic-scape, but I’d say it can be referred to the entire album. It sounds a bit harsher, with a bit of punk tint even? It is very profound and seems to be touching something very basic, primal in its nature, or I’d even say mystic. Would you say you decided to spice KIRLIAN CAMERA music with some new genres a bit?
Elena: This work is more naked than the others. It’s no coincidence that we are talking about drugs, hypnotism, alienation, malaise. There is a lot of our life, in fact it’s impossible to swallow rules and lifestyles that don’t belong to us in any way, as well as daily compromises. But, beware, not even cost-free rebellion, nor provocation as an end in itself are part of us. The freedom we pursue so much has a moral law and a price and we must be aware of this. Few were born to be free, unfortunately, there is no diploma that you can obtain for this. Speaking in terms of music, drawing on other genres and trying to reconcile them was almost dutiful for us because in this specific field there can be no one-sidedness. Classical music also teaches this. Sure, electronics are our great matrix, but we have an undeniable sympathy for certain metal and rock contaminations, which are more congenial to give vent to a certain epic feeling that we carry within. It’s no coincidence that a couple of musicians who accompany us in our adventures come from the metal scene, such as Mia Winter Wallace, bassist of Abbath and Nervosa, and Alessandro Comerio, multi-instrumentalist active for some time in bands such as FORGOTTEN TOMB and TRIUMPH OF DEATH / HELLHAMMER.
RoD: In what way the music effect you wanted to achieve on the new release fits into the overall artistic development of KIRLIAN CAMERA?
Elena: The artistic development of KIRLIAN CAMERA is an eternal succession of pure research and inspiration, which cannot be counterfeited. “Musical calculation” is something we avoid like the plague. In this orientation, ‘Cold Pills’ is joy, as it is very pure to us, yet innovative. There are moments in a musician’s life that make one forget any sacrifice faced.
RoD: On May the 4th you released the single ‘Cold Pills’ - it’s indeed exquisite material musically - with beautiful vocals and captivating musical line, very elegant and hypnotizing. What are the cold pills actually? And how do they react with ‘Twin pills’?
Elena: Speaking of pills... cold pills are the ones that go to outline a very lonely ritual that has nothing to do with parties. In fact, they are not for everyone. For some, it will be an awakening, an enlightenment, while for others - those who are more clinging to materialistic reality - might become a torment. They may feel lonely and heartbroken, unable to manage themselves in an environment so far away from the warm embrace of the chains in which they are usually used to living. Then, as far as the ‘Twin Pills’ is concerned, well, the allusion to the suspended and falsely fairy-tale world of Twin Peaks is clear, which also contains disturbing visions. ‘Twin Pills’ tells of an almost hypnotized world, which goes to write the temporary end of the album with a fake calm, almost ironic.
RoD: Do you have a song on the album that carries a special meaning for you in particular? If yes, why?
Elena: ‘I Became Alice’. The title speaks for itself, because Alice, my middle name, best represents my being a visionary. The dream can be the very purpose of existence, when it detaches itself from the matrix trying to flow into reality. This song sounds a bit angrier than others, precisely because while I was at work on it, I remembered all those times when people tried to restrain me, to make me lose my self-esteem. How many times, as a young girl, I have been told that I shouldn’t waste time with music or art, that instead I had to find a steady job, perhaps in a factory or a bank. At that time, I lived in a small town where the tongue of fire of the steel mills dominated the life of the citizens. I have done various jobs and they not seldom were even underpaid, just to survive and pay for my musical studies. But I always kept in mind that my work and my soul were elsewhere, not so much in the “inert fantasy”, but in the sound, in the notes and also the work of musician can be useful to people, because the dream you offer can soothe some pain, who knows... So, I had to leave everything and above all send to hell those who for some reason wanted to destroy Alice’s dream.
RoD: Would you say the ongoing pandemic influenced the content of the album? If yes, in what way?
Elena: I think that everything around us is absorbed by us, consciously or not, so I can’t say that a similar event hasn’t touched our chords at least a little. What interested us most was not the pandemic itself, but the way it was managed worldwide, what it created in people’s minds and psyche and, above all, the totalitarian involution in which such an episode is leading us a little at a time. It’s true that this event is a consequence of an economic, sociological, political and cultural approach that has been going on for years. Anyone who wanted to go in depth was able to find interesting traces, in which all this was already foreseen and put on the agenda, especially if, like us, you have long monitored the ambitious and absurd idea of ‘Big Reset’ by Klaus Schwab, founder and current executive director of the World Economic Forum, and company. Well, music absorbs consciousness transformed by surrounding events, but it not only has the function of nourishing the soul (and not only the wallets of producers and record companies!), but also that of scratching with powerful and well-sharpened claws, where there need it. I would say that ‘Cold Pills’ expresses this urge well. It encloses the world, yet it is light years away from it.
RoD: Changing the subject for a while - what is it like to be active for 40th years in a changeable, demanding music world and stay as creative and faithful to your line as yourselves? Does it require a special mindset or an especially strong fighting spirit?
Elena: I believe that at the base of musical longevity, and art in general, there are three fundamental ingredients: purity, freedom and strength. Purity, because a heart that is easily contaminated and influenced cannot be able to follow the set ideals. Freedom, because fashions are like the wind, they change constantly and if you are not really free you risk getting attached to models that then turn out to be inappropriate for you. Strength, because when everything is rowing against you, abandoning your way is the most comfortable solution. Our audience are at risk of going crazy at every approach with a new KIRLIAN CAMERA album, because they are constantly destabilized, confused, misguided. On the other hand, music is not coherence, habit, formula. We love those who follow us because they know it’s not a question of “songs”...
RoD: Would you say you look into the future with more or less optimism than a year ago? Are you making any concert plans? Any plans whatsoever for that matter? Perhaps promo-related?
Elena: Without a doubt, I can tell that today I am even more optimistic than before. The world is showing its limits, but at the same time, I don’t remember a moment like this, where that small but vivacious minority of awakening people have a chance to be in touch. Music is an important medium and we will know how to treasure it. Perhaps we will not be able to be invited everywhere, because we are crazy pills in a society that presumes to be sane. But our music will be played in any case, no matter our direct presence, no matter it’s a stage, no matter it’s a radio. You will see!
RoD: One last question - when you think about yourself - as a woman, an artist, a human being - do you think you changed through the past year? Is the constant development inscribed in our nature or is it a decision - like not to go with the flow, to resist the average, to keep the open and independent mind?
Elena: Many were the events that knocked on my door and many were the challenges that I had to face just during this last year. Meanwhile, people seem to have merged into a single frequency band and I feel further away than ever because I can’t get familiar with the heroic obedience that characterizes earth walkers. I felt a deep need to accept my black sheep nature and began to be less afraid of my reclusive emotions. But, if on the one hand there is a natural process that guides one’s evolutionary state, it is also true that a push is necessary to decide to follow an uncomfortable track, for example. Sometimes I would like to be like others and more than once I’ve found myself envying the easiness of my human friends. Work, gym, discotheque, cinema and… many “exhilarating” TV programs. An appetizing dish for those who don’t need to think!
Promo pictures by Terri Harrison