May 2024 27

Black Nail Cabaret continues on an upward dark electronic and gothic pop trajectory with a new album and single/EP, providing the latest soundtrack to your fetish club dancefloor desires.


An InterView with Emèse Árvai-Illes of Black Nail Cabaret

By Stitch Mayo (StitchM)

March 2024 saw the release of Chrysanthemum, the sixth full-length album from the duo of Emèse Árvai-Illes and Krisztian Arvai, better known as Black Nail Cabaret. Throughout the band’s tenure, varying elements have contributed to what has steadily become their own brand of darkwave, from the sensual and melodic aspects of goth and synthpop, to more experimental, alternative, and avant-garde sensibilities – as Árvai-Illes describes here in this InterView, “too pop for the dark scene, but too dark for the mainstream.” Never afraid to be provocative and always embracing sexualized imagery and themes, “Teach Me How to Techno” has become a favorite from the new album, released earlier this month as an EP featuring remixes by DSTR, ExciterSoul, and People’s Theatre, along with the music video directed and edited by K82Studio’s Krisztián Kovács and featuring dancers from Kiki House of Bandita and the MD Dance Company, choreographed by Daniel Moritz. Prior to the EP’s release, Emèse Árvai-Illes took the time to speak with ReGen’s Stitch Mayo about Black Nail Cabaret’s songwriting and production process, touring plans, as well as her recent appearance on the latest album from darkwave legends Attrition.


First of all, how are you?

Árvai-Illes: Fine, thanks.

Your recent tour with Empathy Test brought together two different synthpop visions. How did these contrasting styles come together on tour? Did you discover any unexpected creative sparks through this collaboration and what were some of the highlights of touring together?

Árvai-Illes: It was just really nice to see how well rounded Empathy Test is, especially Isaac’s vocal talent and entertainment skills onstage. We also got to know the other lovely members, Nadine and David, but also Phil from the FOH, and we will definitely keep in touch. This is the great thing about touring – we got to know some new amazing artists, like Echo Machine in Glasgow or the intriguing Lucy Dreams from Vienna, but also have been able to catch up with old friends, namely Promenade Cinema.

On the title, did you explore other titles during the album’s creation? What ultimately drew you to Chrysanthemum as the most fitting embodiment of the album’s core message?

Árvai-Illes: Chrysanthemum is a flower often used in cemeteries, so it may represent a somber image, but the flower itself survives the longest. The story of how it came about is one about the birth of the historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha. The prince took seven steps, and at each step, a lotus flower bloomed to receive his feet. This image stuck with me and intertwined with an image of me walking into the woods nearby, contemplating about my fear. It is like chrysanthemums bloom under my feet, the flower that represents death in a way, instead of a lotus, which represents enlightenment. This is actually part of the lyrics of ‘Faceless Boy,’ which is the epilogue of the album.

Tracks like ‘1mg’ ‘Neurons’ and ‘My Home Is Empty’ seem to delve into a more introspective space. Were there specific personal experiences or broader themes that fueled the lyrical content for these songs? Did you find the writing process for these tracks particularly cathartic or challenging?

Árvai-Illes: ‘1mg’ was most difficult to me. All are from personal experience, but writing about a drug that helps you cope with an anxiety attack brings back memories, even physical ones. After I recorded the vocals for ‘1mg,’ I started to feel dizzy coming out of the recording booth, and had a worsening ringing in the ears. It was getting so bad that I had to go to the emergency services next to us. I thought I would faint. To my surprise, they gave me a tranquilizer. I was upset at first, but it made the symptoms go away. So basically, I developed a panic attack after the recording, without me realizing what was going on. That’s what happens when you relive and repeat a bad experience, like a negative mantra, over and over again.



Both ‘Autogenic’ and ‘Darkness is a Friend’ showcase captivating visuals that seem to weave a narrative while simultaneously leaving things open to interpretation. Can you walk us through the creative process behind these videos? What story were you trying to tell, and how did you translate that into a visual experience that complements the music?

Árvai-Illes: ‘Autogenic’ was more like a dream – no clear storyline, just a journey inside, like the autogenic training itself. We also wanted to pay homage to the cult movies and music videos of the ‘90s that influenced us. ‘Darkness…’ is different. I already had that storyline in my head for almost a year, but it was more complicated at first, with more characters. We narrowed it down to only the two of us, going through life in different scenarios that lead up to the lake, and deep down in the water, facing my deepest fear. It is not the suffocating part, or being tied down; it is being utterly in panic. I think fear is the scariest thing of all.

Black Nail Cabaret’s music and visuals consistently display a strong sense of aesthetic. Are there any specific visual artists, writers, or filmmakers who consistently influence your work thematically or visually?

Árvai-Illes: I think I draw from the old classics, and by that, I mean my own classics, which may be no classic at all. Movies, music videos, visual stories that stuck with me, which may be banal to some, but started something in me. Sometimes an image or a story just comes to me by itself, and when we bring that to life, we may have to make some amendments, considering what is possible locally and financially.

Last year’s Woodland Memoirs was a brilliant reinterpretation of your earlier work showcased a willingness to explore new stylistic territories. Did you find that pushing into different stylings and interpretations influenced Chrysanthemum?

Árvai-Illes: No, Woodland Memoirs was a nice trip to different waters, but we returned to electronics after that. I don’t think it changed the way we write music. Perhaps the only change I notice is that I have always been craving perfection when it comes to vocal recordings, and Woodland… showed me that you don’t have to do many takes and edit them to perfection, because perfection does not exist. It is best to focus on capturing the feeling.



Black Nail Cabaret has carved a unique niche in the dark pop scene. Do you feel a responsibility to push the boundaries of this genre? Are there any directions you’d like to explore further or incorporate?

Árvai-Illes: I am glad we can have a unique niche. We often feel that we may be too pop for the dark scene, but too dark for the mainstream. Most importantly, we make music that makes us happy, and we try to push our own boundaries each time, so that we don’t repeat the previous album. This is also for ourselves as artists, even if it doesn’t necessarily serve the audience well… but thankfully, that hasn’t been the case, and the new album has been very well received. I am not too focused on new directions, as these usually come to us automatically as we go by. Let the creator take the wheel. Then when I see it, everything seems to rotate into form by itself.

Throughout your career, your music has undoubtedly impacted listeners in a multitude of ways. Have you encountered any particularly unexpected ways your music has resonated with fans?

Árvai-Illes: It is most moving to see how some of the songs or albums helped people through difficult periods. I am always touched to read these stories. This means that the song served its purpose – it made a connection. Songwriting is mostly therapeutic. It is helping me, and it is fantastic to know it is helping someone else too. On the other hand, we were invited to a fetish club in Bristol because our music is pretty much liked there. When we entered, literally the second song was ‘Teach Me How to Techno,’ and not long after that, ‘No Gold’ followed. The dancefloor was packed with fabulously dressed – or rather undressed – people, freedom was in the air, and I somehow felt that our music found its home.



Attrition’s new album, The Black Maria features some fantastic guest vocals, including yours on ‘The Great Derailer.’ How did this collaboration come about? Were you a longtime fan of Attrition, and what was the experience like working with Martin Bowes on this iconic project?

Árvai-Illes: Yes, I knew Attrition from before BNC, so it was a great pleasure to be asked to contribute. We performed together with Attrition in Budapest, and the idea of the collab followed not long after that when Martin sent me his demo. I was especially pleased to dive into the dark experimental world, and the song is almost like witchcraft.



Can you give us a glimpse into what the rest of 2024 holds for Black Nail Cabaret? Are there any upcoming tours, releases, or creative endeavors you’d like to share?

Árvai-Illes: We want to play the hell out of this album. There are also a couple of pending collaborations I am and have been working on, and if all goes well, an even bigger artistic collaboration is on the way here in Hungary, which involves both of us. We also have a new EP and video that came out in mid-May for one of the songs taken from Chrysanthemum, which received lots of love so far, even though it hadn’t been highlighted just yet.

If you could go back in time to the younger Black Nail Cabaret, what would you tell yourselves?

Árvai-Illes: I probably wouldn’t change a thing musically because we couldn’t skip a step on the ladder we have been climbing. Every album was a learning experience after all. And we probably wouldn’t listen to advice anyway. I may just tell my younger self to start pulling dirt out from under the carpet, and practice some insight and self-knowledge. The sooner the better.


Black Nail Cabaret
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Dependent Records
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Photography by Dori Hrisztu-Pazonyi, courtesy of Dori Hrisztu-Pazonyi Photography


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