Lyrics littered with nods to film noir spring from modern-day issues including mental health. Even the femme fatales come with a twist – they always win the day.
Vamp, the Cyprus-raised, London-based singer’s bewitching debut album, shares DNA with Lana Del Rey, David Bowie’s Black Star and PJ Harvey in menacing mode. At heart it’s a playful rock record, sent soaring by brass and strings. Songs unfurl at a stately pace. Lyrics are delivered dream-like, slowly revealing secrets.
“I love that the songs take their time,” says Lux. “Most pop today dashes to the chorus, but I’d rather reel the listener in. I like them to want to know what happens next and wonder what it all means.”
From the moment Lux launched as a solo artist this summer, her originality was obvious. She looked like a femme fatale out on a murderous mission. ‘Teeth’, her debut single, released in July, paired sensual atmospherics with grinding guitars and gripping lyrics in which danger lurked at every turn.
Its cinematic video paid tribute to Tippi Hedren in The Birds – its attic scenes featured a flock of ravens, albeit from the London Taxidermy Company - but also to The Girl, the 2012 tale of how Hitchcock treated his leading ladies.
“The video is about conquering fear,” explains Lux. “Tippi suffered psychological trauma from being forced to film with birds, but what you discover in The Girl is that she overcame it. By the end she was happy to be photographed with a raven on her arm to promote the movie.”
Themes of mental health, survival and female solidarity are at the core of Vamp. Diagnosed two years ago with bi-polar disorder, Lux poured her recovery – notably the support of friends & loved ones and an acceptance of self – in to her writing.
“I’ve struggled with my mental health since the age of 13, but it got to a point several years ago where I knew I had to see someone,” says Lux. “The first few doctors told me I had depression and prescribed me pills which I later learnt were like throwing kerosene on a fire for a bi-polar person.
“I was having regular psychotic episodes before I was finally diagnosed. The relief was overwhelming.”
At the time, Lux was fronting the rock band Sister Witch, a Camden scene staple co-founded with veteran guitarist David Ryder-Prangley (Rachel Stamp, Adam & the Ants) and toying with the idea of a solo career.
“In our set there were always two of three slow songs that both of us loved, but didn’t go down well with the bar crowds,” says Lux. “They wanted noisy rock, not some weird, slow, sad-girl songs. For a while we kept playing them, then the penny dropped that they had to be for a different project.”
Initially, four of those Sister Witch songs were recorded to be released as an EP in 2018, until Lux’s diagnosis threw her life in to focus. She quit the band to concentrate on her spooky new sound and, as songs kept coming, shelved the idea of an EP for a full album release.
New single ‘Mad With The Moon’, Vamp’s seductive opener, began life as a Sister Witch song, but like several, changed form multiple times before brass and strings were added.
“It began as a heartbreaky ballad about a guy I was dating years back,” says Lux, who continued to work on the songs with Ryder-Prangley. “It didn’t only change form, it changed meaning. It became progressively faster and angrier and ended up as a ‘fuck you’ song. That’s me, hard to love and mad with the moon. I’m admitting that I am difficult and crazy at times. But if a guy can’t deal with that, fine, because I’m dealing with it myself.”
Born in London, but brought up in Cyprus where her Pakistani mum and half-Sri Lankan, half-Dutch dad moved for work when she was six weeks old, Lux grew up immersed in vintage American movies because that’s all there was to watch.
“Cyprus felt like it was in ‘40s or ‘50s when the rest of the west was in the ‘90s,” she says. “We had one cable channel that showed only old American films and TV and another that was pretty much just Betty Boop cartoons – she’s probably still my biggest style icon.
“I went to an American school where we studied American literature and I speak with a Midwestern accent, although I’ve never lived in the States.
“As for live music, there wasn’t any. I loved Kurt Cobain as much as Marilyn Monroe, but the only bands to pass through Cyprus were on death rattle tours. My first gig was The Scorpions, aged 11. I’d never heard of them. I only went because a mate’s mum was a metal fan.”
Compelled to enter a poetry competition at school aged 12, Lux discovered a talent for writing when her poem was published and kept it up, mostly in secret. A self-confessed ‘mild troublemaker’, she was about to be expelled from school when she won a place to study fine art in London and returned alone to live with an aunt.
By night she hung out with older kids who took her to gigs; by day she drew portraits of musicians, but spent more time writing songs and teaching herself to play guitar. On graduation, she began recording her music and getting gigs, eventually meeting Ryder-Prangley.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing but I loved playing live,” says Lux. “It was only making this album that I got a sense of what I was capable of.”
Vamp’s 10 spellbinding songs, produced in London by Drew Richards, are packed with compelling characters, drinking dens, fierce leading ladies and knives. ‘Switchblade Baby’ is an ode to the supportive female friends in Lux’s life, in particular a waif of a mate in New York who’s known for spinning knives in her hand.
“She’s tiny, wears big boots and looks so strong, which she is,” says Lux. “She’s the patron saint of all the badass bitches I know.”
Alongside guitar-drenched songs including the hypnotic ‘Baby Is A Vamp’ (addressed to men whose girlfriends are too good for them) and the raucous ‘Ritual’, which begins with a clip of old newsreel footage announcing the capture of Bonnie and Clyde, are softer songs such as the dreamy ‘Gun Metal Horses’ and the woozy-country beauty ‘Hotel Bar’.
Marking Vamp’s midway point is ‘A Toast’, a poem taken from St Valentine, a collection of poetry which Lux published last year. Other poems have been B-sides to the singles so far.
Ava Gardener’s character in The Killers inspired the slinky murder fantasy ‘Kitty Collins’, the slide guitar-assisted ‘Wayward Girls And Wicked Women’ is about jealousy within a real relationship and majestic album closer ‘Waiting Room’ begins as a breathy ballad about a girl who is ‘nothing but trouble’ and works in to a joyous wall of noise.
“None of the songs are straightforward and some of the stories are made up,” says Lux. “But really they’re all about being accepted.
“I long had a fear that people would leave me when they discovered how crazy I was, but making this album changed that. I realised that the people I care about are all still around, so I can’t be all that bad.”