Mercury Rising: Elisabeth Elektra on her debut album

After years spent honing her craft, Glasgow synth queen Elisabeth Elektra is finally ready to make her mission statement

Feature by Joe Goggins | 15 Apr 2020
  • Elisabeth Elektra

“People talk about perfectionism holding you back, but I don’t see it like that.”

For Elisabeth Elektra, the proof of that has been in the pudding. Addressing the ongoing coronavirus crisis on Twitter recently, she joked that “if everyone had just started to self-isolate at the same time I did – approx seven years ago – none of this would have happened.” Over that same period, she’s written heaps of ethereal electronica, recorded and then aborted a slew of tracks for a debut album, then reshaped her ideas and recut them with a different producer – all the while carving out a reputation in Scotland and beyond for searingly theatrical live shows, and all the while struggling on and off with chronic illness.

Now, finally, she’s ready to release the aptly-titled Mercurial, a name that suggests she’s accepted the ever-changing nature of her creative voice. With the record arriving at a time of unprecedented global turmoil, you could be forgiven for feeling as if this is a case of the best-laid plans going awry, but even a cursory listen to Mercurial suggests that Elektra has been vindicated in taking her time with it – it’s a towering, intelligent, meticulously-constructed affair, packed with clever flourishes and considered idiosyncrasies.

“I’m a very detail-oriented person,” she says over the phone from Glasgow. “It took years to get to this point, but I was always very, very sure about what it was that I wanted to present to the world, and I was never going to compromise on that. I needed to be as sure as I could be that I was doing myself justice. I didn’t want to just say, 'here’s everything I’ve made', and just put out 18 or 20 songs.”

Instead, Mercurial is a lean, smart ten-track collection that brings the listener into the world that Elektra’s slowly built for herself. Early sessions for the record saw her working with Julian Corrie of Miaoux Miaoux and Franz Ferdinand on production duties, but she decided after the fact that “those versions, they were really great, but I wasn’t convinced that they were what I wanted to put into the world first. The energy wasn’t totally right. I write music very intuitively; it’s more about how my body responds to the chords that I’m playing than it is about conscious process. So I just knew.”

She went on to retool the tracks with Lewis Gardiner, although Elektra took on a co-producer role, and it’s clear that she felt the need to retain influence across every aspect of Mercurial. “I’m not the most musically social person,” she laughs. “I’m introverted. There’s musicians who’ll jam with a band and write things together, and to me, that sounds like the most crushing hell.”

Mercurial is a work entirely in Elektra’s image, all the way through to the striking visual side of things, with a consistent aesthetic referencing witchcraft, tarot and crystals running through videos, artwork and costumes, with her friend Marina Fini acting as a de facto artistic director.

Even now, aspects of Mercurial remain a mystery to Elektra; the musical and visual sides of the album are linked, but in ways that are still revealing themselves. What she does know about these songs is that they held powerful cathartic value to her; from the intimacy of Sadie, a paean to an ex-girlfriend, to the drama and high concept of Inanna, which chronicles the corruption of the ancient Sumerian goddess of the same name, the through-line on Mercurial is an investigation into love, loss and grief. “I think for any artist, across different mediums, there has to be an element of catharsis for your work to be meaningful,” she explains. “I’m quite an emotional person, and one of the ways I work through my inner world is through my creative practice, for sure.”

What the next stage of that looks like for Elektra is unclear, with coronavirus putting live shows on ice for the foreseeable. It might be tricky to imagine a stripped-back performance from such an inherently dramatic performer, but it’s something she’s considering as she navigates these choppy new waters. “It’s on my mind. I’m actually quite excited about the challenge of just working with what I have in my flat. I won’t have a big, fancy projector, but I’ve got a degree in art, so hopefully I can come up with something that looks cool.

"I’m an extroverted performer, so to be playing to a screen with nobody else in the room feels a little bit scary, but hopefully, it’ll help me grow. It’s an insane situation that nobody could have predicted last year, but it’ll be interesting, too. Creative people will always find a way.”

Mercurial is released on 8 May via Occult Babes