Kim Petras on Elvira, the 'Monster Mash,' and Her Dream Collaboration

The rising pop star will come to the Roseland this Thursday to support her Halloween record Turn Off the Light.

By Conner Reed October 22, 2019

Kim Petras in the "Icy" video.

Kim Petras has been in the news since she was a teenager. In 2009, she made headlines as one of the youngest people in the world to undergo gender confirmation surgery. 

Now, she’s one of our most beloved alt-pop stars—her glistening full-length Clarity dropped in June to considerable acclaim, and she regularly collaborates with preeminent pop cool-girl Charli XCX. The NYT breathlessly wrote that Petras's songs "are stitched so tightly and varnished so brightly that they cease to be mere pastiche and transcend into something utterly new," and they do: they're diamond-sharp, pure pop gems that sound plucked from the near future. Unsurprisingly, then, there's a Faustian component: disgraced pop svengali Dr. Luke, who's been locked in public legal battles with Kesha since 2014, shows up in most of Petras's production credits.

Earlier this month, Petras dropped a 17-track Halloween project called Turn Off the Light, and her Clarity tour comes to the Roseland this Thursday. In advance of the show, we chatted about horror movies, Daft Punk, and the view from pop's frontlines. Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for (sorry) clarity.

You got Elvira, Mistress of the Dark as a guest on Turn Off the Light. How did that happen? 

My management reached out to her. None of my friends had any idea who her manager was, no one knew her, and it was really hard to get a hold of her actually. It took almost two months. Eventually she listened to the song, and liked it, so she did the feature. I feel like that was a real Halloween stamp of approval on the project since she’s such a Halloween icon. 

What gave you the idea to make a Halloween record in the first place?

It all started with the song “Turn Off the Light.” That was the first one we wrote, over this sort of spooky track, and we really liked the direction of it. I wanted to make more dark pop, and we were brainstorming, and one of my friends was like, “Why don’t we make a Halloween mixtape? Like four or five songs, just make it a mixtape.” And so we did, and everyone thought it was kind of crazy: it was the beginning of my career and I was like, “I’m making a Halloween record,” and people were like, “Nobody will listen to that.” And then we dropped the first half [Turn off the Light, Part 1] and it played at like every Halloween party. And I don’t know, I just feel like there are so many Christmas songs and Christmas albums that we were just wondering why there were no themed Halloween records.

If there aren’t a ton of straight-up Halloween records floating around in the world, are there particular songs or artists that you like to listen to around Halloween?

Yeah, for sure. Obviously Michael Jackson, Thriller. I really like to listen to horror movie soundtracks: the It Follows soundtrack [by Disasterpeace], the Halloween soundtrack. Obviously The Nightmare Before Christmas. But there aren’t many themed Halloween songs out there—except “Monster Mash.” I do love “Monster Mash.”

Image: Byron Spencer

What’re your go-to horror films?

I watch all kinds of horror films. Recently, the ones that have really hit are It Follows, Hereditary, I really liked the new Halloween. Hitchcock movies. I’m a big horror genre fan. I watch B horror movies, I watch C horror movies.

This project is 17 tracks long. With Clarity, your last full-length project, it seems like maybe there was a reluctance to call it an “album” [press materials often called it a “project” or "body of work"]. What would you call this? 

I don’t care what it’s called. Anybody can call it an album, a mixtape, an EP, I don’t really put titles on my projects.

Musically, you do this pure pop thing very well, but you actually have a pretty unique sound—there’s a very careful calibration to the different influences you’re stitching together. What’s the ideal sound you’re working toward in your head?

It’s really simple, kind of. I just make the music I want to listen to. I’m really excited by all genres and… good songs, I guess. [Laughs] I’m really interested in songwriting, I’ve always been really interested. I’ve been writing songs since I was 13, writing hundreds and hundreds of songs. So yeah, my influences come from all over the place. I feel like it’s definitely up to the listener to describe it, I always feel really awkward explaining it. I just make the music I love and I just hope and pray that people like it. 

You’ve collaborated with a lot of people who are at the cutting edge or the “front” of pop music—Charli XCX, SOPHIE—are there any other people making pop music right now who you think are pushing it forward?

 That’s hard. For me, Charli has always been a huge inspiration. I think she’s our coolest pop star. Personally, I love people who write their stuff. There are a ton of songwriters I’ve worked with who are super dope that I feel like are the future—Lil Aaron, this girl Ivy Agaya. My dream collaboration is with Daft Punk.

Was there an identifiable moment when you realized you’d “made it”?

Fergie kept one of my songs, and then I got a publishing deal. I was writing for all kinds of people in Los Angeles, and once I got my publishing contract, I wrote my album. I saw songwriting as kind of a way in, and then I was hoping to be an artist and produce my own music. This tour I’m about to embark on is the biggest tour I’ve done, and I'm really stoked. I really feel like I get to deliver the full vision this time. 

What do you think the “full vision” is?

I’m not gonna spoil that. You’ll see when I put the show on.

Check out the video for Petras’s single Icy below. 

Kim Petras: The Clarity Tour

8 p.m. Thurs, Oct 24, Roseland, $28.50

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