Every facet of the horror genre is steeped in socially relevant symbolism, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula reflecting contemporary fears of immigration and female promiscuity to the more recent ’90s TV classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which turned the helpless female victim on its head by portraying her as a hero navigating the horrors of both high school and the supernatural world. The freedom of expression allowed within horror comes down to the genre’s unrestricted feel; the lore for every creature evolves to the whims of the author, as a result providing the perfect escape. 26 year-old pop singer-songwriter LEXXE (Alexis Lucena) has always possessed an affinity for the supernatural, and uses it as an abstract tool to express newfound understanding of herself and her sexuality on her debut EP, Meet Me in the Shadows.
On the EP, LEXXE builds an intoxicating world equipped with all the elements of gothic horror, honoring her supernatural inspirations to construct a cinematic and sonic experience, even down to the release date’s proximity to Halloween. Lucena’s relationship with all things horror and gore ties directly to her relationship with her father, who passed away when she was younger. “I remember getting off the school bus and my dad would be there to pick me up dressed in a vampire costume,” she tells Audiofemme. “I thought that kids might think that my family was the Addams family and I was so excited! A lot of my inspirations come from wanting to feel close to that time.”
Once a prima ballerina – Lucena was trained at Seiskaya Ballet Academy in Stony Brook and received a BFA in Dance Performance from the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance – condensing herself into the template of a dancer first and foremost meant that she denied space for her personal expression and growth. In Lucena’s words, at one point she felt herself “overflowing” which led her to make the daunting decision to leave behind her ballet slippers in favor of a different role on the stage. “With the EP I wanted to talk about me busting down the door of wherever I was stuck in. There are so many boxes for you to fit in as a ballerina when it comes to body type and the way you look. There’s also a writ governing your personal life,” Lucena explains. “I started dyeing my hair and I stopped going to auditions and a lot of this energy formed its way into my music career where I’m consistently being myself and trying hard to make sure that there are no boxes for me to fit into.”
This feeling of release and realization is encapsulated within the title track, which opens the album. Her vulnerability gives body to the dark mindset she was in as LEXXE lays the path for the journey that we’ll follow her on. Countering that, there’s a hopefulness to the unbridled freedom she’s processing, making the track an infectious one. Beginning with eerie whispers and sparse instrumentation, elements begin to materialize behind LEXXE’s vocal, the beat quickens like a racing pulse, and the evolving tempo communicates a feeling that she’s bracing herself for something. “Voices in my head/Tell me to turn back/I’m on the wrong side of the road/And I’m not going home,” she sings with resolve, as the chorus unites all the elements that had previously been bubbling beneath the surface. “It starts off so quiet and timid and ends with a crazy guitar solo,” Lucena points out, adding that the song had personal roots despite its ghoulish motifs. “The song is about vampires, but for me it’s about how I wasn’t ready to come out of the closet. The vampire is the ultimate outcast of society so people relate to them when they feel [alienated]. It creates this other world where people feel safe.”
Next comes EP single “Joyride,” an pulsing electro track that carries the baton faster and further. “Joyride” is the sonic representation of LEXXE’s change from her constrained experiences as a ballerina to her newfound freedom; this is most poignant in the song’s tempo, conveying an almost uncontrollable element that runs throughout even in its more calmer moments.
Lucena says “Joyride” was the first song she wrote for the EP, but it kicked off a prolific period for the songwriter. “Throughout the whole span of a year and a half I wrote a whole load of songs as I was coming out to my parents and I was finding out more about myself. It was a dark time that I was able to make light out of,” she says.
The tracks that follow – “Like That” and “Dancer” – allow the dust to settle a bit. “Like That” is one of the more solemn songs on the EP, showcasing the singer’s vocal talent by incorporating softer sounds and subtle tones. On “Dancer,” Lucena processes her personal issues with body confidence and comes to accept the person she is now. “There’s a piece of my heart that I’ll never get back… This is a love song to myself/And you’ll never get that from anybody else,” she sings. If “Meet Me in the Shadows” represents LEXXE’s dark side, “Dancer,” she says, represents the light and freedom she felt shedding the impossible physical expectations imposed on her by ballet.
Madonna-influenced pop-rock track “85” lightens things up a bit as LEXXE fully explores her expanding sexuality. Though the thudding trance beat is more akin to Madonna’s later output, the song references her iconic ’80s hit “Like a Virgin” to slyly communicate her experience of a relationship that certainly felt “shiny and new,” for obvious reasons. “I was late to the game because I was like ‘I am going to be a prima ballerina and that’s it, nothing else exists.’ It was super easy to be in the closet because I was on stage, which is a huge juxtaposition,” says Lucena, who had previously had relationships exclusively with men when she found herself in her first same-sex relationship. “That song was written a week after meeting this person. I felt like, I’ve got to redo all of this, let me capture this. All that energy [in the song] is that feeling. The video has a dark twist because at the same time I was thinking ‘I’m going to be with this person forever’ and that’s a silly thing to think right away.”
Closing the EP is “Monster;” with definite vibes of Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” the track incorporates heavy metal elements that give the predominately pop-rock track a unique edge. LEXXE’s “Monster” represents the culmination of her journey to self-realization. “I was leaving a man that I was with because I needed to be true with myself. I didn’t know if I could have an emotionally invested relationship with them because I wasn’t attracted to them, I was just doing it out of compulsory feelings,” Lucena explains. “I think a lot of people have gone through that. But also I feel like women are always made out to be a bitches and that’s the weird deep shit behind ‘Monster.’ It’s like, alright, go on and make me a monster.”
While Meet Me in the Shadows embraces a fantastical world, LEXXE has never been more authentically herself. She sheds the pristine toe shoes and frightful Halloween disguises alike to express and accept the person she’s always been inside. There’s a strong sense of yearning throughout the EP that reflects LEXXE’s need to push her boundaries even further as an artist. Riding high on the experience of creating Meet Me in the Shadows, LEXXE already has her sights set on a debut full-length, now that she’s kicked the door open and emerged into her own light.