On Valentine’s Day, local band Toxic Moxie found itself without a voice.
For the past week, singer Sera Stavroula had been sick, and three songs into the group’s set at the Camel, it was clear she needed help. To finish the performance, the band invited members of the audience to join them onstage.
That Toxic Moxie’s audience knows every word to its songs isn’t surprising. Since forming two years ago, the electronic-disco-punk group has gigged relentlessly and established a devoted fan base. Valentine’s Day aside, it’s difficult to imagine the band without the low, haunting vocals of Stavroula, but the group initially took some convincing.
After responding to a post on the band’s Facebook page for a singer, Stavroula was asked to write words to a song that already had been recorded and audition. Still unsold, the band asked her to audition again, writing words to two more songs. Working overnight at the Ronald McDonald House, Stavroula penned the required lyrics and auditioned the next day with only a short nap under her belt.
Now, sitting in the band’s basement practice space underneath Metro Sound and Music on Broad Street, the tight-knit quartet laughs about those early days between sips of cheap beer.
“I’m on a constant trial period,” Stavroula jokes. “They’ll give me 50 days’ notice.”
Trained to sing in groups, Stavroula says there was a bit of a learning curve in becoming the band’s front woman.
“I was a choir kid, so it took me a while to get the power to do this,” says Stavroula, whose voice has been compared to Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Grace Slick and Karen O. When her high school choir needed more singers in the male range, Stavroula often sang a tenor part. “I love singing low.”
The band compares its style of dance-rock music to LCD Soundsystem and Metric with heavy doses of disco and glam rock thrown in. Past that, there’s good-hearted debate:
“It’s dance music, but it’s not funk music,” says drummer Danny Crawford, who also handles the band’s recording and mixing.
“What?!” guitarist Justin Shear exclaims.
“In the sense that the drums follow the rest of the band,” Crawford says. “There’s a lot of dancelike music out there, but a lot of that gets into that funk groove.”
“I think we sound like a cross between the Rapture and Chic,” Shear says.
Taking a cue from the “Star Wars” franchise, the band’s first two EPs are titled “Episode IV” and “Episode V.” “Episode VI” is due for release in late spring or early summer.
“I think trying to do a full-length album after only being a band for a year, we wouldn’t have made it,” Crawford says.
Though the band’s catchy tunes get the audience moving, a closer listen reveals political themes of environmentalism and gender equality.
“On the surface, you can think of it as something you can dance to and have a good time, but when you listen to Sera’s lyrics, it’s not just some party rock anthem,” says Mitch Kordella, who plays bass, synthesizer and provides backing vocals.
Toxic Moxie stocks its merchandise table with political ’zines and frequently plays fundraisers for organizations it supports, including Rosmy, Girls Rock and the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project. The band often plays do-it-yourself venues and prides itself in being self-managed and self-sustaining, putting all of its gig money back into the group.
In addition to “Episode VI,” the band plans to release its three EPs on one CD with a bonus track, tentatively titled “VHS Box Set.” Toxic Moxie also plans a split 7-inch with Washington-based orchestral pop group M.H. & His Orchestra, for a late spring or early summer release.
On March 13, Moxie will play the kickoff show for the Frack Off Fest, a weeklong series of events to raise awareness about fracking, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
“My favorite part about [the band] is the community aspect of it,” says Stavroula, who’s also involved with Rag and Bones Bicycle Co-op in Scott’s Addition. “It’s nice to be able to be a part of a community of people.” S
Toxic Moxie plays with Deaf Scene, Fight Cloud and BRNDA on March 13 at Strange Matter, 929 W. Grace St. Tickets for the 18-and-older show cost $7, and doors open at 9 p.m.