A strange thing happened the night before this interview with Alexandra Drewchin.
While checking over some questions about Drewchin’s Eartheater project a notification hit my phone. It was a reminder to check TimeHop, an app that aggregates old pictures, Tweets and Instagrams – digital memories in your life on that day in years past. Turns out it was exactly three years ago to the day that I’d seen Drewchin live for the first time, performing with her band Guardian Alien at a Matmos show in Brooklyn. It’s the kind of serendipitous thing that some might not care about, but when I tell Drewchin she’s delighted and wants in.
“I need to get this app, I love synchronicity,” she says. That says a lot about Drewchin, whose two albums, Metalepsis and this week’s RIP Chrysalis have made for an excellent introduction, as well as the perfect gateway drug to the psychedelic Chicago label Hausu Mountain. She’s an artist who recognizes the same spiritual yearning towards excellence in ancient cathedrals as in the latest Apple products, the logo of which appears on her first album cover, inverted and bleeding slightly. An Eartheater song might begin anywhere, and can go everywhere – phasing through folk, kosmische, field recordings, spoken word, hip-hop, noise, and pop music, tying sounds from the medieval and futuristic together with a untethered mysticism. It would make for a disorienting psychedelic experience, if not for Drewchin’s empathetic, dynamic voice guiding you across each sonic wormhole.
In that spirit, for our interview we focused in on the micro-specifics of Drewchin’s music, inspirations and journey as an artist while also pondering some of the greater forces in this reality: life, the universe, and Kate Bush.
Some people, like me, first encountered you from Guardian Alien, but the first Eartheater single came out in 2013. When did Eartheater really begin for you?
Well, I’ve been writing songs consistently since I was in sophomore year of high-school and I was always waiting for the moniker to reveal itself to me because I knew having that avatar or word or sigil or spell or whatever you want to say — just the name itself would really help propel me forward. So I didn’t discover myself as Eartheater until 2009, but that was a weird time for me because I was feeling really discouraged. I felt a lack of audience for intricate quiet guitar playing, which was my forte at that point. I’ve always been balancing on a fence that’s between utter chaos and noise, and hyper-composition and dynamics. That wasn’t very clear to me at that point and I was quite confused, but that was when I decided I was Eartheater and I started playing with a drummer and I was playing louder. But still, that wasn’t right, that was the early evolution. But I guess the answer to that question is I’ve always been Eartheater. It’s me. It’s the frame I can place my very sincere output.
It’s interesting you mention that combination between something that’s very composed and very chaotic. Your second release, ‘Galactic Human’, you called a “minimal classical study” of a larger piece called ‘Homonyms’. A year and half later that song appears as the opener of your first album. Your songs seem to go on whole journeys.
I’m glad you noticed that! That’s just how I work. Now I have quite an extensive library of pieces and songs that mean a lot to me inside. I actually heard Björk talking about this and I totally related to her – I write these things and they become these little anthems or mantras, whether it’s a little melody or noise or poem or series of associations. I’ll just store them and allow them to marinade and grow and develop and ‘Homonyms’ certainly was one of them. It’s gone through a series of titles, a series of lyrics. I have a filing cabinet filled with each song so I don’t forget the history of it — it takes me years to write [some of] these songs. Like this last record for instance, I picked four or five skeletal songs that I’ve been singing and working on for years and then I write songs inspired by the configuration of [them] that relate to each other.
“I’m not pretending anymore. It’s real now”
How do your music and lyrics interact through that process? Especially on this last record, they seem to have this organic way of responding to one another.
The music is like the code. It’s what taps the feeling and hopefully distils some chemical compound I can write down in words. I know that’s a pretty vague metaphor, but the music is definitely what starts first and then evokes the feeling. When I was a little girl I had a huge imagination and I was home schooled on a farm in the middle of nowhere by two European weirdos. I was allowed to play in the woods with the animals, and it was really enchanting, but I couldn’t really get there — to the crazy imagination world — without humming a soundtrack. I would hear this music in my head and I’d have to hum it, I’d be singing constantly, to really be able to lift off with the imagination and feel that thing that I’m always searching for. I don’t know what it is really, but it’s just like when you feel like you’re getting sucked into the television screen or you’re in the movie. The lyrics can also happen separately, but that’s just life. I’m always scribbling in my notebook and reconfiguring them. It’s like I’m trying to make a movie, but all I have is sound and lyrics.
Speaking of films, on ‘Wetware’ it sounds like you sample Isabella Rossellini. It sounds like it’s from Green Porno.
Yes! I do!
How did that interest in film develop and influence your music?
I think if I wasn’t completely obsessed with music and composing music and thinking about music all the time I’d be working with film. I love immersion and film is so holistic. You have music and visuals and choreography and lighting. Also with film I feel like there’s a real understanding of excellence and doing your utter best. I just always liked it when my emotions are manipulated. I find it to be a good exercise and very therapeutic to feel emotions like sadness and fear that don’t relate at all to my own life, just experiencing them outside and having them be projected into me from somewhere else. I think that’s what I’m ultimately trying to do and I’ve felt that with film more than anything.
It goes back to that sense of imagination, being pulled in.
Totally, I love it.
One of the first times we emailed you mentioned Jodorowsky, and your music reminds me of him. It has those ancient and futuristic qualities at the same time and just lays everything out equally. I get that out of Jodorowksy with Holy Mountain and I get that from your music. Do the ancient and futuristic feel the same to you?
I think yes. The constant in the two that I really latch onto is that in medieval times, the artwork and the music were created for a higher power generally. So people were doing their ultimate best and when it comes to technology people are doing their best and creating the best possible technology. When you open up a computer, everything is so beautifully put together and so pristine. So much stuff is about finding the cheapest, most efficient way to do things, which is fine, but it needs to reach forward. I think it’s just the excellence — searching for excellence, doing the best you can do and I see that in technology and in beautiful cathedrals and in Hildegard Von Bingen’s compositions I get the same feeling.
You covered one of my favorite Kate Bush songs and Kate Bush is the all time greatest, so I have to ask you about Kate Bush.
I can’t wait to put out a record where I can release that properly. I’m proud of her. It’s interesting because England has really dominated the music scene for years and years, mostly with men, and she just really holds the torch there. I love just the little things about her life, how she spent all the money from her first hit record on dance school so she could become a great dancer — back to excellence, becoming better and learning more and constantly changing for the best in one’s own artwork, and searching.
I also think she’s not afraid to be a little silly, because there’s so much sincerity there. She’s a storyteller and that never gets old, and she has a way of bringing mythology into her music. Like that song, ‘Babooshka’, I really like the story she tells. I love that she’s a dancer, and I’m a dancer and that’s a really important part of me because my voice is my body. It’s not just my voicebox, my brain and my lungs. It’s my whole body and I think that I find kinship with her there. Hell yeah, I’m glad you brought up Kate Bush. I love her.
Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis bookended this fantastic year for your label, Hausu Mountain. How did that relationship begin?
I met Doug because he was working with [Guardian Alien’s label] Thrill Jockey. For years we’d go over and Doug would be there and he came to our shows and was always really supportive and lovely and funny. Then I met Max alongside him because they would come and play in the city with [Good Willsmith] and they emailed me after I threw up a video for ‘Infinity‘. They saw that and were like, “we love this, we want to put out your record” and I pretty much said sure, let’s do it.
I remember thinking they were tiny and hadn’t done much, but it didn’t take me very long to decided to go with them because they’re really hardworking and sweet guys, I can call them, text them out of the blue and they immediately get back to me. It’s been super rewarding and fun to grow together with them and ultimately I found it to be sort of ideal because it’s my debut record, and if I’d convinced a bigger label to put me out I would have been a small fish under a long priority list and it was nice to see eye to eye with these guys and do it.
You’re going on a solo tour soon, what are you looking forward to?
I’m excited, but excited can be a vague term. It can include being a little nervous. I don’t know what to expect as a solo artist. I’ve always been with a bunch of guys with Guardian, but I’m real excited about just being alone and being able to just connect with the people I’m playing with and the people at the venues as just a solo entity. I’m a little nervous about catching trains on time with all my gear since I’m carrying everything by myself.
Anything you’re looking forward to when you get back?
I’m really looking forward to getting to work on the next record. I know what it’s called already.
What’s the title? Is it alright to ask?
It’s called Water You Cup Too.
As a kid you mentioned trying to escape into that imagination world. Do you think you’re still doing that now, or has it evolved with you?
Yes and no. I’m not pretending anymore. It’s real now. It’s a function – in therapy for my own anxiety and [in] being able to process things. I think that fictional processing is really important, finding your own personal mythology. So it’s not escapism per se, because when I was a little girl it was straight imagination, but I think a lot of my fantasies as a little kid have given me the power to buck the trend and not be afraid to do what I’m doing.
I’ve had a million people tell me over the years that I’m wasting my time and that I’m delusional and I should get a job and go back to school, and I think I was allowed to really develop some serious inner-determination through the ecstasy and joy and journey of my imaginative endeavors as a little girl, and I think that’s a magical and inexplicable thing.
Additional photos by Elise Gallant, Cheryl Georgette.