Eartheater Alexandra Drewchin talks choreography, new album on PAN, and Cardi B

Photo: Samantha West

The last major releases from Eartheater — NYC-based composer/choreographer Alexandra Drewchin — were the double-hit of RIP Chrysalis and Metalepsis. Dropped back in 2015 on Hausu Mountain, both albums used Drewchin’s hardware accented guitar-and-operatic-vocals to build a strange, special, and beautiful discography that, free of easy comparisons, felt a little like a planet unto itself.

Of course, a lot has happened in the world since 2015. And although Eartheater’s newest record IRISIRI (out now on PAN) leans into sounds that appear much darker and harder — including Drewchin’s meticulous use of electronics now taking more of a lead — the truth remains that nothing sounds quite like Eartheater.

On the heels of the video for album-orbiting track “Claustra” and the release of IRISIRI, we had the chance to catch up with Alex on the phone one afternoon.


Can I ask what your astrological sign is?

[Laughs] I’m a Pisces/Leo/Scorpio.

Do you feel any sort of connection to those signs?

In all the mirrors that reflect reality, they all receive ourselves, so, I mean… Humans are paranoid schizophrenics when it comes to pattern recognition and that shit. It’s a decision, really. Sometimes it’s very useful for me to be like, “Oh, it’s just because I’m a Pisces.” I’m not doubting the planetary, astral pull, but people spout on that shit constantly.

It’s a little interesting that people who are about our age are looking back to these kind of ancient tools, like astrology and the Tarot, and reclaiming them in a very internet-based sort of a way.

As far as an oracle that I will admit to consulting, I really love the I Ching. My good old friend Greg Fox turned me onto it — I think I was probably 20, and he gave me an I Ching workbook, and I found it to be very helpful. You know, it’s one of the oldest texts in the world. It’s based on chance. What I like to do is throw the I Ching. To me, it’s much more gratifying — it’s like I’m engaging in some choreography, harnessing my energy and really able to focus and manifest myself into the situation. You ask it a question, but I try not to ask it a question in words. I try to close my eyes and put [myself] in this hypothetical place where there’s this infinite number of outcomes. I know it sounds a little abstract, but that’s part of the beauty of it. It’s sort of synesthetic.

In a lot of your music, it seems like you’re taking these forms that feel ancient and putting them alongside sounds that appear more contemporary. IRISIRI feels very “of the millennium.” Could you talk a little about the beginnings of the record and what were the first pieces that came up?

I never work consecutively. I don’t work in a linear fashion. The record that I first sent Bill [Kouligas, PAN label head] had mostly all completely different songs than what ended up on [IRISIRI]. It really was just a matter of chaos and chance that these were the songs that ended up [on it], because we were getting down to the wire, and I was like, “Okay! These are the ones.” Because they all have a specific through-thread, in spite of them exploring very different sound palettes. [“Claustra”] I consider to be part of the record — I’m calling it a “ghost track.” I know that’s creating some kind of obfuscation, for press and capitalism, but to me, it’s part of the whole thing. There was a limitation — I could only have 40 minutes on that record. In some ways, I feel like the next thing I need to do is release an IRISIRI Two and Three. Pull some Migos shit, just because there’s so much music. IRISIRI to me spans much farther than just the perimeter of just this particular tracked record.

What would you say is that through-thread of this bigger project?

I think that, maybe to a fault, I’m overly emotionally inspired by different expressions and sounds. I have this huge impulse to try all these different things, and I think that’s what it is, ultimately. It’s purging all of these intense desires just to sort of get it out, because I do sense that there are some much more focused, more modal-sounding records underneath. I feel like I’m in this purging of pent-up inspiration that is almost conflicting inspiration.

Your albums sound very composed and controlled, and I’ve wondered to what extent are those kinds of explorations present on the records, or whether that’s something you keep private?

I’m such an emotional creature. When I listen to the record, it’s like I’m watching a movie.

I definitely thought long and hard about the sequence of these songs and the way that the narrative happens. Everything was pretty symbolic in terms of the placement of each track. I’ve heard that they say, “Oh, yeah, you need to put all the singles up in the front,” because, you know, millennial attention span is, like, nil. I didn’t buy into that, obviously, on this record. I was like, “I’m going to put the really weird, conceptual, saccharine, lusty-ass track up there,” because that seemed like what the “film” needed. Then “Curtains” is the seventh track, and that’s the centerpoint of the 13 tracks, so that’s the intermission, which symbolizes a switch, and then the next song is “Switch”…

When you’re making a record, is there a point when you know what you’re working on is part of a whole? When does that center begin to form?

I’ve made so much music that didn’t even wind up on the record, so when I think about these particular songs, I need to comb through all of the stuff that is still attached, in my view of it, that nobody else can see or understand. I think the thing that is different about this record is that I actively wanted to challenge my comfort zone. With Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis, I was functioning from a very comfortable place. Even the guitar as a blueprint instrument, things just flow out so naturally that way. So I wanted to challenge myself. On each track, I was trying to explore something different from the track before. And it wasn’t, “I’m going to master this one thing for this record, all the songs are going to sound cohesive in this particular new flex.” With Camae [Moor Mother]’s track [“MMXXX”], I got really obsessed with cutting up all these field-recorded glass sounds, and car doors slamming, and engine sounds, and painting in these micro-edits. And I’d never done anything like that before, ever, and I was just so pumped on it. Even little things, like, “I’m going to throw in the 3-against-4 woodblock polyrhythm sound” — and for all these techno kids out here who are probably just like, “Well yeah, duh,” for me, as the guitar, little romantic RIP Chrysalis/Eartheater baby, that was really exciting.

Then the same with the Odwalla1221 track [“Inhale Baby”]. I made so many tracks like that, this hyper, glitchy, ambient drama. I made that one track, and I was just, like, “This is for Odwalla, they need to be on this.” So that was a new thing for me, exploring producing a track and feeling like I don’t have to be the vocalist.

And then with the tracks “Not Worried” and “Inkling,” this sibling little duo thing happened. That came from a sort of cosmic, internet artist love affair between me and Ghost Drank, this adorable baby in Dallas — you should check out his visual art; it’s gorgeous. He secretly produces a lot, and this weird thing happened where he would send me a track, and I would just write a song in one take right over it, and both of those songs are just first take, all the lyrics right there, and I’d just double it and it was done. Those tracks really mean a lot to me. They’re very emotional and sweet.

For some reason, I feel like those tracks are like “Be Careful” on the new Cardi B record [Invasion Of Privacy], and the way that people didn’t expect that from her. They didn’t expect this more gentle music. My last two records were very melodic and soothing. People would say, like, “This is my bathtub record.” Meanwhile, my performances are summoning hell very often.

I saw you play at St. Vitus a while ago, and I remember thinking, “This is a very dark performance.”

It was probably that embarrassing one.

It felt very ceremonial.

I’m actually not a very witchy person. [Laughs] And then the track “MTTM” (“Married To The Moment”), that track is all modular. It was the second modular track that I made. So there’s a lot of infantile moments on the record. It’s all new things. And “Switch,” that was literally one of the first beats I ever made that wasn’t hardware. Every track is kind of standalone in me trying to figure out something new.

Something that comes up in your lyrics a lot is the idea of transforming from one thing into another thing, whether it’s some kind of body cyborg thing or something more internal. Like in the video you made for [mispronounces “Ecdysisyphis”] —

“Ecdysisyphis.” I’m so extra with the titles sometimes.

That same human/computer energy is really present on the new album. At what point in the recording process did that energy take over?

I think it was very present from the beginning. The post-RIP Chrysalis Eartheater was for sure really feeling that “The Internet Is Handmade” through-thread, which goes through all three records. It’s just so much a part of me, it’s hard to even talk about.

Thinking about the album as a film, to you does that mean more of a sensory, visual thing, or a long piece of narrative?

Both. I hope that it can remain pretty free-associative. I think the more you listen to the album, the more you’ll feel the characters — the parts of me, the different voices, the different feelings, the different moods that become like characters in this thing. I don’t know if it comes off super personal, because it’s all drenched in encryption at times, but it does feel very exposing to me. So maybe it’s me also protecting myself from feeling that vulnerability in viewing it as a film, to sort of separate the almost triggering emotions that can happen when I listen and hear these encapsulated emotional pockets.

Does thinking of IRISIRI as a film make it feel less or more personal?

It makes it feel less personal, but that doesn’t lessen the emotional intensity. I generally am mostly drawn to art that is very explicit and intimate and grotesque and strange and unpredictable. Something that I really love in film is the power of the scene cut — the change of scene and the change of atmosphere. I love feeling that one’s hormones and adrenaline and chemicals in your brain respond to the difference in how a film is edited. The difference you feel in a song like “C.L.I.T.” versus what you feel at the beginning, in a song like “Inkling” or “MTTM,” that arc — the different landscapes, that hyper-difference — is way more exciting to me than just a modal landscape. At least now, in the drama of this. There’s this emotional thing that’s going on, and there’s this structural thing. All these different scenes. The tracks all have their own locations.

So much of what Eartheater is — in your videos of performances — is movement-based. Do you see the choreography being as much a part of “Eartheater” as the songwriting and the albums? And how do you differentiate between working in those two modes?

One is a simulacrum from the other. I can feel the movement for a specific nuance in the body for every single song, every single lyric. Every little thing can be so clearly expressed and drawn out physically. That language — I flip-flop from feeling like it’s very hard to express myself to then feeling a hyper-sense of poetry in language. And sometimes that’s really frustrating for me, at least verbally. As a child, I was a really late reader. I had terrible dyslexia and was brutally teased because I could hardly read, and I had terrible test anxiety. But ever since I was young, I felt an incredible sense of body language. It becomes kind of an abstract concept, but I feel like I’m much more comfortable speaking with movement than I am sometimes even just speaking with words. It’s where I actually feel the most life and the most pleasure. That trinity of music, lyrics, and movement — it wouldn’t be a triad without that last point of movement. It’s absolutely one shape.

Other that Cardi B, is there any other art right now that you’re hype on?

[Laughs] Yeah fuck it, I love Cardi. I was in the studio with MOMA READY. He makes such beautiful dance music, and he’s also a really good dancer, and that was a cool moment that happened recently. We made a track really fast. I don’t know, I love my friends. That’s all I can think about, really. You know, my FLUCT girls, I love them so much. And Tara-Jo Tashna, she did an incredible performance at Company Gallery in Manhattan. It was so gorgeous… And then Deli Girls, I love those babies. I’m forever in love with Juliana Huxtable. I work with AceMo, they’re the best. Shoutout AceMo. Shoutout graveyards. Uh… I’m looking at the books next to my bed. Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood. Shoutout The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman, an amazing book. Witness To A Lost Imagination, this book is fuckin’ good. Oh then of course Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Shoutout cactuses, jade, aloe, palm trees… I am in this place where I feel like this gooey little worm. I feel like such a little baby, and really open, and it’s probably not cool. But the baby is there. Big time.

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