The Education of Eartheater
Eartheater’s Phoenix has only just begun to rise.
Confronted with the cover shot for her latest album, Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, the artist known as Eartheater’s response was one of terror. “When [photographer] Daniel Sannwald showed me that photo and said, ‘This needs to be the cover,’ I was terrified for a second—terrified of myself,” she says. “But if I’m not scaring myself, then what is the point?”
The cover image, in which molten sparks rain down from her towering posterior, is indeed striking. But the singer-songwriter’s initial reaction stemmed not from the composition itself, but the creative and personal stakes it represented. “From my perspective, [Phoenix] is the fruition of something that’s been growing in me my whole life,” she explains. “It’s been such a deeply satisfying release for me.”
Originally from rural northeast Pennsylvania, Eartheater, born Alexandra Drewchin, has been a heat-seeking musical force on Brooklyn’s club circuit for a decade—first as frontwoman to psychedelia outfit Guardian Alien. As described by her, Drewchin’s solo-artist bona fides were long percolating, slow to fully crystalize—even after rechristening herself as Eartheater and releasing a string of LPs. “When I listen to that first album [now], I’m like, this is fucking cute. I’m charmed by it,” she says. “And then [2018’s] IRISIRI was, like, the number-one most chaotic Eartheater record. Which makes sense when I think about the tumult I was going through at the time. Big things needed to settle.”
A major source of said tumult was the dissolution of her relationship—the ashes to the latest record’s titular “phoenix.” “I realized that, unfortunately, no matter how much you love someone or they love you, shit gets weird,” she says. “I needed to make space for me, and not let anyone try to control my creativity. But it was really painful...I have a master’s degree in long-term relationships.”
While previous works reflected a personal life on the brink of combustion, Phoenix, which dropped on Berlin-based label P-A-N this fall, is alight with unabashed hedonistic potential. “Being single and experiencing so many romances...I felt very free. I was exploring myself and having a lot of sex. That was when everything settled in this gorgeous way.”
Romantic love is only one strand in Drewchin’s densely woven vision board. While the current record may indulge in certain pop-musical and narrative tropes, these are exceptions proving the rule of Eartheater’s synoptic approach. “I like to make things that I can’t find,” she says. Her body of work is experimentalism writ large, an audiovisual refraction of the latter-day underground. Animated by her three-octave vocal range and transhuman presentation, Eartheater’s cyborgian plainsong can feel simultaneously ancient and futuristic.
She attributes her high threshold for experimentation in part to growing up on a horse farm: “It was definitely bohemian. My parents are both from Europe...They were out to lunch in a lot of ways,” she says. “But I’m also really appreciative of the space and time I was afforded as a kid, to ride my horse in the woods, and be with the animals...Now I sound like the bohemian kook.” On the flip side, the isolation of farm life, not to mention being home-schooled until sophomore year, instilled in her a desire for more: “I remember being chronically lonely, for so many years. And just being so boy crazy...So much of my childhood was spent fantasizing, because I didn’t have a lot of stimuli.”
Upon moving to New York at just shy of 18, she wasted no time embracing a highly stimulating, albeit somewhat wayward existence. First came a brief tenure as a squatter in her then-absent dad’s temporarily vacated apartment: “I lived [there] for three months without him knowing. One day he walked in on me and another guy...He was totally furious.” Drewchin recalls. “I’ll never forget him yelling, ‘These fucking kids fucking!’ But the thing that infuriated him the most was that I had painted his whole apartment, including the floor, this Pepto Bismol pink.
Then, a stint as a dealer-cum-grifter: “I’d dated drug dealers in high school, so I knew where to get weed. I started selling at the art schools—to the point where I could get past the security guards,” she laughs. “I would even go into lectures, and raise my hand and start talking some absolute bullshit...Looking back, I’m like, Teenagers are very impaired.”
Cringey audacity and all, Drewchin owns her early naivety—reframing it as a creative asset: “When I look back, it’s humbling [laughs]...I was like primordial goo at that point,” she says. “But that’s the thing, I wasn’t exposed to many things. I’m just proud of myself for continuing to search and reach, and listen to that aesthetic barometer at the bottom of my intuition.”
Rather than be shunted to the past, Drewchin’s inner primordialism continues to manifest in the present: Recalling her deep-seated musical inspirations, Drewchin recalls “sitting on my trampoline, and tape-recording these mixtapes off of Top 40 radio: TLC, Lil’ Kim, t.A.T.u. We didn’t have Internet, so my understanding [of pop music] was through sound. Now, I’ll listen back to [my own music] and realize it’s an unconscious decoding of a t.A.T.u. song.”
On the fan-favorite Phoenix track “Below The Clavicle,” Drewchin further collapses the past and present, subconscious and conscious:
Stuck in the middle of my clavicle
I'm a clever girl
To keep my mouth shut
The meaning hasn't come up yet
Though a spiritual contrast to the final-boss image of the Phoenix, Drewchin’s former, inchoate self feels somehow just as formidable.
The critical afterglow from Phoenix, including her highest Pitchfork rating yet, suggests her hero's journey has just begun. But she hasn’t lost sight of her inner hustler. This winter she’ll drop two new videos, for “Volcano” and "Faith Consuming Hope" respectively.
Other 2021 ambitions include cultivating her mind/body connection outside music. Specifically, Drewchin has pondered doing quarantine workout video, and releasing it via a certain scintillating platform: “I’ve decided to make my own Eartheater calisthenics program—[I do these] moves that I’ve never seen anybody do,” she says. “I'm figuring out where to put it—because it’s going to be hot. It’s gonna be sexy. So I’m thinking…Do I put it on OnlyFans?”