It Became so clear to me that the performance and the content totally exceed the means in which they are captured.
May 7, 2016
interview by Madeleine Campbell
photos by Ryan Michael White
illustrations by Ceci Ebitz
My first experience watching Alexandra Drewchin perform as Eartheater last fall felt like witnessing an extraterrestrial gracefully descend to earth and hypnotize everyone around her, leaving them stunned as she quickly fled back to her home planet. Her songs began as seeds and over the course of her set, as she created and implemented each element before our eyes, bloomed into fully formed flowers constructed of dense layers of textural guitar loops, pulsing rhythms and intricately woven words. She articulated every syllable with a blend of such delicacy and intensity that the audience was transfixed and forced to listen. Her entire body bent, twisted and contorted to the melodic nuances of her songs and we were unable to look away. The next morning, we drank coffee and discussed her life, processes and growth.
The text you sent me the other day about using your computer’s internal microphone as a vocal microphone made me smile. It falls completely in line with why I started this zine. There’s a lot of beautiful audio gear worthy of extensive analysis, praise and critique, but often so many publications focus on gear in such a masturbatory, unproductive way. It can be exclusionary and tiring.
Totally. It’s so inaccessible.
I like that you forgo utilizing something expensive for the sake of using what you feel comfortable with and what you feel works best for you. Can you talk about this a bit?
Absolutely. I was definitely brainwashed for a while and stuck in a headspace that to put out a record, I had to being singing into a fancy microphone in an isolated, soundproof zone and be mixing on a giant board. I kept trying that and going to the studio and working with people but totally as a novice. It was my first record. My first attempt at making a record. I kept not liking the way it was coming out. It was as simple as that. I gave up and refrained sort of unknowingly. I scrapped the entire project. Meanwhile my head kept telling me “I’m wasting time! I need to be putting out records! I’m bottlenecking creatively!” I was just going through my computer listening to all the intimate recordings I had made in my room mostly between the hours of 3am and 6am after getting home from a party or whenever I’m feeling inspired. Even in the morning when I’m alone. That’s a magical time. It was often with my computer microphone and I would plug directly into my old laptop and record those songs. All of those songs are on Metalepsis.
Metalepsis is your first full-length?
Yes. It came out in February  but those songs were recorded over a long period of time. Pure and unscrupled pleasure recording which is really me. That’s where I captured the essence. One day it occurred to me. This is the record! These are the songs! Why have I been running around chasing my tail?
So you did the entire album by yourself?
Mmhmm. After that it became so clear to me that the performance and the content totally exceed the means in which they are captured. I feel like my next record most likely will be recorded in a studio because I’ve developed the confidence I think I’ll really need to go in and collaborate with someone. Timing and scheduling alone fucks with my head. I want to be able to really get in the zone when I’m there. I need to be feeling it deeply to lay down these vocals. A studio for musicians, I see that as the top space. A temple or a church where amazing things happen. I feel like I haven’t marinated enough in my own confidence to be able to turn that on up until this point. I can do it for other people’s records when I’m collaborating but it’s harder to do it for your own records. It takes a lot of courage to expose yourself that way.
It’s like a romantic relationship in the sense that it’s difficult to enter into and succeed in a partnership if you aren’t in the right headspace for it.
Absolutely. So much of my recording process is experimenting so I need to work with somebody in the studio who is down for me to try a million things and scrap a lot of it. If money wasn’t an object, that would be great. But I fucking love my internal mic. I do this! (grabs computer and pulls it towards her face and whispers) I get up to it like this and get really intimate. I can hear all the delicacies of my voice that I want to hear. Sometimes I throw a big fur coat over my head. Sometimes I stand in the middle of the room sing far away from it. I have tropical parrots in the room next door. Generally, parrots respond to sound they can’t see the source of. I’ll sing a melody and they’ll chime in! You can hear them! They’re credited.
Ah! That is sweet. What have your experiences with mixing been like?
I’m an emotional mixer. I don’t like to do things by the book. Whatever book that is. Some songs I hardly mix at all. I like a lot of air. The sounds around a sound define it. I don’t want to interfere with that excessively. That being said, this year I’ve gained a lot of confidence with my mission and not doubting my vision. I am excited to mix with a board. I’m much more of a hardware person than a software person.
Definitely. I feel like that will have to change because I’m more and more getting the itch to make beats and microbeats. I’m in the market for a drum machine. Mixing in Logic only allows you to do so much. As a solo artist, I have my guitar on stage and my synths, which I didn’t play last night but usually do without any real concrete plan. I love that [Boss SL-20] Slicer pedal which cuts up all of my guitar into rhythms. It’s so immediate. The essence of the room is captured. That’s very important to me. It’s hard to just press a backing track or use something that’s prerecorded. I love seeing a myriad of other artists do that and work with that live but for me, I feel like I need to have that momentary capture.
Creating the foundation live?
Creating the foundation live. Yes. That pedal has been great for me. I’m excited about the new sounds I’ve been working on which is basically Slicer pedal times delay pedal times [Electro-Harmonix] Superego pedal. I make all my beats that way. Ha. It seems I’ve totally strayed from mixing.
That’s ok! This isn’t intended to stay on any single path. I do want to ask you about something else though.
The focus of this issue of the zine is women living and working in New York City. I know you aren’t from there originally but how do you feel the city has impacted your work and processes?
I think about it all the time. Constantly. In the conversation with my 18-year-old self, I definitely entertain the thought “Oh man, thank you so much.” I had absolutely no direction and a very strange domestic life at that point in time. I dropped out of high school because I was really determined to actually get an education. I was attending a really terrible public school with a pretty bad drug problem. There was no music program and hardly any art program. I had been a new girl three times in two years with three different schools after being homeschooled up to my sophomore year. I thought “Fuck this! I can educate myself so much more than getting a number stamped on my head and walking into that building.” I felt misunderstood for where my intelligence lies. Luckily, I was aware of my intelligence at that time. I knew I was a musician. It was a saving grace and saved my life during a very dark period knowing that I had my guitar. It empowered me and I knew life would be okay because of that. I moved to the city. I felt like “Okay. This is right.” Within a few weeks I was busking everyday in Central Park. Oh and I totally forgot to mention that I ended up homeschooling myself my senior year of high school and enrolled in local college classes and graduated on my own through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. That’s a great loophole for anyone who is struggling like I was. So I do have a diploma! I graduated!
And on your own terms!
On my own terms! Anyways, this beautiful woman walked up to me in the park after watching me for a little while. She asked me if I had a record. I said “Nope.” She said “You better make a record. What’s your plan?” She asked me “How old are you? I’m impressed with your sound and your voice.” She introduced herself. “I’m Roberta Flack.”
Yup. She could see that my face didn’t change and said “I guess you’re a little too young to know who I am.” I said “Yeah, sorry!” She asked if I knew the song “Killing Me Softly” and I said “Oh yeah, I love the Fugees!”
Oh my god!
She said “I wrote that song!” She gave me her card and we kept in touch. She was there for me. We used to talk on the phone. I started playing shows quite soon after that. I had a shitty acoustic guitar and she got me a rental that I kept for a long time. Gibson ended up sending me one. I remember as this was all happening being on the train white-knuckled holding the subway bar and thinking “Holy shit. This is what New York City is all about. There are legends walking around on every corner.” I felt the biggest fire under my ass after that.
That’s really incredible.
Yeah. My journey in New York has been amazing. It’s so compact but I look at the map of the city and I see all of these little venues and basements and spots I went to and crawled through to play. It’s knotted like wool. It’s so thick, the felt of all my musical experiences. I call them my past lives. All different communities and people and bands I’ve been a part of. I was able to tour with some beautiful older, more experienced musicians who taught me so much. This was my education. That’s where I started learning about gear and cables and mixers and recording. That was huge. That and meeting Greg [Fox] a couple years later at Market Hotel along with all of the people that I love so much who have influenced me. I thank my lucky stars everyday that I had the wherewithal to know to go to New York City when I did.
I want to know more about your new album. When did you start writing these songs?
Some of the songs on this record, well, one in particular, I wrote when I was 16. It’s been kind of an anthem for me. That’s important to know because I think the record is much more personal than Metalepsis. I mean, Metalepsis was personal and intimate but the concepts were much more open for us all. The questions that, I think, are poignant in our particular time now. This new record is kind of a collection of songs and anthems that I wrote to help me along. Anthems for a girl deciding to embark on a path rarely trod starting with that one song, which originally called “Vultures” but is now called “Herstory of Platypus.” There’s a lot of feminist jargon within it. It’s unabashedly very feminine and pretty but also, as I’ve noticed with the press that just came out about it, comes across kind of dark which is funny. I wrote those songs to empower me but I guess it comes from a place from below coming up discussing things that might seem intense.
So this is spanning a long time.
Oh, yes. Some of these songs I wrote recently. This year. Some I wrote when I was 18 or 19. Some I wrote when I was 20 or 21. The title of this record is important though. I’ve known I need to put out a record called RIP Chrysalis for about four years. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. That was also the title of the first record I made in the studio that I scrapped entirely. There have been many ripping attempts.
Why is that?
I’m obsessed with homonyms and language and linguistics and the ambiguity of words so there’s a lot of wordplay like that within it. “Rip” as in rest in peace or “rip” as in cloning. It’s sort of a study on the birth and death of every moment which is a very empowering idea for me. Whoever you were five minutes ago that you might have not been completely okay with being, it’s gone. You’re okay and moving on. The future is there for you to continue shaping and sharpening. And you might shape and sharpen to such a sharp point that maybe suddenly you don’t want to be that point anymore. You drive that knife into the rock and leave it for someone else. It’s a lot of personal mythology. It’s total narrative. It’s a very cinematic record. I feel like I’m trying to make a movie but all I have is sound.
Yes! I’m going to keep that idea of “the birth and death of every moment” with me. Yes!
Yes! These were all songs written to help me through very hard times.
Was the recording process similar to Metalepsis?
Yes and no. I know I’ve been talking only about recording in my room, however, two of the tracks were recorded at a studio. Ha! Surprise!
It’s called Gravesend Studio at Silent Barn. I recorded with Carlos Hernandez from Ava Luna.
He’s amazing. He’s like you in that he’s super sensitive and aware. Those things are important to me in the studio. I was so happy with how it all worked. I love these recordings. It was me on my guitar slash banjo and singing. I had two violins and a cello and wrote string arrangements with Carlos for those songs. Other than that, the recording process was the same.
How long did it take you to develop the Eartheater set into what it is now?
Well it’s always changing. I feel like I’m always teetering on this fence of total improv versus highly composed pieces. I sort of provoke that barrier all the time. Mostly because I’ve become sort of obsessed with truth and essence of the moment. Sometimes I feel like it’s blasphemous to my art to be perfectly reciting the same thing over and over each time. Again, I love when other people work with that but for me, I need to tease that chaos. I’m always poking that chaos. But as far as the sound, I would say within the last two years, I’ve really figured out that electronic electro-acoustic cross pollination that is the sound of Eartheater. It’s always changing though. I’m always adding new gear. I usually like to have a sampler around, too, but with traveling I have to keep it pretty simple. That particular set last night though, that’s all new stuff.
And what kind of guitar do you play?
I play a BC Rich. Lucite.
It’s so beautiful. Especially the color. I don’t see those often.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a red lucite one before. It’s such an ‘80s metal guitar. I think a lot of people find it really cheesy but combining that brutality with the soft feminine is one of my favorite juxtapositions. Well actually, that’s not a juxtaposition at all. We’re fucking brutal bitches. We’re light on our toes but we will slay. I’ve found the well is limitless when it comes to that combination for me. Brutal beauty. The term I came up with for it is Petalhead. Petal like flower petals but also a play on pedal. Every rose has it’s thorns and that guitar and I are both thorny beasts. We are meant for each other.
www.soundcloud.com/alex-drewchin + www.eartheater.solar