The Metamorphosis of Eartheater
“Caterpillars start to eat ravenously right before they become a butterfly,” Alexandra Drewchin says, taking a sip of wine. “They, like, eat themselves to death, basically.”
We are inside a Ridgewood studio that belongs to Drewchin’s longtime friend and engineer, Kiri. The landscape is sparse: a couch, a kitchenette, blinds drawn against the late afternoon light. She’s just opened up a bottle, a chilled red from Australia that tastes like currants and raspberries, with a stone fruit finish. Drewchin is wearing all black, eyebrows impeccably drawn on. She takes a seat in front of the computer and begins reading the lyrics to a new song: “A campaign of grizzly desolation,” she almost-raps. “A horrible meltdown of ex caterpillar goo, destiny digesting me into you.”
EARTHEATER wears Earrings: AREA, Dress: MAX, Bracelets: PATRICIA VON MUSULIN
To those tuned into the weirdest recesses of art-pop, Drewchin will be better known as Eartheater. The avant-garde artist’s fascination with the radical, and sometimes violent, potential of transformation is quite literal – she loves thinking about how entombing oneself in the pearly gauze of a chrysalis, before reemerging into the world anew, might just be a metaphor for life. Creating music feels like this for Drewchin: a cocoon burst, followed by a fever dream, “where you see this mythical thing happening, when you’re asleep, sweating in bed”. Over a decade into her career, Drewchin is undergoing a metamorphosis, too. She sees herself as the caterpillar in question, tinkering and reconfiguring in her first-floor apartment, waiting to be reborn. “I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer,” says Drewchin with a smile. She reaches for a new metaphor: “You have to let the mole cook,” Drewchin laughs, “you have to let it cook, cook, cook for a long time.”
Drewchin grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, where she was raised Eastern Orthodox and homeschooled by her mother. “I was really sheltered,” she reveals. As a child, Drewchin mostly socialised with her siblings and other homeschooled kids, and the animals on the farm. “When you’re homeschooled, it doesn’t matter if you have the internet because you don’t know what to look for,” she laughs. One of Drewchin’s earliest exposures to music was the violin, which she learned in line with the principles of Suzuki philosophy – a school of thought conceived by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki centred around the idea that any child can learn music, in the same way that children, with their porous brains, can learn any language. She picked up piano at age 12, before defiantly quitting both instruments in a moment of teen angst a year later.
EARTHEATER wears Dress and Earrings: AREA
When her sophomore year of high school rolled around, she went off to public school for the first time. There, she was exposed to wave after wave of music, mostly through her Napster-savvy older brother as well as through friends. She listened to a lot of the Cocteau Twins, Mars Volta, Lil’ Kim and System of a Down, as well as the heavier stuff, too, like punk-metal titans Converge, and the regional hardcore band An Albatross. She also picked up a guitar for the first time. When I ask her about it, she can paint a picture so clearly: “I went to this high school battle of the bands, and I was sitting in the back watching all these bands playing and I was just like: I could do this,” she says. Not long after, on a snowy day, she found herself drinking hot cocoa with her classmate and musician, Annie, who taught her some chords on the guitar. The next day, Drewchin performed at an open mic for the first time. She was hooked.
Drewchin knew instinctively that this would be her life, and to make it a reality, she needed to move to New York City. She was only 17 when she made the leap, telling herself that she was taking a gap year ahead of starting art school. But fate had other plans. “I was just always getting pulled limb from limb in my inspiration,” she says. And then one day there was an early hand of god – the sort of deus ex machina that can only happen in New York: at age 18, a street-busking Drewchin was discovered by iconic soul singer Roberta Flack. “She came up to me with a card,” recalls Drewchin, with a laugh, “and said, ‘Did you write that song?’” Flack was something of a mentor for a time, helping her by, say, loaning her a guitar when she couldn’t afford to buy one. “[Flack] reinforced what I believed in my gut: that no one can teach you what you’re doing,” Drewchin asserts. “She told me that no one can teach you how to write a song. That was really good advice.”
“I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer”
So Drewchin kept her third eye open. She started going to shows constantly, her life itself becoming one of artistic drift and discovery. She couch-surfed for a while, eventually moving into the Bushwick venue, Market Hotel. She slept in what was functionally a sort of creaky cubby hole where you couldn’t even stand up straight. There was a crack on the side of her window where water would pour in over her bed. “I’d have to put pots on the floor to catch it,” she remembers, grinning. But all around her there was this boundless creativity. An environment that proved unexpectedly generative. Among the friends she met at Market Hotel were fellow fermenters of iconoclastic electronic music Yves Tumor and Aurora Halal. Immersing herself in this scene of off-the-charts creative people is partly how she found her voice: via the influence of what she was listening to, as well as the mindset of the people in her life.
EARTHEATER wears Skirt: KELSEY RANDALL, Jewellery: PATRICIA VON MUSULIN
Drewchin’s music is a big, rigorous swirl, with kinesthetic tinges of hallucinatory pop, industrial music and experimental electronic textures. To simply call it pop would be misleading; you have to front the word with five different adjectives, sprinkle a little freak folk in there, and ground it in the mystical. “I’m a chronically over-inspired person,” she says. “I want to see beauty in everything, then boil it down into my own thing.”
In 2015, Drewchin released the psychedelic Metalepsis, her first record as Eartheater. It was a critical success, and she was emboldened to keep making records, releasing her next one, RIP Chrysalis, just eight months later. But it was 2018’s Irisiri – her debut for PAN, the high-concept German label and welcoming home for fellow experimentalists like Arca, Errorsmith and sound artist Eli Keszler – that proved to be Drewchin’s breakout. On album opener Peripheral, Drewchin’s friend, the classically trained harpist MariLu Donovan, performs a mesmerising harp sequence that segues into an explosion of pixelated electronic sludge, wilting like flowers, sighing like computer exhaust. Her voice pierces through the cacophony: a soprano that sounds practically votive. Inclined is totally widescreen, with flutters of strings and synthesiser grumbles. The record was a statement of intent: here is Eartheater, awake and alive.
Trinity, which came out a year later, is an icy record of dazzling pop music; a collection of strip-club slow jams for girls with bridge piercings. Supersoaker is drenched in soft blue light. Spill the Milk is like swerving into a snowbank, Drewchin’s voice lovely, resonant and sexually charged, hovering above it all. “Don’t pussyfoot around me,” she sings in one moment, and in another, a more blunt appellation: “I know you want it.” Trinity was made alongside producers from the worlds of underground rap and techno, including AceMo and Tony Seltzer. The record also served as the inaugural release on Drewchin’s own Chemical X imprint (put a pin in that for a second). And in 2020, she released Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, a vast album of expansive and weird songs exploring the myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes. That, in turn, was followed by a reworked ambient version that began life as a “sleep” mix for Crack Magazine’s flagship series. All of her records, you can say, are aboutgrowth; about honing an aesthetic vision, and figuring out what you want to say, and how you want to say it.
EARTHEATER wears Jewellery: PATRICIA VON MUSULIN, Dress: STYLIST’S OWN
When we meet up in Drewchin’s apartment in March, she’s working on new music – I find out later these are actually two distinct records, Powder and Aftermath – which she has been working on in studios around the world, most notably at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. It’s the first music she’s made in a real studio environment since her early days as a young Roberta Flack protegé, and when I ask her who she worked on the music with, she laughs and tells me she made it with the ghosts of every artist who has recorded at Sunset – from Miles Davis to Van Dyke Parks to Celine Dion. “There was just this energy there,” she says, her voice lifting. “I picked up a guitar and everything fell out. It made me appreciate the reverence of a really gorgeous studio.”
She’s tight-lipped about the two records, careful not to spoil any surprises, but you can tell how excited she is about it. “I feel like these are some of the best lyrics I’ve ever written,” she says of the music. “Powder is more intimate, a completely new sound. I think I’m playing with nostalgia more than I ever have.” Aftermath, meanwhile, is more abrasively electronic. “It’s anthemic,” she reveals, “really big sounding.” Both records are the breaking down of something new – two different but closely linked parts of mutation: the moment right before entering the chrysalis, and the moment during it. The two records are in direct conversation and will come out within six months of each other. Powder is her autumn album; Aftermath, the spring edition.
EARTHEATER wears Skirt: KELSEY RANDALL, Jewellery: PATRICIA VON MUSULIN
Drewchin is at a pivotal and possibly precarious juncture in her career. She’s no longer just a left-field music artist existing on the fringes – she’s also become a fashion world darling. Designers all around the world come to her for her surreal ability to worldbuild through soundscape and performance, like the work she provided for Hood By Air founder Shayne Oliver’s debut collection under his own name in 2022. She’s soundtracked Proenza Schouler and Chanel shows, modelled for Savage x Fenty and moonlighted as a Casey Cadwallader Mugler muse, most recently performing in a video for the label’s collaboration with H&M alongside Amaarae, Arca and Shygirl. Through all of it she remains radically and creatively authentic. While Drewchin loves fashion, she sees it as auxiliary to her music. “Music is definitely the main thing,” she says, “and the way I am treated on those fashion sets is different because I’m an artist. I get to draw my own lip line and do my own eyebrows, no matter how incredible the makeup artist is. It’s my look. If I didn’t have that control, I couldn’t do it.”
“I’m a chronically over-inspired person. I want to see beauty in everything, then boil it down into my own thing”
Drewchin’s label, Chemical X, meanwhile, is very much a central part of her practice. She started it as an outlet to experiment with her own music, a space where she’s free to sculpt her own vision, while keeping things cosy and in the family. Not long after the Chemical X release of Trinity, she started talent outreach, and has since signed two artists: Ish Couture, who Drewchin discovered through a friend’s Instagram Story and Lourdes Leon, daughter of Madonna.
But right now, everything is going into her own music, into that larger project of self-curation. Outside the apartment, the sun is starting to set. Late winter; the cusp of another metamorphosis. Drewchin has been talking for two hours, drawing connections at lightspeed, her own universe coming into focus, her ideas flowing faster than she can articulate. “Everything else is being pushed to the side,” she says, leaning back in her chair. “The world is there, I’m coasting in the creation of it.”
Powder will be out later this year