Identity

The Musician and Visual Artist Who Uses Music as an Armor

Eartheater’s world begins where words end.
September 11, 2018, 4:14pm
Photo by Anna Ritsch

Walking into Alexandra Drewchin’s apartment, the first thing you notice is the sound of birds outside. Actually, if you’ve listened to IRISIRI, her most recent album as Eartheater, you might have already heard them. “They’re all over my record,” she reveals. “I leave them in—it sounds like a weird synth.” Except better, honestly—which is just one of many examples of the random, beautiful, and occasionally startling natural textures Drewchin weaves into her work. Drewchin is a musician, primarily, but…it’s complicated. What she’s doing, as she explains it, is using music to help us where words fail—to shore us up; to remind us that we’re not alone.

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We caught up with Drewchin to talk about where Eartheater began, finding strength in music, and why you should keep looking out for magic snakes and ladders.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photo by Anna Ritsch

On becoming Eartheater
It really felt like something bigger than myself—like something outside happened. Within a couple of weeks, there were many different signs that pointed to Eartheater. I was reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and really empathized with Rebecca, a character in the book who was very emotional. When she would get particularly upset, she couldn’t speak. She would eat paint chips and other deposits. That resonated with me—that kind of abstract impulse—because of the lack of words, [and] the way that words can still be so constraining in communication. That’s where music and dance are the most relieving and applicable to life: where words end.

On creating the things you can’t find
Writers have interpreted my vocal manipulation as commentary on identity, but my flexing of different modes is purely me exploring what I'm capable of. Different emotions affect the sound, and the more modes I explore, the more new emotions I unlock. The act of screaming tells the brain to release adrenaline, so after I've altered the chemical flow with a hormone associated with danger or hyper-excitement, singing something very soft and quiet creates a very particular kind of sound.

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I’m making the music that I crave to hear and can’t find. I know that my work may come off abstract or whatever for some people, but, for me, it feels like I'm making something very glittering and easy. I don't feel like I'm making anything strange because it feels so true and natural. It's about a feeling that needs to be translated into sound.

On using music to create change
Music is the most activating force that I know about in life. I think that people are scared of how strong someone can be because of the armor and confidence a song might give them. That’s why music has been also misused for brainwashing purposes—in battle, in religion, to manipulate multitudes.

That’s why it’s important for independent artists to fight against these insinuating forces, and to continue making music: We need that activation to resist the other forces that use similar magic. Because it is magic. Any musician that wants to put out records and share them with somebody has to be a changemaker—should want to be a changemaker.

What I’m doing is bigger than me. It’s about the community. It’s about connecting with people, and creating, and being a point in a constellation that becomes a beacon for others.

On the connections that reverberate
Sometimes I do have points where I try to check the self-indulgence that happens as a musician. We’re expected to put ourselves out there and promote ourselves all the time.

After releasing IRISIRI, I started to receive a lot of beautiful letters from people: letters saying, “I don’t feel alone anymore,” or, “This song talked about something I couldn’t find anything else addressing.” Having that kind of support from the community encouraged me to understand what I’m doing. What I’m doing is bigger than me. It’s about the community. It’s about connecting with people, and creating, and being a point in a constellation that becomes a beacon for others.

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On why you should open every door
I want to encourage people to keep sniffing out snakes and ladders, not just to open the doors that are immediately presented to them. There are so many new systems to unlock, and that’s the evolution of culture: making people feel safe enough to do that. I want to encourage people to be cheeky and excited, and to know that curiosity is the currency of their education.

On growing into fearlessness
Even though I had everything I needed to get my music popping when I was younger, I was so easily distracted by looking for validation and attention. I was very depressed, and that depression built as I fell deeper into that trap. Now that I’ve arrived at a place in my life where I can trust myself in the devotion to this journey, I feel fearless. This communion with the world and community through music is what drives me to evolve.

On the flawed logic of “perfect”
I’ve struggled with the idea of perfection. [I felt] so quickly scrutinized and put under a microscope, with people waiting for me to mess up. In the past, I was afraid to do anything, I didn’t want to do anything. It was an incredibly empowering moment when I decided to say fuck it. You know? I need to seize this life. That’s changed my view of perfection.

Making good work is important, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I've definitely made a lot, and there are so many points where I could have given up. I’ve made a huge fool of myself. In doing that, I’ve managed to unlock new things. That’s one of the greatest gifts of this path: getting down with a little embarrassment and putting yourself out there.

25 Strong is a new series highlighting people who have broken barriers and changed culture in 2018. Created with Reebok.