Eartheater has been undergoing a perpetual metamorphosis, like a ravenous snake in pursuit of its own tail, finding new pathways down which to grow into new skin. Birthing five albums over her decade-spanning career, she has drawn on her classical music and Orthodox backgrounds to create new worlds where realities mingle. They burst open like overripe figs, their dusky flesh raw and exposed to the elements, and push the boundaries of what we understand to be possible. They inject our psyches with stories of lives lived, loves gained and lost, and journeys into the self. Now, Eartheater is gracing our sonic worlds with two new albums – Powders and Aftermath– telling stories of the smallest building blocks of everything. Cells multiplying, atoms colliding, stars exploding. What happens when we press Play and let the physio-chemical reactions unravel?
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 49. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Charged layers erupt and blend into ethereal full-bodied melodies, choral harmonies that worship at the altar of breathing; of being. Eartheater’s sonic landscapes saturate the full peripheries of one’s inner sanctum. Sultry siren calls effortlessly morph into boppy pop beats that encase writhing bodies with oil-slick greens and blues. And microtones and transitory dissonances adorn this midnight sky like constellations. All cupped in the fangs of her vocal range – a fantastical being in itself – one minute a crystal drop of pixie dust, and another a guttural thunderstorm.
Some may consider such comprehensive explorations of the possibilities of sound a guilty pleasure; they may suppress their own simmering desires under a heavy cloak of shame. Labels such as indulgent, greedy, frivolous may linger on their lips. But Eartheater’s many forms have seen her shed the shrunken skin of a childhood spent under the conservative expectations of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. For her, this cosmic journey to the far-reaches of the universe is a form of time travel. Using sonic and lyrical tropes that marry nostalgia with fairytale, she speaks to those seeking to understand themselves on the margins. And she views such hedonistic expressions of sound, self, and sexuality as more than just simple pleasures of the flesh. To Eartheater, they are a form of magic; of alchemy.
Powders opens with low held strings, rumbling below the surface, tension gathering as a dormant volcano yawns with anticipation, as a bass pluck reverberates through the collarbone. Intentional plosives give way to a lilting flute melody as we are shaken to our core by pulsating panning synth beats. It’s a revelation, a welcoming introduction to a new era. For this era will mark a turning point for the artist. As we meet Powders and Aftermath, Eartheater has begun to step into the luminescent casing of her ultimate form; a self that honours the safe haven of commitment and safety.
I loved your new tracks and I’m so excited for the world to experience them! Your soundscapes have been often accompanied by lyrical and visual storytelling of fantastical worlds and creatures. How do you want your audiences to feel after they fall into the multi-sensory worlds that you create?
The music that has moved me the most has made me feel alive in the present, but also projected a cinematic quality onto the present. I want people to be brought into the moment, so they’re encapsulating its memory. Then they can revisit those emotions in the future, and also expand on those feelings, so it becomes an embellished pearl of experience. I want it to ignite a sense of romance. I hope that these songs become either anthems or mantras. Or lullabies to give our lives more poetry – a way to process the world around us in abstraction.
How beautiful! Yeah, while you were talking, I was thinking about the concept of romanticising your life, and then you mentioned romance. Isn’t it amazing that we can sit within these soundscapes and feel into ourselves, creating space to be present? Especially in a world that can demonise or guilt taking the time to enjoy pleasure?
Well, it’s not purely pleasure. It’s about alkalizing pain into acceptance, where you can then navigate things in a clearer state and maybe see the silver lining. Like in painful things or inexplicable things, or confusing aspects of relationships and mental health. And also accepting aspects that aren’t serving us, and learning how to prune the branches of our habits. I think that’s where the romance is, actually.
Hmm, yeah. It’s all about the balance, right? Allowing ourselves to experience the full spectrum and complexity of life’s colours.
Yeah. For instance, Sugarcane Switch, is very much speaking on brutal honesty and true love. On something that isn’t immediately self-gratifying and speaking to one’s ego and immediate desire for pleasure. I don’t trust anybody that’s just going to be blowing smoke up my ass all the time. Ultimately, it’s important to realise the album’s about alchemy – there’s this overarching metaphor of grinding things down into powder. And alchemy is about the grinding down of ingredients to then mix together into something else.
This makes so much sense, especially as I know much of your work has explored the process of metamorphosis in different ways – like in Phoenix, birds which burn up and then rise from the ashes. You’ve also explained in a previous interview that Powders plays with nostalgia, that it’s the moment before entering the chrysalis in your metamorphosis. What’s the importance of reflecting on our past to grow and move forwards?
I feel like self-knowledge is a great thing. Seeing and recognising patterns is something that humans obsess over, but it’s important to see where you can actually change these patterns. Being too obsessed with the past can be a trap, and being too obsessed with the future is a trap – I guess music is where those two things can unite. But yeah, you’re right. It’s interesting to see how my work, each album, is sort of all about the same thing, ultimately.
I love that you have a thematic vein running through it all! And evolution is an eternal process, so this conversation never truly comes to a close. As human beings, we’re constantly growing and then trying to understand ourselves as we progress to the next stage. I’m curious about the fantastical and mythological themes in much of your work. Especially with you speaking so much about the importance of fully experiencing your reality, what role does this fantasy play in that?
I’ve always been really drawn to magical realism because it’s a way to combat things that don’t serve me, like anxiety, boredom, or just numb detachment and associative disassociation. If I walk into a room and I’m imagining that I’m an avatar, or even like a tiger, it can calm my anxiety. Our thoughts are the result of our chemical computer excreting all these different hormones, and an act of imaginative thought can, I think, play with those chemicals so we’re less of a slave to them.
I feel like it can even change those chemical pathways. 
Absolutely, you can then experience things differently in the future. It’s not escapism. I think it’s actually a way to face things in a more direct way, not to be fearful of the expansiveness of potential or possibility. It can be scary to think that anything is possible. But, through like fantasy and magical realism, you’re accepting that the limitations of the reality that we know aren’t actually the limits of what can be.
That’s such a brilliant point! It also makes me think of one of my favourite Angela Davis quotes, about how we need to act all the time like it’s possible to radically transform the world. It’s funny, in this context, isn’t it, that fantastical imagery and stories are considered to be a guilty pleasure by our cis-patriarchal normative society? What’re your thoughts on the concept of guilty pleasures?
Well, I unabashedly use more classical musical structures in this album, which I think is a guilty pleasure. I’ve always been really resistant to nostalgia, because I think it’s lazy, and also you can get lost in it. Usually, I’m always trying to reach forward into new sounds, just twiddling knobs, and reaching into abstraction and dissonance. And while that’s all still very present, at this point I'm allowing myself to explore what I’ve never done before. It’s been really fun actually. And I’ve also realised that it’s allowing me to to use it as a Trojan horse for more complex lyrics and textures. I’m using nostalgia as a tool.
Love nostalgia as a theme through this conversation. I feel like we’ve all been reaching into nostalgia in a world that can feel more cold and unforgiving – it’s comforting. It’s interesting that you describe using more traditional musical structures, like those in pop music, as a guilty pleasure. What do you think about the fact that such things, pop music and fantasy, most commonly enjoyed by marginalised people (often the tastemakers!) are dubbed quote unquote guilty pleasures in a demeaning way? And why do you think they appeal to those that seek other counterculture, like electronic music?
A lot of people have had to process their struggles with being understood and accepted in a rigid and conservative world in fantasy, for sure. I really need to read the original The Little Mermaid because apparently it was about a romance between two gay men – well, I guess one of them was trans, but she didn’t know how to process that emotion at the time. My friend was telling me that the person who wrote The Little Mermaid was trying to draw the pain and frustration of loving another man as a man and wanting to love him as a woman. So he was using the metaphor of having to lose one’s tail and walk on land; apparently the original story is much more brutal.
Cool! I’ve read that Hans Christian Anderson was possibly queer, but didn’t know about the potential trans allegory. I think a lot of his stories were pretty dark, actually.
Oh, yeah! And The Matrix is also about transitioning. For me, I guess, there are a lot of things that I feel that I really don’t understand yet. I don’t know if it’s necessarily sexually, but it’s definitely mentally – knowing how to navigate my particular intelligences or quote unquote disorders. Everyone’s just very different, and I don’t know what is supposed to be normal – I think that deciding what is normal is a trap.
Yeah, and it’s also the same groups with privilege that judge us for our guilty pleasures and imagination that decide what is normal! Your new album Powders also holds similar mythological themes, like in the song Pure Smile Snake Venom. I heard the imagery is based on the Pure Smile Snake Venom Essence face mask?
The song is about the origin of the smile; about when we evolved from reptiles to mammals, and we developed the emotional awareness to resist an immediate impulsive reptilian behaviour. The first smile was essentially a bearing of one’s fangs, as if to say, “I could rip you to shreds right now but I choose not to because I like you.” And it has since evolved into an expression of empathy and understanding.
Yeah, in the chorus you sing, “I choose not to bite you, in spite of my venom welling up.” Do you think there’s peace and self-preservation in letting go of those who hurt us, too? Giving them a second chance?
I think that being vindictive is an obsolete impulse that harks back to a reptilian instinct. You know, if you love somebody, they’re going to hurt you – in true love and deep relationships, hurting each other is absolutely inescapable. It’s about how you move forward from that. It’s not easy though; it’s much easier to lean into those biological responses.
It’s just really easy for a lot of us to be alone right now. I mean, especially after Covid, I think there was a lot of extremely reactionary behaviour. Not to disregard the validity of one's initial pain and initial reaction, but I think that a lot of that reactionary behaviour has caused more schisms than is healthy or useful to us moving forward as a community.
My big issue is with the kind of individualism that doesn’t allow space for growth, you know? It’s also implying that you’re perfect – and I find that to be really boring. There’s a lot of stuff that we all have to learn still, and to approach someone with shame is counterproductive and very incarceratory.
Yeah, it’s not exactly an open approach, or one that allows space for rehabilitative justice. Shame can be such a defeating mechanism, and so hard to overcome. I’ve read that you grew up in quite a sheltered Eastern Orthodox household, and now I guess many would describe you as seeming incredibly self-expressive, free, and sex and body positive. How did you personally overcome teachings of shame?
Hmm, that’s a good question. Well, making music, writing lyrics and poetry. It felt good to be expressing my various frustrations, but then also learning how to move past the guilt without it exploding – doing it with control and awareness. For example, the video for Claustra. I made that video at the end of 2015, start of 2016, and I felt very empowered. But then after editing the video, which I secretly loved, there was a part of me that was like, oh my god, this is just too much. That internalised shame was very much a voice in my processing. So I sat on it for about three years. But then when I finally did have the courage to share it, most people thought it was fucking sick and it felt amazing.
I hear you with the feelings of being too much! But then, again, who’s deciding what’s the right amount? So, speaking a bit more about your musical journey. I was at your show at King’s Place last year, where you performed with The Phoenix Ensemble and violinist Rakhi Singh opened with the most incredible arrangement of a piece originally written for nine bagpipes. It was a magical experience for me – a coming together of my life – as someone who had an intense classical training on the violin.
Oh, really? That was my first instrument! I started with Suzuki.
Of course! There are so many intense pressures that accompany that world, but it also provides one with such depth of musical knowledge and theory. What impact do you think that early musical training has had on your creativity and output today?
I remember a lot of blood, sweat and tears – a lot of tears. I’m really dyslexic and it was definitely difficult, but I think I figured out a way to navigate it. I was exposed to a lot of different scales – including the Byzantine scale because I grew up going to Greek Orthodox monasteries and the chanting uses a different scale from the Western scale – as well as a lot of switching tempos, beats, and key changes.
I’m really grateful to have been exposed to a lot of microtonal music; it really tuned my ear. I’ll always be shit at actual theory and the more mathematical side of things, but I listened to so much classical music with an impressionable plastic mind, and now I hear melodies and ideas in my head in a blaring way. So getting them down is pretty easy.
Well, you’ve been producing at an amazing rate, with Powders being your sixth album! Earlier we were talking about how our imaginations can influence our chemical pathways. I think, personally, music – especially string music, perhaps – can open up channels where you’re extra aware of vibrations and shifts in your environment. Do you feel this in your experience with such multi-disciplinary music making?
That’s a vast question. Yeah, I guess an integral part of me and the way I navigate the world is highly influenced by my very hands-on experience with instruments. I never really thought about that until you’re talking about it now, but yeah, being reminded of the source and the simplicity of a string vibrating is a good metaphor for how I try to boil things down. I definitely believe that everything is a vibration and a frequency. I think that even our thoughts and our intuition is very linked to the invisible wavelength surrounding us. That’s what is so sensitive and emotive in playing an instrument; everything’s under a microscope. If you’re anxious or at all uncomfortable, you hear that in the sound. Sometimes you can use it and sometimes it’s just really exposing. I think that’s exemplified in the album, for sure.
Thank you for sharing that. Your music is so communicative and raw; it holds all the emotion within its landscape. All that process of eternal metamorphosis. Does your next album, Aftermath, explore this too?
Yeah, so Aftermath is just the other songs that I’ve made in the same period that don’t fit on one album. So it’s the same world. I guess it’s more about the magic when you’re breaking things down to a point where you don’t even understand, and you just can only observe. It’s about really embracing how liberating it is to not make complete sense; it’s way more passionate, loud, and maybe a little bit unhinged. This music actually came before the music in Powders, which would just come out fully formed after having this really more unhinged expression – it would release something where the muscle was exercised.
That’s so fascinating that you wrote the music in Aftermath first, but you’re releasing it later because it was the more explosive experience. Returning to the idea of vibrations in our environment, I was thinking about the music that plants and fungi make. Have you listened to it much? I was wondering if you would ever collaborate with organic beings, because you mentioned how you’re always pushing your sound?
I feel like a lot of people have already done that. It’s interesting; I think it’s beautiful and cool. But not particularly. That stuff does interest me. I remember really enjoying that book, The Secret Life of Plants. And hearing about how that scientist connected a dragon plant to a Lie detector. His first thought after he connected the plant was, “I wonder how it’s going to react if I put the leaves in boiling hot water”. But before he could even start the kettle, just him having the thought created a spike in the graph. This was a plant that he lived with in his house; he already had a relationship with it. It depended on him for water and light, and they were living in the same environment. But what they noticed is that when scientists would try to do this with plants that they just would bring into the lab, it didn’t work. So that was very interesting to me.
That’s amazing. I need to read that book! So finally. What do you think is your ultimate form? Does it exist? Is it obtainable?
I was just having this thought yesterday. Yeah, I do. First, I have another album – it’s an album I wrote for an orchestra, and it’s also similarly about this overarching continual theme. But after that, I’m going to be more consciously in search of stability – to move past the things that were involuntarily programmed into my psyche, like we were talking before about my religious upbringing. So, I feel like it’s natural that through this first season of my life, and these first albums, I was breaking out of something. But now I feel like I’m concluding a movement in my journey. And It’s going to be moving into a different theme. It’s going to move onto a place where I’m building stability and committing to something.
Moving into this new phase is natural and also makes sense, because I’ve finally built the resources and I finally have the support and time and community. I finally have the resources to find out what I really believe in, the people I really trust, and the things that really serve me. I started my own label, Chemical X, and that’s an example of a commitment. It scares the shit out of me, but releasing new artists and honouring what I’ve agreed is commitment. The next phase is going to be honouring that world, something that can be dependable and safe, but takes a new set of skills that I hope I’m building.
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