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Interview: 2022 Must-Know - Ethel Cain

Interview: 2022 Must-Know - Ethel Cain

"If I'm not wearing a granny dress, and my hair is not up in a bun, I'm not Ethel," admits Hayden Anhedönia (a.k.a. Ethel Cain) between intervals of chewing on fresh raspberries and pausing to digest questions over Zoom, all while speaking warmly about home, strength in having your walls down, and a completely visual writing process.

Fresh off a red-eye, Anhedonia is currently cocooned in her safe place; the South. Sitting in her Alabama bedroom, Anhedönia explains how she wants her music to be consumed by listeners, stating: "I feel like we all go a mile a minute all the time so all my favourite songs make me just stop and figure out, 'What am I smelling right now? What am I seeing?' And just take in the world around me in that short little moment. I hope that my music is like that."

After releasing her 2019 debut 'Carpet Bed' EP, Anhedönia released her third EP last year, 'Inbred' - exploring the swaddling nature of her experience growing up in the Floridian Southern Baptist community. With lyrics like, "I’m not scared of god / I’m scared he was gone all along," in the title track 'Inbred', and "I'm all run and you're all fight / tangling with Jesus Christ / total ruin idolized / but the kids will be alright" in 'Michelle Pfeiffer', Anhedönia's intimate confessionals scatter gorey puncture wounds throughout the record.

MUST-LISTEN: 'Crush', 'Golden Age', 'God's Country'.
YOU WILL LIKE, IF YOU LIKE: Mitski, Nicole Dollanganger, Hatchie, Sky Ferreira, Japanese Breakfast... and googling how to hex your enemies.

COUP DE MAIN: Biblical and godly themes are central to both your aesthetics and music. Was this always something you had planned on when you were getting your start in music and songwriting? Or did it just happen that way?
ETHEL CAIN: I had always heard, "Write about what you know," and that's what I grew up knowing, kind of my whole life. So it just made sense for that to be the core of the project if I wanted to make something heartfelt, and that was pretty much everything that was meaningful to me.

CDM: We love 'Crush' from your 'Inbred' EP - it's one our favourite songs of last year! What was running through your head when you were writing this track?
ETHEL: When I was making 'Inbred', I'd been making it since, pretty much, the beginning of last year and that was the pandemic and everything. I was in this really dark, depressing headspace, and the EP was just getting so solemn, and I was like, "This is depressing," so I wanted to make something that was more upbeat and happy. I just sat down and was like, 'I'm gonna do something fun and not think about it too much,' and it just happened. I wrote it in 20 minutes and was like, "Oh, this is fun!" Then I sent it to my A&R and she was like, "You have to put this on the EP, I'm not taking no for an answer," and so I was like, "Okay!" So it was very last minute, but I'm glad that I did it. I like that song.

CDM: What would you describe as your biggest inspirations in terms of both life and music?
ETHEL: As far as people, I would say a lot of the eclectic singers, like Florence Welch. I love Enya. I love the artists who keep to themselves and then make this crazy music and it's big, beautiful art, and then you just have a very private, quiet person behind it. I really like that and I kind of want that for myself. As far as creatively, I would say home. Being in the South and being here all the time, there's something so beautiful and sickly sweet about everything around here and that's why I don't think I could ever live anywhere else. It's my favourite place on earth, it is just a never-ending stream of inspiration.

CDM: Where do you think the alter ego of Ethel Cain ends and Hayden Anhedönia begins?
ETHEL: I always tell people that if I'm not wearing a granny dress, and my hair is not up in a bun, I'm not Ethel. But I definitely would say she's less of an alter ego and more of what would happen if I was a terrible person. I always say that she's a cautionary tale of what would happen if you gave in instead of trying to break the cycle of everything. She's very scary and menacing and angry and resentful and very powerful, but very hardened. I feel like I'm trying to not be that, so making her her own thing is a way to keep those feelings separate. It's easier to shove her off into a corner than it is to have her be an actual part of me.

CDM: With trans women in leading roles on-screen, such as Hunter Schafer in 'Euphoria' and Zion Moreno in 'Gossip Girl (2021)', plus trans artists like Arca and Kim Petras flourishing right now, do you think that a space for trans women in media and art has officially been situated? Or is there more that could be done?
ETHEL: I think that there's more that could be done in the sense that, right now, I feel like trans women are very one-sided almost. I don't mean to say that these women are one-sided, but I think that the view of trans women is one sided. Anytime that any minority steps on the scene, you have a sensationalised version of them. It's very, "They're, like, pretty and perfect!" I think as the years are gonna go on, in this coming decade, you're gonna see more trans women that are on other places of the spectrum - you're not going to have these hyper feminine, beautiful... I love them, but it's different for everyone. I think you're gonna start seeing more places for women who fit the bill a little differently, but I think it's a great starting point, and I'm excited to see where it goes and I'm excited to see more trans women everywhere just kind of being normal and doing their thing.

CDM: You tweeted recently that you watched 'Sharp Objects' and there is a quote in the novel version by Gillian Flynn that says, "Safer to be feared than loved." As you are someone who has a persona that is an extension of themselves, but is also very haunting and has been described as "spooky", does this quote ring true to you at all?
ETHEL: It's funny, I've always heard that quote as, "It's better to be feared than loved," and I love that she says "it's safer to be feared than loved" because that one word really changes it. Because it's not better, it's almost worse; but it is safer, it feels safer. I think that's the difference between Ethel Cain and I, is that she would rather be feared than be loved, and I would rather be loved than be feared. So I think that's very much a dividing line, but I do love that quote. I think that you really find happiness and normalcy once you're not striving for that control. I think the most strength comes once you've let all the walls down and you feel strong and safe without them.

CDM: How does your songwriting process work?
ETHEL: My songwriting process is very visual. So usually I have an idea for a movie scene or an interaction between people, whether that's in the Ethel Cain world or not, I have this visual idea and usually I have to ask myself, if I was watching this, and it was a real movie and I was in a theatre, what music would be playing in the background that would best accentuate this scene? That's where all my songs come from. My album started off as a film script, it just became the soundtrack to that, and so it's very visual storytelling in my brain. I'm like, "What lyrics would make sense here? What music? What chords? What notes? What instruments? What would really push this scene harder if you're watching it in a movie?" So that's usually where my songs begin from the ground up and then I just build it up in that manner. It's basically like I'm scoring something in my head.

CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you’ve written?
ETHEL: I really like 'A House in Nebraska' only because it was a turning point for me. I wrote it when I was 19 and it was very much a departure from my usual songs. I love my song 'Strangers'. I put out a song called 'Lead Poisoning' a couple weeks ago on SoundCloud, I really love that one. I'd probably have to say 'A House In Nebraska'. I really think it resonates with me in a way that not many of my other songs do.

CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
ETHEL: I hope that they just stop for a second. I feel like we all go a mile a minute all the time so all my favourite songs make me just stop and figure out, 'What am I smelling right now? What am I seeing?' And just take in the world around me in that short little moment. I hope that my music is like that. I refer to them as little snapshots of where I am right now in my life. If everything just stopped, and I'm not thinking about anything else: 'What's going on around me?' That's what I hope when people listen to my music is that you just stop for a second and take it all in.

CDM: What’s on your bucket-list?
ETHEL: Right now, I want to buy a house. I want to buy a house down here in the South and build my dream farmhouse, kind of like the house from 'Sharp Objects'. I was actually watching it and I was thinking about it. Not so big and fancy, but definitely similar like a nice white house on a hill. I just want to make my music, and whatever happens in my career happens, I'm happy either way, but I really am working towards getting a little piece of land so I can build a house. I think number one on my to-do list.

CDM: If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
ETHEL: Probably an old car. There's an old car that's parked outside of an abandoned funeral home down the highway from my house. And I see it every time I drive to my parent's house, and if I could steal anything, I would go up there and I would snag it.
CDM: It's abandoned, it's not really stealing...
ETHEL: I know, like, "Can I just have it please?"

CDM: You’re one of our 'must-know’ artist picks for 2022... who are yours?
ETHEL: Definitely my friend, Edith Underground, I have been listening to her new project that just came out. She makes insane dreamy rave music and it really hypes me up when I'm feeling down in the dumps out here in Alabama. My friend ellis, she's really cool, she's a friend of mine from Toronto. She had my favourite album of 2020. And I'm very much looking forward to her next release. Vyva melinkolya! Very good shoegaze artist.  

CDM: What's next for you?
ETHEL: My record; putting my record out. I'm about to hop all over the place and finish the last little bit of the instruments, like drums and whatnot, for this record. Then after that, it's put my record out, and see what happens next. This year is pretty unwritten. But I just have my fingers crossed that it's going to be big and exciting.

Watch Ethel Cain's 'Crush' music video below...

Check out more 2022 Must-Know artists here.

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