GREATEST / EARTHEATER

The experimental artist crawls her way out of the underground, while shattering beauty and conceptual boundaries at every opportunity.

Photography by Shxpir Huang Interview by Casey Cadwallader Styling by Kyle Luu Introduction by BJ Panda Bear MAKEUP: Nina Carelli HAIR: Luisa Popović PHOTO ASSISTANTS: Vince Cai, Ed Singleton STYLING ASSISTANT: Tonya Huynh VFX ASSISTANT: Marcus Tarantino 3D STUDIO: NYCAP3D CAR DESIGN: Katie McIntyre, Edouard Suzeau ADDITIONAL 3D RENDERS: Steffen Hotel, Kaan Kanbur, Alicia Rangel PRODUCTION: Kris Lindblade
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Eartheater’s musical and visual body of work pushes boundaries and conventionalism, balancing harrowing beauty and nightmarish graphics with ethereal soundscapes and poetic lyricism. Likening herself to a mountain whose slow growth has provided the strongest of support systems, the experimental New York-based performer recently entered a new chapter in her career that sits on the mainstream side of the underground, capturing the attention of both the fashion world and the wider realm of electronic music. 

Eartheater’s range as a vocalist is expansive, comfortable with an acoustic guitar or layered over synths and trap beats. The audio acrobatics are coupled with an underlying sexuality that is just as complex, combining sensuality and vulnerability. This fluid intensity has made the artist a muse and collaborator to Mugler’s creative director, Casey Cadwallader. Through his own revisioning of the storied Parisian brand, Cadwallader, who took over the house’s creative reins in December 2017, has embraced the bold divas of Thierry Mugler’s past while setting the tone for an army of people who confront traditional notions of “sexiness”—Eartheater being the best example, representing an emergence of intellectualized primal expressionism which is evocative of the digital era we live in; a time that craves exposure, artistic freedom, outspoken identity and aspirational glamor. 

Eartheater and Cadwallader engage in a discussion that delves into the unbridled autonomy of DIY, the significance of creative relationships, the pastoral life that cultivated them and sexuality as seen through Mugler’s “cross-simulated” uniform of form-fitting second skin.

This feature originally appeared in GREATEST ISSUE 06. Discover the full magazine at select stockists.

SHEER CORSET / SPIRAL LEGGINGS / OMBRÉ DRAPED TOP / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

I've been editing a lot of you [in this new Mugler video project]. It’s epic, people are going to freak out. 

I'm so excited!

Me too! Jumping into your videos, when did you start directing your own? When you create a song, do you imagine the visuals for the video at the same time that you're working on the music or does it come later?

It happens differently every time. For “Peripheral,” which was the video where I'm giving a massage chair acupuncture, both the song and visuals were deposited into my mind as a whole. I love when that happens because it's very easy, but it doesn't always happen that way. 

For the [“Claustra”] video I did in Paris, in Père Lachaise, I was on tour and in the middle of writing a song. It was my one day off on a six-week-long tour, so I went to the dollar store and grabbed a bunch of big white tees and ripped them up. We got tons of baby powder and the styling just came together. We went to the graveyard and filmed this video for a half-written song that I ended up finishing as we were editing the video. 

Did making the video for the song affect its creation?

Absolutely. I wrote a whole new verse to make the video make more sense.

OMBRÉ DRAPED TOP / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

It’s similar for me with runway shows; being able to make the clothes, pick who's wearing them and then decide how people view them is a way of completing the arc and making sure that you can direct everybody afterwards. In your case, you direct some of your music videos and then you work with directors on others. When did you start directing them yourself?

I've essentially directed everything besides the “Faith Consuming Hope” video and the “Volcano” video. I direct everything until someone approaches me saying they’ll pay for the video in exchange for directing it.

It must be nice when that happens.

Right? I've been functioning basically hand to mouth, as an experimental artist does in New York.

You're going through quite a shift. Having been an underground artist for so long to now gaining more global recognition, what's positive for you and what’s been more difficult?

A metaphor just came to me right now: Mountains are made by tectonic plates smashing into each other and pushing up. I'm so fucking grateful for slow growth, because it's allowed me to have a lot of perspective and friends and communities that are genuine and deep.

When you come up slowly, it's because you're making connections with people organically, which makes them stick around for the journey. By not rushing through things, you gain a stronger sense of confidence. If you get thrown into a situation too quickly, then you have all these doubts. 

Embracing embarrassing moments and turning them into beauty is a huge part of my identity.

I think of you as a shapeshifter. Every time we talk, you're exploring a completely different sound or tapping into a different artistic personality. That range and dynamism is what I find so inspiring about you, because you can go operatic and ethereal, and then you can also pretend to give blowjobs in a car [like in the video for “Joyride”]. There's such a meticulous level of craft and seriousness in your music, songwriting, image-making and self-styling, but then you break it all down in the most fun ways and make everyone even more intrigued.

I'm conceptually claustrophobic. As soon as I feel like I'm being pigeonholed in any type of way, I have to break the glass.

OMBRÉ DRAPED TOP / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

Is that your way of constantly trying to keep yourself intrigued?

It's not even trying, really. It's like I'll feel pressured, and then I have to relieve it. After Phoenix, which was such an emotional record, making “Joyride” was a way for me to come back down to earth and do something more fun. It balanced all of the energies in me.

Do you find yourself able to constantly create? Or are there periods where you fade?

There are definitely periods of time where I feel like I'm rebooting or even upgrading. You have to let everything recharge sometimes.

Same here. When I know that I have to do a whole new collection, I go through this period of, “I'm going to go out and go crazy for a minute, and then I'm going to go and do yoga for a week. Then I'm going to go to a bunch of museums, and now I'm ready.” You have to go through that cycle or else you haven't set the resonance to the position that it needs to be in to be generative.

That's something I need to get better at, structuring those downtime periods. I say “yes” to too many things, and I feel like I get spread super thin.

I always sense this intense energy from you when you’re on tour, because it’s like you have to remember where you are. You're moving from place to place, engaging with your community on 10 different levels and tumbling through this chaotic vortex of possibilities. Do you find that touring and traveling gives you more energy to keep up the creative momentum?

I love how integrated the lifestyle is on tour. It's pretty simple. It's like, “Get from A to B.” “Do this thing.” “Connect and go.” I'll feel myself building this inertia, and then I'm sort of coasting. But then when I get home, my energy is still coasting and I go through this weirdly tumultuous period. I can't relax, but I'm exhausted at the same time. That's usually a depressive dip.

It makes sense because you're hyper-connected to all of these transient thoughts and people and ideas and then—silence. If I did what you did, I’d probably sleep for two weeks when I got home.

Sometimes I do. Well, not two weeks, but I'll sleep for a couple of days straight. I sometimes feel bad about it, like I’m being unproductive, but I shouldn’t because sleep is really healing.

SHEER CORSET / SPIRAL LEGGINGS / OMBRÉ DRAPED TOP / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

The funniest thing about waking up for the first time after crashing from a really busy period is that often you look way worse.

I know!

And then you're like, “I should have just kept going.” I've always had this theory: Whatever you're doing, do it well. So I focus very hard, and I get extremely rigid. Right now I've been at work for 14 days straight. And then I'll just be like, “I have a window, I'm going to go dance until six in the morning.” It has to be strategic for me because if I go out too late, then I don't draw for like three days. It really does stop that part of my brain.

That's what I need to do. I need to strategize more.

It's really important to make a plan, crank everything out and then view [going out] as a light at the end of the work tunnel. The other thing is that I run a team of amazing people who need answers from me constantly. And if you give them bad answers, then you're being a terrible boss. So I find the only way to keep it up is to sleep very well.

It's all a balance. But also I'm getting back into health right now which has been great. 

Vitamins, exercise, sleep. I've had a lot of fun late nights in my day, and I don't think that they've taken me down. It's about balance. Along the lines of health, mind and body, the female form is at the root of both Mugler’s design ethos and your own artistry. What defines femininity and masculinity for you?

A cool way to talk about it is just hormonally, like estrogen versus testosterone. Think about them in an abstract way like you do with energy.

And that they also co-exist.

I was just reading yesterday that estrogen actually starts as testosterone and then it's transformed into estrogen. So it's like this cool, criss-crossing, fluid thing that takes place in the human body. To me, femininity is fun and powerful. As far as Mugler, I realized that the clothing is restructuring or reinforcing my muscle fibers, the way the lines are aligned to the muscle structure. It's like the aerodynamics of a car.

OMBRÉ DRAPED TOP / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

I think about cars a lot.

It's almost anatomy. It's not just the outer shell. It's deeper than that. It's within the muscle.

Anatomy is definitely what I'm looking at every day as I'm making the clothes. “I can change the shape of you here, but I can't change the shape of you there. I can make you move easier if I squeeze you here, and I can restrict your movement if I squeeze you here.” When working with performers, I want everyone to be able to move. You want this amazing kinetic synergy with the body so that you don't limit it. It's interesting because you can limit the body with clothes, or you can raise its potential. 

It's like when you're having sex with somebody. When someone really knows how to grab you, how to get into your muscle, touch you, hold your weight. It's an intuitive knowledge. It's deep. It's connected to evolution.

Your physiognomy is insane. I've known you long enough now to have seen you in different shapes and sizes. I know your body so well, and I know what I can do with it.

You're all up in my shit, Casey! I love this new collection. The scalpel is getting more detailed. I’m so excited.

You’ve had ties to fashion houses for a few years now. What do you think is the significance of campaign stars for a brand? How does the casting reflect a brand's overall identity and place within culture? And what do you think is going on at Mugler regarding that?

What's been deeply nurturing to me is the multi-generational casting, like walking with Kembra [Pfahler, of performance-art group The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black], who is iconic. There's this sense of honor and appreciation for these people, and it's beautiful to be a part of. 

SHEER CORSET / SPIRAL LEGGINGS / KNEE-HIGH SOCK HEELS / All by Mugler   

It was a funny thing at the very beginning, because this is my first time being the creative director and being able to make those decisions. I remember I was casting for my very first preview, and I was like, “Can you imagine having these 10 women in the same place, and what they're going to say to each other? Who cares about the campaign?!”

When Kembra was like, “Have you ever seen a pair of 60-year-old tits before?” I hadn’t seen a pair of 60-year-old tits bare, but they looked fucking great! It’s all so surreal to me because I grew up isolated on a farm, homeschooled, with really strange European parents in a rural part of Pennsylvania. I didn't have television, I hardly had any friends. I was hanging out with more horses than humans. I’d go to the public library and read a glossy fashion magazine and feel like I was gazing into an alien world. It seemed so sci-fi to me. And now I’m meeting all of these icons that inspired me so much growing up. I'm really sensitive about fangirling too much, but a genuine gush I think is often appreciated.

It was the same for me. I'm from rural New Hampshire, so it’s surreal to now work with people that were so important to me creatively. Casting with your heart and brain instead of casting to be cool or transactional is so much more fulfilling. 

At this point we should be inclusive of all types of bodies, but then there's this next level of individual energies. It's such an obvious thing in the music world, because you're basically doing this spell when you play music, but I didn't notice energies as much until I started doing fashion and modeling. What you emit when you step in front of the camera is everything. If I don't put my mind in a specific place, the photo won’t be 100%.

With Mugler, it’s important that the cast cross-stimulates each other because that’s when everything just goes kaboom into amazing energy and the results are incredible.

Cross-stimulate, I love that. I don't know if I've even heard that before, but it’s so relevant to what we do.