Then Came Ethel Cain

Then Came Ethel Cain

GEN V

Then Came Ethel Cain

An interview with everyone's favorite new musician, plus a new episode of V WANNA KNOW.

An interview with everyone's favorite new musician, plus a new episode of V WANNA KNOW.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

“I didn’t really have a lot of friends for a while,” Ethel Cain says into her camera. She’s in a cabin with her family in Tennessee.  “I didn’t really get out of the house much. I was my whole world.” 

That world, previously occupied only by 24-year-old Hayden Anhedönia (Ethel’s legal name), has since piqued the interest of thousands thanks to the release of her debut album, Preacher’s Daughter. That world is full of hair curlers, army camo, Victorian nightgowns, hauntingly beautiful vocals, and imagery of American youth in the south, smoking cigarettes in fields they drove to in pickup trucks. Cain might be a character of sorts, she is not too distant from Hayden, the source. 

“Back in 2018, I was 18 years old,” she starts, reminiscing on the path that led her here—”here” being a place where Anhedönia is working as a career musician and grasping the attention of fashion magazines and designers alike, parting the waters of the Alt-Pop ocean like a gothic Moses making space for herself. “I was super inspired by horror video games, especially Resident Evil Biohazard…I was unemployed and would just sit in my room, smoking weed every day, playing these games. I was going to make a horror album called Black Genesis...it was basically a concept album about, like, what if God and his angels were evil?”

This interest in God was, in a way, forced upon Anhedönia as a child. Raised in the Southern Baptist Church in Perry, Florida, she had little contact with the secular world. Musically, she immersed herself in Christian music like Gregorian Chants. 

She went on to scrap the Black Genesis album after writing a song called "Stranger" about a serial killer kidnapping someone, paired with the development of Stockholm Syndrome. This was one chapter of a multi year-long story in which she repeatedly wrote and scrapped entire projects, salvaging only the strongest tracks, which have since found their way into her debut album.

All the while, Anhedönia’s private world, one she shared with Ethel Cain, was changing. “I moved into a car lot, living in this little house at the back. This family turned their property into a car lot and rented out the house. I was living in this little side room. I just remember sitting there on the carpet, just writing this album and recording all these little demos.” Despite the world she was imagining, and the merging of this place with the real world we all share, it wasn’t always the easiest to translate into music. 

“It’s like having a crazy acid experience and you see all sorts of shapes and colors, and then trying to explain that to other people the best you can. I’m just like, ‘God, I hope I’m doing it justice.’”

Now that she’s having some success, which surely comes with more financial stability and (hopefully) confidence in her craft (not that the latter ever seemed to be lacking), I ask what she thinks of the tough days living in a car park. 

“I don’t want to think of those as like, the dark years. I don’t want to think of those as years just spent grinding and working. I spent all my free time working on music, yes, but I also ran around the woods with friends, spending my rent money and going without dinner so that I could buy an old lady dress because it made me feel pretty…I feel like, I’m either gonna make it one day or I’m not gonna make it. But either way, I want to look back and know that the journey was not completely painful.” 

She goes on to describe more of that time, stories of running around with lots of friends and no money, saving up coins for Subway hoagies and getting drunk in abandoned parking lots. She says that she was depressed, but that she doesn’t really remember the bad parts. 

Anhedönia pauses for a moment. 

“It was, actually, just the purest form of me that I think has ever existed.”

Credits: Photography by Silken Weinberg

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