It’s hard for me to describe Ethel Cain to people who don’t already know her and her music. It’s hard for me to talk about the things that are very meaningful to me, because I find myself stumbling.
I found Ethel Cain during the Carpet Bed and Golden Age EP days, and I found her through Nicole Dollanganger (another artist that is so meaningful to me), and immediately I became a fan. There’s something captivating about the faded Americana meets Southern Gothic aesthetic and the bedroom lo-fi pop music that is equally dark and yet completely sing-a-long-able (yes, that’s a word). Maybe it’s because I grew up without a lot of money in fading 1970s era houses with wood panelling. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a tormented relationship to the church – members of my family attended Canada’s Residential Schools and not all of them survived this cultural genocide of Canada’s indigenous peoples. But I think what strikes me the most about Ethel Cain is that the music is sad, cinematic, filled with tales of trauma, murder, abuse, but there’s also this magnificent hope that is ever present. Hayden Anhedönia (Ethel Cain) has stated herself that getting well from her own experiences of trauma and abuse are what drives her to create Ethel Cain’s tortured stories, and that these stories serve as cautionary tales to not go on to *live* these stories, and that getting well is possible.
Trauma is such a unique thing, especially severe trauma, and for people who haven’t gone through it – it’s incredibly hard to describe to such people what that experience is like, and it can be it’s own type of alienating experience. Following a violent attack, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and finding Ethel Cain’s music finally felt to me like finding someone who was speaking to me, someone making music FOR me, someone who GOT IT. I’ve always connected deeply to music, but this was something else.
Because of this, my connection to the music of Ethel Cain is extremely personal. For those who listen to the Drunk in a Graveyard radio show (Wednesdays 8-9PM PST on thex.ca), you’ll know that rarely a week goes by without her presence, like a ghost haunting the airwaves. Following the release of Ethel Cain’s debut full length album “Preacher’s Daughter” in May, the Freezer Bride tour was announced with a date about 5hrs away from the small town I live in. I knew I had to go. Then I sustained a mild brain injury in the form of a concussion that put these summer concert plans in jeopardy. Because of this concert, I got myself into a physiotherapist who specializes in concussion (thanks Tim!), and used seeing Ethel Cain live as a cornerstone of my recovery. Everything led up to the show August 21, 2022. Countless hours of exposure therapy to all of my concussion symptoms, endless mindfulness sessions, too much Tylenol and Advil. But I knew I had to see this show.
And I got there.
The road getting there wasn’t pretty, but I made it.
The sold out show was held at The Wise Hall in Vancouver, and it’s a cosy little venue that’s intimate and vintage. I arrived with my cameras and a gift for Hayden from the Drunk in a Graveyard vintage shop (find us on insta @drunkinagraveyardvintage). It was a sweltering temp in Vancouver with high humidity, so we hung out in the Wise Hall lounge that was air conditioned, with good drinks served by an adorable rock ‘n’ roll bartender. There weren’t many people lined up outside the show on arrival, but soon enough a long line up had formed with really no unifying quality to the attendees. It was fitting that the show was on a Sunday, because attendees arrived wearing their Sunday best, complete with not insignificant amounts of peacocking. Traditional goths mingled with David Bowie types, instagram baddies chatted up fixed gear vinyl collector hipsters. Drinks flowed plentifully, and there were multiple people completely trashed before Colyer even took the stage, which is admirable but somewhat confusing. Colyer and Ethel Cain have never been party music to me, but I don’t judge how folks get down.
Ethel Cain’s petite and lovely manager Marlee managed the merch booth which did a brisk business, having received a new load of merchandise, as the East Coast leg of the tour struggled with merch selling out quickly. Ethel Cain merch comes in a chocolate brown color, eschewing plain white tees and the ever present black of metal band tees, and it stands out just as much as her music. It didn’t take long for many in the crowd to be proudly clad in brown. And on the topic of merch I want to especially shout out the person in Ethel Cain’s ALL AMERICAN INBRED t-shirt that was extremely limited edition and released for the Inbred EP via Homie Shit magazine. I also have that tee, and it was nice to see someone else in it to win it for the long run, so big shout out to you my friend.
Doors opened at 7pm, and Colyer took the stage at 8pm sharp.
Colyer, who also acts as the Ethel Cain live guitarist, played a stripped down set of his own music that evoked visions of Thom Yorke and Leonard Cohen. Easily laughing off technical difficulties, Colyer makes the type of music that is perfectly experienced in a comfortable chair, coming down, as incense swirls. He smiles frequently, albeit sheepishly, evoking a gentleness, and simultaneous melancholy in his stage presence. His performance of “Weird World”, from LONESTARDOM was a crowd favourite. Maybe because, it is a weird world these days.
It should also be stated that Colyer, like Caden (Pool Kids) and Hayden, is just incredibly handsome, and makes for an easy portrait to render in photograph.
Ethel Cain (the band consisting of Hayden on vocals, Colyer on guitar and Caden from Pool Kids on drums) took the stage at 9pm, playing a ten song set including one encore song. The set list varied slightly from the Freezer Bride Eastern leg of the tour, including older Ethel Cain songs like “Crying During Sex” and a personal favourite of mine, “Golden Age” from the Golden Age EP.
The crowd was kept in raptured delight through “American Teenager”, “Strangers”, “Gibson Girl” and “Thoroughfare” from Preacher’s Daughter. Hayden took the stage as Ethel Cain clad in jean cut offs, a simple men’s shirt, and barefoot. She has said she likes to dress and live simply, and this came through here. She doesn’t require special artifice or window dressing to move her audience deeply which again speaks to the almost magical and holy quality to both her and her music. I watched many people embracing, shedding tears, and screaming along to their favourite songs. The joyful performance of “Crush”, especially seemed to get the crowd wild.
And just like it came, all too soon the show was over, with set lists thrown into elated outstretched hands.
And people filed out reluctantly though jubilant, church was over.
It was a great privilege to be given the opportunity to shoot photos for this concert. It was also a great honor to be able to give the Drunk in a Graveyard Vintage gift directly to Hayden, who is the most wonderful, humble, and real person I’ve ever met.
Drunk in a Graveyard wants to extend an extremely heart felt thank you to Hayden, Caden, Colyer, Marlee (thank you especially for your kindness), the entire staff at the Wise Hall who made me feel extremely at home and were incredibly friendly, and special thanks to Tim, my physio for helping me to get there and offering me the confidence I needed when I was in a dark place with my brain injury.
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