When thinking of discoveries made on March 27, 2020, it’s likely your mind goes to something Covid-related (and you’d probably also be right) but for the past four months, while the world has shut down and every facet of life reexamined, Comet Neowise has been twinkling in the sky. Located just below the Big Dipper, the spiral-armed comet has been up there and ready to dazzle onlookers seeking it out at particular times of the day. But it’s now beginning to dim, with only a limited amount of time before it disappears again for 6,800 years.
For some reason this seems important to me today, as I’m just finding out about it. The discovery date's association to the beginning of our strange new world just feels too coincidental to not at least wonder whether there’s some sort of correlation. As an astrology nerd, I fully believe in the power of the stars, planets, and nature and I just can’t help but wonder if there’s something more mystical happening here.
Colorado-based folk musician Xanthe Alexis also understands the powerful pull of the planets and the supernatural undertones of the cosmos. Mysticism and nature are frequent touchstones in her music, continually inspired by her Navajo and Greek heritages. Up until now, her music has been rooted in traditional folk Americana. Her last record, 2016’s Time of War, was an enchantingly stripped-down and heartfelt guitar strummer that spent six months on the top 20 charts for Alternative Folk and was in the top 200 for Folk albums for 2017.
Her new record, The Offering, is a radically different soundscape. While still rooted in folk, Alexis incorporates elements never before used like synths and quick-tempo drums that make her more comparable to Sharon Van Etten than Emmylou Harris. The recently-released lead single “Compass” features almost zero guitars and is led by a drum machine, which would be gasp-worthy in the Americana world but Alexis’ transcendent vocals make the transition seamless.
Today, KEXP is unveiling the video for the second single off The Offering, “Moon.” The song is an ode to the transfixing beauty of nature and was written during a camping trip in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado after Alexis was overwhelmed by an incredibly beautiful scene in the sky.
“I had risen really early in the morning and the moon was still setting against the mountains,” she tells KEXP. “And it was really one of the most spectacular things I'd ever seen. It was purples and peaches with this white, milky white, moon. And I was so struck in this moment. And then these words just kind of came out of nowhere.”
The video emulates this magical experience by following Alexis through a darkened forest. Grazing branches and running fingers through the water, she establishes her deep and meaningful relationship with nature. Near the end, Alexis starts bringing out items from the wicker bag she’s been toting around: crystals, feathers, shells, a sage. Which leads into the white rose incantation:
While I can’t seem to find anything on the internet about it (which makes it all the more mystical and fascinating) Alexis claims that the white rose incantation has long been associated with the Divine Feminine and today is the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene (coincidence?!). Oh, also Raven Grimassi, writer of Grimoire of the Thorn-Blooded Witch: Mastering the Five Arts of Old World Witchery gave her permission to use the chant so...I ask again, is it really that farfetched to think that perhaps a comet that only appears once every 6,800 years has some sort of supernatural importance in the world?
The Offering is out August 21st. Below, watch the video for “Moon” and read KEXP’s interview with Xanthe Alexis where she discusses her Indigenous roots, her work as a healer and activist, and the silver linings of quarantine.
KEXP: You're releasing The Offering next month which is your sophomore solo record and your first in three years. What feelings are going through your head as the date approaches?
Xanthe Alexis: Oh, I think relief and excitement and gratitude and...fatigue. (laughter)
Understandable! Your last solo record, 2016’s Time of War, spent six months on the top 20 charts for Alternative Folk and was in the top 200 for Folk albums for 2017. Did that acclaim have any effect on the making of, or expectation for, The Offering?
You know, when I was making The Offering, I heard all this sound that I knew I couldn't create with just the guitar and myself. So, I think if anything, I was making a leap from just traditional folk music into a much larger soundscape. So, I just was hoping that listeners would come along with me where I was headed. Really, that was my biggest kind-of obstacle, as well. This is the music that I'm hearing and feeling now. And it's all from that root of folk. And so, I think that that's kind of just what I stuck with. I just have to write what I'm feeling and experiencing.
Absolutely. Yeah, it is definitely a... I would say a departure and it definitely envelops a lot of sounds that have not ever been explored in your music before. You worked with Conor Bourgal of Colorado band The Changing Colors on The Offering. Did he have a big impact on the fact that it has more of an indie folk sound?
Well, Connor and Ian and I have been friends for a really long time, and they’re brothers. I've just always admired how much they just love music. They're such deep listeners and they have so much passion for so many different genres. And when I went to Connor with this project I said, "You know, I'm hearing all this stuff..." And he's like, “Yeah, we can do that.” And they really did. They set out to just give me this canvas where we could put anything on it. And that was really exciting for me. So, yeah, he and his brother Ian both had a lot of influence. And me just kind of imagining, you know, anything from the ether, and us pulling it in. So, yeah, they definitely urged the expansion for sure. Absolutely.
You've got a really fascinating life story. You were born on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and you're part Native American. How long did you live on the reservation and what was that experience like?
So, I didn't actually live on the reservation. I lived adjacent to it, in the Superstition Mountains in Mesa. And, I mean, it's just such a mystical place and a mystical beginning. My grandmother, that's where she was. She liked to be in the desert. And, she is the one where the Native comes from. You know, she just kind of infused everything with meaning and ceremony and revery. And so, those beginnings really influenced me a lot, for sure.
Yeah, your music definitely does seem connected with your Indigenous roots, with the mysticism and the connection with nature. But, I've also read that you don't consider yourself a person of color. I'd love to know more about that.
Well, that's interesting. This is the first I've heard of this.
No, I think that what maybe had been drawn from that is that someone was asking me about the Native platform. And for me, because I am mixed race, I do believe that this is a time where we really listen to people whose...you know, where their skin color is really influencing their life experience. And I am, you know, light colored passing. And, although the culture that I'm from influenced my life and certainly the stories of my grandmother and and how her youth experience and childhood experience was so influenced by cultural erasure and, the lack of opportunity for Indigenous at that time. You know, for me, I feel like this time now is a time where we're really listening to the voices of those where this is a daily concern, that the color of their skin is a daily concern. And that's the voices I'm learning from right niow. And it's informed by this being a part of my culture, but I know that I am not being directly targeted. And because of that, I want to hear the voices of those that are so we can have compassion for them. You know?
Absolutely. I would love to get more into that because you’re an activist for Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter and we're in the middle of this major cultural shift because of this current social movement. I’d love to know more about your history with social justice and how you got into being an activist.
So, my family owns a healing center here in Colorado Springs and folk medicine and traditional medicine, I believe, is a real form of activism because we are making healing accessible to those who either have not been able to afford Western medicine or those who have been told that Western medicine can't help them. So, that work that I do in my career as a healer, I think, is the base of the activism that I'm behind, which is human rights. That we have access to safety and to health and healing.
And, you know that I was born into that. My mother, her mother is native and her father is Greek. And so, that folk traditional way of life is deep inside of me. And giving that back to the people is what I get passionate about--that we have our basic needs provided for us, no matter what. No matter financial standing or color of skin. And so, that's where I get passionate, and that's where I have found my places--is helping people heal.
A press release for the record says that The Offering is your gift of healing in the form of song. Do you use music in your work with your patients?
I used to be a middle school music teacher, and we had kind of like our own mystical School of Rock, I guess, where they would create their own music. And I would use the trauma therapy training that I have with the music for building self-confidence. And, I don't necessarily use music therapy in the clinical environment now. But, I mean, they inform each other. My music informs my healing and vice versa. So, that's where that shows up in life nowadays.
You have a very positive presence online where you’ve been posting a lot of affirmations of power and hope on social media during quarantine and it seems like you've really been trying to bring everyone around you up. How has quarantine actually been for you?
Hmmm. You know, I mean, I am a fairly kind of home-centered person so, it hasn't changed that piece of my life too drastically. But, what I have experienced it changing is...I mean, when I say I'm a trauma therapist, it's a really good litmus for where people are at with their own trauma, because you can kind of see some people shrivel. But, now it's like it's been such a disorienting experience, that I think the only thing we've really been able to do that's within our control is to deepen. And, I know the business of deepening, you know. So, for me, I've found it very...what's the word? I think although I know that we're suffering, I think that the depth of compassion and the re-examining of how we live our daily lives is pretty essential for what we've got ahead of us, you know. So, for me, I've just really been trying to take it one day at a time. I'm raising young men and helping them navigate it, too. And, of course, my people that I see at the wellness center...I think this is a necessary sort-of unraveling so that we can really look at what we've got and rebuild it. So, I've just been trying to hang on (laughter).
That's all you can do. I think re-examining things really is the big focus right now, especially as this continues longer than a lot of us thought.
Yeah, and the reality is that with what we have in front of us--as far as changes in the environment, changes in the political climate--we're going to have to be willing to make changes, you know. So this might very well be a potent learning ground for just that, you know?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think changes are definitely being made. I literally just read an article right before jumping on this call with you that the city council in Asheville, North Carolina just approved providing reparations for black residents, which is incredible.
Yeah, it's happening all over. And it's amazing how, here we went into this isolation and, like, strange forced incubation, and then we just emerged with this movement and the momentum of the movement we emerged with this inspiration to try to get out there and make these changes happening. And we're seeing it all over. Something that in March maybe a lot of us were hoping we would find, but we were, like, how are we going to even get started? And then just a few months later, here we are laying the groundwork, showing up. It's exciting.
It is. Although I'm sure the fact that you can't tour immediately behind the new record is a major bummer, to say the least.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I know you talk to musicians all the time. Are you a musician yourself?
I'm not, no.
We, in the Americana world--which is the world that I'm in, in the folk world--we actually know each other a lot. A lot of us know each other, we've worked together. There's a family feeling and it was a way of life for us. So, it's been a really big change to think on your feet and be flexible, you know. But, I think musicians are also very sensitive, very compassionate, by and large, especially in the folk-Americana world. A lot of us are all heart and we get it. That it's a no go right now, and just accepting that. I mean, there are days that I look at that guitar and I go, man, and I would really like to get out of here with you (laughter). But we just can't so, we’ve got to work with what we've got. And, you know, Nina Simone said that an artist's duty is to reflect the times. So, we're gonna have a lot to say.
Oh yeah, the records that are going to be coming out next year and the next few years after are gonna be incredible.
You’ve got to look at the upsides, the silver linings of these situations.
Yeah, and it's not to minimize how uncomfortable and unsettling this time is. But, I think finding ways to just stay in there and stay active is how we have to kind of navigate through this, you know?
Absolutely. So, KEXP is the station where the music matters. Why does music matter to you?
Hmmm. Because it's the language of emotion, and emotions are what color this world.
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