Hayden Anhedönia’s Ethel Cain alter ego came about as an escape from a particularly tortured teenhood. Raised in a strict and oppressive Southern Baptist community in Florida, and then at 16 coming out as gay, and later a trans woman, Anhedönia found release by imagining life as a superstar diva. Explaining to Pitchfork how she became Cain, she says: “That fanatical delusion was definitely the stepping stone and I’m just stubborn enough to have actually tried to make it happen.”
Anhedönia has released a string of increasingly impressive singles in recent years, including the dream-pop haze of Gibson Girl and the brilliantly noirish Lana Del Rey-isms of Crush. Her debut album, Preacher’s Daughter, released this month, is her boldest statement yet, taking in elements of alt-rock, gospel, pop (most notably on the standout American Teenager) and country, all refracted through a southern gothic prism, with recurring themes of small-town ennui, toxic relationships and death.
Now living in a deconsecrated church in rural Indiana, it’s clear that Anhedönia’s Baptist upbringing still casts a long shadow. “I have a weird relationship with putting religion in my art,” she says. “I’m so far removed from it now, but considering that’s really all I knew for my whole life, it’s definitely the main source of inspiration.”