Abyss X and Juliana Huxtable Let Out Their Inner Freedom Doll
Abyss X is ready to be free. The Cretan polymath musician, real name Evangelia VS, is entering a new era with Freedom Doll, a wild ten-track ride that veers from floaty acoustic guitar anthems to transportive electronic beats and vocals that have the texture of live performance. Dropping today, the album features the somehow grungy yet operatic single “Torture Grove,” and will kick off a tour that starts this month in NYC. Before the release, she called up her bestie, former roommate, and frequent collaborator Juliana Huxtable, who delivers dramatic spoken word on the album, to talk shamans, eco-feminism, making music together, and what it means to give Freedom Doll. —MEKALA RAJAGOPAL
ABYSS X: Okay Juje, do you want to start?
JULIANA HUXTABLE: Yeah, I can start. Hi, Eva. How are you?
ABYSS X: I’m good. I’m in Athens and I’m just working on a lot of stuff now. Preparing the usual, just working doll. How about you?
HUXTABLE: Same. Just working. I’m also, as you know, working on music. Very motivated and inspired by your release. How does it feel now that the music is out?
ABYSS X: Thank you. You already know what releasing music gives. It’s so many layers to it, and one year later you release a track you’ve been sitting on for a year So I’m really happy that it’s finally out. I haven’t been listening a lot this past year, so every time I release a track, I listen to it with fresh ears and a new vibe.
HUXTABLE: For sure. I have my ideas of what a Freedom Doll is, and we all embody various dolls at different points. What made you choose the title Freedom Doll?
ABYSS X: When I was writing the album, I was going through a lot of emotional rollercoasters. In the past, everything was a bit abstract, but I need to exist in a plane where I can say what I want to say. So I chose to write lyrics that were a little bit more, and to talk openly and unapologetically about how I feel. And that’s why the music is all over the place. I have an industrial rock track, and something more R&B funk, and something more “do me,” and something more ethereal.
HUXTABLE: I feel like every release you put out is different. I remember in Pleasures Of The Bull, you were really focusing on a lot of things related to the Cretan context. What place were you in either physically and or emotionally while writing this music?
ABYSS X: Actually, in 2020 for me, music was a chop. I had a really hardcore writer’s block for a whole year, and then IVVVO reached out for me to do vocals on his single, which was more of a rock thing. And I was like, “Wait a minute, I love guitar music, and I love rock. This could get me excited about producing music again.” I found a bandmate for my shows, and then we started writing some stuff together. He would record something and send it to me, and I would just chop it up and create new melodies. I think I was just so fed up with everything and everyone that I poured it all into the music. And I’ve never really written—I mean, I did write one EP after my father’s passing. But I was really struggling during Corona, so the gates opened and the tsunami came.
HUXTABLE: I love all the visuals that I’ve seen.
ABYSS X: Thank you. It was very spontaneous actually, the collaboration with Andrew [Thomas Huang]. It was stressful to just produce a whole photo shoot in a few days, but he really gets it. He can really capture the moment. What do you think of the video?
HUXTABLE: Everything has a very painterly touch, all of the visuals for the music and also the music itself. I even see some similarities with the video [for “Torture Grove”] you shot with Theresa [Baumgartner].
ABYSS X: Theresa and I were getting super drunk at my place and I played her the song and she was like, “I really want to shoot a video for this.” I was already playing this illegal rave in the mountains outside of Athens, and on the way back you go through this really intense, industrialized area with a lot of oil factories and dumpsters and ship cemeteries just rotting in the water. And I got really inspired and wanted to do something that was giving eco-grief, eco-feminist vibes. I told Theresa and it was literally just her and I, the makeup artist, the costumer, the motorcycle guy, and his son who played my child, all in a heat wave during wildfires surrounding Athens in literally 45 to 50 degrees. It was psychotic. I had to have an umbrella because the heat was so intense that we couldn’t be in the sun at all and we couldn’t breathe. I don’t even know how we did that, we were just really pumped and shot for 13 hours, and we tore. But it was really hardcore.
HUXTABLE: It’s very DIY.
ABYSS X: Very Guerrilla filmmaking.
HUXTABLE: But I love how lush and full all of the sounds are on the new release, and you doing that in a very DIY way really shows how much you can do musically.
ABYSS X: Thank you. But magic happens sometimes if you’re determined to just do it. In a basement most of the time. You also came to the basement and recorded two tracks [“Vacuum” and “Never Apart”].
HUXTABLE: Yes, I’m up in the mix.
ABYSS X: You’re up in the mix. I’m really grateful that you came down and recorded because “Never Apart” is such a beautiful closing for the album. It’s so emotional and you can really hear that in your voice. And for me, Freedom Doll is also allowing yourself to embody everything that you’re feeling.
HUXTABLE: At the time, I was really trying to get in touch with my own sense of freedom. I had gone through a lot of intense emotional heartbreak, so those sessions were really important for me to work through what I was feeling.
ABYSS X: And “Vacuum” is a more in-your-face spoken word. It’s almost like you’re rapping in a very freeform and “I don’t give a fuck” way.
HUXTABLE: I mean, the music that I enjoy creating the most has a sense of novelty. There’s so much music that exists in the world. And I loved the arrangement on that song because it’s so weird. It starts off like a film soundtrack and ends up industrial and trip-hoppy. It feels refreshing to have this type of music out in the era of the one minute and 30 second track.
ABYSS X: I know. People ask me a lot, “Are you enthusiastic about any bands?” And I can only think of one or two people, including your band. I feel like there’s a lot of safe choices in new music right now. It’s giving recipe.
HUXTABLE: It’s fully doing that.
ABYSS X: And it’s not really giving freedom at all.
HUXTABLE: No. Even to the degree that you do try and find freedom, it all has to be ascribed within a certain thing. And this music feels genuinely aware of itself, but it’s not trying to make itself adaptable to algorithmic or metric-driven expectations.
ABYSS X: I think we’re both music nerds in the sense that we really love all these different genres and we dive really deep. We want to put a lot of that into our music but with our own unapologetic touch. You’re like, “I really don’t care what’s hyped in music right now.” I want to ask—because so much of what you do is heavily involved in dance, and you recently did a live soundtrack for the Anna Bolina show here in New York—you’re a very live person. What can we expect from the live show for the album?
ABYSS X: I think you can expect a little bit of everything. There’s always a theatricality and a choreography element, especially in New York, which is the launch of the Freedom Doll tour. I’m really excited to play with two New York-based musicians and have the full band. It’s exciting working with people that can really shred on their instruments, and I think it will be a really full-fleshed show. I’m excited to go on stage and start letting it all out because I personally really need it. I’m not a person that is happy to stay behind the scenes.
HUXTABLE: There’s a sense of live energy in the music itself.
ABYSS X: Exactly. I deliberately added some effects on some of the tracks so it sounds as if I’m not on a studio mic but on an SM58, even though it was all recorded with proper studio gear. I like the idea of the music having a live flavor to it.
HUXTABLE: I feel like with so much music in the electronic context, the presumption is that you make the music first and you figure out how to do the live after. It’s like you’re figuring out how to translate something that was created in technological isolation into a live context. But what comes through in this album is that performance is part of how the music is made.
ABYSS X: A lot of Freedom Doll was written while rehearsing for a live show with my bandmate, so it does carry that energy. I’m glad that you can hear that because a lot of pop, even experimental pop vocals are so processed and sound so robotic. They sound a bit cold.
HUXTABLE: Ready for lip-syncing.
ABYSS X: You said it. I mean, that’s the truth. I’m not on that tip for sure. I’m definitely on the live vocal tip. I also can’t wait to play the acoustic guitar tracks. It’s been a roller coaster with so many ups and downs, so I’m just ready to slay.
HUXTABLE: I do want to talk about the origin of my favorite song.
ABYSS X: What’s your favorite song?
HUXTABLE: I always forget the name.
ABYSS X: Oh yeah, it’s “A Chew.”
HUXTABLE: “A Chew.” I remember you working on that when we were living together, and I feel like that song’s a good example of the new direction musically that you’re going in.
ABYSS X: It is, it has a gospel vibe to it. I wanted to do something uplifting and just cathartic. And that catharsis doesn’t necessarily have to come from drama or something intense and dark. It can come through joy, and I think that’s what “A Chew” is. Our friend Riley told me about his shamanic experience and what they say is, “Every time you fall asleep, you die, and then you’re reborn in the morning and it’s a new day.” And that’s exactly what this track is. The lyrics are like, “A floor, a sheet, a touch, a heart is all I need for a sunrise.” It’s a simple thing. Sometimes we get entangled in so much everyday bullshit that we just forget that it’s all going to be fine eventually.
HUXTABLE: I love that.
ABYSS X: And I think that’s what “A Chew” gives. Freedom Doll in general is giving healing. I’m so over everyone trying to keep it chill. Like, no, I’m going through something. You can see those ups and downs in the album. Every track has its own emotional world.
HUXTABLE: Well, I feel like this is a good moment to point out that you have a really wide vocal range and everyone should go see the show, because it’s going to be great.
ABYSS X: Thank you, thank you. I’m excited to perform the first show in New York at National Sawdust because I do consider it my second home, even though I don’t know what my first home would be. Because I’ve never felt that way about Berlin. New York has always embraced me. I’m ecstatic.
HUXTABLE: I love doing the Interview doll.
ABYSS X: We covered a lot. It’s an honor, honestly. Interviewed by Juliana Huxtable, period.