Artists Casey MQ and Eartheater on Melody, Memory, and Making Room for Magic

Casey MQ

Casey MQ, photographed by Jason Al-Taan.

Memory often bleeds into imagination—so much so that “remembering” might be better characterized as worldbuilding. At least, that’s what Casey MQ’s new album, Later that day, the day before, or the day before that, suggests. For the past four years, the 32-year-old artist has waded through a pool of impressions and memories, landing somewhere in an imaginary world that crescendos as the album deepens and progresses. “I wanted to be in conversation with all my references and all the worlds that I’ve inhabited–but at their edge,” he said when he hopped on a call with his frequent collaborator Eartheater. The two worked together on Eartheater’s 2023 album Powders, but according to them, it wasn’t just the duo in the studio. When you’re making music, some mystical third party is always present: “It’s just you and I in the studio,” Eartheater explained, “but this third thing is adhering to the magnitude of all the music we’ve all consumed and all the references that create a massive brain in the ether of the room.” When they got on a call last month, they got deep about being open to that spirit, the period of mourning that comes after releasing a project, and finding someone who understands your studio lexicon.—EMMA STOUT




EARTHEATER: Can you hear me?

MQ: Yes. Hi. Didn’t see you.

EARTHEATER: Look at you in all that green.

MQ: I’m sitting in the park.

EARTHEATER: Nice. The sun in New York is so hot right now. It’s so good to see your face.

MQ: Thanks for doing this.

EARTHEATER: Oh my god, of course. I was like, “Yes!” Anything for you, Casey. You’ve jumped at the drop of a hat for me during Powders so many times.

MQ: Meeting you in that context, we just got right into our wave.

EARTHEATER: In a blink of an eye, a fraction of a second, we were completely locked in.

MQ: Some things didn’t necessarily even need to be said.


MQ: It was just the movement that was happening, which is always so heartwarming.

EARTHEATER: You’re also very good at understanding the lexicon of sound communication, where there’s no actual word to describe what you want, or the feeling or the thing. It’s just a different language.

MQ: No, absolutely.

EARTHEATER: Everyone has their own studio lexicon.

MQ: That’s so interesting. I like that.

EARTHEATER: But with you and I, suddenly we were speaking the same language.

MQ: Right, that’s the thing. For me, it’s always coming down to harmony as the starting point. I feel like the reaction that we had is harmony, melody, and then you’re bubbling. You know what I mean? I’m actually curious what it is for you, because I always say that when I’m talking about things, it’s the two notes, dissonance, or tension, or release. Where does it release for you?

EARTHEATER: That’s the mystery, though. Sometimes I play this little game in my head when I’m working in the studio or making a song. It’s a sci-fi idea in which we are traversing a land that already exists. It already exists in all its peaks and valleys, nooks and crannies, and we are completely blind. But what we do have is this echolocation, and you just feel for the peaks and valleys. Then, when you find the harmony, it’s like… yes, there’s the harmony, but wait. This harmony might throw us off the cliff. We need to diminish into the dissonance so that we hold onto that rock so that we can climb down and not perish. [Laughs] Now we’re going into the lexicon.

MQ: No, let’s go.

EARTHEATER: I feel like it’s so much about tension and release.

MQ: For you, I hear you glide over things. When everything is turbulent, you can either go with the turbulence, bring more into it, or you can take it out. There’s a wielding that I feel you do that’s so magical.

EARTHEATER: I love that. I do love to combine dissonant chaos with pastoral, harmonic grace. For me, that balance is reflective of the absolute magnitude of existence, and now we’re getting so heady.

MQ: I like it.

EARTHEATER: You know what? I’m that girl.

MQ: Honestly, me too, though. It’s also what gives the energy and the ride. It’s fun to go there.

EARTHEATER: Working in the studio with you was just the most fun thing ever. I can just hum, whistle a tiny little arpeggio, and you immediately transcribe it and play it. You would always say this one thing in the studio: “It wants this.” And I love that because you are inviting magic. You are unabashedly, very casually admitting, “Yes, there’s magic here.” Magic wants things. Magic wants that.

MQ: Absolutely, yeah. And you can live there, but then at some point you have to catch the thing that might be the most important thing to hold. Like, “We have to stay here,” or, “We have to loop this.”

EARTHEATER: I love these two energies that come in. Because when you say, “It wants this,” there’s this third party now, all of a sudden. It’s just you and I in the studio, but this third thing is adhering to the magnitude of all the music we’ve all consumed and all the references that create a massive brain in the ether of the room.

MQ: I love thinking about that. The references, they loom. They don’t necessarily—

EARTHEATER: They are there. But then it comes down to you and I to decide.

MQ: That’s really interesting, how you are in conversation with the energy that’s happening.

EARTHEATER: With the thing.

MQ: That’s actually one of the most important things about collaborative work, because if you’re alone and you do it all in a silo, it’s a whole other process.

EARTHEATER: The three is always there even if it’s just you. And I loved how expedited these kinds of processes with you happen. We should be talking about your amazing, incredibly beautiful album.

MQ: Thanks so much.

EARTHEATER: You know what it is to me? It’s just the encapsulation of such a specific essence. I’ve been thinking about essence a lot.

MQ: That’s cool.

EARTHEATER: An essence is adjacent to soul, but I think the word soul has been overused and abused. What I mean is, there’s an essence in it that is so palpable. You encapsulated it, and all of the sounds are so perfectly reflective of your inspiration, like memory and the slipperiness of one’s mind.

MQ: I wanted to be in conversation with all my references and all the worlds that I’ve inhabited. But at their edge, if that makes sense, whatever that edge is for me.

EARTHEATER: Yeah. It’s the wavering timbre, and the minutiae that went into carving out the slightest waver, the slightest articulation of a decay, the ripples. That, to me, is essence. It’s like you’re exploring the essence of a feeling. That’s the thing: if you have a memory, the more you remember it, the more it distorts. One memory is a carbon copy of another memory, and it distorts. Then, what are you left with? Just the essence.

MQ: Oh my god, yeah. When I was making the album, I always thought about that exact feeling, of the memory of the memory. How it repeats, where it comes back to. I needed that to be in the lyrics, for sure, but I also needed it to be in the sonics base. I leaned into the silence and what was being surrounded by the silence. That’s what I get pleasure out of. After you get out of the cacophony of, “We’ve made the thing,” then we come back to the music that we’ve made and now we have to find the details. We have to find where the sound is now carved. How do we repeat that? Because it’s recorded music. It’s a stamp.

EARTHEATER: [Sneezes] Oh my god, I’m so sorry. My allergies are really coming for me today.

MQ: Oh, my gosh. Bless you.

EARTHEATER: I’m going to blow my nose, and then I need you to just say that last thing one more time.

MQ: I was saying how, working in the studio, you make that initial stamp, and then you’re coming back to it. You have recorded music, so you’re coming back to a repeated piece of time. Now you’re editing it, and you’re continually repeating it until it’s okay. Until you say, “Okay, this is finality.” But then, at that point, it goes to the people’s speakers, and they’re hearing it in another way. It’s kind of crazy, that process.

EARTHEATER: I go through a mourning period sometimes. When I’m making an album, it’s untouched and unembellished, it’s so pure. Then you add all these wonderful things. Of course, it becomes an incredible masterpiece, a beautiful track, but I do go through this weird mourning period when the demo dies.

MQ: I know. Sometimes it’s even just one bar. You’re like, “That bar of music that we made, I want to hold.” But then you’re like, “Now I have to make a full song from that bar.”

EARTHEATER: I’m now seven albums in, or whatever. I realize that something happens where there are the spires of the album, one or two tracks that look at you straight in the eye and they go, “Okay, Album, please.”

MQ: Right. Wait, what was it for you for Powders? I’m actually just really curious.

EARTHEATER: Honestly, babe. “Sugarcane Switch.”

MQ: Really?

EARTHEATER: “Sugarcane Switch” really just showed me … Oh, and “Face in the Moon.”

MQ: Great song.

EARTHEATER: “Sugarcane Switch,” when it came down to really making the album, it was a major one. That was such a great experience with you. I think I had that burst of inspiration where I was just determined to have something that was a gated crescendo, but that—

MQ: And to walk through the gates.

EARTHEATER: Yeah, and to walk through the gates, exactly. I think you were just doodling on the Mellotron and you played that little flute sound. We both said “Vashti Bunyan” at the same time, I think.

MQ: Yes. She was in the room. She was looming.

EARTHEATER: That was so cool. You’re so perceptive. You’re a real conduit.

MQ: It’s funny that you say “conduit,” because I said that to myself when making my own record. I needed to be a conduit for my own music. I needed to get out of my own way to just allow for that to come. Going back to the spire thing, for my album, it was the opening track, “Grey Gardens.” I needed that song to understand the whole universe that I needed to walk through. Things start to snap into place when you clear out of your own way. You have to start accepting whatever is coming. The cymbals start spinning around, and it starts… whatever.

EARTHEATER: Well, that third party.

MQ: Yeah, something starts happening. I wrote “Grey Gardens” in the evening. I put it away, it sat on my desktop, and then it sort of haunted me. I was making other music. I was going in radical directions, but that melody was spinning. I was like, “I can’t get away from that song for some reason.”

EARTHEATER: That’s what I’m saying.

MQ: Yes, it made me understand, “Okay, now I need to keep this as the guiding force in all aspects.” In the touch of the piano, in the touch of the vocals. Yes.

EARTHEATER: With some albums, you need that North Star song to guide you, and you have to trust it. Especially nowadays, and when we’re working on so much music, and so many different types of sounds with so many different people, and we’re plagued by the infinite.

MQ: There’s possibilities galore. It just goes and goes.

EARTHEATER: Did you make it mostly in Toronto?

MQ: A lot of the initial work to find that guide was done here. Then, once I moved to L.A., because I was going through various changes in my life and making that decision to live in a new city, it then completely radicalizes the experience of making work. The people, obviously. The climate. There’s so many things that affect the process. Then I was working with other people, and bringing the process to a close. It got finished, which is always a miracle.

EARTHEATER: Isn’t that just the most wonderful feeling?

MQ: Absolutely.

EARTHEATER: Did it take nine months?

MQ: Four years, but we’ll call it nine.

EARTHEATER: Beautiful. It was so good chatting with you.

MQ: So lovely.

EARTHEATER: It’s so good to see your face.