“I look like a flower but smell like an ashtray,” Gainesville-raised Miami transplant Edan Archer sings on her new single, “Cutthroat.” It's the closing track on new her alt-country EP, Cruel Mother. Not only is the lyric an apt summation of Archer's eagerness to challenge modern expectations of femininity in her art, but it could also serve as a metaphor for her willingness to place gorgeous, harmony-laden country ballads alongside smoky dive-bar riffs.
Her video for the title track, “Cruel Mother,” is set against an eerie Southern-Gothic backdrop, and while her angelic silk century-old nightgown hints at the delicateness of the flower she sings about in “Cutthroat,” the blade with which she threatens the camera strikes a more sinister tone.
The song isn't your standard modern songwriting fare, from its unique origin to its taboo plot and themes. “Cruel Mother” is Archer's grunge interpretation of the Scottish folk song “Greenwood Side” (sometimes recognized as “Down by the Greenwood Side"). It is the centuries-old tale of a mother who gives birth to twins and immediately murders them, only to have them come back to haunt her as older children.
“I learned it when I was a kid,” says Archer, whose mom would play old Scottish, English, and Irish folk songs as well as their Appalachian reinterpretations around the house when she was a child.
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The songs she grew up with were less Disney and more Brothers Grimm. “There's one where it's two sisters, and one murders the other sister. There's one that's just two birds, and they're talking about which parts of this knight lying in a field they're going to eat. It's gory as shit. I plan on doing a whole album with just versions of these songs.”
These days, she's got plenty of time to make records. After teaching literature (with some interesting text selections, no doubt) at the middle-school level, she finally hit quit-your-day-job status this year. Her gutsy decision to leave teaching stemmed from a feeling that she wasn't nurturing her craft by keeping her mind occupied with work.
“I love [teaching], but it was kind of taking away from what I needed to be doing. You have to create a space for [songs] to come. You have to prepare the ground — like a plant. I have to prepare my lifestyle so that my heart and my mind can relax into being a true creative space and my songs will actually come on their own.”
Once the songs came, she found her mind going back to the grim songs she'd heard as a child. “I didn't delve into it until I left Gainesville — until I came down here. And it wasn't the first time I left. I've lived all over, but I think Miami’s very different culturally. Even though I've lived farther away geographically, culturally it's very different. I identify with Latin culture too — my grandmother's Cuban. My mom grew up in Spain. But because I'm from Gainesville, my real center is that stuff. This is my tradition. These are my roads. This is my cultural heritage.”