Interview EMA: ‘The Record Came From An Angry Place’

EMA wrestles with difficult themes on her new album, but it’s not all internet, internet, internet.

Erika M. Anderson’s second album as EMA, ‘The Future’s Void’, is perhaps a perfect example of an artist creating broadly abrasive music yet cleverly lacing it with a pop sensibility that makes it both challenging and accessible. A task that’s no mean feat, but one the engaging musician navigates extremely successfully. From her home in Portland, she explains a bit about her writing process and her love of musical clichés, as well as dispelling some of the pre-release rumours that the record is a concept album about technology. Really it’s an album about EMA’s life: a compelling insight into the character of a fascinating musician.

What did you set out to achieve when you embarked on making the album?

I didn’t really have a lot of conscious goals. I didn’t really have a thing I was trying to do, anyway. It’s kind of like blindly stumbling around until you find things that you like. The thing is that it’s the sophomore record after people like your first one. You just try to make it in ways that you like. I just wanted to take my time and make something that I liked, I didn’t have a grand agenda.

How different was your writing and recording process compared to your debut, ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’?

The first album had the benefit of me having a bunch of songs that were in the back catalogue, I had ‘Marked’ for years, I had ‘Butterfly Knife’ for years. I always had tons of other s**ty songs that I had written over the years that I didn’t have to worry about. I’m learning about my process and the things that I think work for me. I’m trying to hold on to some of the same things that I did on ‘Past Life Martyred Saints‘. I’m trying to write in the moment, either using improvisation or sort of like automatic writing. Improvisation for a lot of people is about instruments and staying in one key, for me it’s much more trying to get in this state. Y’know how everyone says that you’ve got to think before you speak? Well, for me it’s trying to speak without thinking.

The album is tremendously bold, confident and self-assured. Where do you think that came from?

I think it’s probably a lot of bluster from feeling insecure. I’ve been in many places where I’ve had to be really tough. Just hanging out with I guess you guys would call them lads. The record actually came from an angry place. I was kind of pissed. I don’t really know exactly why that was. That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out through interviews, why was I so angry?

There is some humour in there though too. It’s not all rage.

I mean, I try to make stuff funny as well. I thought there was even humour on ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ but it’s hard for people to know when I’m kidding or when I’m not. I’m trying to combine real emotions with things that are funny. On ‘3Jane’ there’s a couple of lines where I say ‘interwebs’ that’s supposed to be a little bit funny.

There’s been a lot written in the press stating that the record has an underlying theme relating to society’s relationship with technology and the internet. That’s not 100% the case though is it?

No! Totally not. I’m hoping people don’t get too turned off because there’s other stuff on there. I think we’re just in the age of the think piece that makes people think that. I think if people listen to the whole thing they’ll be surprised at the diversity of genre on it and that it’s not a heavy-handed thing that hits you over the head all the time with the internet, the internet, the internet.

Does it annoy you when people attach narratives onto your songs that may not be entirely accurate?

That would happen with anything though. That’s what’s hard. Music these days is so much more of a visual medium than it ever has been. People get to the stage where they’re like I know about a bunch of musicians but my impression of them is not through having listened to their records but from a picture and a tagline. My picture [the album cover] is going to be me with the cube, with ‘internet girl’ underneath it. I don’t know what I can do stop that!

Did it spook you slightly when the themes of some of the songs turned out to be darkly prescient? Like ‘Satellites’, which is based on the Cold War and Soviet Power.

A little bit. Also because I didn’t think this was going to be a thing. I didn’t have intentions to document it. When I was writing ’3Jane’ it felt really risky. It felt like you can’t say these phrases in songs. That’s another thing that I like. I like finding language that feels taboo to put into music like, “Click on the link of the dead celebrity” [‘Dead Celebrity’]. I get off on that, things that don’t sound like musical clichés that you’ve heard a hundred times before.

It reminds me a bit of the lyrical approach of someone like David Byrne taking everyday themes and putting them into progressive rock songs.

Or like the Beat Poets. That’s who I feel closest to. People often ask me what counterculture do you feel closest to? I can sometimes get a little hippy or a little punk but the Beats get me because they’re just these normal people that are crazy artists. It seems like they didn’t try to differentiate into normal American culture and write from the inside and outside of that. That’s something that I try and do. I live in this weird apartment complex. I don’t necessarily like to go to super hip bars. Something bristles in me when it’s too hip so I get comfort from standard places like the mall or a s**tty chain restaurant. When I’m writing the record those are the things I’m drawing from. I’m walking around my neighbourhood in sweat pants just absorbing what everyone’s doing. I’m not going out of my way to consume a ton of avant-garde music or film. I’m watching Terminator 2, I’m in Portland going to yoga classes and from there that’s where the prescience came from for me. It’s not from the underground. I don’t try to write from a counterculture perspective.

So it’s the mundanities of everyday life that’s really inspiring then?

Yeah, even though I find underground punk scenes super inspiring for this record I didn’t know a lot of people in Portland so I wasn’t connected to a scene. I worried that I was going to be so out of touch. People are going to say I’ve lost it and I don’t know what’s going on. Actually though, it seems everything is weirdly falling into place and lining up.

EMA’s new album ‘The Future’s Void’ is out now via City Slang.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online, download on Android via Google Play, or download on iPad now.

Tags: EMA, WATERS, Features

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