EMA, Mickey and Mallory

Don’t let the six foot beauty’s relentlessly personal music unnerve you: She’s actually quite hilarious, which you will see in this interview and hear in her music.

EMA is Erika M. Anderson’s new venture after Gowns called it quits. Her debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints, has blunt honesty, uneasy images, and arrangements that seat the listener right next to the artist as she rides a rollercoaster of sadness, nostalgia, understanding, and humor. Her confidence and individualism glow through her music in ways seen before only rarely, if ever. With fearless conviction, EMA is undoubtedly an original voice who means business. But don’t let the six foot beauty’s relentlessly personal music unnerve you: She’s actually quite hilarious, which you will see in this interview and hear in her music.
Is it easer to create music now that you are undoubtedly the lead creative force, as opposed to your previous band, Gowns?
There’s definitely things to be said about collaborating with other people. I’m kind of a control freak, so I do like being able to feel like I can do whatever I want, but people need editors for a reason. It’s good to have someone come out and be like, “I don’t know if that idea is working.” There’s kind of a give and take to both, and I definitely don’t have as much skill set with electronic processing and all that stuff.
Ezra Buchla [ex-boyfriend and ex-bandmate] appears on Past Life Martyred Saints performing keyboards and backup vocals. Is this because you both have musical respect for one another, or do you think having someone around who can affect you in such an emotional way helps the music?
A lot of these songs are ones that we had written while we were still working together. We definitely still have musical respect for each other. He was really supportive about me releasing those songs, and I also think it would’ve been disrespectful to re-record them or take him off when he had done work. That’s disrespectful to the work he put in, and yeah, it’d be kind of a dick move.
What are some of the challenges when balancing and combining multiple styles in one song? Is it hard? Is it easy? Is it just your style?
It’s just kind of my style. It’s fun for me, and it’s inspiring to go after different styles and different influences.
In “California,” you sing about displacement and nostalgia. Is the purpose of sampling “Camptown Races” to instill memories of home?
With “Camptown Races,” that lyric really got stuck in my head; I feel like it says so much. I actually read that lyric wrong for a really long time. I thought it was “I bet my money on the bobtail nag/ somebody else bet on the bay.” It was like this amused, “Damn, I lost, I failed.” But it’s actually like, “Hey, I bet on this one and you bet on this one. So it’s like this kind of, let’s make this fun by each betting,” but I just read it wrong. There’s also this feeling of failure and placing your hopes and dreams in the wrong place. I bet on the wrong horse-type of deal. There’s also the reference to the bay, like the Bay area. It’s subtly in there.
Rob Sheffield, author and Rolling Stone writer, named Past Life Martyred Saints the best album of 2011. Do accolades from music writers give you a sense of accomplishment?
It’s really cool to be having a dialogue on that level with people. What I think it really comes down to is I’m in some ways a music geek, like a theory geek. In that sort of way where I like to reference different things and I get a kick out of these sonic challenges and all this stuff. It’s fun for me to be part of a conversation about music.
You just finished a string of shows in Australia and New Zealand. Was that your first time over there? And what was the experience like?
It was my first time over there, and it was amazing, it was really, really cool. Everyone’s probably like, “Yeah, I bet it was,” but it was pretty awesome, I have to say.
How was playing with Yuck?
It was cool. They’re actually sweet kids and we hung out a lot. The thing that was fun about [Laneway] Festival is that you end up hanging out with all the artists that are playing. You hang out in different artist areas sharing beer and just kickin’ it. So it’s like a traveling summer camp with really awesome people.
On Valentine’s Day you released the heartfelt song, “Take One Two.” The song is set to a home video of you and your friends having fun despite, as you wrote on your website: “What was going on outside those plywood walls: getting called names, shoved into lockers, and threatening to get our asses kicked for being queer or punk or just plain weird.” What would you say to kids today who are going through the same issues?
That one’s really hard because there’s this new element now of psychological torture that kids can do to each other; it’s this whole online aspect. It used to be that you walked into your friend’s house and shut the door and you’re all together and free, having fun. Now kids at every single moment of the day can be receiving texts, instant messages, looking at fake Facebook profiles of themselves, or people just posting hate notes—all these awful things. The thing that I’d actually want to say is, not so much to the people who are being bullied, but to the people who are doing it” What sort of person do you consider yourself to be? If you are psychologically torturing people, you’re kind of an asshole and you should look at your behavior. We’re in this time and place where no one wants to call out kids and say that they’re being total assholes, and I think it’s important at this point to call these people out instead of necessarily focusing on people as victims.
I have another question about that music video. Whose room are you in? Because I’m interested in the entire wall of cat photos.
[Laughs] It’s my friend Lacy’s room. I love the way it’s decorated; it’s so like this awesome ’90s bedroom.
Yeah, there’s a poster of Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers, the latter of which you actually quote the two main characters in “Butterfly Knife.”
I read this story in L.A. It was this teen gossip murder story, it’s real, it actually happened, and one of the people involved in it actually had two rabbits named Mickey and Mallory. I thought it was such a weird detail so I had to put it in a song.
What can people expect to see when you come to St. Louis?
A full band—it’s like a rock band is what’s going on. It’s not like me with an iPod or anything. | Alex Schreiber
EMA will be headlining at The Luminary Center for the Arts on March 20. Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 adv/$10 dos.


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