The modern folk singer's excellent new album 'The Future's Void' Is Out April 8.
EMA, aka Erika M. Anderson, is somewhere on the continuum between folk and noise. She started out as a member of the ominous duo Gowns, whose album Red State is a masterful concept album about taking drugs in Fargo, North Dakota. Her 2011 solo debut Past Life Martyred Saints earned a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork and contained haunting, unforgettable songs like “California” and “Marked.” Her follow up, The Future’s Void, is out April 8 on Matador, and presents a further refinement of her cerebral and bloody style. Nerve talked to her about the new album, Danzig, and why people think she’s humorless (she’s not).
EMA: What are you using to record?
Nerve: An app called Tape-A-Call.
Hahaha! It sounds so ominous, Tape-A-Call.
I’m not the NSA. I’m just a dude.
That’s probably their tagline.
That feels like an appropriate place to start, because that’s what a lot of the album is about, right? The internet and surveillance.
I would say around half of it is, ish, but that’s something that people are really excited to talk about, or there’s maybe more conversation to be had around it than maybe the other half of the record. It’s funny too, because when I wrote a lot of these songs, like “Satellites,” this was pre-Snowden, pre-NSA, and it was kind of about the idea of the Eastern Bloc, and then later it comes out that the NSA is spying on us and Snowden flees to Russia. There’s a lot of weird stuff on this record that when I made it I didn’t think I was being super topical. I wasn’t researching and trying to write an album about our times or anything like that. I was just hangin’ out in Portland in sweatpants going down to the basement and writing stuff.
Another kind of crazy thing is I’m wearing this nerdy, like, VR headset on the cover, the Oculus Rift, and it kind of made sense as the cover and it kind of didn’t, and then this news that Facebook just bought the Oculus Rift, like weirdly completes it.
It’s perfect timing.
Yeah! And it’s weird! That’s what I’m thinking about right now. So there’s a lot of stuff about the internet, but I didn’t set out to time it in this way. But it’s happening, and it’s interesting.
Is Facebook now going to come after you for using an Oculus Rift without their approval?
I don’t think that they care. Their sights, their designs, are on a much larger scale. I don’t think they have to worry about me so much.
How do you feel about the internet today?
Um, I kinda don’t want to deal with it today. At all. There are certain days when things can be really fun. I like looking at the internet with others. I like it when people show me weird shit, like we’ll be hanging out, and someone will go, “Have you seen this? I love this.” I don’t really watch YouTube videos alone. I like to do it with others.
The internet is such a powerful, magnified reflection of human nature, and it’s also super disembodied. It’s not like you get the whole context of something. You just get a sliver. You don’t get that much backstory or a physical presence. That’s why I like talking with somebody in real life. I don’t know what people think I’m probably like, but a lot of journalists I talk to are like, “wow, I didn’t really expect you to be nice and articulate and kinda funny.”
It’s probably because your music is so intense.
Yeah, it is intense, but I try to put humor in it too, but it probably only comes across to certain people.
It’s kind of a dark sense of humor. I think it’s funny, but I don’t know if everyone would. Like “So Blonde” is a funny song, right?
Yeah, I think it’s funny! It’s a meta-grunge song, and, like the production is funny, or maybe it’s more like it has a sense of humor. It’s not quite satire, but it has a funniness. Also, I think that when the claps come in at the beginning of “Satellites,” I think that’s a funny moment. I don’t know why. I feel like there are these humorous parts. Like some of the lines in “When She Comes” are like this grunge mumble-speak. There are all sorts of things that I think are moments of lightness, but I guess it’s harder to figure out how to write about that.
The dark, visceral stuff is easier to grab than the humor.
I hope that’s one of the things that makes the record work, this attempt to keep a mix of light and dark, and to keep people on their toes, like not totally sure when I’m kidding or when I’m not kidding. I find artists that can do that really fascinating, like Danzig. Like, is he always this serious about being this dark lord type of guy? Or is he kidding, ever? Like what is happening? That’s kind of amazing.
Trent Reznor is another one.
I think he’s given enough interviews where he’ll make jokes, but I don’t even know if Danzig makes jokes.
No, Danzig doesn’t make jokes, even though he’s hilarious all the time.
Yes! That’s what I mean, he’s hilarious all the time but he never makes jokes. There’s this photo of me and Danzig because I covered this Danzig song and there’s a photo of me when I’m like 18 backstage with him, and there’s a photo of me with him where he’s smiling and laughing. People were like “what did you say to him?”
How much taller than Danzig are you?
Well, obviously he’s wearing like five-inch heels, but I’m still a little bit taller than him, because I’m 6'.
And he’s like 5’3”.
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t joke. “I need to be taken seriously here! I’m real serious.” Yeah, so there’s one photo where he’s making his mean Danzig face, and then one where he’s smiling and laughing, and someone was like, “what did you say to him? You must have said something really funny, because there’s no other picture of him smiling, like ever.” And I have no clue! I don’t know. But somehow I made Danzig laugh. Everyone thinks I’m dark, but I have to be kind of funny if I made Danzig laugh.
The video for “So Blonde” has gifs from Molly Soda. How did you meet her?
Online, obvs. Not IRL. Although it would be fun to hang out with her sometime IRL.
Your new album is on Matador, a bigger label than you’ve been on before.
Yeah, I’m excited, but everyone else is making me realize that this is a huger change than I maybe expected, like “I’m just doing my thing,” you know?
What should someone do if their boyfriend won’t kiss them after they go down on him?
Is this made up? I mean, a man would put his own mouth on his dick if he could. Does he have fear of his own dick? I need a little more information. Is she swallowing? Maybe she should say, “Look, if you’re not gonna kiss me afterwards, you can finish this with your hand.” Or does he know something she doesn’t about his own personal hygiene? I would be suspicious.
So what does she ask him? How does she ask him why?
She probably shouldn’t be as confrontational as “Are you afraid of your own dick?” She should probably say, “Even though you won’t kiss me right after, obviously I’ve still had my mouth on your dick, and that will have been true tomorrow and the next day and the next day.” Is it a time thing, like a five minute limit? It’s hard for me to give advice. She should just ask him “What’s up with that?” Oh, Jesus. I hope my grandma doesn’t read this.
What about if your boyfriend is overweight. You love him, but you don’t like the way he looks right now. Should you give him sexual incentives to help him lose weight?
All these scenarios have things that you’d have to know more about their relationship. Like, are they into BDSM power-play? If they have that kink, then it’s possible, but if that kink is not part of their relationship then withholding sex for behavior modification can be really fucked up and weird.
I need to be dominant, but I don’t want to be degrading. How do I do the rough stuff while still being respectful of my partner?
This is kind of a hard one. The traditional answer would be “move slow and communicate,” which I do think is important, but some people are kind of shy about talking beforehand, so maybe he could, while they’re having sex, whisper dirty talk about some of the things he might like to do and gauge her response from that. If he says, “I’d really love to blah blah blah,” and start mild, nothing extreme, and just while they’re making out, and if she seems responsive, continue with the talking, but don’t do it. If she seems unresponsive, if all of a sudden she’s like “What did you say?” That could be a good moment to be like, “Hmm, let’s scale back a little bit here.” And then after he’s tried that dirty talk, maybe the next day, I would say have a conversation about if that would be something the other person would like to try.
You have lyric in your song “California,” “What’s it like to be small town and gay?” I imagine you would have some advice for that kid.
I think that it’s changed so much even since I was talking with the people I grew up with who I was talking about in that song. It used to be that people really identified with certain labels, and what we’re seeing now is this gender fluidity and orientation fluidity that I think is really interesting. I think “what’s it like to be small town and gay” is still a relevant lyric for a lot of people, but also now people are like “really, do I have to say if I’m gay, or if I’m bi, because I don’t know, sometimes I like this, sometimes, I like that, and it’s a non-issue.”
And also, to bring it back to the internet, we’re seeing people being able to find their communities and come out and say “I’m asexual,” or “I’m a furry,” so I think that’s a real positive aspect. I think if I was to give any blanket sex advice, it would be if you’re worried about “am I this, or am I this,” don’t worry about identifying yourself if you’re still in an early stage of experimentation or hypothetical behavior. Just try stuff out, and if you like it, you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t, and if accepting a label, no matter what it is, isn’t for you, then just don’t.
Image via Matador Records.