December 2012, Spindle Magazine Issue 6

Before Erika M. Anderson became E.M.A. (future pin up of angsty teens), she was front woman of drone folk band, Gowns, whom you may or may not have heard of. If you haven’t, you could probably be forgiven since they ‘self- destructed’ back in 2010 after just the one album and I’m not entirely sure their live shows, driven by a frenzied chaos that became a trademark, ever made it out of the us underground scene to this side of the pond. That kind of destructive energy can really take its toll on a girl.

Exactly how much of one becomes evident when listening to Anderson’s debut album under new moniker EMA, Past Life, Martyred Saints, which could essentially be described as a break up album. (Did I mention Gowns’ Ezra Buchla is also Anderson’s former boyfriend?)

As EMA, Anderson’s sound isn’t worlds apart from what she created with Gowns, suggesting that she was the driving force behind the band. Noise-folk melodies are overlaid with torrid outpourings, more essays than songs- Anderson doesn’t go in for the standard verse/chorus/ verse set up: “That’s just how I write. I don’t know why, I love choruses in songs but I never write them!”

P.L.M.S. lays bare and gives a disturbing insight into Anderson’s headspace in the aftermath of Gowns’ break down. “Love so much so real so fucked it’s 5150/ But I’m just 22 and I don’t mind dyin/ What does failure taste like?” (California). She alternatively drawls, rasps and croons lyrics that are disquietingly and uncomfortably candid. “I like to push things to the edge of discomfort and I like to say things that are taboo to say… In this age, people are like, ‘Oh well, we get to know you now.’ And I’m just like, you can know the record.”

Nor has the live performance lost any of that driving frenetic energy.

“I definitely want to do really specific thing with sound on a record and I like to micromanage every single second of it. But live it’s so much more about energy and experience. It’s a lot more raw, it’s a lot more punk rock.”

However, when I ask her about her Pitchfork review that labelled her as ‘scarred’, I get a gentle admonishment. “Everyone always asks me about that: ‘Oh what about your Pitchfork review,’ and it’s like, what about our dialogue? I don’t want to be portrayed as a victim, but I feel like even making that record takes strength and took a lot of thought and a lot of will, so I don’t think it’ s quite accurate to be portrayed as… ‘Cause that’s an active record.”

And she has a point. The album may be dark, but it’s not depressing and, ultimately, it’s both triumphant and uplifting; if for no other reason than she came out the other end and isn’t just hibernating under her duvet, licking her wounds and working her way through mammoth tubs of Ben & Jerry’s.

Crucially, it’s the differences between her two incarnations that stand out. 2011 was a busy year for her with early and immediate success: featuring in Rolling Stone and winning Yahoo’s title of ‘Most Blogged About Artist.’ Meeting her for this chat, our interview is delayed as she’s already backed up with her intense, pre gig press schedule and, when I arrive, she’s in the middle of filming a video. Even now, two hours before she’s due to on stage, people are already milling around in anticipation and she has to politely ask two men who descend on our table if they wouldn’t mind sharing someone else’s while we do this interview. (She maintains enough anonymity for now though, that they clearly have no idea who she is as they noisily blow her off; an amusing and interesting contrast.)

All in all, as EMA, Anderson is: “Just a little more open, or a little less defeated. That’s not only in writing ,that’s going through everything: touring and releasing; being open to press or talking to press, ‘cause Gowns didn’t do that so much. It’s more a holistic change.”

Most importantly: “Hopefully it’s going to be a little less self destructive.”