EMA talks sci-fi and Cold War

Erika M. Anderson, former co-frontwoman of the apocalyptic noise-folk duo Gowns and current mastermind of EMA, is much less reserved than her music would suggest. Between her former work and her newer endeavors, patterns and motifs have emerged: isolation, alienation, violence, discomfort and so on. Over the phone, however, Anderson is talkative and forthcoming, eager about her art and the forces that mold it—even joking about Portlandia.

Her sophomore solo album, nihilistically titled The Future’s Void, doesn’t quite match her flippancy—but not for lack of trying. On cuts like “So Blonde,” Anderson eschews abstracted song structure for a more deliberate pop format, punctuating each verse with a shriek of “[he/she]’s so blonde!”

“That’s kinda the one thing I thought I’d try to do on the record,” Anderson explained, “to try out this verse/chorus/verse thing, three and a half to four minute song length things.”

She did voice some reservations over the new approach, though. “To be honest, I don’t know if it’s the best way for me to totally express my ideas. But I like that there are some—I think it was actually musically easier to write them, but lyrically more difficult. Because you have to fit things into this weird, you know, these couplets and things.”

Despite the more rigid structuring of the songs, Anderson still managed to maintain a poet’s grip over her material, infusing the record with as much neurotic energy as her 2010 debut, Past Life Martyred Saints.

Speaking of her influences, she noted, “I think I was mostly reading a lot and seeing a lot of art, contemporary art, you know … sometimes I think it resulted in songs that were more complex lyrically, and about subject matter that I think isn’t maybe in typical music, or not really following the trends musically.

“Thinking about history and politics instead and asking—you know, if you’re looking at contemporary art, you’re sort of using your brain in this extra way and going about art in a historical context and a political context and you make some extra connections, and I think in some ways that’s definitely rubbed off on the record.”

The songs, especially cuts like “Satellites” and “Neuromancer,” betray this duality; the former conflates the omnipresence of satellites and technology with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the opening of Soviet satellite states, while the latter discusses selfies, postlapsarian love and William Gibson’s venerated “Neuromancer” novel.

Although she’s quick to point out that The Future’s Void isn’t a sci-fi concept record, Anderson does note the role that science fiction gave rise to her songs, as well as Cold War-era politics. “I read everything, I’m a voracious reader,” she explained. “I would read classic sci-fi and totally trashy sci-fi, and I sort of got interested in the Cold War and the Eastern Block and the lives of people living over there and the history of it.

“It was something people my age and younger were born into without understanding what caused it. Or at least, I didn’t—I was like, ‘what’s the Marshall Plan again?’”

The music, meanwhile, keeps pace evenly with Anderson’s frantic wordsmithing. Even if The Future’s Void is a pop record, it’s an uncompromising one, full of blistering noise, manic shrieks and aggressive percussion—all of which is likely to give way at a moment’s notice in favor of quiet meditation.

“I’m living in Portland right now, so [The Future’s Void has] got this Pacific Northwest vibe,” said Anderson. “But not necessarily the ‘new’ Pacific Northwest, I’m thinking more of like… K Records, or ’90s grunge and punk and DIY stuff that came out of there. It came to me as an influence in a surprising way, because I just really didn’t think that it would have an influence on me.”

Despite the critical laudation of the record, Anderson seemed restless, eager to pursue new venues of sound. “I kind of want to make this semi-acoustic punk record, and I’m sort of interested in the idea of it being very very very simple and repetitive, like only being—I don’t know, I haven’t really figured it out yet. But I’d like to lock myself away in a desert or something and work on it.”

Anderson plays as EMA at the High Noon Saloon this Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Downtown Boys and Chants will open.

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