Worries of internet age prove catalyst for EMA
PUBLISHED: 16:29 29 May 2014
In this post-Snowden world, a stifled paranoia rules. Walk down the street and you’re facing the glare of a CCTV camera, go to the supermarket and they’re logging your purchases through a loyalty card.
At the helm of it all is the internet: social media websites selling your thoughts, photos and contacts, and the worst thing is that we’re all worried, but carry on regardless, conflicted.
For a sensitive soul like Erika M. Anderson – known better as EMA – this headache intensifies with the extra exposure an artist has to offer in order to succeed in the music business. Fortunately, it has also proved the foundation for one of the year’s best records so far.
“I don’t like spending a lot of time being self-promotional online – it’s depleting and depressing,” says Anderson.
“The internet is this wild, free exchange of ideas and information, but things are happening now with advertising that’s just littering it all up. They’re billboards on the sides of a highway which is otherwise quite beautiful.”
This open, poetic take on the internet age informs the vast majority of EMA’s second album, The Future’s Void. The follow up to her critically-acclaimed debut – 2011’s Past Life, Martyred Saints – the record is deceptively accessible despite its noise, industrial and punk influences; a collection described in these very pages as an “outstandingly thoughtful, warped pop record’. The album’s ghostly sense of online disassociation – captured in lines like: “I’ve seen my face and I don’t recognize the person that I feel inside” – will come as no surprise to long-time fans of the former Gowns guitarist.
Her previous lyrics have detailed a past life spent as an outsider in the glossy springs of California and even now, although settled in Portland, she gives off the impression of a young woman still coming to terms with her identity.
“I’m one of those artists who’s never really sure whether I’m happy or not,” she laughs, as we chat in advance of her Tuesday show at Islington’s the Garage. “It took me a long time to realise that some of the feelings I had from the success of Past Life, Martyred Saints were happiness, but some were also shame and some ambivalence.
“When I wrote these new songs, I was acting like a weird sci-fi writer, like Philip K. Dick or William Gibson. I didn’t go out much; I didn’t have a lot of friends and I was just a kind of freak tapping into this phenomenon going on.”
An active user of Twitter, Anderson sees the positives of the internet as much as the negatives. She even describes The Future’s Void as a “Tumblr” of musical styles and credits the web with breaking down genres in music and enabling artists like her to record from the comfort of her own bedroom.
Why is it then that so many people relate to the post-modern worries of songs such as 3Jane and Satellites?
“Often they do just ask people to think of the most terrifying things imaginable. Of course you’d say ‘the world ending’, ‘the death of my father’, but really the huge, realistic fear is being embarrassed on the internet – having a scandal or bad picture that makes it hate you. I was freaked about my image being pushed out there so much and wanted to take control back.
“My goal at the end of the day is to make art that’s engaging to me and other people, but it’s difficult to go against these rules. It’s like, ‘oh, you need to be on Instagram more’ or ‘hey, you need to take press pictures that make you look hot’.
She still battles with her artistic image as a woman particularly and semi-jokingly envies more polished performers with “amazing costumes” and “moves”.
Deep down, however, you suspect EMA made most of her choices long ago. She’s not aiming to be the next face on a billboard – she wants to be the one who tears them down.
EMA plays Islington’s The Garage on Tuesday. Tickets start from £13.20. Visit thefuturesvoid.net.
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