My interview was nearly ruined by The Pitch.
I was going to come in with the big guns, throw Kate Losse’s article about life as a woman at Facebook at Erika M Anderson and see what she thought. We’d get right into it, discuss the big points and come to epic conclusions…but the internet conspired against me, that article appeared and EMA responds to it alongside dropping newest track from her brilliant new album The Future’s Void, “3Jane”, and all of a sudden my angle is destroyed in flames of all shapes and sizes.
But, as I explain this over Skype to Anderson, she’s delighted to hear it: “No, that’s good!” she exclaims. “Lemme talk for a little bit, I can’t tell if I’m in the mood to talk about the internet, I feel like I’ve been talking about the internet a lot! [laughs]. It’s like, today, I wanna tweet ‘okay, there are other things on the record, other songs on the record besides all that. Some people are almost not reviewing the second half; there’s mellower things that don’t talk about being online and stuff!”
Alright then, let’s find another angle, I say…
“No, let me just preface this by saying I really didn’t set out to make a record that was about the internet,” explains Anderson. “All these weird things are happening….like the thing I’m wearing on the front cover…” The Oculus VR? “Yeah, it’s just been bought by Facebook! That’s just….fuckin’ weird! It completes the meaning of the cover, y’know? It almost didn’t quite make sense before, and now this real life event has made it so that the cover makes sense….”
The curious thing about The Future’s Void is how prescient it is itself, never mind the sci-fi of William Gibson that has a pervading influence almost throughout. Anderson reveals that even the most obviously internet/surveillance themed track wasn’t actually written with some foresight about the NSA and Edward Snowden: “It’s really weird; it’s not like while I was writing this record I was even on the internet a lot,” she says. “I was kinda just at home trying to be mellow and hang out with friends. I mean, I’ve been writing basically since I got off the road - the middle of 2012 or something - so I’m wondering how I picked up on this stuff; how did this come together? A lot of things right now feel very topical but I’m trying to figure out how that happened. Even the “Satellites” thing, it was written before the NSA thing, before Snowden.” Is it really about the Cold War, Reagan and Star Wars, I suggest? “It was actually written about the Eastern Bloc….and then Snowden comes out and absconds to Russia! But I was reading sci-fi, and I guess that you end up channelling people who are trying to predict things…”
We chat for a while about the second half of the album and in particular about the mellow, West Coast-influenced songs like “When She Comes”, when Anderson reveals that those sun-drenched Californian songs came at a time when the South Dakotan decided to move upstate to Portland: “I moved from West Oakland to Portland, Oregon,” she begins, which is kind of like the show [Portlandia]…but I don’t get involved with the canning and pickling! I had some friends and family here. I don’t know what you know about West Oakland but it kinda gets really wearying to live there after a while. There’s a lot of crime, a lot of drugs…but there’s also a lot of amazing things about it! People are really friendly and the sun shines every day, it’s beautiful, there are all these decaying Victorian homes….but I remember once there were two drive-by shootings on the lot where I was working in the studio in one week so I was like ‘okay, I don’t really like the idea of bullets coming through the wall when I’m trying to do a vocal take!”
Was it a necessary move for Anderson, then? “I have mixed feelings about moving,” she admits, “but I kinda had to just flee Oakland, and I was thinking about moving back home to South Dakota with my parents. I had made up my mind to move and to go and try and re-figure out my life”. I interrupt, asking if that means Anderson was thinking about quitting EMA, quitting music? “Yeah, yeah! Before the last record [Past Life Martyred Saints] came out I was like ‘okay, I’ve failed at this’ and I was going to come home and reconsider a different life strategy or something. I’m not really part of the music scene here [in Portland] so much – that’s not because I don’t like it, there’s lots of really cool people up here. I was really just shy and singular when I moved up here, I didn’t want to bust in and say ‘hey, I’m here, on the scene everybody!’ I wanted to be low profile…and it’s turned out really well. I don’t feel part of a scene but I do have really good friends and that gives me a lot of comfort, I think.”
I mention that a lot has been made of Anderson apparently not being welcomed as part of California’s noise scene, despite her wonderful work with Gowns and Amps for Christ, but Anderson baulks at the thought of this, and this sets the tone for the rest of the interview. It’s time to set the record straight and clear a few things up, and Anderson does this in the most wonderful and engaging way, just in case you think that she’s getting annoyed. She explains more: “That’s another thing I’d like to clear up! I was definitely welcomed in the noise scene at some point; I had a lot of respect in that scene for doing stuff as Gowns. There was just a certain faction of people who were like [laughs] ‘who the fuck is this chick?’ Because I came in with a lot of big ideas and I wanted to do this, and this….but it wasn’t like everyone hated me in the scene, I had a lot of friends there, and I threw a lot of shows…it was just a couple of people, but they had their own vested interests in keeping the status quo of which they reigned supreme!”
Eventually, we return to the sound of The Future’s Void. I say that it sounds like she’s taken two of the elements of Past Life – the noise and the pop – and pushed them further in those directions, so what prompted the overall sound of the album? “There were actually other songs and demos that were more kind of either riot grrrl influenced, or straight-up punk guitar that just didn’t end up quite fitting,” reveals the tall Dakotan. “Even if you’re gonna write a punk song, in the classic punk sense, you kinda have to decide if you’re going to straight up try and make it sound like classic punk songs are, which is kinda like trying to manufacture fake antique or something, or printing a brand new Crass t-shirt…just getting that trick of production. It just didn’t work; some of the songs I really liked but I just couldn’t get the production to be….interesting.” Anderson then goes on to reveal what the next EMA record might just sound like: “I’m already working on this weird little acoustic punk album – that’s what I want to be doing right now! I want to be in a trailer, in the desert…but I can’t, I’m in rainy Portland!” So does doing things like interviews and promo frustrate Anderson, or is it just a case of that it kind of gets in the way of creation? “Yeaaah,” she tentatively begins, “in the past week I’ve been going through this creative tear where I’ve taken a bunch of pictures, I wrote some stuff and I have all these new ideas and I’m kinda…..oh, you know I wish I could just take some time and do that real quick. “
Portrait by Gaelle Beri.