EMA On Her Album, Being a Britney Spears Fan and What She's Got Planned Next

Alex Catarinella
After checking out the much-buzzed-about EMA (aka Erika M. Anderson) opening for MEN and CSS this weekend at Webster Hall, we're pleased to report that rave reviews and frequent Kim Gordon comparisons for the former Gowns member are well deserved. Before hitting the stage for a performance that included tightly wrapping a microphone chord around her neck and Michael Jackson-esque crotch-grabs, we chatted with the musician about her recent album, Past Life Martyred Saints, the new Britney Spears record, and how to make a synthesizer sound "orange and wiggly."

We heard your CMJ show at Bowery Ballroom was pretty crazy! If tweets are to be trusted, you were also ...wasted. 
I saw that online, but that was with Kenny the sound guy afterwards! I saw these total New York Brooklyn dudes sitting around talkin' fishin' and they were like, 'Hey you wanna beer?!' But, yes, the show was fun. We had just driven for like three days from Phoenix to New York and I had this really crazy feeling. Sometimes when I'm really tired from being on the road, I'll just wanna get real punk rock on stage and I'll just wanna break things.

Any pre-show rituals before you hit the stage?
I like to have hot water. I like to have something for my voice when I can. I should learn how to meditate or something. 

How old were you when you started playing music?
Well, I started this kind of weird punk rock band when I was in high school. It's strange because I didn't really have a context for things like spoken word, Patti Smith, all this stuff. But I was just kind of naturally started doing stuff like that. I was like, "Okay you play the National Anthem and I'll say some weird shit about America." You know, like a teenager or whatever. And it was just like a weird thing I guess. 

Speaking of Patti Smith, it seems like lots articles about EMA compare you to her, Kim Gordon or Cat Power. What do you think about that?
I guess they're kind of accurate --  they're the closest marks that people have. But I also think that maybe I fall somewhere in the middle. Patti's very sincere... Kim's pretty cool and kind of hard to totally know where she's coming from. With me, there are moments of real sincerity and there are moments of absurdity or like making a joke or going too far. For some reason they always wanna compare girls to other girls. But I feel like, on stage, sometimes I wanna be more like Iggy Pop or something. I dunno, maybe I'm like Henry Rollins in his Rollins Band days?

I read a sad letter on your blog from a 21-year-old fan from Israel who's serving in the army... He wrote that you and he were "two misfits like two submarines in the sky." Do you relate to kids who might feel out of place or alienated? 
I'm a pretty alienated weirdo. I had a friend say to me once, "You have lots of good ideas but you're always gonna be too weird for most people." I kind of accepted that as a fact, but I don't know if that's true. 

It's not! I switch from my Britney Spears to EMA playlist frequently, if that's any indication of you being more 'normal'...  
The new Britney record is amazing! I'm kind of a super-freak with production. I listened to that latest Britney record and everything is in its place. Everything is so precise. I love it. It really gets to the OCD producer part in me. I was just like, 'Oh man, this is so fucking good!'

Your album almost feels like a live performance in a way...  
There's a lot of improv stuff on there. I'm a true believer in getting one take or leaving mistakes in. I think the next record that I wanna make, I wanna leave a lot of mistakes in and almost play with the fourth wall in recording, if that makes sense. I want to leave in some of the recording sounds and live sounds. Part of it will be like, 'Okay, this record is a place, this record is a vacuum. But, also, this record can be permeable in some places.' Like if you leave an amp turning on and off or like a bad edit? Playing with that. 

Have you started working on the new album yet? 
It's in my head. When I'm half a sleep, I'm like, 'Oh I should try this.' Last night, I was thinking I that I want to make a song that's like the equivalent of Chris Burden the performance artist. Where he has a bunch of broken glass on the ground and he's crawling on it bare chest or whatever. I wanna make that into a song.

So then you must consider yourself to be a visual person.
Yeah, I think so. I feel like a visual artist. I can't draw or paint or anything, but I feel like a visual artist when I'm like, 'I want the synth in 'Breakfast' (from Past Life Martyred Saints) to be orange and wiggly.' 

Photo: Santiago Felipe

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