Call it punk, call it rock, call it drone, call it goth, call it whatever you want. Ever since her debut solo album first dropped back in May, critics and fans alike have struggled to put a label on EMA's (real name: Erika M. Anderson) strangely captivating sound. Even she has a hard time.
"I should probably come up with a good phrase to describe it," Erika said over the phone from Portland, where she's crashing between nonstop shows. "But if I had to, I'd just describe it now as digital Velvet Underground. It's playing a lot with sound, with genre, with heavy string presence."
Her first singles like "Milkman" and "The Grey Ship" aren't perky by any means (it's hard to be chipper when you're alternating between ambient droning, stripped-down vocals and trance-like beats), but don't worry- they're not depressing, either. "The only thing that throws me off is when people describe my album as 'gloomy,'" she notes.
With complex soundscapes and fiercely vulnerable lyrics ("California" and "Butterfly Knife" are particularly touching), EMA's album Past Lives of Martyred Saints is one you have to listen to in its entirety- over and over again. But for live shows, Erika says it's an entirely different feel. "I'm trying to bring back actual sounds from the record, but the thing is, a lot of those sounds are computer processed or samples," she says. "Playing live, I don't like it to be super sloppy, but I do like an element of chaos or else I get bored."
You can see the chaos in person when EMA hits the road-again-next month. But until then, listen to "The Grey Ship" below.