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Listen: TAS In Session On 91.5 WNYE With EMA On October 7


There's a certain brutality, both stealth and explosive, that propels EMA's compelling debut album, Past Lives Martyred Saints. Behind the acronym is former Gowns guitarist Erika M. Anderson whose fondness for daring declarations and snarled restraint makes her a compelling, even controversial, songwriter.

EMA kicks off a North American tour today, October 7, in Seattle and plays New York's Webster Hall on October 22. She recently dropped by The Alternate Side for a rather revealing session with Alisa Ali which you can hear on 91.5 WNYE tomorrow, October 7, at 11 a.m. and streaming on TAS.  

EMA, "Marked,"Past Lives Martyred Saints, live in Studio A

Alisa Ali: I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but [this album] will probably make one of my top ten lists. Something that I’m so impressed with are the lyrics on this album. That’s what is most notable. There’s really vivid imagery. It’s bold to say some of these things you’re saying, like “I wish that every time he touched me, he left a mark.” You’re obviously not a self-conscious person at all.

Erika M. Anderson: That’s not necessarily true. I wrote that song years ago and when I wrote it, I thought, I like this, but I can never put this out in the world or release this.

Alisa: Why?

Erika: Because it’s … um … it’s a complex statement, a complex song. I didn’t want it to be … I didn’t want to have to explain it, which is now my fate. To try to explain it over and over. There’s some songs on there - that and “Butterfly Knife” and some other ones where I was like, “I like this, but I can’t put this out.”

Alisa: So what changed? “Butterfly Knife” is another one you wrote a while ago?

Erika: Yeah, that one is old as well.

Alisa: What’s changed?

Erika: I think part of it is that I had a band that I played in before called Gowns which dissolved in a spectacular - or unspectacular - fashion. Kind of … maybe hitting a bottom in some ways. When you feel like you’ve already hit a bottom or failed or whatever, you feel a lot freer. I’ve already lost a lot of things, so I was braver. I already knew what that feeling felt like. Now it’s great because everything feels like a blessing now. I’m not worried. I’ve already been there.

Alisa: So you’re okay to talk about it or are you like, “Oh my, she’s going to ask me what this song means?”

Erika: I understand what everyone wants to know about this song.


Alisa: I don’t feel that a musician needs to qualify the meaning of a song. Once you release it out into the world it means completely different things to different people. I won’t ask you, but how comfortable to you feel being approached about it?

Erika: Yeah, I probably should have practiced over and over. Gotten my Presidential soundbite down about it. I can be pretty comfortable with things. Don’t take things as literally on the record. There’s a level of metaphor, self-awareness, humor and a lot of stuff going on. People [are surprised] when they meet me that I’m smiling and laughing. I sometimes think that you can tell that there’s an element of theatricality in certain things. I give clues. The end of “Butterfly Knife” [is construed] as a suicide diary entry. And no, it’s a sad, teenage, Columbine wannabe. And there’s a funny part at the end. I try to let people know that there’s a light side to it and that often gets overlooked when people are talking about the record.

People say histrionic things in pop music all the time. If you listen to plenty of pop music, people say more extreme statements than what I make on this record. There’s something either where the delivery … or maybe there’s a fourth wall being broken. It’s kind of like this code of lyrics, these rules, and when an album, consciously or not, breaks them like some of these songs on here do, it takes people by surprise.

Alisa: The way you present it, it just seems like this actually happened. It seems so honest. But she’s okay! She’s smiling!

EMA, "Anteroom,"Past Lives Martyred Saints, live in Studio A

Alisa: What exactly does Past Life Martyred States mean?

Erika: I had a good friend of mine who went through a phase where he had an idea that he might be a reincarnated saint. 

Alisa: What was your reaction to that?

Erika: Oh ... it obviously touched me. Moved me in a way. He had a lot of ideas about different things. He was into aliens, saints and he was maybe touched for a second, as they say. There was a beauty to you too. I think the Midwest is a place that's hard to make sense of ... why anything?

EMA's North American Fall Tour:

10/07 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune *
10/08 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret *
10/11 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Rio Theatre *
10/12 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
10/13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex *
10/14 – San Diego. CA @ Casbah
10/15 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom $
10/21 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer #
10/22 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall #
10/23 – Boston, MA @ Paraide Lounge #
10/24 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club #
10/26 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club #
10/28 – Dallas, TX @ House of Blues #
10/29 – Houston, TX @ House of Blues #
10/30 – Austn, TX @ La Zona Rosa #

* = w/ Wild Beasts
$ = w/ Washed Out
# = w/ CSS and MEN