EMA – The Future’s Void


Erst kürzlich erschein das neue Album von EMA. Beim Interview in Amsterdam haben uns Sängerin und Songwriterin ERIKA M. ANDERSON sowie Keyboarder/Bassist/Violinist LEIF SHACKELFORD ihre ausführlichen Erläuterungen zu den dystopischen Songs von The Future’s Void diktiert…


“Satellites“ was one of the first musical ideas I had for this record and I just knew that I wanted to start harsh noise, deep bass, harsh noise, deep bass, clap. I don’t know exactly where that came from. It was just something I heard in my head. I think it kind of sets the sound really well. I feel like it doesn’t sound like many other things. It also kind of fits thematically with stuff because it’s a very binary sound. And then the hand claps come in like the human elements but they’re obviously computer. So I made part of that track and Leif came in. It’s funny ‘cause it sounds very mechanical but actually there’s violin in there. That’s part of what the harsh noise is. Very distorted! I think that set the mood for what kind of sounds would go on the other stuff and the sort of battle which is taking place on the record: the battle between the human interest and the machine interest. So first thing we tried to do was to fit in violins to see whether they can survive in this environment of electronics. I knew that it should be the opening track. It was very different than on the last record which was very warm and like “come on in and listen!”. This one is more like “yeah, fuck you and listen to the harsh type of thing!”. The songwriting is not generally a shared process with us. It’s different with every song. Erica always starts and comes up with lyrical ideas.


That one was one of the first times that I tried this verse-chorus-verse type of song structure. I was like “everybody loves this verse-chorus-verse-bridge thing – I’ll try that out!”. Just to give that some context: If you listen to the last record, there’s almost never any repeat. So I thought I try that. I was just napping when it came to me. That’s just how a lot of things come: having a nap or taking a walk and then an idea will come up. It’s supposed to be kind of like a genre piece. Like a very grunge song about grunge. Meta-grunge! I think it works for people who have the background in grunge. Leif was listening to hardcore music and early electronic stuff when grunge was around so he doesn’t have the history for it. We have very little cross over what we’ve listened to when we were young.


I just had like a lot of stress on the last tour. Like when the last record came out. I think it was like coming from a very underground and very experimental scene and then having a lot of attention. We used to really want that in life but it can really be like disorientating and really stressful. It’s like I’m feeling all these things but it feels like I can’t tell anyone about it because it’s all supposed to be good. You’re not supposed to feel like “this is fucking weird and I don’t like it”. So I just had a lot of emotions about it that I tried to keep inside. I was just at my parent’s house after the tour which also makes me feel very stress out. I had a garage band on a iPad and I was playing it and it was twelve minutes of just me and like just improvising all the lyrics. So we had that and then I kind of cut them down into parts that I like and just went down to the basement and kind of played it and sang over it. We tried to re-do it like a million times because the pitch wasn’t perfect. I can never get that feeling back so we just ended up keeping it. It’s very close to the original version of the demo. I do that kind of often. I think I come up with lyrical ideas when I am just improvising because you’re not like being critical. You’re not teasing your critical mind on things as much. You’re just like “I’m emotionally feeling this.” and you don’t judge the things that come out of your mouth. So I think that you come up with things that are a lot more true to how you feel. I really liked it but we were still frightened to release it – especially with some of the lyrics. Someone had a review and they said it was just kind of hyper critical for some people. They kind of took me to task for writing about these things like technology and the internet all this stuff. But that’s kind of what everyone goes through. This is a very new phenomenon. A phenomenon that people haven’t written about yet and I can imagine a lot of people actually relating to it. People are posting and it can get out of control and very regretful. People commit suicide over cyberbullying. There are all these things in the US like people filming drunk girls passed out or these raped things. It’s really fucked up. So I just was like “O.K., if everyone puts this out, I’m gonna put that out!”. I think “3Jane” and “Neuromancer” are kind of two half to the same thing. Like “3Jane” is sort of a “,let me try and tell you” and “Neuromancer” is more like a rage. But it’s about the same idea. They are related.


That was just a working title that ended up sticking. We were playing on Billy’s electronic pat and we were just hanging out and kind of jamming, maybe partying a little bit and put different sounds on his drums to just play with it. I think this one tries to take the same path as a song like “Grey Ship” on the last record where you have more of a journey, but with a different sound pallet. It kind of goes through different phases: It starts as a blues song and then it breaks down, goes through this psychedelic rock and ends up being with a lot of synths. It’s sort of a genre mixer and it took a long time to mix it. We had to go back and forth and ended up with a very clean mix. When I went to Italy they were like “no no” and they put more noise on it. I alomst don’t even know what the record one sounds like anymore. It’s cool to play that one live. We have a lot of tours nowadays. Billy plays all the noise and then we all just switch a lot: I start out playing keyboards and then I go to violin for the bridge and then I go back to keyboards. We are trying to avoid backing tracks live as much as possible but for some songs you just can’t avoid it. I try to take advantage of the computer to have the sounds ready and available. But if I can possibly play it, I will. It’s only like a last resort when I say “O.K., play!”. And this is just another one where we did a demo recording, I did the vocals and we tried to re-do it and it never had the right feeling. So we just went back to the demo version of it.


That was fun! It was the night when we were up for a late night jam. Like partying really late in our friend’s house. That was like a jam. Leif wrote that and I did the vocals. We tried to do a bit of a hip hop bassline or just a really relaxing party vibe but then the vocals came in. Kind of like this west coast hip hop thing. The beginning piano part is almost like SNOOP DOG and DR DRE and then the bass comes in. There was another section in there that was kind of something else and that I was really excited about, but Erica was really not excited about that. I wanted to put that in the beginning and she was like “No, we gonna put this Snoop Dog piano in the beginning!”. We haven’t got the chance to figure it out live. It’s just like I could do that vocal that night but there’s too much distortion on it that immediately becomes feedback. It’s very hard to deliver such a slow electronic piece live. Maybe if we have more media stuff involved so there’s a little bit more support, we could do that. I’d like to give that vocal that space back. It was in the middle of the night. If I try to do that now and in the middle of the set, it really kind of fucks up my voice. But we’ll get that together! Lyrically it’s about getting older each day and earning. Could be “urn” like where the ashes go or “earn” like you have to keep making money. That’s kind of a hip hop Thing. A really perverted west coast hip hop song!


That’s another one that came out of a jam. I put that industrial machine beat on it. It’s a sound sample from a factory – probably one in Germany. So we started playing it and first it was just improvised written and then it took me a while to figure out what exactly it was about. “Neuromancer” is from a cyberpunk book. I love it! That’s kind of about feeling like you have so much information that you put online. It becomes something that represents you but is not you. It’s made up by other people because they add to it and then it becomes even more distorted and that’s kind of what you see when you look through yourself. It’s a very disorientating experience. A kind of personalizing experience. And then there’ s another part of it: Once you put up all your information you give it up – your pictures, your selfies, your updates. We do it all for free and then it’s taken by different cooperation and they crunch the data and they know how to advertise to you. They take all this stuff! And this one I feel gets kind of misinterpreted by people sometimes because people think I am pointing a finger at someone else. But the only thing I am annoyed about is myself. I was doing that too. But then I was like “What does it mean?”. We are making content these days and only a few seem to be aware of this fact. You are a content creator! Your work is to be valued. It’s a thing that you do for free and then someone else takes it and they can get all this information and they use it to sell more products. So a bit of complex ideas!


That’s Leif’s hidden favorite on the record. It was just kind of another meta-grunge. I was trying to make lyrics that sound old. The difference between “So Blonde” and “When She Comes” is that “So Blonde” feels like very intentional and like you’re saying something about somebody else and “When She Comes” feels very personal. It’s just like a really nice and pretty song. There was like a lot of anger around the first half and this one is like I knew that people needed something to breath. And moreover we couldn’t come up with a tracklist we wanted. The label actually gave this one and somehow I understand. It’s hard to get through and to survive until number seven if you aren’t listening to that kind of music. It’s probably the easiest to listen to on the record.


That’s just another one that gives the record more space and I think it’s really a nice one. I think the first half I was just so angry and had so many emotions about things that I had to write all those there. People are like “These earlier ones are more like the hits!” and I’m like “I don’t know if that’s true”. They were like “Put all these aggressive ones first!”. I wouldn’t have made the playlist exactly like this. “100 Years” is also kind of about the first wave of modernization and the first time that people moved from farms into the city and how it was another rapid development and million people died. We kind of just forget that the world has always been crazy. It’s a time that really gets overshadowed by things like World War II. When I was recording it, there was that garbage truck. So when I pause in the middle, it’s just I heard the garbage truck and I just stopped. And when the garbage truck was away I kept playing. And then in the very end it’s the garbage truck again.


A lot of Leif’s favorite stuff are collaborations like CHEMICAL BROTHERS did with lot of singers. He always wanted to do a song like that with me and this is maybe the closest. I think some people might think “Oh well, he’s a guy – he’s doing the productions and then the girl comes in and sings”. That’s not true. We both have ideas about the sound. So it’s always a collaboration on the synthesizers as well. But Leif made this guitar pedal: a sequencer that you use for your guitar. He was originally gonna make this as a product in business. Just a handful of people own it. There’s maybe twenty out in the world but in Portland it’s like all of the famous rockers have it. That’s the only song that focuses on the pedal’s sound. It was written during our Australian festival tour. We made friends with WASHED OUT. They came to our house after a show and we just had a party and it was kind of like “Oh, let’s do this track!”. A little bit of that survived. Like the progression and I just came up with the hook. We didn’t really talk about it with them. So it’s not really a collaboration with WASHED OUT but memories from a party with them. I wanted to write something pretty again. I have this idea with music: I wanna make a song that doesn’t sound like anything else, I wanna treat it like temporary art, I wanna comment. Like I have this idea but I also know that I should make things that are just pretty as well. It’s like a struggle. It’s just the person I am and the scene I am coming from: a very experimental scene with very academic people that hang out. I want to write about things that are serious and I wanna break new ground. But there are a lot people that just like it when you sing something pretty – like “Don’t overthink it!”. So that’s kind of like “When She Comes” and “100 Years” and “Solace”.


…was probably the first song that was written for the record. That’s just another one where we pretty much wrote the lyrics and the melody at the same time. I like this one because somebody said in some interview that Erica is a genius at taking familiar melodies and sort of making them weird. And I think that’s something that she did. And also on “California” and on this other record that maybe comes out some day. It’s very straightforward taps and very military tenor taken into a different world. I think it’s really interesting that people listen to the lyrics and think it’s shaking the finger at the world or like judging the world. It’s not really! People only write about the internet like “It’s really great!” or “It’s ruining everything!”. This one tries to strike the middle ground. It’s just trying to imagine like LINDSAY LOHAN alone in a hotel room, knowing that anything that happens to her is gonna be on the headlines. That’s what I was thinking of: LINDSAY LOHAN just like the most alone person in the world. Let’s hope she’s not the next dead celebrity. It’s just like she’s so alone in real life and yet everybody knows all this information about her. Could be anyone feeling very eliminated. I also read that AMY WINEHOUSE has been watching Youtube videos of herself the night that she died and that’s just the bleakest fact I can imagine. Everybody puts comments on the bottom and then she drinks herself off to dead that night. That was really sad. It’s like there are different towns on the internet and Youtube is the worst of it. It’s the worst and the best. There’s also amazing stuff on it. So I should rephrase that: Youtube maybe is the centre of the town and the comments section is the worst place in the world.


When we got off the last tour, I was very happy to make music again. I started to make electronic music that summer. I was making a lot of tech-house dance but then I thought I should try a slower one and I tried to get Erica to sing on one. It’s hard because it’s one thing to ask a friend to sing on your song, but when you start to get known as a singer it’s just like “Oh, can I just sing on your song?”. We’ve been in Rotterdam actually and she was seriously into one piece of art. There was like a video of two sisters that were kind of trying to drown each other in a lake. I whish I remember who it did. It was amazing! But that’s kind of what the lyrics are about. Was fun actually! It would be good to do some more. We just don’t have the time. But it’s really interesting. It’s very dark. What we like about that song is that the lyrics are usually very solid and in this one there’s just like a phrase and then some instrumental and then another phrase. But I think the words are powerful enough. They are speaking softly and let the power come.

The Future’s Void
(City Slang / Universal Music)
VÖ: 04.04.2014