A long way from South Dakota

Last Updated 19 April 2014, 15:12 IST

In the cover of her new album, ‘The Future’s Void’, the South Dakota-raised noise-rocker EMA sports an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, but the photograph was shot before that company’s recent $2 billion purchase by Facebook.

And she wrote the song Satellites, which rages against government surveillance, months before the National Security Agency scandal broke.

“It’s freaking me out,” said EMA, whose real name is Erika M Anderson.

“I don’t know how this happened. I was writing about what I felt like writing about that year, but I felt out of touch. I was being kind of solitary and wasn’t really on the Internet. And now it’s all, like, almost too topical.”

Her obsession with science and technology courses through ‘The Future’s Void’, which recently released on Matador Records.

In its distorted guitars and hypnotic swirls of feedback, the record nods to her past work with the drone-rock band Gowns and her assertive debut solo album, ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, which was lauded in many year-end lists in 2011.

However, this time around, EMA, who plays multiple instruments and records alone in her home, also dives ambitiously into other genres, growling like Courtney Love in a critique of female objectification (So Blonde) and confessing her insecurities with new frailty atop somber electronic balladry (3Jane).

The musician shares her experiences of growing up as a tomboy and meeting the metal star Glenn Danzig. These are excerpts from the interview...

What was it like to be a girl in the South Dakota hardcore scene?

I was the only girl to front a band. Being around so many tough boys made me have to be really tough.

I get obsessed with the idea of the void because, in some ways, that’s what South Dakota felt like.

I used to think growing up there put me at a disadvantage because I didn’t have access to a lot of art, but I keep re-evaluating my relationship to it.

Being totally free on those gravel roads with my friends and good music was the most awesome thing.

South Dakota has a strong gun culture, doesn’t it?

Yeah, I took a hunter safety class at 14 at the behest of my father.

He’s an environmentalist Democrat hunter, which isn’t as rare as it seems, and he had this idea that maybe we could hunt together.

I rolled up there with my shaved head and weird combat boots, and there’s a woman in there talking about the mark of the beast, how they want people to get chips put in their arms.

I’m like, “Oh, you’re about to get a gun licence. That’s amazing.”

So Blonde is a blast against stereotypes that blonde women face. There’s a slight Kurt and Courtney reference. It’s also about my ambivalence of having that woman be the rock ‘n’ roll role model.

What do you do when the world only gives you one successful rocker-poet woman in your life, and that woman happens to be Courtney Love?

I spent too many years being a Courtney apologist, and that wears you out.

Is the ‘riot grrrl’ influence in that song So Blonde an effect of moving to the Pacific Northwest?

Those boys I hung out with used to call me ‘riot grrrl’ in a way that I don’t know was totally complimentary.

It came back now because one thing I really wanted to do on this record, something I’d been missing in music, is this idea of feminine grotesque, a voice that is just gnarly.

There’s a picture of Glenn Danzig and you as a teenager floating around the Internet and he’s actually smiling.

What did you say to crack that serious facade of his?

I don’t remember. I don’t know. I just must have been my charming, cornfed self.

(Published 19 April 2014, 15:03 IST)

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