EMA made a record about Internet emptiness

The Future’s Void reflects Erika M. Anderson’s conflicted feelings about being a blog star, and her love of cyberpunk lit that foretold what society has become.

Main Photo

Erika M. Anderson (EMA)

“I wanted to make the record that William Gibson would have imagined being played in 2014.”

L.A. gal Erika M. Anderson, better known as EMA, set a very ambitious goal for her new LP, The Future’s Void: encapsulating the sound of a future imagined by authors in past.

“It has punk elements of the past but also sounds like now,” she says. “I tried to side-step the clichés that come with sci-fi [soundtracks], like putting bass spins on everything.”

Echoes of the no wave and proto-industrial music that reverberated in the underground circa Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer are evident on The Future’s Void, but so are more timeless sounds and reflective balladry that delves into some very current themes — but even that was partly inspired by the work of Gibson and other sci-fi giants.

“Philip K. Dick and William Gibson had some fairly accurate predictions about what’s going on today. Their prescience is so interesting;  the fact that so much of what Gibson wrote came true is really amazing.”

Computer hacking, surveillance, designer drugs, virtual reality, the Internet itself — it’s all described in sometimes shocking detail in the paranoid sci-fi of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90, and Anderson connected these ideas and images with the consequences of living life (both social and professsional) online.

After she emerged from a cult band called Gowns and released a solo record (Past Life Martyred Saints) in 2012, she became a critics’ favourite, enough so that she earned a somewhat dubious distinction: most blogged-about artist.

“The last record came out of nowhere, and over and over people would ask me, ‘How does it feel now that the Internet is applauding you?’ People were interested in what it was like to have that weird attention. What could I say? The Internet is so hugely influential, but being the most blogged about artist according to Yahoo — how is that sentence supposed to make me feel? It sounds so ephemeral. I mean, it’s not what you want on your tombstone, right?”

First world problems? Yeah. But Anderson extended this idea to the broader, more pressing issue of what young people are facing now: devalued work, disappearing jobs and judgment from their elders.

“A lot of it is about young people who don’t have the same economic opportunities that previous generations have had, and then older generations turn around and say, ‘You’re narcissistic! All you do is sit around and take selfies all day.’ What you really have is a lot of hard-working content creators who don’t have a lot of the traditional routes open to them. People are paying less and less for content, and the people that run the platforms take all this information and turn it around and sell it and then advertisers will use it to sell more stuff back to you.”

Anderson recently posted all the lyrics to The Future’s Void online, pre-empting any further misinterpretations — some critics have accused her of shitting on the very people she thought she was sticking up for.

Time magazine will write about millennials and narcissism — people use these words in think pieces all the time, and I put them in a song and people freak out. Some critics thought that I was trying to be didactic and make grand statements with this record, but it’s just me trying to answer, ‘How does it feel to be person that become well known on the Internet?'”

So how does it feel? “It was a really weird experience for me, and I still don’t know how I feel about it, really. I’m conflicted, and ambivalent.”

There’s one thing she was sure of when I called her last week, despite being kinda sleepy in the back of a tour van between Fredericksburg, VA and Chapel Hill, NC: “Right now I have the tightest band I’ve ever had.” ■


EMA and openers Downtown Boys play Il Motore (179 Jean-Talon W.) on Wednesday, May 7, 9 p.m., $13/$15