In our year-and-a-half on the information highway, we had the good fortune of witnessing what was at once a very prolific time, a very confusing time, and a very exciting time in underground music. Instead of quoting ourselves, we combed through the 100 features and profiles we've published to bring you some reflections from the folks who inspire us.
Underwater Peoples' Evan Brody
I cite this moment when Sawyer and I were sitting outside our sophomore dorm room at college. We said to each other, "Man, we’re bored. We want to do something more exciting." --Interview with Jenn Pelly, May 2011
I see politics and art as separate trajectories. There's a political dimension to music, to the extent that it would be a disruption of the regime of the sensible... but it certainly isn’t collective mobilization against the state in the name of radical equality. The protest lyric is a poor substitute for radical political thought or a new idea of politics.
AZ: Is that why you have protest lyrics in your music?
The idea there is that sums up the impetus, lyrically, of all genuine art. It's an explosion. It's a Molotov cocktail in the fuckin' police station. It's rights for that which can have no rights, to the extent that it anticipates a world to come-- not this world. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander & Ric Leichtung, July 2011
All of these things operating in synchronicity: like ringtones, flat-screens, theater, cuisine, fashion, sushi. I don’t want to call it “virtual reality,” so I call it Far Side Virtual. If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I remember during the [Harald] Grosskopf panel at Unsound Festival, Laurel Halo said something interesting about grappling with a world that is completely and totally inundated with technology. There's something about dealing with period technology that makes us feel more human or more relatable. Something about getting the whole machine purring feels very cosmic and brings technology back in harmony with art. --Interview with Daniel Gottlieb, June 2011
AZ: It’s funny that there are indie bands coming up now that would kill to use the equipment that was frustrating to you back then.
I like the idea of it as well, but there are too many problems! --Interview with Blondes, Emilie Friedlander, & Ric Leichtung, May 2011
People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakarta. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, March 2011
Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell
I’m very flattered that people like my old stuff so much but really, it was me and Lol [Elliott, from Cleaners] in the kitchen! We were broke but inspired and enjoyed listening to it. But I think the biggest pleasure we got out of it at the time was that I used to make homemade beer, and Lol used to make these candles, 'cause he didn’t have enough money to pay his electricity bill. So I used to swap some of the beer for some dope that someone else used to grow, and we would make our own music on cassettes that Lol stole. And I thought one night-- stoned, drunk, listening to music by candlelight--, "We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves tonight, and it’s cost nothing!" That was sort of the epitome of anarchy for me: generating our own everything. It was fantastic. --Interview with Richard MacFarlane, June 2010
After getting a sense of his musical tastes, I finally asked [Speculator's Nick Ray] what kind of music he played (I hate to assume genres these days). "Pop," he replied, then let a beat pass before explaining. “But not in the popular music sense. ‘Pop’ is no longer defined by what’s actually popular; it’s defined by a structure. You know, melodies, guitars, catchy hooks.” --Marissa A. Ross, December 2010
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill." The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, January 2011
The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways. I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, November 2011
I've always had a powerful sense of the space-- physiological, emotional, spiritual-- invoked by music. I've always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don't think of myself as a songwriter at all, because what I'm after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting-- like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus. I'm interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. --Interview with Michael C. Powell, September 2011
NNA Tapes' Matt Mayer & Toby Aronson
Matt: With harsh noise in general we both noticed a shift in the mid '00s. Like Toby mentioned, a lot of the dudes doing the harder noise started doing ambient, which seems like a total 180 shift. It created a lot of interesting results, where the noise influence would rub off on the ambient and vice versa, creating this cool hybrid. And now where we are in 2011, it's all become smeared together.
I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing." I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, June 2011
Emeralds' Mark McGuire
We have always somewhat embodied our surroundings and our heritage in our sound. In Ohio, there’s a huge middle class, and a lot of people work their whole lives... there’s always a feeling of struggling, and the feeling that Cleveland's like the joke of the world... We're not a cultural mecca; it's not where all the big stuff's happening. There’s definitely a lot of people out of work, and there’s poverty: it makes people, it's a tough city. But people from Cleveland are proud that they’re from there... It's this kind of tense, dark, and industrial place that has a lot of hidden beauty and a lot to offer, and that comes across in our music. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, February 2011
I got an e-mail once after I was like, "Holy shit, I'm going on my first tour!" I put it on Facebook or something, and Dominick Fernow wrote to me saying, "Congratulations." He had just joined Cold Cave, things were happening for him, and he was like, "Best of luck to you, thank you for having the courage to succeed." It occurred to me that for so many people, it's very hard to feel okay with success, because success is not cool. It supposedly tarnishes your thing; it ruins little pockets of scenes and the self-importance that comes from thinking you're the only people in your town that are doing something. That's what stops a lot of really talented people from sharing their music and turning it into a career. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
Ten years ago, Erika M. Anderson was a teenage girl from a small town in South Dakota. Although it defied community norms, she decided to pack up her life and head off on an adventure. "When people say they’ve never met anyone from South Dakota, that’s because there aren’t very many people there, and the people who are there don’t leave," says Anderson. Erika headed West to California. "It has the best media brand going," she says. It was after her move to Los Angeles, and then to Oakland, that she became the artist we now know as EMA.
EMA's music can be an emotional maelstrom. Although she is a product of the esoteric Bay Area and Los Angeles noise scenes, her lyrics don't just take a central role in her compositions; filtered through her beautiful, whiskey-soaked voice, they carry the accessible emotional power of a Buffy Saint-Marie or a Neil Young. Her new record, Past Life Martyred Saints, coincides with the recent dissolution of her band Gowns and simultaneous break-up with longtime boyfriend and bandmate Ezra Buchla. Not surprisingly, it is perhaps most striking for its candour and rawness. I spoke to Erika over the phone while she was in Costa Mesa during her recent tour. We discussed her lyrics, her fascination with The Game’s "My Life," and what it's like to be a noise musician who writes pop songs.
AZ: How did you start recording music solo?
Erika: A lot of the songs on this record are really old. I was living in this apartment in LA with Ezra, and he’d go on tour with The Mae Shi. I had a ProTools rig in my room, and I taught myself how to use it. I made these songs, and I was like, "These are too weird. I can’t release them." Some of it was recorded really long ago. After Gowns split up, we didn’t talk too much right away, but [Ezra] did send me a really supportive email at one point being like, "You should take whatever you have worked on, and whatever we have worked on, and you should release an EP." After we split up officially, I really knuckled down in West Oakland and started making a record.
Erika M Anderson says:
Not long ago, at the depths of my misery, I was thinking of applying to art school. Before even downloading an application, I realized that I actually knew next to nothing about the history of art-- sound art, in particular. I clicked onto Ubu Web in the hope of remedying this. There were lots of names there, so I downloaded at random while gravitating to the familiar. Got some New Humans, an interview with Meredith Monk, and Chris Burden's 1979 radio show, where he just repeatedly asks for money. The tracks that stuck out most were by a woman I had never heard of before, named Kristin Oppenheim. Gorgeous, hypnotically simple tunes comprised of vocals with a single, hard-panned delay.
Now, panning and delay are used all the time, but the utterly minimalist composition allows you to really feel the effect. To contemplate it. The fact that it's a human voice, instead of some synthetic instrument, really draws you in. Apparently, she often uses her sound pieces as part of installations that include moving lights, mazes, and photographs. I would love to be able to experience one of her shows. You can read a bit about her work online, but nothing about her personal life. The only thing I could find for sure was that she was born in 1959 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sail On, Sailor.
Gowns alum and chanteuse Erika M Anderson, aka EMA, turned a lot of heads with her Grey Ship 7", released on Souterrain Transmissions just last month. We're happy she'll be fulfilling her promise of a full length, Past Life Martyred Saints, and even threw in a video for her raw and controntational song, "California," which, “musically, [...] is inspired by "My Life" by The Game." EMA explains, "it’s a noised-out rap ballad by a Midwestern white girl with lyrical references to Bo Diddley and Stephen Foster." Stay tuned for more videos to come. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
Past Life Martyred Saints will be available May 10th via Souterrain Transmissions
Erika M. Anderson, founding member of recently defunct Los Angeles noise trio Gowns, has been making some waves on the web lately with her solo project, EMA. We first heard from her in late December with the ebow-enhanced A-side of her new 7", The Grey Ship. Last week, The Quietus premiered the stellar B-side, a cover of seminal bluesman Robert Johnson's 1936 song "Kind Hearted Woman Blues". At more than 16 minutes, the track may seem like a lot to bite off, but once you hit play, it quickly becomes clear it's a ride well worth taking.
A musician of deft precision, EMA's translation of the source's soulful roots is damaged and emotive, with Anderson getting to the heart of the work at the piece's last moments with beating guitar plucks and moments of drawn-out, claustrophobic silence. It's a promising peep of where she's headed with her forthcoming solo album, due later this year. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
EMA: "Kind Hearted Woman Blues"
Also, check out the single's A-side below, in handy/portable mp3 form:
The Grey Ship 7" is out now on vinyl + available digitally March 8th via Souterrain Transmissions