Video Q&A: EMA on … Courtney Love
EMA, aka Erika M. Anderson, carries herself with an unmistakable punk-rock-chick swagger; it’s in her demeanor, her onstage pose-striking, and it’s definitely in her music, which curdles sweetly naïve melodies with buckets of ear-scraping, acidic noise. The result, Past Life Martyred Saints, is a coiled ball of rage and wounded pride that will give early Liz Phair fans chills of recognition. Watch her discuss her unapologetic love for her early inspiration, Courtney Love, in this installment of 90 Seconds Or Less.
EMA On … Courtney Love
Like many of us, Erika M. Anderson escaped her early 20s alive, but just barely. The harrowing and spectacular Past Life Martyred Saints, which she recorded under the name EMA, is her recollection of the years spent in that post-collegiate daze of faux-grandiosity and encroaching panic that amounts to a Petri dish for terrible life decisions. Anderson takes rueful, angry stock of several such decisions over the course of the album's nine... songs. As such, it falls into a rich rock 'n' roll tradition: the Bohemian Squalor Survival Report.more »
Like the Liz Phair of Exile In Guyville or the Elliott Smith of Either/Or, Anderson comes to us sounding as if she had dragged herself, gasping and on bloodied elbows, away from the big city — in her case, L.A. — that nearly blotted out her soul. She sings with Phair's flat tone and scorched-earth honesty, and Smith's quietly trembling rage, over messy blobs of electric guitar and wispy implications of drums. She hints at body mortification on "Marked" ("My arms, they are see-through plastic/ They are secret bloodless skinless mass"), and then snarls it outright on "Butterfly Knife": "You were a goth in high school/ You've gone and fucked your arms up/ You always talked about it/ They thought you'd never do it." Anderson has a bone-chilling gift for crystallizing her song's messages into one indelible phrase and burying them at the base of your brain. On "Butterfly Knife," she coos, "20 kisses with a butterfly knife." On "Marked," she moans, frighteningly, "I wish that every time he touched me left a mark."
Past Life Martyred Saints isn't just a gothic house of horrors, however. Anderson can be incisively funny: The immortal opening couplet "Fuck California/ You made me boring" belongs in the great rock pantheon of SoCal kiss-offs. There are moments of furtive sweetness, too: "If this time through/ We don't get it right/ I'll come back to you/ In another life" goes the nursery-rhyme chorus of "Anteroom." The record is bathed in warm echo, making it perversely comforting to bask, or wallow in. It uncannily resembles the headspace Anderson depicts — a life period both devoid of and fraught with meaning, somehow simultaneously aimless and volatile. And one that continues to inspire enduring works of art.
Go On, Take Everything: Classic Hole
Whatever you want to say about Courtney Love — there’s plenty to choose from — there’s just no denying the fearlessly incendiary power of her classics. Live Through This remains one of the best rock albums of the ’90s: yeah, we said it. Check out the records that made two generations of female rockers, EMA included, pick up a guitar, smear their lipstick, and speak (or scream) their minds.
Courtney Love completely revamped Hole before recording their second album, keeping only Eric Erlandson in the lineup. That is one of the reasons why Live Through This sounds so shockingly different from Pretty on the Inside, but the real reason is Love's desire to compete in the same commercial alternative rock arena as her husband, Kurt Cobain. In fact, many rumors have claimed that Cobain ghostwrote a substantial chunk of the album,... and while that's unlikely, there's no denying that his patented stop-start dynamics, bare chords, and punk-pop melodies provide the blueprint for Live Through This. Love adds her signature rage and feminist rhetoric to the formula, but the lyrics that truly resonate are the ones that unintentionally predict Cobain's suicide. For all the raw pain of the lyrics, Live Through This rarely sounds raw because of the shiny production and the carefully considered dynamics. Despite this flaw, the album retains its power because it was one of the few records patterned on Nevermind that gets the formula right, with a set of gripping hooks and melodies that retain their power even if they follow the predictable grunge pattern.more »
EMA told us that her Sioux Falls classmates called her “riot grrl”, even though they were only vaguely aware of what “riot grrl” meant, or what one looked like. Funnily enough, they were completely right. Below, the records that might have confirmed their suspicions.
Rabble Rousers and Bruised Confessionals
EMA shares early Liz Phair’s fondness for discomfiting, flatly delivered confessionals, and we threw in Sleater-Kinney here simply because they rule.