Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “The Grey Ship” by EMA from the 2011 album Past Life Martyred Saints on Souterrain Transmissions.
EMA is the solo project of Erika M. Anderson (see if you can guess where her moniker came from), the dynamic guitarist and vocalist formerly of Amps For Christ and, more famously, the electronic-folk duo Gowns, which disbanded in 2010. Anderson certainly wasted no time in getting her solo career started as EMA’s debut Past Life Martyred Saints was released on May 10, barely a year after Gowns called it quits. The record is fiercely individualistic and makes it seem as if solo work is an endeavor Anderson has triumphantly and finally arrived at, rather than something that was regrettably settled on after her work with Gowns had run its course.
Today’s featured song and one of the standout tracks on Past Life Martyred Saints is “The Grey Ship,” which is a magnificent, multi-faceted statement of Anderson’s prowess as a solo artist. Here is more from EMA’s record label Souterrain Transmission’s website:
In the wake of Gowns’ demise, EMA has struck out on her own. Her debut single is the seven minute ‘Grey Ship’, backed with a glorious seventeen minute cover of the Robert Johnson blues staple, ‘Kind Hearted Woman’, where she claims to channel the entire history of rock and roll, from “birth to destruction”. Stand back people, lady making a grand statement, coming through…
“I love really long songs, really long pieces, and I wanted to see if I could make an engaging piece using primarily just voice and guitar,” EMA explains. “And I love the sound of guitar feedback. Tonal guitar feedback is one of my all-time favourite sounds.”
‘Grey Ship’ is a nod to the Viking funeral ships of her ancestors, and while pop logic dictates the tune is divided into two parts, one sunny and strummy and the other low-lit and dramatic, the recording also switches up from lo-fi to hi-fi. WARNING: If you are listening to this on laptop speakers, you are not going to hear the bass drop!
As EMA explains, “I wanted ‘Grey Ship’ to change fidelity in the middle of the song. I imagined it being like when Dorothy opens the door to Oz and the whole world turns from black and white to technicolour.” That change in fidelity also serves as a “sonic signifier” for transferring from the earthly plane to one beyond.
EMA will begin touring in early June and will be playing in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern on June 7. I would HIGHLY advise attending this show as Gowns’ live shows were nothing short of legendary; in response to one of their shows in New York, the Village Voice proclaimed “Holy fucking fuck!” For more touring info, click here. While we’re waiting (not long!) for EMA to come to the Tractor, check out EMA’s video for “Milkman,” also from Past Life Martyred Saints: