Thursday, May 29, 2008

Band Profile: Ema & the Ghosts

by Lindsay Mancha

The first time I saw Ema and the Ghosts, aka Ema Tuennerman, play was at Mr. T's Bowl in December '06. Music was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., and when I arrived at 9:15, the place was pin-drop silent, except for the crystal clear voice emanating from the stage area. The audience's attentiveness was a bit strange. The majority of rock show-attendants are often getting liquored up at the bar this close to a show's start… not scattered around the venue, in trance-like silence. The person on stage had somehow spellbound every single audience member.

Each time she performs, Ema (with a little help from the ghosts, of course) does this. The 18-year-old charms even the most jaded music-types, with her accordion, ukulele, and her near-perfect voice, equal parts sweet and soulful. Typically, Ema will incorporate a few crowd-pleasing covers into her set (The Flaming Lips' Be My Head or After Hours by The Velvet Underground); sometimes she'll wear a pair of bunny ears. And then there's her trademark giggle, unconsciously emitted each time she finishes a song; given these details, how could she not melt the frostiest of hearts?

Still, there's so much more that accounts for the way that show-goers, whether seeing Ema for the first time or the tenth, are awe-struck by the singer's performance.

When you watch Ema play, you notice the time she takes in between songs to transition – she switches instruments the same way an enthralled child might move from one beloved toy to the next. She has confessed that she sometimes gets nervous when playing; however, it's obvious that she is completely locked into her performance… and this intensity is transmitted to her audience. Whether she's playing a kazoo solo or sitting Indian-style on the floor in front of a cheap keyboard, her simplistic approach to performing packs more of an emotional punch than the most pre-meditated shows put on by musicians years older than she.

In short, Ema has got "it" maybe more than any person I've ever seen.

Many of her musical comrades agree. One guitarist maybe put it best: 'Watching Ema is like watching someone who is younger, smarter, and more talented than you are.'

As young as she might be, she seems to take a self-aware, sober-minded approach to her young career. In conversation, she sometimes sounds like a sagacious music veteran, not easily excited by certain offers that have come her way thus far.

"People have asked me if I'd like to record with them, but I'm happy making my own recordings," she explains. "They are lo-fi on purpose."

At the same time, she is completely eighteen, talking excitedly about The White Stripes and Arcade Fire. On the day that we last met, she mentions she spent the majority of her morning in bed with a cold, "scalping a Barbie doll" that she had found in a box of items her boyfriend collected from a theater he once worked at. She likes going to the park at night, to swing.

Specifically, Ema is most aggravated by a line of questioning that faces most people her age.

"I'm sick of adults lately with their question of whether I'm going to college. I got instincts about what I should be doing…I'm working up to something… hopefully!"

Statements like this hint at the songstress' greatness; although she proclaims she is just a kid that wants to do her own thing, you can tell she has big plans. Her choice to not go to college isn't a bi-product of laziness or apathy; it's just the opposite.

"I've got this anti-apathy campaign that I've been running my whole life," she says. "People don't seem to care about much at all. They could be doing a lot more if they just cared…I really just want anarchy. I do! I want anarchy… even though I know that [my music] doesn't come off that way."

While these sentiments are most readily expressed in songs about alligators that crave anarchy, and while hipster riots may never break out in the streets of Silver Lake , Ema stays passionate for the long haul by taking part in projects she is truly interested in. Apart from her solo endeavors, she plays accordion and sings in the Cobra Lilies, headed up by Monolators Eli and Mary Chartkoff.

Ema's in a unique position; she's at an age where she can adorn a pair of bunny ears without seeming overtly ironic. At the same time, she's already embarked on a formidable career that will continue to develop and flourish long after the ears have come off.

Ema will be playing at the Cochina Festival, a two-day acoustic music event in Claremont, on Saturday, June 7. She will be playing The Bell Jar in SF on June 26. Visit her myspace page to hear her music.

Photo by Jeff Koga.


Blogger JAX said...

Ema is nothing short of inspiring. I love her to death

9:45 PM  

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