When Emily Edrosa moved to Los Angeles 2016, she left a lot behind in New Zealand: a partner in a committed relationship; the early acclaim she’d enjoyed with Street Chant, a band she’d started as a teenager; government-subsidised healthcare. “I could just see the rest of my life. I don’t know if you’re into astrology, but I was about to go through my return of Saturn,” Edrosa says, when she began to feel inexplicably drawn to the American West Coast by some force larger than herself, like a current, or a wave. The force of that feeling inspired the title of her debut solo LP Another Wave Is Coming, and eventually – once her green card came through – she rode it to LA, where she dedicated herself more fully than ever to her career as a solo musician, despite the immense challenges the change of scenery posed.
That new emotional and physical terrain is fully explored on Another Wave, which whips through eleven fuzzily punk-inflected garage-rock tracks, a stream-of-conscious meditation on queerness, adulting, culture shock, and the general absurdity of human behavior. Edrosa began writing while still in New Zealand, after breaking up with her then-partner and moving in with her mom to save money for the move. “I was just kind of sitting there going, What the hell am I doing, have I just destroyed my life? That was when I started writing and I just didn’t really stop until I had a record,” she explains.
“It’s a bookmark for this period of my life. The last few songs I wrote were about the difficulty of suddenly being in LA, the culture shock… missing my community at home. I just felt so out of place. I was basically having an anxiety attack the whole time. I can’t drive, and the political anxiety [of Trump’s 2016 win] got to me. It was definitely overwhelming,” she adds. “I go on Twitter all the time so I think that probably informed it because I feel like that’s what a lot of people [tweet about]: I’m in the supermarket, and I am having a meltdown. Everybody’s having a fucking episode.”
That being said, Another Wave is Coming only sounds dramatic on paper. Frenetic album standout “Action” starts off, “No time to walk around or find a heartlands sound, singing poverty and mental health” to ultimately conclude, “Should we feel so bad getting up in the evening, when there isn’t a lot that we can do? Sometimes it’s not enough, but we’re in love.” Her deadpan delivery and audible accent won’t easily avoid comparisons to Aussie Courtney Barnett, but Edrosa’s lyrics have a diaristic specificity that communicates both their heartfelt origins as well as a wry surreality.
“I walked the streets and they walked me,” she sings on “Springtime’s Stranger in a Strange Place,” her dreamy post-punk ode to arriving in LA. “A fresh start into the blue/I’m loose and chewed and out of tunes…It’s best to never look them in the eye in a strange place.” On “A New Career,” one of several songs on the album that subtly explore the nuances of long-term relationships once the dopamine wears off, she sings, “Like ghosts that just won’t leave this town/We were born upon our burial ground/So what did we expect?”
Nowhere is Edrosa more straightforward than on album opener “She Agreed,” which recounts the true story of her first love, whose homophobic parents broke up the relationship because their daughter was “not allowed to be gay.” The first three verses sprawl out over sparse guitar, laden with bitterness and nonchalance in equal measure until distorted feedback obliterates both. “It was nerve wracking to put it first, because I feel like people could get the wrong idea about the record,” Edrosa admits. “Some people really love it, but some people could be put off by how open it is. I had mixed feelings about that experience for a lot of years. But after I wrote that song I was like, okay, I don’t care anymore. It was cathartic.”
She still sees the person it was written about around Auckland from time to time, and knows they don’t appreciate the song. “I feel bad about that,” she says. “But as far as my being shy… I’ve never hid my sexuality and I can be quite brash about what I’m feeling or who I am.” In part, she says, that’s because of the experience she depicts in the song. “It is formative for you to feel really happy and then for quote-unquote society to tell you that the way you’re feeling is wrong. Maybe I need more therapy, but… I guess, in a way, it sort of made me be like, well fuck it, here I am.”
Coming to terms with who she is included owning up to the fact that she’s meant to be a musician. She tackles feeling left behind by schoolmates with normal lives on power-poppy single “NCEA” (named for a New Zealand program similar to the United States GED). “I lost, but at least I never had a boss,” she snarls, pitting herself against those with “cell phone plans” and “university common sense.”
“I wrote it about five or six years ago, I guess maybe because I was more fresh out of high school. I would go on Facebook and see people with business degrees or whatever,” she recalls. “I think being an artist, you’re always going to wonder if you should quit, because it is difficult. So I guess that was me [asking], am I barking up the wrong tree here? But now that I’m older I’m just like, oh well, who cares? I’m just gonna be an artist until I die. I couldn’t not be an artist, that would be like asking me to not be myself.”
Edrosa leans fully into that identity on Another Wave – not just with clever observations and personal storytelling in the lyrics, but by writing, playing, and producing almost every part of the album. “I wanted to do everything, but I can’t physically play the drums that well, so I did all the drums in midi and sent them to drummers and said, can you learn this?” she says, getting some initial help from Bosh Rothman (Kim Gordon, Santigold). “I would take the drum stems back and overdub the guitars and the bass and the vocals, and I did it all in my home studio.”
This meticulous approach is one of Edrosa’s trademarks. “A lot of artists write and have throwaway songs, but I work on a song until it’s done and it’s good,” she says. “I really like working in the DAW – I used ProTools at the time and now I use Logic – cause it’s fun; you open up your computer and it’s like, a project you’re working on and you can just mess around with it forever.” Unfortunately, working on a record forever means it never sees the light of day, so she set a deadline with producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.), working remotely to mix the record in a five-day long-distance session.
Still, she wasn’t completely happy. “You get demo-it is, which is when you like really like the demos you’re listening to unmixed, and then suddenly there’s all this compression and reverb on them and you’re like woah, that sounds so overdone, I can’t handle it,” she says. “I wanted to make a record that sounds like a band, but it’s just me on my computer. That was the end goal – I was like, I’ll make an album and I’ll put it out really quickly, and it just took forever, cause I go deep.”
Though she wanted the album to be lighter and more rhythmic than Street Chant’s grungy, heavier vibes, Another Wave ended up being relatively “dense” as Edrosa pushed herself into new territory. “I tried to be a shredder in Street Chant just to prove that I could, and then on this one I kind of stepped back and was like, I already proved it,” she says with a laugh, noting how much fun she had playing bass and “tapping away on those midi drums.” Her confidence and joy in playing music is hard fought; Edrosa confides that she was bullied in school for being the odd “girl with a guitar.”
“Every year I would play in the talent quest, and every year they would laugh at me. And every year I would come back,” she remembers. “It was my moment to be like, well fuck you. I mean, they laughed the first year, they laughed the second year, you know, they kept laughing. But eventually, I did win it. You just keep going.” That’s part of the reason she gravitated toward mentoring young women in New Zealand’s Girls Rock Camp.
“Since I was like sixteen, I’ve always been a guitar teacher. I can’t read music, but I can teach someone how to play their favorite song and how to read tablature. Working with teenage girls is cool cause I feel like I perpetually am one,” she says, noting that her teenage years were formative in that it’s when she fell in love with music, learned to play guitar, and realized she was queer. “I was so painfully shy, and so unsure of myself… I wish I’d had [Girls Rock Camp] for myself because when I was bullied, music became something that I did in my bedroom alone, and played really quietly; it wasn’t really like a community thing and it wasn’t something to be proud of.”
Like the Carrie-referencing character in her video for “NCEA,” Edrosa got her particular revenge when Street Chant took off. “I just wanted to be in a band cause I was watching other people do it, but I didn’t think that I could do it and it kind of made me annoyed,” she admits. “It’s not like I started music for the sonic experience – it was just about songwriting and getting out there and doing it. The first Street Chant record, we went into a studio and just sort of banged it out; that was more of a live-sounding one.”
Released in 2010, Means won the inaugural Critics Choice Prize at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards, was shortlisted for the Taite Music Prize, and nominated for “Best Alternative Album” at the 2011 New Zealand Music Awards; a tour opening for The Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray 20th anniversary American tour commenced the following year, and in 2013, they released a follow up EP, Isthmus of One-Thousand Lovers.
By then, Edrosa had bought her own recording gear and started making songs at home. She wrote a solo EP “really quickly, cause I just wanted to learn how to record better” and released the lo-fi DIY affair in 2014 as Street Chant was finishing up its second LP Hauora; it wasn’t released until 2016, and by then Edrosa had already started planning her move. “Not to sound arrogant, but Street Chant did kind of hit a ceiling here where the critics really liked us. But to get three people to tour around America or England or Europe several times a year was quite expensive. So I was like, I’ll just move to America.”
Four years later, a different wave – the second spike in the ongoing COVID crisis – has returned her to the blissfully pandemic-free Auckland, where Edrosa’s planning real, live shows, which she confesses was difficult at first, having gotten used to people in the States keeping their distance. “When I first came back I really just wanted to go straight back into it which I think was a mistake, because I was going to bars, and people were standing really close to me, and it was really strange. I do sort of miss not hanging out with people, as strange as that might be, because people are so lonely… I can be a bit of a hermit,” she says. She hunkered down, putting the finishing touches on her record – Liz Stokes of the Beths engineered additional drum sessions with Alex Freer behind the kit, and Edrosa got a friend to mix the album one more time before Another Wave is Coming finally washed ashore in late November.
“I feel like when you’re working on a record you love listening to it, and then once it’s done, you need to give it like, two to five years before you can listen to it [again],” she says, noting how bizarre the concept of a career in music really is. “If you’re writing a song that you want people to hear, it’s silly. It’s silly to get up on stage and sing a song about your feelings, and expect that other people are gonna want to hear it. I try and add a little bit of my sense of humor – silly and dark, yet relatable.”