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A Brief Chat with Esmé Patterson

Esme Patterson by Devvon Simpson
20 June 2016

Photo by Devon Simpson

Esmé Patterson’s third record We Were Wild was released this week and reveals a more exploratory sound than its two predecessors. Touchstones include early rock (Feel Right), alt-country (Moth Song, Guadalupe), and contemporary indie rock (The Waves, Come See Me), resulting in an album that no only hems together her career thus far but, also investigates the expansion of those boundaries. Patterson made waves with her second record Woman To Woman which she recorded as a defiant response to many popular songs. The collection of songs gave voice to the women who were the subject matter of artists like Elvis Costello (Alison) and The Beach Boys (Caroline) to The Beatles (Eleanor Rigby) and Leadbelly (Irene), amongst others. With We Were Wild, Patterson shifts gears to a more personal level and finds her more in tune with the natural world, (as its title would imply). Huge thanks to Elizabeth Heyman at Press Here for coordinating the interview.

I think ‘We Were Wild’ straddles the line between the twang of alt. country and indie pop sensibilities rather masterfully. Do you have any style preferences and was your approach to this record (writing/recording) any different?
Esmé: I am always trying to make something that sounds new. If I have any style preference it’s for moving into un- or under-explored territory, whether that be expressed lyrically, musically, whatever. For this album I worked with my friend and producer Adam Thompson and explored lots of sonic ideas that were new to me, like audio processing, running vocals thru pedals and such. It was really exciting to learn new ways to make sound and to try to anchor those far-out ideas in grooviness.
I’ve read that (first solo record) “All Princes, I” was a therapeutic outing for you and “Woman To Woman” was a more defiant release. Where does the new record fall?
Esmé: For We Were Wild I returned to autobiographical writing, this record was also a very cathartic writing process, but different, more mature than my first record. I felt like a lot of the songs that came through me and onto this album were messages my heart was sending my mind, messages of deep peace and trying to find comfort, trying to enfold my frightened, worrying, overworked brain in love and peace and joy. I hope that these songs bring those things to people when they listen to it.
I think it’s vital to get more and more women involved in not only music, but all facets of our communities. What do you make of “women in rock” and what have been your experiences thus far in your career, from Paper Bird to now? I am always more curious about what women endure in male-dominated arenas like music, sports, etc. There are plenty of female artists I champion so maybe it’s only male-dominated to the extent of media coverage.
Esmé: My experience as a woman making music in America has been a varied and multi-faceted one. It’s interesting to me that as a woman in a male-dominated industry, we are congratulated when we show “masculine” characteristics, but often chagrined for being “girly” and I wish that women could be celebrated for being feminine rather than celebrated for becoming more masculine. There’s so much to say on this subject… I could go on for hours!
I loved the concept of your ‘Woman To Woman’ LP and think any scorn received from purists is misplaced. Some of those songs should have people upset based on the lyrics! Good art, like anything, should get a rise out of us, make us think, feel, protest, etc. Do you consider this when you’re writing/recording? Are people really HEARING it? Like listeners mistaking sexist songs for love songs or hearing an Iggy Pop song about heroin addiction used in an advert for a cruise ship company!
Esmé: Writing Woman to Woman changed the way that I listen to music, in that I can’t help listening to all the words and trying to understand what the meaning, the message is. And I must say that in listening closely I’ve realized that very rarely do people seem to write lyrics with linear meaning. Which is fine, art is about expression which certainly doesn’t need to be linear to be effective, but I can’t help listening for meaning. And I can’t help but write my lyrics with an underlying message, with a deeper meaning.
I think we are all emotional creatures and music is one way to tap into our moods. What (music, books, art, etc) would you cite as influences on your work? Do you do much listening to contemporaries nowadays?
Esmé: I read lots of poetry and lots of books, I look at lots of art and listen to all kinds of music and find inspiration everywhere, but lately I find nature, plants and animals, the most inspiring writing material. The threads that tie all life together, that are true in every form, that are looking for light and comfort, simplicity and essence distilled are exciting to me these days.


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