INTERVIEW: Authentically Connecting with Esthero
by Paul T
I wondered what she would be like to talk to. Esthero, whose debut album (Breath From Another) was talked about by my friends for five years, was nothing and everything that I thought she would be. I never pigeon-holed the Canadian artist into a sound or a style, whether it was the trip-hoppy first album or the far left field borderline avant garde soul of Wikked Lil’ Grrls. I just thought of her as a cool chick that does what she feels musically and lyrically, and talking to her reaffirmed her coolness. Interviewing Esthero was not so much an “interview,” or a task; it was more like talking to an old friend, who would give you wisdom, advice, and check your ass on certain things, all while making pop culture references and discussing life without pretentiousness and laughing without restraint. It was very tempting to take the conversation to different tangential highs and not discuss music or her latest album, Everything Is Expensive, at all. (But I didn’t.)
We started by talking about living in LA. Esthero has been living in LA “off and on,” since 1998, and officially since 2005. “I have LA tattoo on me, I’m an LA chick,” she said, “but maybe it is time to move, I’ve been thinking about it.” She has been thinking about moving to Miami or Nashville, the latter, because she is intrigued by the music and songwriting scene. “Country music is the last frontier of real songwriting in America,” she declared, “and I want to grow as a song writer.” “I want to write anything that my heart desires; there is no way that I can ever admitting to writing one kind of music, I want to continue writing what is in my heart.” Esthero told me that she had been watching Nashville, and was obsessed with some of the music in the show. I would definitely download (I mean, buy) a Brad Paisley-Esthero duet.
We talked about her influences on her latest album, Everything Is Expensive, which has a strong pop/rock singer-songwriter feel. “That’s hard for me to answer, I don’t know how to answer it – the things that influenced me,” she explained, “all of my influences are still in me and are very strong from the time I started listening to music.” She informed me that the album definitely has a Paul Simon influence, and that “Crash” has a Pink Floyd influence. “You can hear the Queen influence in ‘You Don’t Get a Song’,” she said. She told me that she was a Bonnie Raitt and Fleetwood Mac fan, and that one could notice that by listening to Everything Is Expensive. “I was a folk kid,” Esthero said, “and I have a lot of early 70’s Rock influences.”
We naturally transitioned into comparing and contrasting Everything Is Expensive to Wikked Lil’ Grrls. Esthero broke it down for me in a way that only she can. “Some people maybe disappointed,” she said, “they might say, ‘where’s the sexy shit, where’s the Sade/sexy vibe?’” She laughed and continued, “I was told that if I bought the album I could seduce a woman and take her panties off – I was told that this shit (playing Esthero’s album for a girl) would work.” I laughed hysterically, well, as hysterically as I could while conducting a phone interview. “I know, the last record was vibey, take the panties off, make babies,” she said. Our banter was hilarious because I enjoyed Everything Is Expensive, even if it sounded nothing like Wikked Lil’ Grrls. I asked Esthero about the heavy relationship themes on Everything Is Expensive.
“They are all true stories,” she said, “It is very real, but I have always done that though.” She continued, “Sometimes, you embellish a little bit to be a better story teller, the second record was about a mood, this one, it is better thematically.” We discussed telling stories through our inner child and slight exaggeration and embellishment. Esthero brought up the example of Eminem, about how Em would talk about killing Kim, but would not actually kill her. “‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ is based on a feeling, it was based on a good friend who pissed me off,” she informed me, “I wanted to punish them, and then a character was born.” We talked about the track, “Walking On Eggshells.” “Even though a friend of mine wrote it,” she said, “a year later, I was living through it.” “It was as if I could not have recorded that song without going through that experience, I had to live it.”
Naturally, the next topic of discussion was the subject of love. “Unfortunately, I believe in love,” she stated. “My whole life I try to be the fool, and approach every new situation without baggage and start fresh.” She continued, “As much I as I like the idea of soulmates, the older I get, I think it is more important to have a genuine authentic connection with people, maybe it will last for 5 minutes, 5 months or 5 years, and not 50 years – if it did it would be like winning the lottery.” She continued discussing her experience with love. “I would rather have numerous great lovers for a short amount of time, rather than one mediocre one over a long period of time.” “I haven’t had my greatest love yet,” she said, “but I feel like it is coming, I had 2 or three great loves in my life, but there are different kinds of love.” I asked her what these different kinds of love are. “Well, there’s romantic love, the love you have for friends and family, and legally – an animal, love for an animal, like a cat.” I laughed at her “legally” comment. “A friend’s mom once told me, “We’re not in love with the love we receive, we’re in love with the love we give.” she said.
Then, Esthero lightened the mood. “But right now, I want a man’s man with a beard, a meat-eater, with machismo,” she told me, “not a vegetarian, unless it’s Andre3000.” We talked briefly about how Andre was actually a Vegan. “A man’s man, like the guy on the Brawny paper towels?” I asked. “With a red plaid shirt,” I tried to put an image in her mind. “Yeah, a lumberjack,” she said, “and if he speaks Spanish, that would be all over.” I laughed. “Do you know any Spanish lumberjacks?” “Not right off the top of my head,” I told her, “but maybe they can pretend to be lumberjacks.” “I thought you would be like, ‘yeah, I know my boy, Miguel,’” she retorted and laughed. This interview could get tangential and more hysterical, but I wanted to ask her about my favorite track on her latest album, the title track.
I inquired about “Everything Is Expensive,” and its lyrical content regarding the cost of relationships. “This is going to sound like a cop out, but I want it to mean to people what it means to them,” she said. But then, she added, “If you get it, you get it.” Esthero expounded on the themes of “Everything Is Expensive.” “In general, everything has a price; love, money, power, it is part of the human condition and the three biggest desires for humans.” She continued, “There is cost for everything: love is your heart; money and power, your soul.” “All these things, they can bring you joy, but at a price.”
She informed me that the song also explores mediocrity, settling, compromise, and ignorance. Esthero took her time with her answer. “There is a price of fame,” she said, “and a price for notoriety and desires of these things can be.” She told me that the song is also about artists. “Some artists, when they are trying to get put on in the first place – they end up killing the artist before they are even born.” “I am addressing the artist,” she continued, “but I am also challenging the listener.”
“The most poignant line is ‘punk in a bar fight,’” she said, “because it is 100 percent predictable, fucking predictable.” “What does a punk do,” she said, “he gets into a bar fight.” “It is me addressing the listener, about predictability of behavior,” she said. We talked about how the kids who are into hip-hop, “raise their hands when the beat drops,” and the girls who “love the boys in the Vespas.” She then discussed not compromising, and brought up Prince’s “Don’t Play Me.” We concluded our discussion of the song, by talking about selling out and cashing in. Esthero said the song deals with whether she would be given the correct change or the proper career change if she was to sell out and cash in.
I asked Esthero about her collaborations. She said that while working with the likes of Timbaland and Kanye West was “cool,” her two favorite artists that she had worked with were two fellow Canadians, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Joshua Bartholomew. The latter produced “Over,” on Everything Is Expensive.
I inquired about her viewpoints on the music business. “I don’t sit around thinking about industry so much.” “Sometimes, I feel like a dinosaur; some people are prolific, they constantly put out this stream of music, I’m kinda slow, I like to take my time.” She continued, “I feel like I am learning everyday, especially being independent now – I know nothing.” “For me, I don’t sit around musing about the industry,” she explained, “I just live in the now, stay in the now, and prefer to think about making music and being creative than waxing philosophical about it.”
Regarding touring, she commented that she had just gotten a band together the night before the interview and once they have the songs down, she will call her agent and set up tour dates. “I would also love to do a weekly residency in LA,” she said. “My intent right now is to build a show around this record; it plays very well as a setlist.” I asked if she would still do some of the old favorites from the first two albums. She said she would, especially in the encore.
Since the interview had been so engaging, I decided to end the session by asking some open ended questions. I asked Esthero what she would be doing if she was not a recording artist. “I would work with animals,” she said, “I would not be a vet tech or a veterinarian; I don’t think my heart can take losses or sick animals.” “I would like to work with dolphins, monkeys or at a sanctuary where orangutans are.” “Wait, I want to ride unicorns for a living,” she concluded, “that’s my final answer.” “The lumberjack dude that speaks Spanish,” she added, “he believes in Unicorns.” I laughed. “Or he could just say he believes in Unicorns,” I said, “just to impress you.”
I asked Esthero what she would like the listener or people who may have heard of her, but was not familiar with her to get from her music and her latest album. She stated that it was a difficult question and flipped it on me by asking me what I want the reader to get when I am writing. I answered by stating that I try to include my perspective in most things that I write. She took her time, but answered, “I want them to understand that I struggle just like they do, and that everyday, I am working to be a better friend, a better daughter.” She continued, “I hope people are listening and that they know they are not alone.” “Everyone has experience these feelings, of being alone or being tired.”
“I also hope that the audience reaches out to me, and that I am not fucking alone either,” she mentioned, “I am terminally unique just like everybody else.” “What matters to me is that way I express myself, regarding everything that I go through, and I know that everyone also goes through it.” Esthero explained, “It is hard to get through these difficult parts of life – directly between birth and death, it is awkward, the whole thing (of life), none of us really knows what we’re doing.” “I am doing the best I can all the time, and working toward the goal of finding happiness.” She concluded, “I want to give a little happy pill and some hand holding.”
“The lumberjack guy doesn’t believe in hand holding,” I deadpanned and laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Listen, I’m going to come to Long Beach and kick your ass,” Esthero said coyly and laughed. “I’m going to walk down there, or maybe I’ll just jump on top of a car all the way from Hollywood.”
There has not been any news report regarding a female Canadian singer hovering on top of a car on the 405 Freeway, and when I came home from work, no one was waiting for me. But Everything Is Expensive has gotten better with each listen.