'I used to feel so insecure about not being specific and now I really embrace my genre-dodging sound'
Esmé x Evan Dale // April 4, 2020
Understated yet powerful, Sydney singer and songwriter, Esmé has a voice best described as unique. A proud merger of lanes ranging from Neo-Soul and R&B to EDM, trap, and jazz, her auditory aesthetic is unlike anything quite heard before. Instead of parallels from within music, Esmé’s creations are perhaps best characterized where the physical world meets the emotional sphere. Adjectives like dreamy, floaty, effervescent, and intangibly essential align themselves with the short list of tracks she’s put out over the years, and surely will align, too, with the many more to come soon.
RNGLDR: As an artist from Australia, even in the internet era where listeners around the world are accessible, is there an alienating element to being so far from people that may be listening to your music in other parts of the world, especially North America and Europe where the majority of your contemporaries are releasing music from?
Esmé: It can feel alienating when you don’t feel like there is anywhere for your sound to rest, my music I realise just sort of floats around the outskirts of different genres here, whereas in Europe I think it could find a little bit more of a home. But by the same token, Australia has a rich underground culture with artists dabbling in folk, soul, jazz, electro-soul and trap. We are all connected and pretty supportive of each other too. I hope there are more of us from here that can reach the rest of the world as we saw Hiatus Kaiyote do!
RNGLDR: In your opinion, who are some up-and-coming Australian musicians, other than yourself, that we should be checking out?
Esmé: I love this Question! I don’t know if they’re all still up and coming cause some have been making music for years but are so very relevant and unique, so I’ll just name my favourites. Gaia Scarf, RISSA and Ijale.
RNGLDR: And who are some of the most influential Australian artists on your life and in your music?
Esmé: There is a jazz guitarist named Dave Smith, he’s been around a while. I’ve done a million little jazz duo gigs with him; He has a very deep love of the human voice, it’s his favourite instrument along with guitar. I’ve never played with another musician that can follow a singer like he does. It feels magical to sing with him. He really helped me understand that your tone is everything and music is not about being clever, or anything like that; it’s about making people feel something, starting with yourself, you have to feel it too, you know... He helped me accept my voice, I never really did before working with him which led me to writing my own songs, so I guess he has been the most influential artist for me here in Australia.
RNGLDR: You’ve been slowly releasing music since 2017. Is there a strategy to the pacing? Or is it just a matter of making music when you feel the inspiration and have the opportunity to record?
Esmé: It is definitely the latter. For me it is about creating something in the moment and releasing it when you can and when it feels right. There’s certainly beauty that comes out of the organic, unhurried process.
RNGLDR: Your newly re-worked edition of come with me, which was originally released in 2017, provides a lot of growth from and difference between it and its original cut. How have you grown as an artist since 2017 that can be directly heard in the come with me rendition released last December?
Esmé: I think the growth people hear in that song is my embracing of the sounds and textures of my era and combining it with my natural sound. I really took my time in working with production and I’m still feeling it out. It has to align with your essence as an artist, I think. There are a lot of standard production techniques and sounds to use, but I like to be playful with it and I think we really did that with come with me.
RNGLDR: Even in regard to the limited amount of music, 2019 saw two Esmé singles that both gave unique views into your duality. The re-edit of come with me which grew on and contrasted its original as well as a studio verses live two-pack of Ella all came together to shine you in a wide-ranging light. Since we as listeners only have a glimpse into that range, what can you tell us about the different elements of your musicality and how you like to portray them in your releases?
Esmé: Thank you so much for this comment about Ella. I think one thing I really like to hold in my music is its original state. Like, when you add production it can lose its rawness and I like to try and keep that and show it, especially when I’m performing live. I watched a lot of Moses Sumney, Little Dragon and KIMBRA videos to build my live set and find a balance between the electro and the organic. I’m still working on it! But before all that I write my songs on piano first, I love jazz like melodies and old jazz inspired lyrics, I read a lot of poetry and I spend a lot of time figuring chords and things to songs I love so I can understand why I like hearing what I do, so I can put my thoughts into sounds and hope it connects with others.
RNGLDR: In talking about your newly re-worked come with me, your collaborated with producer, Amillian. How did you two go about unearthing something new and experimental in the edit?
Esmé: I think the way we approached it was by stripping back to the vocals alone and then building it back up around the vocal and really make the voice stand out. A lot of influence was taken from my song Ella for this and we also wanted to bring the darker electro sounds in with the gritty bass and heavier beats. The main thing with this track was that we wanted it to be a bit sensory and otherworldly. We chose sounds that we thought made it feel like that and then just let it be really. It was so easy to do. I love it when things work that way.
RNGLDR: On the subject of collaboration, we run a series called Collab Elation exploring hypothetical collaborations we want to see in music. So, if you could work with any other musician past or present, who would it be and why?
Esmé: If it could be anyone.....I would LOVE to do something with Bjork....something really weird, sensory, vocal and delicate but also bold and dark, and then of course to accompany it with visuals like a film clip that's more of a short film that makes you feel like you’re in the realm of Lindon... that's where the elves from lord of the rings dwelled)....sorry to nerd out on you there!
RNGLDR: And if you could have any two artists that inspire you work together, who would you choose? Why?
Esmé: I would choose June Marieezy, because I think she is such an honest organic writer and I love her lyrical content and her approach to the music industry and actually there’s a jazz guitarist named Gilad Hekselman that I’ve secretly always wanted to write a guitar and vocal only song with! Being very ambitious here naming these two musicians!!
RNGLDR: Speaking of inspiration, who are some fellow soulstresses that have been particularly influential on you as a singer and songwriter?
Esmé: Ella Fitzgerald, Mini Riperton, Lianne La Havas, Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey, Esperanza Spalding, and Gretchen Parlato...to name a few!
RNGLDR: And when it comes to inspirational artists that don’t necessarily call home to the Neo-Soul, R&B, electro-pop sort of vibe that you carry, what kind of music, and which artists in particular do you source inspiration from?
Esmé: I really love Lianne La Havas, Cleo Sol, Joy Crookes, Nai Palm, The sundrop garden, Charlotte Dos Santos, Moses Sumney... all these artists write to their own hearts. I think and they draw from many genres.
RNGLDR: Clearly, we have some trouble describing the range in your sound, so maybe you can try. If you could name your sound with a made-up title of a genre, what would you call it?
Esmé: I love this question too! I used to feel so insecure about not being specific and now I really embrace my genre-dodging sound. I think my music weaves together threads of jazz, early 2000's inspired R*B, electro soul and even folk. Anything that is feeling based I like to call soul my music though... so, I think I would call it ‘elusive soul music’
RNGLDR: You were in the process of getting to play a SoFar Sounds show last time we spoke. Did you have the opportunity to play the show? And if so, how was your experience working with SoFar Sounds to put on an intimate concert and have it all documented in film?
Esmé: Yes I did it! It was so beautiful. I have loads of love for the Sofar Sounds family. I really appreciate what they are doing for artists and how they help you connect with an audience. It was a very special courtyard/fairy light lit event.
RNGLDR: On the subject of concert, we run a series called Dream Venue taking the reader on a narrative journey that culminates in the perfect live show. So, if you could experience a Dream Venue, how would your journey unfold, and who would you see perform at the end of it?
Esmé: I would travel to the Philippines and it would be really hot, and in a very large garden lit up by fairy lights and bohemian blankets scattered everywhere for people to sit on, and it would be BYO and I would watch (((0))) perform all the music from her latest album. This artist's name is unpronounceable but her project is called the sundrop garden, and here is a link to her music, it’s universal and magical.
RNGLDR: And how about in the opposite direction – as the artist performing, how would your Dream Venue unfold and in what kind of setting would you like to perform?
Esmé: For the longest time my dream venue has been the Manchester cathedral. I would love to sing there, with strings and singers harmonising with me. That would be a dream.
RNGLDR: What’s next for Esmé?
Esmé: With covid-19, it looks like there will be a lack of performing which is very sad for all of us musicians. But, in light of that, I’ve decided to release a lot more music to help keep the music world alive. I’ll share something within the next 6 weeks!!