“It just felt good. It felt right. It felt like “well, okay..show them your heart”. Lyrically, it’s a lot more literal and it’s not that it’s less poetic, but it’s a different kind of poetry.” – Esthero on including lyrics in the Everything Is Expensive booklet.
When 2020k was granted permission to interview Esthero, who is inarguably one of the most versatile artists in the recording industry, we were floored. Not only have we been following the self-proclaimed Pink Pirate since the beginning of her career, but the new record Everything Is Expensive quickly became one of the best engineered and written albums we’d listened to in 2012.
Normally, written print articles with the singer are short, sweet, and to the point, but our conversation was anything but. Laughs, lighthearted jokes, serious discussions about the album, and intriguing talk about Brandy changing the molecular structure of Esthero’s body greatly fueled the 30+ minute look into the life of an industry veteran and we’re more than happy to present to you.
We also had a small discussion about Breath From Another that will be featured here in 2013 when the record celebrates its 15th year since its release. We’ll be celebrating with a flashback entry dedicated to the album and some more of Esthero’s words!
Read our review of Everything Is Expensive by clicking here and check out our great conversation with Esthero below!
Congratulations on the release of Everything Is Expensive. It’s a great record and it’s been seven years! How does it feel to finally have the album out and ready for the world to hear?
[Starts with a pondering “hmmm!”] I guess it’s a little anti-climatic because you make it all about – you know, I’m kind of living in my own little universe where it’s like such a big deal to me because it’s everything and it’s all I’m doing [laughs] and there’s all this tension surrounding it. Then you put it out and it’s like “…K, it’s out!” and then in that week my life hasn’t changed, you know? But, life just continues on and it’s out now and it’s like the same as it was before, but now people have it!
In terms of looking back on the recording process of the album, you kept the personnel of the project to a minimal. It definitely shows how intimate the creation of the album was through your songwriting, as well as sonically. Was it a conscious thought to keep the team small or was it more intuitive?
I think it was intuitive – I think I had brought people in for a specific song – I needed certain things and then I found as I was recording each song I was like “Oh, let’s get Gabe [Noel] back in here on this one!” or “Oh, let’s get Deron [Johnson] to come back in!” I just sort of fell in love them – a lot of the players right away – like the first time I hired them and I was like “Oh yeah! That guy! Let’s bring that guy back!” It ended up having this consistency. But, I think not only with their musicianship, but personality-wise I just fell in love with everybody and connected with every one and wanted them around.
That all definitely shines through through the entire record.
They were enthusiastic too! That was the thing, you know players usually come in and they’re like what am I playing? Okay, cool. Handle money, then I’m out and these guys were like “This is really great! If you need bass on anything else..” and were really enthusiastic about it and intimate.
That’s awesome! Usually session players just record and bounce, so you can really see the enthusiasm on the record because of the consistency. Is there a specific moment through the making of Everything is Expensive that sticks out in your mind?
I don’t know – the whole process was really amazing! I think some of the moments that I love the most were like – My bass player Gabe, he’s really funny, and really silly, and really smart and Gabe made me laugh so much making this album. He would do really ridiculous things, he has a great Michael McDonald impersonation, so he would do that all of the time. Hanging out with my engineer Franny [Graham], he was my righthand man. It was sort of like the late nights with Franny where we haven’t slept in 48 hours, going delirious and only the sort of things that could happen after not sleeping – it’s sort of like intimate silliness is always my favorite part and the way you can really get to know another human being when you’ve been up with them for that long. Doing something that you love and you’re willing to be delirious for it.
I remember you did Ustream sessions where you and Franny hung out, chatted, and created. I definitely remember some delirium there and it was really funny to watch!
Yeah, yeah. I also loved the moment where we were all watching Deron Johnson play piano on “How Do I Get You Alone”. We were all just staring in awe at him because he opened up the piano and he muted the strings with his hands and he was plucking the keys and it was such an amazing thing to watch how creative and talented he was. Even Franny was like “I totally want to make out with that guy.”
He put his hands down on the strings, but he was plucking and putting his hands on the strings to mute them. It was fantastic to watch.
After everything was put together and finished for Everything is Expensive what made you decide to partner with Pledgemusic.com instead of seeking a more traditional release method?
That was actually my managers idea and he came up with it because we had thought about a Kickstarter and all that kind of stuff and I wasn’t 100% into the idea of it. I’m not dissing other artists, but I had a personal problem of asking people to donate money to me so I could sell them something? At the time it felt very strange to me. But, once the record was done and it was explained to me like “No! This is like a pre-order. They’re just buying the album you’ve already made.” It allows you to do other things as a result of that pre-order and you get to pay it forward and give a piece of charity, then I was really into it. And I love that it allows you to connect with people. You can make it really fun.
Yeah, it was really fun. No one bought the tattoo though! (Esthero offered to place the initials on her ass of the first person who donated a total of $150,000).
Yeah, it’s still open! If you know anyone with an extra $150,000! I don’t know..I might be willing to give a discount on that.
I’m sure people would jump right on it if it was given at a discounted price..
I just think this ass is worth $150,000 at least, right?
I think it’s worth it. I think you put a fair price on that.
Yeah, it still sits pretty nice. You know? It’s nice. [laughs]
In the same vein as the Pledgemusic campaign: You’ve been signed to Work and Warner Brother Records. But, now that you’re largely an independent artist, you’ve been on both sides of the industry. What’s the biggest lesson you have gained about the business side of the recording industry?
Well, it’s just a lot of work. It’s an extreme amount of administrative work. I don’t have a lot of time for it. Even just maintaining a social media presence can take a huge amount of time, especially on days where things get released. Then, there’s days or nights where I don’t get in the shower and I don’t eat until 10PM. I ask my manager “what do I do when the people expect me to be somewhere?” and he’s like “that’s only if I’m scheduling your day by the hours!”
I just got so caught up with if things got passed out on Facebook and Twitter, like, responding to people, being present and available – and I haven’t eaten, and it’s 10 o’clock, I still haven’t showered, and I’m in my pajamas. Like, how did this happen?
So, there’s that and then there’s also the element of accounting, the math and that can be a little bit overwhelming as well. Me being 100% responsible for paying it and really boring things like mechanical royalties. It’s a bit much, but hopefully I’ll be able to hire an accountant!
Hopefully! Everything is expensive though, so…
Kind of on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve been involved in a million different genres. You created “We R In Need of a Musical Revolution” so how do you feel about the state of the music industry now? What do you like? What don’t you like?
Honestly, I haven’t been paying that much attention. I’m so consumed with my own life, so self-absorbed right now. But, I feel like we got to a point where everybody was like a bionic robot that made you want to dance for a while. You know, okay, cool. My thing is that clearly by my track record I’m not genre biased and I like music from all genres. I go on a song by song basis, but I think that when you start getting inundated with the same thing over and over again, that’s what starts to bother me. Or not even bother me, I just shut off, just I’m not really listening.
I sort of felt like with the war going on that we would have this sort of revolution in music, that we would have a resurrance of singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan types would start showing up and it would be like the ‘60s. Then, I realized that it wasn’t like the 60’s, it was more like the 20’s, like a repetition of what happened in World War I – we want to dance.
Yeah, I waited for that too! Madonna did it with her American Life album but no one really caught on.
Yeah, and the [Black Eyed] Peas gave us “Where is The Love?” and that was kind of the best we could do. But, I feel like we might be on our way out of the 20’s. For example, something like “Black Mermaid” [from Everything Is Expensive] I thought wouldn’t really stand out or have a place in what’s going on right now and it seems to have resonated with people.
Something that kind of shocked me a bit was that in an interview during the Wikked Lil’ Grrrls era you mentioned that you didn’t put lyrics inside the booklets on purpose as a way to have people focus on the music as a whole.
However, on Everything Is Expensive the lyrics are present. Is there something that sparked that change?
I think it just felt right for this record and I was designing the artwork too. It’s just so intimate, I created this font based off of my hand writing and I felt like because it was so personal, it felt right.
It felt like this is kind of like a diary and I want to put it in and I want people to be able to read it. It felt personal and revealing in someway that my handwriting would be there and it would be interesting, people would be interested in reading them.
It’s always made me giggle in the past too, when people will interpret my lyrics [begins laughing] and uh, they get them – a lot of people get them wrong and I think it’s funny and I don’t want to take that away from them after the fact. [laughs]
It just felt good, it felt right, it felt like “well, okay..show them your heart”. Lyrically, it’s a lot more literal and it’s not that it’s less poetic, but it’s a different kind of poetry.
Definitely. It does feel like a diary. I kind of felt a bit intrusive at first because it’s such a personal record. So, the fact that it’s your handwriting definitely takes that to the next level.
Yeah, I’m going to make that font available to people soon too.
You’ve said “If God was a man he’d sound like a Bilal and if God was a woman she’d sound like Brandy.” You worked with Brandy on “Believer” (an unreleased track originally placed on Esthero’s Myspace page) and you worked on Brandy’s Human album. So, I agree she is a Goddess. What was it like working with her?
She’s awesome! There’s something about Brandy’s voice that quite literally – I’m going to sound crazy, but I think her voice literally changes the molecular structure of my body in some way, [laughs] like in how we know super high notes can break glass.
But, I feel like there’s quite literally something that happens when Brandy’s specific tone resonates in her chest/in her body, comes out of her mouth and hits my ear drum – it does something to me that is beyond my control. So, for example, even if she is singing the happiest song in the world I am paralyzed and want to bawl my eyes out. I feel like a deer in the headlights and I listen to her sometimes and I’m still arrested by her voice.
When we did “Believer” – she’s my friend so I was like “Hey, Bran’. Could you…I wrote the song could you help me arrange the background vocals for them?” because I’m such a fan of how she arranges vocals and I was like “could you help me figure out what they are?” She came and she was like “well can I sing them?!” [laughs] I was like “Uhhhhhh…yeah!” So, I was so excited and I’m getting to fully watch her and produce her and I was also excited because as a producer I was like “I’m going to finally get an inside scoop” because I think she’s a fantastic vocal producer and I’ve been hearing how she’s been executing for years and I was finally going to get to see how she does what she does and be able to appropriate it for myself and learn something, get some tools.
So, as a producer I’m like “I’m going to watch this!” but every time she would turn to sing I couldn’t last more than like, literally, a minute and a half without like getting totally fucking teary and having to leave the room. So, she’s singing and I keep being like “Yeah! Okay! That’s great!” and then leaving and calling my friends crying. [laughs] Her tone is just magic to me.
I think that’s true for a lot of people. There’s a woman than I know who – every time I sing, when she hears me sing live she weeps. She can’t help it. She keeps crying. And she’s a friend of mine and I feel like it’s the same thing. It’s not that she’s a bigger fan of me than anyone else or whatever, there’s just something unique to my tone in a way it resonates out of my body and hits hers, you know?
So, I feel like I have that attachment to Brandy. I feel like there’s something unique about her voice to my chemistry, to my physical make up that just causes me to – it’s like, I don’t want to say it’s kryptonite because it’s not a bad thing but it literally just almost paralyzes me. I just can’t. [Starts laughing] It’s like a dog when you scratch a dog’s belly and it like kicks its leg involuntarily.
[Laughing with] Were you doing that to Oboe [her dog] earlier?
Yeah! I feel like thats what happens…to me….when Brandy sings! [laughing harder]
More on Everything Is Expensive.
It’s really personal, but I hope it’s not too self indulgent that other people can’t relate to it. But, I think sometimes that the more self indulgent you get and the more honest you get, the more people will relate to it.
I have another song that didn’t make the record because I wrote it after. I literally wrote – it was like 3 o’clock in the morning. I was in the bath having a nervous breakdown, just crying my face off. I was devastated. I got out of the bath, I grabbed the guitar, I wrote this song. I had my friend who was staying with me, I played it and was like we’ll just record it on Garageband…I just wrote this, I have to get it out. And it was so specific and unique to me and my situation. I thought there’s no way anybody could relate to this, I could never use this. But, then I listened to it the next day and I realized how universal it actually was in the basic sentiment of the song. So, this album is kind of like that. It’s really personal, but hopefully in a way that’s universal that people can relate to it and feel like they’re not alone, you know?
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of 2020k?
The Pledgemusic page is still going and if people buy directly from me there’s a portion that goes toward The Van Ness Recovery House. There’s still some items available as well!
Also, please follow 2020k on Twitter and Facebook as we’ll be announcing an exclusive giveaway of Everything Is Expensive in the very near future. You want to win, don’t you? You want to be That Girl (or boy…you see what we did there, right)? Our social media is the best way to keep connected!