Interview: Self Esteem

Wednesday Croft speaks to Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) about her upcoming UK tour, the imminent release of her second album; Prioritise Pleasure and the relief of feeling seen…

Wednesday Croft
13th October 2021
Credit: Chuff Media

Prioritise Pleasure is a powerful and candid celebration of how she feels and the state of the world. It is the perfect successor, and indeed includes lines and references from, her acclaimed debut album, Compliments Please. Since then, Self Esteem has turned everything up a notch; every track from Prioritise Pleasure will simultaneously give you goosebumps and make you want to leap onto your table to dance.  

Wednesday sat down for a Zoom call with a mildly hungover but ever-delightful Rebecca on the morning after her performance with Bastille at the Rolling Stone UK opening party. There was some initial confusion as Rebecca searched for a missing can of Coke she had especially prepared, but the interview began regardless… 

My first question is how are you doing? Bearing in mind we’ve had lots of lockdowns, you’re about to embark on a tour, where does this interview find you? 

Oh man, yeah I’m doing alright, if I don’t go to Rolling Stone UK’s opening party and drink all their free booze. Other than that, I’m fine. But yeah it’s great, it’s really fun, I’m really busy. I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my whole career which feels good. I think coming out of lockdown and the pandemic and all that stuff, for anybody, is overwhelming. To have had a song sort of go quite well during the lockdown, then to come out and have a career that’s sort of doubled in size, it’s a lot. I’m just trying to go with the flow and enjoy it. I’m just working really hard, I really love working and I’m just being the best I can be. 

Credit: Chuff Media

Over lockdown I know you started, probably as a laugh, the workouts and the meditations but they had quite a strong following by the end, how was your lockdown experience overall? Were you living at home? 

Yeah, I’m one of those people for whom it was like, weirdly good. There was this stress like, what if live shows don’t come back? And I did feel this real sadness that I’ve made this great big body of work and it might not get its opportunity to be seen, which is still sort of there. I am worried, who knows, but in lockdown, just personally, I realised you have to surrender to it, day-by-day and take it as it comes. I’ve kept busy, I did it all with my parents actually, which was quite sweet, not going to get that chance again kind of thing. 

Congratulations again on the album, it’s an incredible piece of work. Could you talk a little bit about your creative process? Was it all written over lockdown in one period? 

No, I wrote it pretty much all the songs before, in 2019. I got them all demoed just before the pandemic hit and then during that first wave, I got really sure about what I wanted to do when I tracked the album, didn’t stop thinking about it, didn’t stop planning. When I actually went in the studio it was really slick and quick, very assured tracking, not a lot of experimenting going on. Me and the producer were just like ‘Is this? Is this easy? Are we missing something here?’ because it was just so pleasant and so easy. And then in the second wave I sort of had all the mixed tracks and spent that listening to them over and over, knowing what I wanted, where I didn’t want things, what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to go. So again after that, when I got back in the studio to mix I was really sure about what I needed, so it just made the process very streamlined. It forced me to think and prep which isn’t something I do in life. 

At this point the point the coveted can of Coke is found on the shelf where it was left and Rebecca’s infectious laugh rings out 

It taught me actually to take my time with stuff a bit more, I can be a quite like trigger happy with ideas.  

The female experience is a really strong theme in the album, from how we’re supposed to behave; ‘be small’ ‘be quiet’, ‘stand up straight’ to some of the toxic behaviours we deal with, through to coping; that amazing story of the group of friends barking if there’s scary men. That should be shocking right? But it’s just the norm, that’s what anyone who’s got that experience of being a woman knows. Was it purposeful to weave that throughout the album, or did you just kind of step back and realise that it was there? 

In 2019 I as doing a summer school, and writing songs about how I was feeling about where I was at with where I was feeling. We were having these long discussions about young womens’ lives and their safety. I think I hoped that these people, who were a lot younger than me, would have it differently, and they don’t, it’s just so universal. I’m just in this place where I think I used to accept it, didn’t even notice it, just that’s my lot, that’s what we’re given, and then I started to formulate this thing that was like ‘hang on a minute that’s fucking not fair’ and this sort of anger. So the album explores that, because of things that have happened to me, but also I explores I think a natural amount of waking up is happening by women, that we’ve been complicit in the bullshit, because of course we are, because it’s all we’ve ever known. I don’t know what the answer is by the way, I don’t know what can change without the behaviour of men changing. Yeah, I feel like it’s just like an interesting place to oscillate in and write about. There isn’t any answers, we’ll see. 

SelfEsteem_PrioritisePleasure_HiRes.jpg (3000×3000)
Credit: Chuff Media

It’s so refreshing to hear someone talk about it so openly and it’s really powerful for us, as young women, to listen to it and have it, so thank you. It means a lot. I wanted to ask you, you’ve spoken before about having that creative control and license, being free to curate your whole brand, I’m thinking the Boots dress, the ‘squirt isn’t pee t-shirts’, the badges, all of that, is it part of a master plan? A vision? Or are you kind of making it up as you go along? 

Good question! All of it is just very me. I was in a band for so long where I would have so many ideas that I couldn’t execute. Some of it is that, sometimes I wonder ‘God, if I get used to just being a solo artist unchallenged in creative bliss, will I run out of ideas?’ because so much of it is in reaction to the ‘no’s that I’ve had my whole career. But no, I really like it being a fully, multi-sensory kind of experience. 

A t-shirt is a canvas, what I wear on stage is an opportunity, every single facet of what I’m doing is an opportunity to say more than just the songs. It feels completely correct to me to use every platform there is.

So no, there’s not really a master plan it’s just very much what I’ve always wanted in my art practice, everything I do is towards Self Esteem. 

There’s lyrics that are throughout the first record and the second record; I already had this idea for Prioritise Pleasure three years ago so the band were wearing t-shirts that said ‘prioritise pleasure’ a long time ago, stuff like that, I like easter eggs. There’s a line in my new video that’s a line from a song that I’ve written for the next record and things like that, I like an audience to feel in on it. I feel like if you spot the things, it’s like watching a movie where – right bear with me but – you know Inception? I remember watching that thinking it’s a really simple story, told in this way that seems complicated and that’s why it’s a great film, because you, as an audience member, feel like you’re really smart for getting it, but actually it’s quite simple. What I believe I’m doing with Self Esteem is trying to recreate the feeling that the movie Inception gave me; [giggle] which was like ‘Oh I know this, I’m part of this and I’m smart enough’ do you know what I mean? It’s like inclusive. 

My favourite track off the new album is I Do This All The Time, and it’s been interesting talking to people; family, friends whoever, the song seems to transcends age, everyone feels like it’s talking to them, with lyrics like ‘All the days you get to have are big’ which have had a huge impact, did you know when you wrote it that it would resonate so much, or did you write it purely as a self-care thing for you? 

Yeah I had no idea, it was very much just for me, I’d always wanted to do something like that, like a sort of stream of consciousness. I hate saying this bu,t it was really quick and I didn’t think about it too much - the take of the spoken word I’ve only ever done once, I just did it in the studio. It’s just become this massive thing which has been a nice lesson for me to learn artistically. Because it was completely from me, I didn’t second guess it, I kind of thought it wouldn’t even make the album it was just more of an experiment. Now it’s become my biggest song which just proves to me; trust in your gut because unfiltered communication is my MO. Any time like that when I feel so into it and so seen has been bigger than ‘it’s cool that my songs on the radio’, it’s felt like a true acceptance of me in the world in a weird way, I’ve always felt very alone, very othered and unsupported in a way. My life has always been very much like what is it? What’s wrong with me? Everyone else seems to be fine. It’s a sad thing to find out, but everyone being like ‘oh god I feel like that too’ has made me feel not so alone and not feel so weird. We are all bluffing, you know? 

On that you know I’ve seen some requests for some of your handwritten lyrics for tattoos, how does that feel as an artist? 

Yeah it’s cool, I like that. But I won’t do it unless you donate to Sistah Space [a charity helping African heritage women and girls escape domestic violence]. I always feel a bit bad, people send these loving message of how much they want my lyrics on their bodies forever and I’m like ‘yeah pay up and I will’. But yeah, it’s so cool isn’t it, the first prioritise pleasure tattoo that I saw was this guy’s hand and it was my phone screensaver. Like I just said, it’s fun being a bit more successful and it’s fun selling shows out but its’ more than anything to me to just feel like ‘oh okay, I’m not the only person that feels like this’ and it’s just been life changing actually to feel like that, finally, at 35. 

So many of the tracks have this duality of being a pop hit, a bop and having this amazing fierce message like Moody, I was wondering what came first the lyrics? Or the sound of the song? What’s the process? 

Things always go a bit different, sometimes I wake up and it’s just in my head when it should be, sometimes I’ve got a line just going round and round for months until I finally get in the studio and get that line down and then build the song out from that, sometimes I’ve got a real idea of that I want to make a song that feels like x y z, and almost give myself a spec{ification] to work to. It’s loads of different ways; sometimes I sit with a guitar and write like a normal person, although that’s getting rarer. I feel like a dickhead when I say this but, it all happens quite quickly, quite easily and quite naturally now I’m a solo artist. The collaboration part is just with the producer who’s on the same page as me, and it’s just bliss. I mean who knows, in the future maybe my music will become too self-fulfilling and I’ll need someone to disrupt my process and make something new, I am open to that in the future, but at the moment it feels like it just works for me to indulge myself, maybe creating a monster, but I think it makes great music. 

It's obvious you’ve got this great relationship and dynamic with your band, is that something that drives the music and makes it easier, for it to be that smooth? 

When I first wrote some solo songs I knew I wanted to do it live with two people that sing and dance with me, and it was really hard to find people that could do that for the budgets I had, which were pitiful. It’s actually quite hard to get someone that can sing harmony and dance whose day rate isn’t large. So at first I just found these session musicians who are willing to perform the songs with me, and it’s mutated into this life-changing gang of people who are my best friends in the world and are like my family. I’m making this second record knowing I’ve got this gang of women that embody what I’m trying to make so well, and who also are really fucking lovely; they’re all big Self Esteem fans and they’re all front-women themselves, so there’s a lot to play with, and writing this second record now, knowing they’d be there to perform it did inform the way I made it. Every song I write I think about it live now, rather than before it was a bit of an unknown; how to execute it. They’re all so amazing, everyone will do other things and we won’t be this line-up forever because life happens, but right now it’s just magic, and I’m so grateful to them. It’s like an extra layer I didn’t realise I needed or would get - I write the songs for them in a way, when I finished the tracks for this record I knew we were going to have a really great time this year. Anyone who’s ever sang with me make up the choirs on the album, there’s about six or seven vocalists, one of the first things we did after lockdown was all stood in a room singing it which was insane, really special. 

Die-hard fans have been following your trials and tribulations with trying to a buy sofa, and the readers need to know, how is the M&S sofa? 

[Big laugh] The snuggler! It’s good, it’s comfy. I mean, I can’t be fucked to get another one. My parents are coming down next week and it will be interesting to see how they fare because it’s a love seat you know? To snuggle with a lover it’s fine, but my parents are going to have to get closer than they’ve been in 30 years. We’ll see! I don’t want to publicly shame MADE.com but it’s style over substance there for sure.  

Prioritise Pleasure is out in the UK on October 22nd, and you can listen to, download or pre-add it, as well as Compliments Please here

Check out Self Esteem’s website for merchandise, all designed by her, as well copies of the new album on CD, vinyl or cassette. 

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