Denver’s Esmé Patterson may have trotted off to Portland, but the Denverites have all but forgotten her. Patterson still sings from her Folk roots with her fluttering and brittle twang, and acerbic voice that cultivates an enormous strength in a brittle vulnerability. Patterson’s lyrics have a distinct, homegrown emotional depth. Patterson remains charismatic and Denver-bred, but her latest release is more syncretic, enmeshing influences from the Portland music scene and more, post-punk undercurrents.
I got the chance to talk with Esmé Patterson on Monday, 6/14 about her brand new album We Were Wild. The album has been the subject of much buzz-- Rolling Stone called the twelve track EP “subtly charming…[it] balances easy-flowing natural imagery with hardboiled self-determination.”
The album starts off with “Feel Right”; a three-minute bout that kicks the record sleeve off quick. “Feel Right” carries the refrain “No one want’s to feel something that don’t feel right,”a line that gets at what is universal to the human experience; evidence of Patterson’s keen perceptivity and sensitivity to the life surrounding her. Patterson delves into her past, her pain, and her experiences and resurfaces with brightness and insight which pours into songs like “Wantin Ain’t Gettin”, “Find it” and the belt-on-your-ride-home closer, “Alone”.
Patterson is starting off a near two-month long tour at Denver’s Larimer Lounge on 6/18, get tickets here.
Esmé and I got on about touring, recording, and keeping wild. Check out our chat to know more about the inspiration behind We Were Wild, the state of affairs in the music industry today and Patterson herself.
K: Hi Esme, Kendall with Ultra5280 here. I’m a long time listener and a big fan of your recent album We Were Wild. You’re back into town from your new home city Portland, getting ready to kick off a tour at Denver’s Larimer Lounge. You’re no stranger to touring and playing back to back shows. Have you grown accustomed to the lifestyle? What do you usually do to prep for the road?
E: To prep for the road, man, it’s kind of a big list of ever changing things. I’ve kind of ran the business, basically by myself. I mean I do have some help but I do all the merch and all the accounting and tour managing. Getting ready for a tour is always a lot of work, it’s kind of crazy. It’s exciting, but there’s always a lot going on.
K: I came out to see your show at Twist and Shout last Friday. A beautiful set, by the way. How did it feel to celebrate your newest album with a homecoming party?
E: So good. It feels amazing. Twist and Shout is such a huge support to me and for other local musicians, they've helped me since I started playing music professionally. They’re a big part of Denver’s community. It was such a joy and an honor to release my third record, at a place where I learned a lot of my music knowledge. They’re just good people.
K: I think you mentioned during your set that you used to give them handmade, spray painted cd’s when you were younger, when you were with your sister in Paper Bird.
E: Oh yeah. It was back in like 2006. We’d spray paint the cd’s in the garage and tie them with string. I’d bring in like, five to Twist and Shout and be like Josh, can you sell these, please? They’re always so willing to work with people, huge support.
K: It seems like a full circle, releasing We Were Wild at the place where it all kind of started.
E: Oh yeah, they’ve been I feel that way about being in Denver right now in general. It’s so wonderful to come back here and celebrate the community that we’ve built together. Even though I did move away I do feel very connected to Denver’s artistic community because I put ten years of hard work into it, helping to build
K: You recently told All Access Music that the inspiration for We Were Wild stems from a battle with “trying to find the eye of the storm and write from there”. Do you care to touch upon this more?
E: I’m constantly moving, constantly working hard and trying to move forward as a person and with my art. There’s not a lot of repetition in my life. It’s constantly changing, like a moving target. I try to find the deeper, clearer water and connect with that for my inspiration. I try to find a still place within all the movement and commotion and write from that still place.
K: The album seems to have been heavily influenced by your own experiences. Did the process of making it change your perception of the events which influenced it?
E: I’d say the recording and making of the album really helped me to process the things that were happening in my life and to understand how to talk about it. A lot of times I’ll write something and it will come from a deep, subconscious place, and later on when I read it I’ll be like, ‘woah, I had no idea I felt that way.’ The purpose of my art, for me, is transmuting pain into something I can use. It’s turning things that are frustrating, or destructive, or the deeper, painful experiences into art, it’s freeing and healing. It’s a way to move forward, and to fully process the feelings and the things that are difficult in life, and to turn them into art; to transform the person who I am.
K: In the context of the album Woman to Woman [an album composed of rewritten, classic folk songs by the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Elvis Costello from a female perspective] and songs such as What Do You Call a Woman, the feminist messages on the new album become more apparent. What aspects of the female experience inspired the album?
E: It was less of my intention to present this album from a feminist perspective. My identification as a feminist comes from working towards a place where men and women are equal and regarded equally. As I think about my experience, as a woman, in real life, I’m not necessarily writing a feminist tract. Talking about my life does not make me a feminist. The work that I do, as a feminist, is with the intention that I won’t be asked if I’m writing about my life. Know what I mean? If a man is writing about his life, about waking up and doing A, B and C, people won’t be like, ‘Oh, he’s writing a very masculine song.’ It’s just a song. But, if I’m a woman, and I write about my life, and about doing A, B, and C, people often assume I’m writing a feminist song. That is the goal of feminism, for me, to be regarded equally. I would like to be regarded as an artist, not necessarily as a female artist.
K: I totally get that. I think I was curious about what inspires you, what makes you angry, what inspires you and makes you want to create change. I didn’t find overt feminist messages per say, but I felt a lot of passion in tracks like Feel Right, which feels almost like a protest song. It comes across almost like a punk song.
E: Sure, definitely. I agree. There’s a lot of dissonance in that song. I don’t think that my gender influenced that song more so than my life experience in general.
K: I’m curious about the tension between the album cover and the title- seeing as being leashed is antithetical to wildness or freedom. Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind this?
E: It’s the struggle between domestication and wildness. In a general societal way, as humans, we began as wild animals and domesticated ourselves and the world around us. But also, in the more symbolic and abstract ways. We were born free, and we allow ourselves to be lead into a path of civilization and domestication. I still feel very much like a wild animal a lot of the time. I think that it’s really important to reconnect with the pure freedom that is our birthright and to realize the ways that we are held in domestication and the ways that we domesticate ourselves.
K: I think I’m understanding this as perhaps, a return to childishness- or remaining true to what inspired us as children.
E: It’s more about us being animals and connected to the earth. There’s a naiveté to it, but part of the idea behind the yellow cover is that you can’t ever go back to naievté, you can only go forward to freedom.
K: How has touring changed your perspective of the music industry?
E: Oh, touring always makes me more hopeful. When you’re at home, or in meetings with people on the business side, you can kind of lose sight of the what it is that you’re actually doing. When you’re on tour, you get the chance to meet all of the people that your music can connect with. You remember with the reason why you’re doing in in the first place, for the love of playing music, sharing music with people, and getting to experience what other people are doing in different parts of the country and the world. When I’m touring I get to see amazing other bands and music communities. It’s always a very refreshing and renewing experience. It’s also a lot of hard work, very difficult. I always feel inspired by the experience, though, and it reconnects me with why I’m doing it in the first place.
K: You’ll be on tour until the end of July around the US. What’s your next move, after the tour?
E: I’ll be on tour for the foreseeable future. I do love to have time off, back in Portland where I live, which is a really wonderful place. where I can hang out with my roommates and my boyfriend and stuff. When I’m not touring I’ll probably just be swimming in a river out in Portland.
K: It’s definitely a good idea to have some off time to relax after dealing with all the high energy and the fast paced living that comes along with touring.
E: Heck yeah.
K: Before we leave off, I want to ask what inspired you as a kid. What inspired you, and what made you feel happy as a kid?
E: Well I always loved music and I always loved singing. Some of my earliest memories are of me just, alone on a playground, singing at the top of my lungs. I also was lucky enough to grow up in Boulder, Colorado where there is a lot of natural beauty and landscape. My sister and i grew up scrambling around, swimming in rivers, and being in nature. It’s always been a big part of my life. My earliest childhood memories are of my sister and I scrambling around in the mountains.
K: Anything you’d like to tell your audience post-release?
E: The biggest thing I think there is to say is thank you to everyone. I’m so grateful that we both like what I’m doing, I guess. We all help each other and we all need each other. I’m very grateful for my community.
Be sure to check out We Were Wild, which you can buy on Itunes here. Also, be sure to see Patterson live at Denver's Larimer Lounge on 6/18.She'll be touring around the US until 7/30, so check out songkick.com for future tour dates.
Author: Kendall Morris