Sure, one second Esmé Patterson is sporting a blue pixie cut and the next second she’s in a pink wig and sequin dress — but none of that matters because what everyone should be focused on are her solemn, relatable lyrics and honey-crisp voice. All that paired with her dream-rocker vibe and you’ve discovered the woman who’s breaking out of the Denver music scene into the national limelight (she has over 50,000 dedicated listeners on Spotify). NPR recently hosted her and her band on their popular Tiny Desk concerts and she’s been touring all over the country this year with the alternative country-rock band SUSTO. In 303 Magazine‘s interview with Patterson, she talked about not trying to please anyone but herself with her next record. It’s been a long road since playing folk with recently-dissolved band Paper Bird, but she probably wouldn’t change anything because it got her to where she is now. Her road ahead is sure to be filled with more blissfully sold-out shows as more and more people discover her soulful tunes.
303 Magazine: Can you tell me more about the meaning behind your most recent album, We Were Wild?
EP: All of the songs are really a particular experience for me but I still really like playing these songs. In the past being with other bands, I would get to the end of the album cycle and be really ready to never play those songs again. But I’ve been really enjoying playing the songs from this record and especially letting their meanings evolve and change — and maybe not even the personal meaning to me but the meaning that other people have told me the song has blossomed into something. I think it’s the most exciting part of writing songs for me is making something and then letting it go and let people kind of inhabit the songs and make them their own. I know what I wrote about it when I wrote [the songs] but it’s been exciting for me seeing people take them as their own and furnish them with their own meaning.
303: You said in an interview with AXS that when you were making that album you were trying to please people, but you’re not doing that anymore. Could you explain more about that?
EP: I think it’s an old pattern that women have made peace with — we really are expected to be ready to please other people and make other people more comfortable, and when we don’t do these things we get punished or we get told where everyone talks about you as if you’re some sort of monster when you’re just trying to do you. I try really hard not to cause people pain. I’m not going to go out of my way to make anyone else uncomfortable at all — I think it’s part of getting older, but I’m no longer that concerned with other people’s opinions of me and I’m not concerned with trying to align myself with other people’s opinions of what that should look like, rather just trust my own wisdom and my own heart. I make mistakes all the time, as we all do, but I’m learning to trust myself more. I am excited to see what the next album looks like because I really am always going to be true to myself and true to my heart and I think that those are important. I think this next record will be a fresh record where I’m really not going to let anybody else control me.
303: Do you feel like you’re working against societal expectations?
EP: I feel that I’m trying very hard to work within society. I know that if I didn’t want to do that [then] I would just go live on a mountaintop and not show [my songs] to people. I do think it’s important to try to be in society, but — like singing harmony notes, you have to hold your part. I’m trying to do that by holding my ground and holding the part that I have chosen to sing as a way to antagonize society in general. I believe that if we are truly ourselves and hold true to who we are and then it all balances and rings together more truly.
303: Can you speak more about your next album?
EP: I’m really excited for the process. We haven’t begun to record it but I have been playing a lot of new songs and getting them honed and put together to be able to close them. I haven’t chosen a shape just yet. But this is one of my favorite parts of this job, too — getting bored with the process and building a new album and giving it to the world a little bit.
303: We recently spoke with Paper Bird about breaking up. As a past member of that band, how do you feel about that?
EP: Well at one point about four years ago they asked me to choose between [Paper Bird] and my solo project saying I couldn’t do both. So I made the choice to do my band, although it made me very sad. I felt that I had a lot to think about but I knew that was the right path, and I’m glad that I had left. It is kind of a difficult and bittersweet memory for me and honestly, I’m relieved that it is finally put to rest. I’m grateful for all of the people that listen to that music and love all of the opportunities that [Paper Bird] provided. We all grew up together in that group and it was a really special and beautiful experience. But it was a difficult thing for me.
I left Denver after leaving that band, trying to start over. I feel grateful for the opportunity to continue to make music. I love playing music out on tours. I love doing it, but it has been a difficult road and I’m glad to be standing at this point. Everyone in Paper Bird is the best and I know that they feel that at the end of an era that means everyone can start to work on some new things. I’m excited to see what comes with that. I’m excited to be back in Colorado and put some time and energy into community building and the music scene. I think it works better when we all support each other.
Find more information about Esmé Patterson’s show this Sunday, December 17 here.