Paper Bird's Esme Patterson on how there's more to the human experience than love songs
Do you typically go through intense periods of writing? Or is it more steady?
I feel like I'm always dragging my experience into tiny pieces of inspiration -- it's a constant process. Sometimes I'm putting the pieces of a song together in my head, and it will be over a long period of time; or sometimes it will be like, "Holy shit! I wrote ten songs this week." There's never a time when I'm not writing songs, but sometimes the scope is protracted. I have dozens and dozens of songs.
While you're writing so much on your own, how important is collaboration in fleshing out those songs?
Huge, especially because that's my artistic experience. Paper Bird is a collective, and there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen -- which makes for a rich atmosphere to draw inspiration from. It's so many brilliant people, all combining efforts, and playing off each other, and creating together. I really thrive in that.
So what was it like making a record without them?
It was really interesting. There were parts of it that were like, "Yeah, I get to make my own choices! I get to say yes or no -- just me!" But that's also hard to step up to sometimes. In the studio there would be moments where I'd be looking around about to say, "What does everyone else think?" and then I'd realize it was just me. It's important to have a balance. That's why it was so healthy to be doing the solo record and [Paper Bird at the same time]; you can't have too much of one or the other.
Is everyone in Paper Bird sick of the phrase "old timey" yet?
It changes. I think it has everything to do with people's intentions when they use it. There's a huge part of that band that draws from tradition a lot -- really valuable parts of tradition, that make us feel connected in a really beautiful way. The band does a great job of drawing from those traditions.
But this new solo album sounds so modern -- it sounds very different from Paper Bird.
I feel like the traditions being drawn from were very different. Before I was in Paper Bird, I never listened to music with banjos in them. And that's become a huge part of what I listen to -- it's allowed me to see the merit of country and bluegrass. But the songs I'm writing [on this record] are coming from a completely different cultural experience. The soul music I listened to as a child was a huge influence on it. I really like mixed meters and bizarre stuff. Some of it even comes from a punk rock place -- I'm a huge Patti Smith fan.
You have to be unapologetic when it's just you that you're responsible for. So some of the songs are explicitly sexual, or very dark. They're perspectives that I wouldn't want to speak for a whole group of people -- this is just me, not necessarily songs I would want to put on the whole band.
In the past, you've said that these songs are of such a visceral and personal nature, that you wouldn't want to tour with them. What are your plans for shows and promotion of the album?
When I said that before, I was in a very difficult emotional situation, and that reflected where I was at in that process. And now time has marched on, and it gets easier to step back into certain spaces. I'm actually in a place where I find it really healing and really good to play these songs. It goes back to that thing I was saying before: These are just aspects of myself that I'm wrestling with. The songs aren't necessarily anything I'm projecting onto a certain person. And I want to keep that dialogue going. It's something we all deal with, going into those difficult places.
We all deal with it, but most of us don't deal with it publicly. Something I imagine is made even more difficult when you're alone on stage without Paper Bird.
Right. You feel pretty naked sometimes. But I need to do that -- it's what I've been craving. Everybody needs to do that sometimes: Stand with your feet planted, presenting all your gifts and your faults. It's part of the process. It's what I'm here to do.