Some songwriters, particularly country-singers, revel in writing misery, they’re experts at the heart-broken and heart-breaking – others, like Esther Rose are much better at seeing the light. Based out of New Orleans for the last decade, Esther first emerged back in 2017 with the release of her debut album, This Time Last Night, a record that caught the ear of everyone from Jack White to Pokey Lafarge. Some two years later, Esther has just released her second record, You Made It This Far, and without wanting to spoil the surprise, it’s utterly charming.
Throughout the record Esther seems to face up to adversity and see it as an opportunity for growth, a chance to learn more about herself and about those around her. The saloon-door-shimmy of Only Loving You, finds Esther finding love in surprising places and, “just wasting time ’til I’m with you”, while You Made It This Far, is a celebration of, “getting over yourself” and learning not to linger on the past.
Elsewhere on the record, you don’t have to dig deep into the lyrics to find the joys; the joyous Rio en Medio with its walking bass-line and tales of being followed home by Mountain Lions is a simple delight, while Handyman is just a gorgeous sounding thing, recalling Hurray For The Riff Raff with its melting pot of warm electric-guitar, delicate fiddles and one of the most stunning vocals you’ll hear all year. The record builds up to its perfect finale, Don’t Blame It On The Moon, you can almost hear the moon-beams bouncing of the lake, shimmering and beautiful, with just a hint of melancholy. Lyrically, it’s a back and forth between two loves, each hoping the other one, “is worth the heartache”, both well aware that for better or worse, it’s probably already too late, “don’t blame it on the moon, tell me what’s a soul to do? Don’t blame it on the moon, I’m just in love with you”.
Is, You Made It This Far a country record? Certainly, yet it’s not one that falls into the usual tropes, instead it marks its creator out as a voice of the here and now, a songwriter moving the goal posts of what we should expect of the genre, and in doing so making one of the year’s most compelling albums. Shortly ahead of the release, Esther Rose was kind enough to answer our questions, taking in her love of punk, being obsessed with songwriting and why she’s a reckless optimist.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Esther Rose?
I’m a New Orleans based singer-songwriter. Although I’ve lived in the south for ten years, I’m originally from the Midwest, so if I bump into you in the grocery store I’ll probably say “Opes”.
FTR: Your new album, You Made It This Far, is out this week, what can you tell us about recording it?
I recorded with my home-team friends at Mashed Potato Studios. We used the same method as my first album, which was to spend 4 days recording in a house. We even used the same tape machine, an Ampex 351 (2 channel ¼” reel to reel).
FTR: What did you do differently compared to This Time Last Night?
For This Time Last Night, I only recorded the songs I’d written that had a traditional-country vibe that you can two-step to. But for You Made It, we experimented with some down-tempo, introspective, long-drive songs.
You Made It This Far is a very personal album. It takes you to some very specific places; my Midwest childhood & family farm, where I went to high school, my hideout in New Mexico, my neighbourhood in New Orleans.
FTR: The album’s coming out via Father/Daughter Records, how did that come about? Are you a fan of the labels output?
Tyler Andere tracked me down, and I’m so glad they found me! I was hanging out in New Mexico last summer at my friend’s flower farm and not responding to emails very well. I recall driving down a mountain into Taos and parking at a diner to try to get cell phone reception to talk with them.
Working with Father/Daughter has been amazing. They shoot from the heart and are so supportive of the artists they work with. Tasha, Sir Babygirl, Christelle Bofale are exciting artists to watch.
FTR: What track on the record are you most proud of?
Handyman is an interesting little song. It hits all the things that I strive for in my songwriting; it’s romantic, hopeful, makes me want to dance, and is somehow still very weird.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
The reason I like this job is because it is wildly unpredictable. At the moment, I am comfortable not knowing what is going to happen in the next 6 months, or one year.
FTR: I’m interested in your influences, you mention Julie Ruin and Minor Threat on Five Minute Drive, but there’s obviously a country influence as well. Do you listen to much country music? Would you ever make a hardcore record or some dance-punk?
This IS my dance-punk record! I’m putting all my experiences and interests that I’ve collected over the year into these songs. I’m 32, so I grew up before youtube. As a kid I listened to the radio, mostly hip hop & r&b. When I hit my teens I got into punk music and depended on my older friends to make me life-altering mixtapes. Young adulthood found me renting CDs at the public library, digging into early recorded music like traditional jazz & country.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
When I learned to play guitar, I stopped making clothing. But during my late teens/early 20’s I identified as a seamstress. I think that creative energy manifests in whatever outlet is provided. It’s all about the desire to make something. Currently, I am still quite obsessed with making songs.
FTR: Listening to You Made It This Far, it seems, generally, to be quite a positive record? Were you conscious of not always going down the route of the heartbroken country-singer?
There are definitely a few broken-hearted moments on this record, but I’m a reckless optimist. In my most heartbroken moments I’m searching for a window.
What’s next for Esther Rose?
Lot’s of touring! In September I’m joining the legendary songwriter Nick Lowe on a two week run through the Midwest & Canada, and October is with The Cactus Blossoms. I’m about to put a lot of miles on my Subaru.
You Made It This Far is out now via Father / Daughter Records. Click HERE for more information on Esther Rose.