Written By Kelly Holm
“My sister Celeste told me once that I don’t sound like anyone and that was my greatest strength musically,” Australian singer-songwriter Esme reflects. “My manager and some very close musician friends have said almost exactly the same thing. It means a lot to me because I have always struggled to accept my voice.”
Yes, Esme lives by the rule that one should never compare their own success to that of another artist, and when you start comparing success you probably can’t help but compare sound as well. But it’s true, it is difficult to find one mainstream parallel that wholly mirrors the essence of Esme. Modern maestros like Moses Sumney motivate her, but you can definitely hear the echoes of old-school soul greats, whose standards she grew up performing at a local jazz pianist’s restaurant.
It’s in her voice, in her lyrics and evidenced in her recent release “Ella,” a homage to Ella Fitzgerald and the influence the First Lady of Song had on Esme’s childhood, dotted with Fitzgerald’s scatting samples. Still, there’s definitely a modern flair to the track with its electro-pop strains.
Believe it or not, “Ella” wasn’t originally intended for the public’s ears. “The inspiration to [release it] came from the producers,” Esme said. “They brought a new sound and feeling to the original version,” which did not include samples of Fitzgerald’s voice.
“It really sets the soundscape for the other tracks [on my upcoming EP]: 808 drums, heavy bass parts and swelling synth sounds.”
Yet, Esme cannot be entirely characterized by electro-pop and jazz. “Come With Me,” meanwhile, evokes Norah Jones with its wistful, longing, stripped-down air. Its name is, after all, only one word away from the title of one of Jones’ best-known hits, “Come Away With Me.” Yet the two have distinctly separate voices, and Esme’s style is decidedly more electric than that of Jones.
Last year, Esme got the privilege to play on the reboot of MTV Unplugged, but that’s not to say she hasn’t had some experience playing totally “unplugged” before. In fact, her first solo performance at the age of 13 was completely acappella . The show, however, was a completely alien experience.
“I was being filmed non-stop and in constant motion,” Esme said. “In the rush and hype of everything, I didn’t know how to go to the right place mentally to give my best on stage. But I know how to now, I think if I ever have that kind of pressure again in a performance setting I’ll know how to be and think.”
Perhaps a high-stakes opportunity might come again soon. After all, Esme’s got a new EP waiting in the wings that seems that she believes is darker than that of previous releases.
“The music is comprised of heavy beats, deep bass lines, almost aggressive piano, cinematic strings and honest, raw vocals,” she said of the Royce Wood Junior-produced tune that she promises sounds like a mixture of BANKS, Jay-Z and Rihanna. “Even ‘Ella,’ though it’s down tempo, has that dark electro-pop sound.”
Another forthcoming number is “Follow Me,” a carefree, two-chord piece that makes Esme feel like “a more confident version” of herself.
After MTV Unplugged, the next step up for Esme would ideally be the Manchester Cathedral, but her ultimate goal as a musician is to complete a body of work that she’s completely in love with and proud of, an aspiration that she continues to aim toward constantly.
“I just hope that [fans] connect with [my music] and that it makes them feel something,” she said. “That’s all I can hope for: to have made someone, somewhere, feel something true for them.”