Image via Denver Open Media
This spring, folk singer/songwriter Esmé Patterson released her album Woman to Woman, which aims to flesh out the female sides of mostly male-dominated popular love songs. ModCloth caught up with the artist to get her thoughts about her latest work and what’s to come.
Image via Tumblr
ModCloth: Some fans might recognize you from Denver band Paper Bird. What’s been the most rewarding challenge going solo?
Esmé Patterson: The two main differences between playing solo and playing with Paper Bird are: Playing solo, I get to play guitar while I sing, and it is the most fun its possible to have (I love playing electric guitar). The second difference is that I can change what I sing without notice. I am very influenced by jazz; it is my favorite music to listen to. It is so satisfying as a singer to be able to change the phrasing and inflection and the words of my songs, night to night, which is very difficult in a group context.
Your debut solo album, All Princes, I, melds so many eclectic sounds. Was there a particular musical inspiration you had while you were writing/recording it?
Astral Weeks: My favorite record of all time. Not sure we quite got close to that, but the reckless realness was certainly a mark I was trying to hit.
As a songwriter and a poet, how do you know when something you’ve written will be a song?
Ha, great question. I get a feeling, a tingly, electric feeling, that strikes without warning. Often it’s something someone else is saying, or a billboard you’re reading driving down the highway, or an angle of light. You see the song rolling out in front of you like a carpet, and you have to stop whatever you’re doing and find a pen. You just know, it finds you.
The concept for writing your latest album Woman to Woman is pretty interesting. Can you fill us in on how you came up with the idea?
I was learning to play a Townes van Zandt tune called “Loretta,” and as I was reading the lyrics more closely, I got to wondering what Loretta’s side of the story would sound like. I wrote a tune from her perspective called “Tumbleweed” and started listening to the radio with new ears, writing responses to “Eleanor Rigby,” “Jolene,” “Alison,” and “Billie Jean,” to name a few.
Can you speak about the inspiration behind Never Chase A Man, your response to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene?”
In Parton’s tune, she sits down to talk with Jolene, a woman that her man is in love with, to beg her not to steal the man she loves. There is an underlying assumption from Dolly’s character that Jolene loves him, too. But it seemed to me that this man sounds like a two-timing, sleazy guy [who] a catch like Jolene wouldn’t want anything to do with. In their woman-to-woman talk, Jolene says back to Dolly’s character: This guy doesn’t deserve the love of a good woman like you, he’s breathing down other women’s necks, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. Let men chase you, honey, don’t go chasin’ after them.
I’d like to transition to your local scene. Can you tell us what it means to you to be a part of it and give us an insider’s take?
Denver [Colorado] is a remarkable musical community in that it is very centered on quality of songwriting. There are some of the best writers out there, living quietly at the foot of the mountains, raising the bar for everybody. The scene is very collaborative, not as competitive as scenes in bigger cities can get. Everyone really supports and influences each other. It’s a great resource and inspiration.
Speaking of, I read that you started a poetry journal to highlight the work of local contributors. Can you tell us more about this project?
I started Zephyr Press with a couple [of] dear friends last summer to create a forum for local poets to see their work published, receive compensation for their work, and build a literary community outside of academia. The response has been incredible! We’ve published two issues this year, winter and spring, and are accepting submissions now for our summer issue. We publish poetry and short fiction from local writers, and it has been such an inspiring, rewarding project so far!
Do you have a favorite writer or musician that is a constant influence that we should check out?
And one just for fun: If you could try any other profession for a day, what would it be?
I’d be a scientist [in] astrophysics.
Check out this sample of Patterson’s work, and let us know what you think of her style.