Over the years we've had the good fortune to have regular visits from Esmé Patterson. Whether she is joined with her friends in Paper Bird or sharing material from her solo projects, it is always a treat to have her on our airwaves. Below are some archives from recent solo visits. Paper Bird archives are also available.
Esmé Patterson joined us on air for a live performance of material from her second solo album Woman to Woman. Here is an archive of her 4/3/14 visit to the KGNU studio during the Morning Sound Alternative with 99.
Esmé Patterson stopped by the studios with drummer Ben Desoto for a performance of material from her solo debut album All Princes, I. She spoke about the genesis and development of the project, her early experiences as a songwriter, and the challenges of being prolific. Here is an archive from their 11/29/12 visit to the KGNU studio during the Morning Sound Alternative with John Schaefer.
(Transcription from 11/29/12 visit)
KGNU: Esmé Patterson and Ben Desoto, thanks for getting up early to join us in the studio.
ESMÉ: Thanks so much for having us, we had some coffee… we’re wired for sound.
KGNU: Let’s talk about your first solo release, All Princes, I, on the Greater Than Collective record label. Most people, at least at this point, are probably most familiar with you from your work with your band Paper Bird. Has it been a lot different for you performing solo and kind of being out of the nest of comfortable collaborators?
ESMÉ: Good pun. Yeah, actually it’s pretty terrifying because I don’t play an instrument in Paper Bird, I just sing. So I get to dance around and be silly, and it’s a lot more terrifying to stand up and have to present all of the songs, playing and singing… it’s a good challenge.
KGNU: For you it seems, from what I’ve gathered, that the writing process is kind of a constant thing. You went into the studio with nearly thirty songs? Is that right?
ESMÉ: Well, I went into the studio with a bunch of songs and as the recording process was underway I just started writing more and more songs. Because, I’d think the record needs a song that sounds like this or that. I think I drove the producer crazy. I’d say, “I just wrote this song! Can I put it on the record?” And he’d say, “Really?!? No. You can’t. We already have enough songs.”
KGNU: And that producer was Roger Green, an outstanding artist in his own right and an amazing producer. When you went into the studio, did you have a concept of what you wanted to create? It sounds like maybe it was shaped slightly by songs that you wrote during that process. But did you have a general concept of what you wanted it to be?
ESMÉ: Well, there was one night that Ben and I were at a bar and forced the owner of the bar to put on Astral Weeks, the Van Morrison record, and we thought… we should make a record that sounds like this! Which is kind of impossible to do, but that was a big part of it. We just wanted it to have that spontaneity and that rawness to it. My favorite kind of music is Soul music and Gospel music and I love it when you can hear mistakes in it… when you hear somebody’s voice crack, or somebody plays a wrong note on the guitar, but then they do something really amazing. And, so, you know that it’s all happening within the room there and you feel like you’re there with it? I kind of wanted it to have that feeling. So, when we were combing through it and mixing, I had to tie my hands and try to leave a bunch of mistakes in there. Just to make it feel more human, you know?
KGNU: Was it hard to go through the material you came up with in the studio and have to whittle it down to what ended up being All Princes, I?
ESMÉ: No, it was pretty natural. I feel like all of the songs really have a quality that helps them all fit together in a way.
KGNU: I would agree with that. I think it’s an amazing album. As a first solo release, you should be very proud of it. The album is made up of incredibly well crafted songs, in my opinion… as somebody who likes music.
ESMÉ: Thank you!
KGNU: It’s hard enough to write one good song, and you seem to have an ability to make many.
KGNU: It seems like it’s an ongoing process for you, as it was for you in the studio when you were adding songs to what was already a wealth of material. How did that start for you? How did you start writing songs?
ESMÉ: That’s a good question. I don’t think anyone has asked me that. It’s kind of like a bolt of lightning. I’ll kind of get goose bumps and have to find a pen and a piece of paper. I don’t really understand how it works (laughs) I feel like I’m just kind of a lightning rod sometimes. Being in Paper Bird has been pretty amazing for seeing a collective songwriting process, which is really fun and I enjoy doing that also, but I’ve been having fun writing songs more recently. I give myself projects and assignments, and I’ve just started writing a new record that I was telling Ben about on the drive up here. I’m writing responses to songs that are just girls names. So, I wrote the Jolene song as Jolene, and Alison, the Elvis Costello song, as Alison. So, it’s just fun. I’m just having a good time.
KGNU: Do you remember the first time you wrote song and what that was like?
ESMÉ: Oooh yeah. I do actually! My Mom gave me a guitar for my fifteenth birthday? Or maybe it was Christmas the year I turned fifteen… I just started in, I didn’t have any calluses on my fingers, so I just stayed up all night with a blanket over my head on my bed, trying not to make too much noise. I played, this is kind of gross, until my fingers started bleeding, and then I duct taped all of my fingers and just kept playing because I was like, “Oh there’s a song! I’m writing a song! Yeah! I can’t stop now!”
KGNU: Well, glad you didn’t! Going back to your recording, are there any songs that have surprised you? As you’ve seen them take shape and become a part of the album, are there songs that you might not have thought you’d like the most or…
ESMÉ: Oh yeah, definitely! That’s funny, there’s one song on the record that I kept trying to take off over and over. Roger Green would say, “No, no. We’re going to leave that song on there.” And I’d say, “Nah, come on, I hate it, it’s horrible, it’s such a stupid song!” – which is the song Sun Up 2 Sun Down – and it’s so funny, people keep saying, “That’s the song! That’s my jam!” and I say, “Really?!? I tried to take that off the album like fifteen times!” So, I’m just thinking, “I don’t get it! I don’t know if this one works.” But it’s the one that’s resonated with a lot of people. It’s so funny.
KGNU: Hats off to Roger Green.
ESMÉ: Well, yeah. I just realized that I should not have the last word on anything, probably.
KGNU: That’s what good producers are there for. You’ve mentioned that you write from your personal experiences, maybe to a fault. Is it a challenge to write autobiographically and still conceal the details of your life?
ESMÉ: What a good question. It is a challenge, certainly. It is a good exercise in having patience with tempestuous emotions and giving yourself grace, especially when you go through something intense and write about it, then you have to play that song at live shows for the foreseeable future. Writing All Princes, I was a way for me to work through a really difficult personal time, and I am glad to be on the other side of all of that, moving forward.
KGNU: At this point, I think people are familiar with your work with Paper Bird, maybe less so with Harpoontang. Tell us about some of your musical projects outside of your solo effort.
ESMÉ: I love to collaborate with other artists: musicians, and artists in other mediums as well. Paper Bird has been my main project for years, and we love each other like family. That band fills up my heart. Harpoontang is the all-female supergroup that includes Denver luminaries: Maria Kohler (Kitty Crimes), Laura Goldhamer, Genevieve Patterson and Sarah Anderson (the two other ladies in Paper Bird). Our tunes are kinda raunchy but are written and performed with total joy and relish for the weirder the better. It's a cathartic experience! I also like to continue to challenge myself and evolve as a songwriter, and I have been participating in various co-operative and solitary songwriting experiments. My friend, the brilliant songwriter Nick Jaina based in Portland, Oregon, invited me to participate in something he calls the 20 song game this April, and it was a fascinating experience. There were 5 of us in different parts of the country, and we all had to try to write and record 20 songs in the same 12 hour period. It was a terrifying and transcendent experience.
KGNU: Being on the tour with Paper Bird has given you the opportunity to visit a lot of the country. What are some lessons of the road?
ESMÉ: Eat oranges. Remember the sound guy's name. Bring water-proof clothes and shoes, always. Keep a sense of wonder, we live in an inspiring, magical world.
KGNU: I assume Colorado is your favorite place to play, but is there another part of the country that you generally look forward to performing for?
ESMÉ: I love playing on the west coast, especially the northwest. New York is always pretty magical, and Texas always treats us really well, but I'd have to say that New Orleans is my favorite city.
KGNU: Thanks again for visiting with us.
ESMÉ: Yes, well, thanks so much for having us! I love KGNU and support you and think you do an amazing job. I hope everybody in the world listens and supports you. I’m a big fan. The Reggae Bloodlines show is my favorite radio show on the planet.