Esme Patterson‘s voice floats through verses in an effortless, endlessly expandable drawl. Up, down, left, right. It’s a surprising and pleasing quality that’s served the Colorado native well in a career that’s skirted on the fringes of Americana and folk music. And at first listen, it’d be easy to typecast her as just another country-influenced singer/songwriter with a steel guitar in the band. But her sonic range defies that simple classification, and the quality of her songwriting makes her more than just a curiosity in a Portland music scene that’s seen its fair share of talented songwriters.
Patterson’s newest album, We Were Wild, continues to keep listeners guessing. Recorded in Portland, OR at Type Foundry in the fall of 2015, the record jumps all over the musical spectrum, from the punk rock of “Feel Right” to the simple folk of “Guadalupe.” And just when you’re lulled into a sense of comfort and complacency, Patterson pulls a song like “Wantin Ain’t Gettin” out of her pocket. It’s a gorgeous track dripping with heartache (and the aforementioned steel guitar) that she performed for us live during a recent session recorded at Mississippi Studios in North Portland. You can watch it above, via VuHaus.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who’s followed her career. From the Denver folk group Paper Bird to her previous two solo albums, Patterson’s work has been consistently well-received, particularly her 2014 release Woman to Woman, a sort of feminist reinterpretation of classic songs that originally were mostly written from a male perspective (think if Townes Van Zandt’s weak and loyal Loretta was re-imagined as empowered and more than a little ticked off). But there’s a level of maturity to this recording that represents an undeniable leap forward and a touch of angst that’s propelling her in to yet another new and interesting direction.
Check out our short interview with Patterson below. Also, watch and listen to the Portland-based songwriter perform songs from her new album We Were Wild live at Mississippi Studios.
Jerad Walker: This is your first record recorded since you moved to Portland from Colorado. What brought you to Oregon?
Esme Patterson: I moved to Portland for a guy. The relationship went down in flames but I decided to stay here. I love it.
JW: How have your new surroundings changed things?
EP: Living in Oregon has had a huge effect on my songwriting and performing. The musical community here is so inspiring and empowering to me. I love to get out into the woods and the seaside, the landscape opens doors and windows in my spirit that let inspiration in.
JW: Much has been made about the lyrical departure from Woman to Woman. But that’s not necessarily surprising to me. That album, after all, was essentially a concept album. But what’s striking to me is the sonic difference between that record and We Were Wild. What brought about this shift?
EP: The shift I made toward louder, more rock and roll-sounding music was a natural evolution for me after leaving my old band Paper Bird, in which I felt musically held-back and unsatisfied and felt the need to ‘fit in’ and ‘be nice’ and make pretty music. The music in my head and in my heart was much more dissonant and chaotic, and in stepping out fully on my own, the loud, chaotic sound just began spilling out of me.
JW: I alluded it to earlier but, lyrically there was also a lyrical shift on this record. On Woman to Woman you were reinterpreting classic songs and using their stories as rough source material. Was it hard to get back to writing ‘selfish’ songs about yourself and your own characters again with We Were Wild?
EM: It was hard. It’s very hard to look deeply at the self, especially in a moment in life when you’re processing events you feel are mistakes that you made or very difficult and complex emotions like guilt and shame and raw anger and deep sadness and grief. It’s incredibly hard to look at all of that in oneself and write through it, process it, try to understand one’s own heart and transform pain into a tool for forward motion.
Audio recording and mixes: Steven Kray, with technical assistance from Hakeem Hasworth
Videographers: Sam Smith, Jarratt Taylor, Andrew Barrick, Chase Amen
Editor: Jarratt Taylor, with additional production by Nick Hennessy
Executive Producer: David Christensen