Complimentary Passions: Self Esteem's Bold Pop Vision
It’s always good to start with some honesty, so let’s start there: every time Clash speaks to Rebecca Lucy Taylor (to use her Sunday name) is a joy. As co-conspirator in Slow Club she helped steer them from rickity indie pop to more ambitious climes, forever warm, self-effacing, and downright hilarious as album passed into album.
But now she’s alone. Seated in the Clash studio she’s weeks away from releasing her debut album as Self Esteem, a project she’s billed as the purest, most undiluted form her imagination can take.
‘Compliments Please’ is a wonderfully ambitious pop record, both in its lyrical content and its musical output, a deliriously melodic meditation on joy and heartbreak, identity and sexuality, instantly infectious and hopelessly endearing.
“It wasn’t a conscious thing of thinking: I need to get as far away from what I’ve done,” she insists. “It was more like, this is all I listen to, it’s what I like. And it actually creates a feeling in me that really gets me going. So it’s more like selfishly wanting to make something that I like. I feel way more comfortable with where Self Esteem is than the way I felt with Slow Club.”
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Which isn’t to dismiss her previous work – Rebecca is justifiably proud of those achievements, it’s just that the time is right in her life to be (as she puts it) a little more selfish with her passions and desires.
“I’m so lucky that if I write a song there’s a handful of people at least who will listen to it,” she says, with typically self-deprecating honesty. “Same with the gigs. If I’m going to play a gig and stand up onstage then there’s going to be a few people there who will watch it.”
“I did just start to get tired of not taking that as far as I’d like to because it’s an opportunity. Every time you get to do anything if an opportunity to make any kind of art. Fitting in those parameters… the ones I put on myself, like: don’t talk to much, or don’t be too crazy, or don’t share too much. I think I’m just bored and getting older, so I want to make things as big, bold, and beautiful and dramatic as possible.”
‘Compliments Please’ is certainly bold. From the nudity of its cover art through to the expressive lyricism its the sound of a potent pop voice pushing herself as far as she can go. That’s the thing with Rebecca Lucy Taylor: she’s funny and engaging, but beneath those jokes (so often at her own expense) lies a ruthlessly intelligent musical mindset, something capable of shifting and adapting to virtually any condition.
“It got to a point early last year where I was like, well, focus on what you’re good at,” she recalls. “And the tangible opportunity was that I had signed to a label and there was budget to make an album. I thought it would be nice to find focus.”
“I was living in Margate and the studio was a walk away from my flat. Summer was really beautiful, and it was a nice process to get into – studio by 10am, kicking out by 6pm, going to the beach and doing it all again the next day. The only thing I’ve done a lot of, and have some amount of confidence in, is writing songs and recording. It was good to do something that isn’t out of my comfort zone. Even on my own in a totally new genre of music I’m very in my element.”
“It all presents its own challenges,” she continues. “That fight that I used to have to be heard in a band situation, that being gone, then I’m second guessing myself a lot more. I managed to drive myself crazy with that dynamic. I’m really proud of it. I wake up now and think, well, it doesn’t matter what happens because I’m really happy with what the album is.”
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‘Compliments Please’ was an enriching process for the songwriter to go through, a means of stripping away insecurities, and bringing her abilities into focus. “I need to look into more in my head,” she says at one point in our conversation. “No one was making me do anything, but it was what I created for myself.”
Does that still influence her decisions, Clash wonders.
“Yeah. But less so now. Now it’s going. I just do think I’m trusting my gut on all of it, really. When I haven’t done it’s not been the right thing to do. There was a time starting this when I thought: God, these floodgates have been shut for so long… if we’re opening them is this going to be just the biggest mistake ever?”
She erupts into gales of laughter, hands pushed to her face. “Everything sounds like a constipation metaphor!” Rebecca screams. “I’m just too backed up with all of this frustration and ideas and self-expression. But I don’t think it has been, it’s been alright. Just about. But we’ll see.”
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Out now, ‘Compliments Please’ is already defying expectations. It’s a rich, textual pop experience, influenced by Lady Gaga’s sheen and Kanye’s embrace-everything approach on ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’.
Take recent single ‘The Best’: “I really love that one, it feels really weightless. It’s a bit of a contrast to the other stuff, I always want music to be heavy and dark, but we made this song out of nowhere and I like how breezy it is.”
Album closer ‘On The Edge’ is a touching and direct finale, a point where Rebecca’s ever-present humour begins to falter. However even here there’s a playful touch: the distorted effects on such a simple song derived from Andy Kaufmann’s trick of making the TV broadcast of his comedy special come in and out of focus.
Looking back on that song, she comments: “Basically I was in a relationship when I wrote most of the album, and it was great – I finally managed to disprove the theory that I have to be in turmoil to write music. But then we did break up, and then I wrote tonnes of the rest of the record. I was like: shit!”
“I’ve re-purposed feelings in new ways on this album,” Rebecca continues. “I’m still getting them out. Songs that aren’t particularly about romantic relationships but feelings I’m having that I’ve given this vaguely fictitious feeling. It’s quite a collage of all the things I’m fucked off about. I try to not say too much but I can’t not… and also, I’m very lazy and the music I like isn’t metaphor driven and it’s not for me to decide. I like to be told what someone is feeling. It’s just selfish again.”
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But then, Rebecca Lucy Taylor has every right to be selfish – after all, she’s in demand, with a host of projects set to dominate her time over the coming months. “I’m doing a musical,” she says. “I’m developing a musical at one theatre, and then I’m writing my own one, and then I’ve got another meeting about another one. I’m just basically trying to hustle so I can retire! And I love theatre, so I’m trying to combine the two.”
“I’m realising now how much I can write on spec. That’s why I like writing for theatre, because I love being given an emotion or a story that you need a song written about then I can actually do that.”
That’s quite a lot to take on, Clash states.
“Well, I always say if you throw as much shit at a wall…!” she laughs. “It feels a bit like that. But genuinely, that’s how I work. It’s constant and quick and doesn’t stop. So having quite a few things on is when I’m happiest. If I’m stuck on one thing and then waiting for another then I go a bit crazy. So I’m throwing it all up. We’ll see what happens. I hope I’ll get one legitimate job.”
What will you do until that job lands in your lap?
“Stress about!” she says, before collapsing into endless chuckles. “I want to get on with it, really. I want to do a good few Self Esteem albums and expand on this sound, and I think when I’m in my 40s I’m going to put a gown on, learn piano, and do the Rebecca Lucy Taylor era. My ‘Joanne’, y’know?”
“I’ve got loads to do. I haven’t do anything else on so I’ve got to do summat. People have babies, should I have a baby now? Probably not. My baby would be pissed off. It’d be like: why did she do this?!”
And there’s that laugh again.
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'Compliments Please' is out now.
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz
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