On her 2014 album Woman to Woman, singer-songwriter Esme Patterson – formerly a member of acclaimed indie-folk band Paper Bird – gave a voice to the women of famous songs, liken Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” but her latest album We Were Wild finds the Portland-based artist returning to an introspective point of view. We chat with the guitarist about trusting herself, being one of Prince’s proteges and her track “Guadalupe”.
What’s your typical songwriting process?
I am constantly writing songs in my head, while driving or waiting in line for something, the moments when you have space for reflection, I see songs everywhere. The amount of time I spend sitting down to write down lyrics and chords and piece them together feels to me like just one small part of the process. My songs come from my life and my experience, so I feel like my songwriting process is living and the pursuit of being fully alive.
How does your writing process for your solo project differ from the writing process for other projects?
I am fully focused on writing for my own project and have been for a few years now. It is a refreshing change from writing for projects with lots of creative directors, or just one collaborator with a big ego is enough of a handful. It feels so good to write what I want to write, it took me years to have the confidence to believe in and trust my ability as a songwriter. As women, we are often encouraged if not mandated to work well with others and give freely of ourselves, it feels really healing and exciting to me to refuse that stereotype for now and trust my own skills and heart.
How long have you been writing songs? Do you think it gets easier or harder as you go along?
I’ve always had this (perhaps annoying) habit of singing to myself, making up little songs about whatever I’m doing, so if you count that, I’ve been writing songs since I was very little, hahah. I wrote my first whole songs when I got a guitar for Christmas at 16. I fell in love with that instrument, poured myself right into it. I feel like writing songs doesn’t get easier or harder as time moves forward. It’s a practice, and like any practice, you continue to work at it and be challenged and grow and fail and succeed and the wheel just keeps turning.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Oh yes. I sure hope there isn’t a recording of it out there…
Who are your favorite songwriters?
Lou Reed, Prince, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Elliot Smith, Bill Withers, Townes Van Zandt, Randy Newman. There are too many.
Which song on this album are you the most proud of and why?
I’m really proud of the lyrics for the song “Guadalupe”. I don’t really feel like I can take credit, fully, for the music that I make because it feels like something moves through me and out into the world. When I feel proud of my work I feel like I did the emotional work to tune my heart and spirit and have put in the work training my ears and my hands and my voice to receive a beautiful idea and execute it well. The meaning in the lyrics of the song “Guadalupe” was a message that my heart needed very much in the moment that I wrote it, and I am proud of the way that message came through.
If you could co-write or collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
I always dreamed about being one of Prince’s proteges. He could dress me up in some wild purple outfits and give me a new name and write me songs to sing. If there’s a heaven, that’s where I’ll be.
What’s been your proudest moment as a songwriter so far?
One of the greatest compliments one can receive as a songwriter is when someone covers a tune you’ve written. Of all the songs in the world, the millions, someone took the time to learn the chords and words you wrote and sang it in their own voice. Those are the moments that I feel especially grateful for and in love with my job.
What’s the best song ever written and why?
Impossible to say. There is no “best song ever”. All songs are part of each other, are connected, like the creatures that create them.