It's only when I'm 200 feet up in the air—feet dangling over the sprawl of Hyde Park in west London, eyes streaming in the cold—that I remember what I was trying to recall earlier that day. 2014. Cardiff. A ride at Winter Wonderland. One carriage lost control and crashed into another. This makes me remember 2015. Alton Towers. How some girl had to have her legs amputated following an accident. I start thinking that maybe I want to get off this clattery ride.
“This is horrific!” screams Rebecca Taylor—otherwise known as the musician Self Esteem—jolting me out of my thoughts, while sitting beside me. The rollercoaster is flinging us around like two buttons in a jar, and suddenly the image of her—blonde hair spinning, arms flailing about the place— makes me laugh so hard that tears start rolling down my face. I am still in hysterics when the ride stops, and when I look round, thankfully so is she.
Just half an hour earlier, I'd met Rebecca at the entrance of London's Winter Wonderland, a sort of visualisation of Christmas vomiting. What seemed like a really good idea a few weeks back, suddenly seems like the worst idea I’ve ever had. There are hyper, screeching kids everywhere. Garish festive lights flash around us. Straight couples take selfies with pumpkin spiced lattes at every turn. “I hate Christmas,” Rebecca whispers, and I realize I agree.
Like some sort of silent pact, though, we both decide to throw ourselves into it anyway. We get a quick dopamine fix on the rides (which cost, like, £7 each so we rinse the PR money while we can). We eat hot dogs and donuts. We try (and fail) to win giant fluffy teddy bears, then take a pic with one anyway. And by the time we're through, we are almost (almost!) in festive spirits. Or at least we're in a much better mood anyway.
If Rebecca seems familiar, that’s because she is. You might remember her from Sheffield duo Slow Club, who emerged in the mid-2000s with a bunch of indie folk songs and proceeded to release five acclaimed albums. There's a recent doc about them, Our Most Brilliant Friends, tracing their last tour and the eventual dissolution of the band—something that has been compared to a relationship break up. “Nothing terrible has happened,” Rebecca is heard saying in the film, “But for me anyway… it just doesn't feel right and happy anymore.”
But that was two years ago, and now is now, and Rebecca has a debut solo album coming out in March as Self Esteem. I've heard it and it's sick—a definitive alt-pop body of work that flirts with different genres alongside weird production that gives her big, emotional voice space to breathe. Her lyrics dive into heartbreak, love, lust, bitterness, optimism, relationships with others, relationships with ourselves. “Oh what I might have achieved, oh what I might have achieved / If I wasn't trying to please, if I wasn't trying to please,” she sings on “Roll Out,” her voice syrupy soft, crisp drum patterns holding it together.
In person, Rebecca comes across like she does on her album: open, empathetic, self-possessed, simultaneously very serious and not serious at all. Eventually we find this weird little hut with a thatched roof that looks like it belongs to elves or some shit, so we sit down to chat.
Noisey: So how come you usually hate Christmas?
Self Esteem: If you’re happy, it’s great. But if anything is going wrong, it turns the volume up on that. And it’s really geared towards “2.4ness” which increasingly doesn’t sit well with me. But I like eating and sleeping, and you get to do a lot of that.
That is exactly how I feel.
I need to just chill out… as you’ll find out.
Oh, I need to chill out as well.
I think I’m chill, right, but things don’t always go smoothly. So I’m starting to think the problem is me, but I can’t change. It’s too late.
Ha! In what way do you mean?
On the new album, I realized there’s a lot of me saying, “take it or leave it”. I sort of hadn’t listened to whole thing in one go until right at the very end, and I thought ‘my God’. My lyrics are quite… about heartache, or this mad resignation to it, and inviting people to take it or leave it. Which I think is a version of self acceptance? But it sounds quite self defensive…
I don’t think it sounds defensive! Or, at least, to me it doesn’t. I feel like you write really well about the processes we go through when it comes to relationships. And also as you get older—or certainly as I have—how those processes change.
Totally! And me going solo, too, is concurrent with me as a person realizing I don’t have to say yes to the things I always said yes to, I don’t have to please everybody. That’s why I’m not drinking at the minute, for example. Because it’s like, how many times am I just drinking to be at something, rather than having fun? I love having fun and drinking with my friends, but I’ve not been doing that. I’ve been existing and managing to exist with alcohol, which is illogical to me. But yeah, going solo is happening at the same time as all this other stuff.
Maybe you’re going through your Saturn returns or something…
Yeah, some weird shit! But I love it. I’ve finally stood on my own two feet and trusted myself. I’ve finally been able to 100 percent create what I want to create. Since I was 17, everything I’ve made was a compromise with another person. I’ve realized that the only thing that makes me happy is making art, and the fact I’ve only ever done that in a 50 percent way… is quite insane. Even if putting this out ruins my life, I had to do it.
You mentioned to me earlier that a lot has changed in the past year. What did you mean by that?
I still grew up when it was like… I “needed” to be ladylike. I was too loud. I was too big. I was constantly being told to “stop showing off." Then being in an indie band in the mid-2000s, I had to play this role of “sweet, quiet, meek folk girl.” I’m just slowly becoming aware of a few things. Even over the last year, I’ve realised that’s their problem, that’s not my problem. I really like learning to just surround myself with people who don’t make me feel like that.
There are people who I thought were friends that i spent all my time with, but now I’m like “Wow you made me feel like shit.” I don’t want to get too OK with myself, though, because I’ll probably never write a song again [laughs]. But I’m making a better day-to-day life for myself in my own way.
I think I know what you mean. Whenever I step out of the circle I’m most comfortable with— which is mainly women, often queer women—I realize I don’t fit into any of these molds that I’m supposed to. And it’s about rising above that construct.
Yeah! And it’s not like in the band I wasn’t accepted… they were my friends. But I didn’t always feel comfortable. With my team now, they understand me and don’t and see me as something that needs to be made smaller. Now and again things hit me, and I realize that’s how I used to feel all the time. The other day, we toured with a band and I felt very worried about what I looked like, and that was in relation to what men thought, and I realized that was just a status quo.
So feeling it again suddenly makes me realize how much happier I am, which is a positive thing. But I’m still dealing with those aftershocks of learning how to live without people pleasing. But then I worry like ‘God, am I just a monster now? Haha, like Cruella de Vil?’
I hope so. But also, our prime concern should be to make ourselves feel better inside because that’s where we have to stay!
Totally! I’m realizing that so much—with therapy and self-care and all that bollocks. It’s fucking true, if anyone needs shit loads of that its me, especially now I’m really fucking busy, and I don’t want to drop the ball. I want to know I did everything I could to make this as successful as it can be.
Absolutely. So… what’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
The thing is… if it was shit, I would turn it good as I could.
Haha, sometimes I’ll be out and think “I’m having the best date ever!” But then I realie I’m just having a good time with myself… I’ve given all my own energy to this.
Yeah totally that. They’re never too bad. I once went to an acoustic Moby performance. I really hope the guy who took me doesn’t read this. I remember trying to make it fun, but we never got there. And it wasn’t bad… it was just interesting.
I think if someone took me to an acoustic Moby performance I’d just find it so funny that they’d genuinely gone and done that—that alone would make it fun.
If someone wants to take me on a date I do like it to be weird. So a Moby performance would tick that box. I’m also never, like, nervous or “this is it” with people. Even when I was a little girl… like no one fancied me at school at all, but I’d be like “I fancy you.” I would think “they can say they don’t fancy you, but that’s the worst they can do.”
In the words of Rizzo. Do think you’ve sustained that attitude into adulthood?
Yes absolutely. My girlfriends are like “should I text them?” I’m like “yeah just text them!” I came out of a relationship this time last year—and I texted asking, “Do you want to go for a sit down meal, yes or no?” and they replied like “It’s not as simple as ‘yes or no’” and I was like “it literally is.” I just think that’s how everyone should be.
It definitely is.
My feelings do get hurt though; I might not be as bolshy as I sound. I don’t think I ask people out if it’s not likely—really, you can tell.
Yeah, you can. Or at least if you have those skills, or you’re an empath and have that intuition.
I’m chronically that, to the detriment of my life. But also, I don’t want to waste any more time. I’ve spent so much time being heartbroken, for so many years – and I’ve obviously made my career out of that—but if it’s not likely, I’m like 'fuck it.' I’ll move on.
At least you’ve got an album full of those thoughts…
Yeah, and I was always going to have to do it. It had to come out, even if it was shit. Whatever happens, I always had to make a solo record. And the fact it makes sense to people is a wonderful feeling. Especially as it’s not indie, not full Charli XCX pop. But I’m finding like-minded people responding to it.
How different does it feel musically to you, compared to Slow Club?
It’s much more what I like, what I listen to. Slow Club was more of a role I could play. I can be a bit changeable sometimes. I loved Bright Eyes and Tilly and the Wall, but I also wasn’t really interested in what was cool anymore. Honestly, I just listen to Destiny’s Child, Kanye, Rihanna. I couldn’t deny that anymore. But I couldn’t put that in Slow Club. I always found a way to believe in it, and love it, but Self Esteem sounds more like what I love, which in turn makes it really fun to play live. I love every bit of it.
Touring can be a bit shit, there’s no routine, it’s not great if you have mental health problems, but all of that I can take now, because the common goal of it is standing on stage performing something I love.
Self Esteem’s debut album 'Compliments Please' is out 1 March via Fiction and you can pre-order it now; she tours the UK in March.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.