Esther Rose: “I’m just trying not to do anything that I’ve ever done before.” (Tonight at MilkBoy)

This April Americana singer/songwriter Esther Rose dropped her fourth studio LP, Safe to Run, courtesy of New West Records, home to PHILTHY phriends Aaron Lee Tasjan, Caroline Rose, and...

This April Americana singer/songwriter Esther Rose dropped her fourth studio LP, Safe to Run, courtesy of New West Records, home to PHILTHY phriends Aaron Lee Tasjan, Caroline Rose, and Emily Nenni, among others.  The album – whose title track features Hurray For The Riff Raff – was written over the course of two years, after Rose relocated from New Orleans to New Mexico.  And tonight, Esther Rose will be bringing her full band, headlining tour to MilkBoy.  This past weekend, I got a chance to chat with Rose, via Zoom, about her new album, new label, and why tonight’s show in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection is an especially big deal!

Izzy Cihak: You released Safe to Run earlier this year.  How do you feel like the album compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it?

Esther Rose: I think that, album by album, they keep getting a little stronger.  I push myself to find new chord progressions, and I’m just trying not to do anything that I’ve ever done before.  Every time I write a song, I try to take it a little bit farther.  So, this album feels like it’s in line with the natural evolution of my songwriting, but maybe it’s a little bit weirder, because when I thought about making the fourth album, I’m like, “The fourth album kind of feels like it can be a departure in a lot of ways.”  I have three albums to lean on that kind of provide a bedrock of what my musicality is like, so with the fourth album, I felt like, “Let’s kind of run wild a little bit.”

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the new music, whether things you’ve read, things fans have told you, or just reactions you’ve gotten from live audiences?

Esther: That’s a cool question!  I’ve definitely felt — at the merch table, after the shows — the fervor of my fans’ excitement to be really tangible.  People have been kind of confessing to me that they’ve listened to it 100 times, and it’s like really helping them.  So that, to me, has been the best feedback, more than any review could have possibly provided.

Izzy: Your most recent single is “Spider,” so I have to ask how that particular track came about?

Esther: “Spider” was one of those songs that I wrote all at once, the whole entire thing.  I probably only edited like one or two words.  So, when I wrote it, it was kind of intense, because here I was, sitting on this song that I was really excited about, but it was peak pandemic.  So, when I wrote it, I was like, “Can I release this tomorrow?  This feels so good.”  So, now, just finally being able to have the song out there is incredible.

Izzy: You also have a really cool music video for the song.  How did the concept for the music video come about?

Esther: For the music video, my friend Anthony Simpkins, who also runs GemsOnVHS, and I went to an MMA fight in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  My idea for the song was that I was envisioning some kind of boxing match, because it’s such a fight-to-the-death kind of heartbreak song, where it’s like, “Are you getting back together?  Are you breaking up?”  And then, at the end of the song, there’s that line, “I’m not helpless and I’m not scared, Flex my wings and I’m back in the air,” and I just always saw that “leaving-the-ring” kind of situation.  But the reason we were able to go to an MMA fight is because Anthony is involved with that sport and that team, and got permission and access to go film an actual fight, which turned out to be way better than me doing some kickboxing, ‘cause I’m not really schooled in that [laughs].

Izzy: Yeah, I definitely got the vibe that it was a real thing, like an actual thing, and that it wasn’t like constructed for a music video.

Esther: No!  We spent eight hours watching an MMA competition, from the first fight to the last.  And Anthony gave me a camera to help get footage because he was actually on an assignment to make a video for the fighters.  So, he was doing two jobs at once!  And, I’d say only for a total of like three minutes did I do the vocal performance.  Most of it was just hanging out and watching the sport, which was awesome.

Izzy: You recently signed to New West Records, which is such a cool label and home to a lot of our favorite artists.  How is it working with them and being a part of that family?

Esther: I guess it’s just so wonderful to finally be labelmates with my brothers, The Deslondes!  From the start, they’ve been so influential to me as a songwriter, and have really helped me figure my thing out, from members of them playing bass and drums in my band through the years, and other members have actually produced my past albums, like Sam Doores did This Time Last Night and You Made It This Far.  So, I have a deep relationship with that band, musically, and they just feel like family.  So, I’d say that’s probably one of the coolest things about signing with New West.

Izzy: That sort of segues into my next question.  I was going to ask, do you have any particular favorite labelmates, other than The Deslondes?  I know you’re going to hit the road with Susto in the near future, who I’m a big fan of, as well.

Esther: Yeah, there are so many incredible bands, and I think signing with New West has helped to introduce new music into my sphere, Susto being one of those artists.  And we’re gonna hit the entire West Coast in August.

Izzy: You’re currently a few weeks into a summer tour.  How have the dates been going?  Have there been any particular highlights?

Esther: Nashville was incredible, Chicago was incredible, but I’m really excited for this East Coast segment, because, in all of my years of touring, I’ve never brought a band out.  As you can imagine, touring with a full band, especially on the East Coast, can be so expensive and challenging, just with logistics.  So, if anybody has ever thought about coming to a show in New York or Philly or DC, this is the moment!  Who knows when we’ll be back [laughs].

Izzy: What can be expected of the live show when you’re at MilkBoy this coming Tuesday?

Esther: Honestly, I try to leave expectations at the door, and let’s just spend 45 minutes or an hour together.  It’s pretty miraculous when the band is at the show that they booked and the audience is at the show; it takes so much for that to happen, so I just want to show up for that moment and experience it with everyone.

Izzy: Most of your shows seem to take place in either listening rooms or barrooms, which provide quite different atmospheres.  Do you tailor your shows to fit each setting?  And, do you maybe prefer a particular setting?

Esther: No!  I just do what I do, and I think that that’s important to me.  I think that, in my set, you could listen really closely and have an emotional reaction, or you could have a two-step with your buddy, or rock out.  Anything goes!

Izzy: You spend a lot of time on the road, so I’m curious if you’ve developed any particularly significant touring rituals, whether certain kinds of places you always make a point to stop, or just things you do to kind of keep yourself centered while constantly being on the go?

Esther: I’ve gotten really good at making coffee in the hotel rooms.  I think just having certain things be the same is important.  Like, my bass player, Meredith, has her maté, I’ve got my pour out, over-fancy coffee situation, stuff like that.  And making sure I’m drinking a lot of water and eating vegetables.  But, I kind of like how minimal touring can be, and how every day has such a purpose, even though it might be like a 12-hour working day.  I like just kinda having a few outfits that I know I’m gonna wear, kinda keeping things really minimal.  It’s refreshing to do that in life, and I think it kinda keeps us pretty close to the edge.

Izzy: And finally, actually, in reference to that, and not to detract from your music, but you have a really great sense of fashion.

Esther: Thank you!

Izzy: You’re welcome!  So, I have to ask what that draws inspiration from?  Do you have any particularly significant “style icons?”

Esther: I think my fashion inspiration developed at a young age because we always did back-to-school shopping secondhand, at thrift stores, ever since I was a kid.  So, I learned how to put together a look that expressed something in me, and I just do it now.  Fashion for me is definitely a way that I express myself, and I really like getting something that I wouldn’t normally wear.  Like, often times I’ll buy something, like maybe it’s a leather jacket or kind of like a bold vintage piece that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to, but I like what happens when I challenge my style and try new things.  So, it’s sort of based on that principle.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.