by Ziggy Merritt
Trying to find a place in the world is a difficult task for anyone. While luck has its part in deciding where we’ll end up, finding that place springs from the will of the person trying to discover it. For Portland-based musician Esmé Patterson, that journey of self-discovery and renewal has taken her from zones of comfort to more uncharted territory, something reflective of her latest album We Were Wild. In previewing some of the artists performing at the upcoming XPoNential Music Festival, I had the opportunity to speak to Patterson on her latest and greatest as well as the ongoing tour that will make its way to the festival in late July.
We Were Wild makes its mark as the third album in her burgeoning solo career since parting ways with folk outfit, Paper Bird. “It’s about the fact that we’re all born free and wild and we all sort of domesticate ourselves as we domesticate our world,” she begins, referencing the album’s title against the track of the same name. “Love can help us break free from that,” she continues. “That’s the message of the record as well; we’re all born free and throughout our lives we encounter snags and boundaries and we often tie ourselves up into a knot. Love can help us free ourselves.”
It’s no great surprise then that the album ties in the intricacies of love, whether it be bliss or heartbreak, into songs simple in meaning but complex in structure. “It was a product of the Americana-tinged music that I have my first roots in as a professional musician,” Patterson says, recalling her time in Paper Bird. “Then there’s definitely some branches on that tree which are the rock and roll and more psychedelic, high-energy, and chaotic music that I’ve been making more recently.”
True to her words, We Were Wild is distinctive as a record that reinvents itself from one track to the next. Those Americana-tinged tracks present themselves fully in “Wantin Ain’t Gettin” and “Yours and Mine” which both tie together common threads throughout her earlier work. But few tracks from the album are as outwardly upbeat and motivational as the anthemic “Find It”, which itself has an inspiring origin story to match its sunny disposition. “I did a project where me and three friends, all in different parts of the country, decided to try and write twenty songs in a day,” she says. “I wrote eighteen songs in twelve hours and that was one of them.”
The track itself breaks from her usual fare, incorporating lively electric guitar and percussion with Patterson’s own high-spirited and nuanced vocals. The lyrics themselves are simple, asking the listener, and tellingly herself, to go out and find the things you need to make yourself happy or better yet, content. “When I was writing that I was thinking about a friend of mine that was starting to make a big change in his life” she says, directly echoing the sentiments expressed in the track. “I was trying to egg him and and be like ‘yeah, you’re clearly unhappy, go and do what you want to do.’ As is often the case it’s so much easier to feel like you know what other people should do rather than do what you should do yourself. After writing the song I realized that it was a song for me too. I was subconsciously trying to urge myself to go and follow my own path and to trust my heart.”
Given that urge, it’s hard not to get caught up in the addictive optimism that makes part of the brew We Were Wild was steeped in during its creation. “I am an optimist in general, I’m obnoxiously optimistic for the most part,” Patterson admits with a laugh while discussing some of the inspiration layered into the album’s production. “When I encounter pain or conflict or struggle I try to find a way to learn from it and a way to grow and find a way to transform that pain into something I can use. A lot of the record came out from trying to process some sort of pain and transform it into love, transform it into hope, transform it into something that I could use to help move forward.”
Her ongoing tour, which began last Saturday in Denver, Colorado, can almost be seen as another aspect of that transformation. “It’s a different element unlike before in Paper Birds when I could just walk on the stage,” she says before once again rekindling that optimism. “It’s my name, it’s all my songs, my band, I’m the point guard. It’s a tremendous amount of work but it’s all rewarding and nurturing and I feel like I can finally be completely proud of it because it is completely mine. That’s a really good feeling.”
On We Were Wild the work has more than paid off, giving Patterson the agency to write, record, and perform on her own terms as well as giving form to her ongoing transformation through the cathartic process of songwriting. “It’s a difficult process to be brutally honest with yourself,” she admits. “It’s definitely not a cakewalk but the work is worthwhile and that’s a huge part of being an artist I believe. Self reflection and placing yourself within the world and trying to build some meaning somehow.”
Patterson will make her way to XPoNential Music Festival in Camden on Saturday, July 23rd. Meanwhile check out her recently released video for her single “No River” below.