Rebecca Lucy Taylor on new Self Esteem EP: “I’m just trying to trade on goosebumps here”
Words: Eloise Feilden
Speaking with Rebecca Lucy Taylor (Self Esteem) on the phone, we followed up the mandatory few minutes of coronavirus convo by moving onto an altogether more uplifting topic – her upcoming EP Cuddles Please, due to be released on 1st May. Consisting of three reworked versions of songs from her 2019 bombastic pop banger Compliments Please, plus a cover of Alex Cameron’s ‘Miami Memory’, she starts off by telling me how the idea came about.
“We did some shows over Christmas where I just got it in my head that I wanted to play the songs stripped down, wearing a tuxedo. That sort of got out of hand and we did a whole tour simplifying the songs and making them into their bare bones. It was nice just trying hard to sing the songs really well rather than doing my full gig where there’s a lot going on with dance routines. I was just interested to see if the songs worked on their own without any frills. Neighbourhood Voices did a couple of shows with me and it sounded really awesome, so we thought we should get it recorded.”
If you aren’t aware of them already, Neighbourhood Voices are a Sheffield-based female choir who sing modern pop and indie tunes, led by founder Gina Walters, who also provides vocals for local band Before Breakfast. After performing live with Self Esteem at The Leadmill, Neighbourhood Voices have continued the collaboration by singing the backing vocals for the EP. “30 women singing my lyrics is very much what I’m into, and they sound so good. There’s something massively empowering about having a load of women singing live with me, and I like having really personal lyrics but with a choir on the records to sing them, so being able to recreate that live was just ace.”
The three songs from Compliments Please that will feature on the EP in their reworked forms are ‘The Best’, ‘Favourite Problem’ and ‘In Time’. “They just felt quite special,” Rebecca tells me, adding that while performing the album live on a previous tour she found that these three songs worked best with the live choir. “The original of ‘The Best’ is really dancey but the lyrics are important to me. Sometimes because it’s such a fun song I don’t think it connects for people what it’s actually about, so I thought we’d do the emotional piano version of it and really ram it down people’s throats. I’m just trying to trade on goosebumps here.”
Sticking to the track listing, and if you’re wondering, as I was, about the choice to include a cover of Alex Cameron’s ‘Miami Memory’ track, there’s some fairly straightforward reasoning to go with it. “I just think it’s one of the most beautiful love songs ever. The song overall is just the smartest, most truly intimate love song about just being so in love. He’s describing simple beautiful moments with somebody he can’t get enough of and it’s really sexy but also miserably hopeful, which is my cup of tea.”
We discuss the name of the EP, and I suggest that maybe in moving from ‘Compliments’ to ‘Cuddles’ the title reflects the more intimate and stripped-down nature of compared with the album. As it turns out, I’m completely wrong, but at Rebecca at least finds the interpretation amusing. “I love that, but no,” she replies, chuckling. “It’s just about amusing myself really. I just kept thinking it would be funny if all of my albums were called something followed with a please. With Compliments Please I kept thinking it was a funny idea because I demand what I want from people, and ultimately, so often, that’s all I want. But anyway, it’s too late now.”
it’s really sexy but also miserably hopeful, which is my cup of tea.
“I think it’s also because I’ve lived so many years saying ‘Sorry’, ‘No worries if not’, ‘Could I?’, ‘May I?’ and feeling like a really big problem all the time. And actually being a solo artist and finally fully realising myself, I’ve decided I’ll just say what I want and if I don’t get it then what’s the worst that can happen? People say no. It’s just a funny statement but also about being direct and asking for what you want.”
We start discussing the lockdown, and talk about what Rebecca is trying to do to keep interacting with people online. She mentions her daily workouts, which have streamed on Instagram for followers to join in with everyday, and I ask whether that’s a global pandemic tactic for staying connected with fans. “No!” is the very speedy response. “I need to make sure I do that workout everyday, and I knew if I streamed it that would be the only thing powerful enough to make me stick to it. I think people think I’m being really inventive with how to engage with fans, but nah, it’s all just for myself to make me not go crazy.”
She is doing some gigs from home during lockdown, though, and when I spoke to her she was just preparing for an online festival organised by DIY Magazine that Self Esteem would be performing in later that night. Rebecca seems in high spirits despite everything, and counts herself lucky for the situation she’s in at the moment. “I was in a writing phase of my next album campaign so would’ve been staying in a lot just working anyway. I’m just trying to count my blessings and keep working. I think the longer this lasts the more it’ll become easier – humans are adaptable and you’ve just gotta surrender to whatever the hell it’s gonna be, which is hard but necessary. The fact that no one can do anything and no one is going out and you don’t have to worry that you weren’t at something, it’s like wow, we’re all so fucked up that it takes a global pandemic for us to say maybe I’ll say no to that party I don’t wanna go to. It’s crazy. I am the world’s most impatient person, but bizarrely the fact that there’s nothing I can do to hurry this up, I feel quite zen about it.”
Although she lives in London nowadays, as soon as she heard rumours about the lockdown she hopped on a train back to Sheffield to stay here with her family. Being from the Steel City, and working with artists and groups like Neighbourhood Voices who are based here, I ask her if she feels passionate about this place remaining part of her identity as an artist despite the fact she’s moved away. “Yeah, massively,” she says. “It always has done. Every time that Slow Club could record anything up north I would really be an advocate for it. I feel very comfortable here, which helps me make my best work, I think.” After mentioning Slow Club – the indie duo she was part of for over ten years before going solo – I ask Rebecca about what it’s been like since she left. Unsurprisingly, having released her first solo record, there’s been a chance to really enjoy having control over her own artistic choices and take the music to new and exciting places that she’s always wanted to explore.
“It’s been pretty life-changing to be honest. I haven’t made loads of money or anything like that but inside, just knowing that even a handful of people like it, let alone playing Brixton to over 1,000 people at the end of my tour. Selfishly I just needed to do this for me, and the fact that anyone likes it is just brilliant. It feels very much like the start in my plan for it all. I know I can build from here, and that the possibilities for the art I wanna make are open to me finally. Just being true to who you are and not saying sorry for it – I recommend it. It’s funny, but that’s all I had to do.”
Cuddles Please is out now