Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
“If you enjoy doing something you just do it”. I started singing solo in school assemblies aged 9, I was the youngest kid to sing solo. I think my parents realised I was naturally musical.
My career unfolded as if by chance, but the reason I began learning classical guitar which started it all, was because my best friend started playing and I was a little competitive! My mother started teaching me, learning herself and keeping a lesson ahead, until youth won the day and I started having formal lessons. I was lucky enough to be accepted after just a couple of years playing as a Junior at the Royal Academy of Music, then graduate, and so the path seemed laid out for a life in music. I had to give up my beloved ballet, but no regrets, and no sore toes!
Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?
I listen to lots of different musicians and styles of music, but as a composer, I have an ethereal awareness of my maternal grandfather who was a concert pianist, conductor and composer. He died before I was born, but I’d love to think I was continuing his work for him.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The challenges of self-releasing albums are many! The challenges are not so much creative ones for me but rather musical infrastructural ones such as finding a pro-active record label and a publisher. Having the support from these would make it easier for me to branch into writing music for films. Luckily, I find composing, recording and producing come quite easily to me, for which I am grateful.
Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?
I think most recording musicians are proud of the last thing they did – it’s sort of what propels you on. I have two albums ready for release and I can’t decide which I prefer at the moment. But I think ‘Under Cover’ and ‘I Might Be Dreaming’ made me grow as an arranger and producer. Producing is a continuous learning pleasure.
Tell us more about your new album ‘I Might Be Dreaming’. What was the inspiration for this album and what have been the pleasures and challenges of producing it?
When I started recording this album, it seemed that several songs were conceived within the dream-waking state. The poem/text for the song Breathe was written as I was drifting off to sleep, so I got up and wrote it down. Always nice to have something new to start the creative day with! As for recording and producing, I’m at my happiest when recording. But as a self-employed musician, there are many other things to do in between.
What do you do offstage that provides inspiration on stage?
I’m very visually orientated, love to travel (a recent trip is potentially inspiring me for the next project), and I read quite a bit. There always seem to be ideas being mulled over. I do a great deal of planning in my head before I start recording and spend those drifting off to sleep minutes working through ideas – I can visualise quite well and hear what I’m working on. Once I’ve started a lyric, my favourite way of finishing it, is when travelling, either by bus or train. When I was working on some lyrics for a recording studio, they used to get me a travel card so I could sit on the bus and write!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Of course, as for most creatives, you want what you produce to be appreciated by as many people as possible. But I find the most fulfilment is in finishing a project and being told by even just one person that they’ve enjoyed it and think it’s interesting or good. However, a greater prominence in a conventional way would enable me to produce other projects that I need support for – I have a semi-staged vocal and orchestral work I’d love to fulfil.
What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?
Gosh, this is difficult! Every musician’s path is different – as a composer, classical orchestral player, singer/songwriter, they all have such different things to consider. But for me, I was extremely lacking in confidence and always thought what I did wasn’t very good, mainly because my composing didn’t slot into an easy niche I could recognise. So if you’re doing something that fits with this, I’d say, ‘keep at it, try to gain as much control i.e. self-produce etc, and keep your eyes peeled for a way to be heard’. But also bear in mind, ‘life’s ethereal and short, so get the most fulfilment for your own achievement for yourself’.
What’s the one thing we’re not talking about in the music industry which you really feel we should be?
The obstacles to live music really irritate me. But the other recording issue is how do we reverse the expectation that music we listen to should be (virtually) free? The recording and selling system has broken down in many ways – the main outlets are not giving a just reward or enabling a trickling down to support emerging musicians. Record companies used to release much more music, being prepared to cross-collatorise their profits, and give opportunities to a wider range of artists. There’s still a lot of music available, but very few musicians earn their keep by it – I love that we have so much at our fingertips, but it’s a double-edged sword!
What next? Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Alive, healthy, and still happily creative. Writing for films has always been an aspiration.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I sort of feel happy pretty much most of the time – some extremely difficult past times have taught me to appreciate the ‘good now’.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t really have one, but I do double back-up what I’m recording!!
What is your present state of mind?
Happy, and feeling lucky to be able to do what I do.
Esbe’s new album ‘I Might Be Dreaming’ is available now
Esbe is a composer, producer, and singer from London. Her music is an eclectic blend of many influences, from her pure classical roots, but uniquely drawing on contemporary, world music and film scoring.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, where she gained an LRAM and won the prestigious Julian Bream Prize for Guitar, Esbe performed in concerts around the UK. As a composer, she has produced and recorded a great variety of music from her North London studio, each project with its own inventive mix of styles. She is also sought after as a session singer and her vocals have been compared to such diverse artists as Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) and Emma Kirkby.
Esbe’s writing has been partly inspired by her North African and Eastern European heritage, but is also informed by her love of Early Music, in particular, John Dowland, as well as British folk, jazz and Indian classical music. This eclectic blend makes for a unique and distinctive sound.