The last time Dork spoke with Rebecca Lucy Taylor she had just released her first single as Self Esteem and was making her first musical steps out from her former band, Slow Club.
Now, 18 months later, her multimedia project Self Esteem has taken on a life of its own, and her debut album ‘Compliments Please’ is the culmination of everything she’s always wanted to do.
Rebecca had been making music for over ten years with Slow Club, but with Self Esteem everything is a little bit different; the ambition is ramped up like never before.
“The difference compared to everything else I’ve made in my career is that I feel so 100% about it,” explains Rebecca. “You can’t fuck with it, in my opinion. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but I made what I wanted to make.
"There’s not the insecurity that I usually have; all the other albums I’ve made have been with other people, so you’ve compromised. This time it feels really solid. It’s an unusual feeling of strength that I’ve never had before.”
Self Esteem is a project that amplifies all the endearing and idiosyncratic sides to Rebecca’s personality that make her such a wonderfully daring and outspoken artist. Finally given free rein to pursue her own vision, she has taken the ball and firmly run with it on the 16 track pop tour de force of ‘Compliments Please’.
“This is way more in my comfort zone,” she says. “I’m not like an actress any more. I’m myself. I definitely want people to like it. I naturally think quite businessy, and that music needs to make sense. People need to understand the aesthetic and what you’re saying and recognise you. So I’ve done all those things that naturally come to me, but just for my piece of mind and my mental health, I had to do it. I had to do this for me.”
The process of making the album was one of the most joyous periods on her career as she set out bringing Self Esteem to life in the balmy coastal paradise of southern England.
“I made it in Margate which is where I’m living,” she says. “There was quite a bit of beer. The summer was so hot, and the studio was by the beach, so it was quite an idyllic lifestyle. I was waking up, sauntering to the studio in the bright sunlight, making my album the way I wanted to make it, then clocking off and having cold Fosters on the beach watching the sunset. Then, waking up and doing it all over again. It was wonderful.”
“It was a shame it was finishing,” she laughs. “I should have just made another one back to back. I had a beer belly by the end of summer and didn’t have any motivation anymore so thought it was time to move on.”
Awakening from her hazy summer slumber, Rebecca was again inspired by her lifelong obsession with Drag Queens.
"The advice that Joan Rivers gave a drag queen called Bianca Del Rio echoes around my head: 'If you can lay down at the end of the day and feel absolutely exhausted, then you’ve worked'. So I’d be sunbathing on the beach drinking a beer thinking, oh you’ve not worked.
"I suddenly had an epiphany around September where I thought, right let’s go. That went hand in hand with touring and making the artwork. It’s all been quite intense since we wrapped it. It was all quite lovely. Lovely in a way I can’t sustain though, or I’d just become a total wasteman.”
The album that she created during that long hot summer is an amalgamation of all her tastes filtered through a pure pop prism. It might’ve been easy to just stick a trap house beat under the tracks and follow a contemporary pop formula, but Self Esteem is far too subversive for that.
“I came at it with my taste. I know the kind of sounds and sonics that get me off, and it was about finding those,” says Rebecca. “I naturally write pop songs. I like a verse going into a middle eight into a chorus. I did that in Slow Club; I was like the chief editor. That didn’t change too much. I haven’t made a conscious decision to make it wonky on purpose. If something sounds beautiful and catchy, you should leave it. With my gut reaction and taste as an amalgamation of things I’ve loved over the years it turned out alright.”
With Self Esteem, Rebecca is making music for people who share the same love, desires and sounds like her.
“I have this joke where I’m the people’s pop star because I’m not really young and skinny, posh or American,” she laughs with typical self-deprecating charm. “I’m a disgusting and gross person that happens to make this music. I’ve always thought there’s room for that.
"As a pop fan, you’re used to big American stars or polished UK X Factor stuff. There’s not really anything else. I’d look around at crowds in indie gigs I was playing thinking, I bet these people here put Little Mix on when they go home on the bus, I know I do. That was the idea, and that was what I set out to do. I feel I’ve made a good start to it.”
Her work as Self Esteem is characterised by ultra-strong confidence in herself as an artist and a desire to never take a backward step.
“That’s something I’ve learned,” she explains. “At the beginning of making this album, I was a bit like, 'Yeah, what do you think?' with producers, but I’ve learned not to hedge my bets and be more concise with what I want and how I communicated it. If I hadn’t done that I doubt I’d be so confident about everything.”
The songs themselves are a perfect balance between celebratory pop bangers like the playful ‘Girl Crush’ and the lead single calling card ‘The Best’ and the kind of slow jam heart stoppers that Rebecca has always loved. On the great bangers vs slow jams debate Rebecca can see both sides.
“I need to write bangers because I need the gigs to be high octane and pull people in with them, but nothing is more fun for me than writing an emotional slowie,” she confesses. “I’ve got over ten years of making songs like that. I’ve always felt more comfortable in that part of the tempo world. They are the songs that mean more to people and are the songs that you listen to when you’re alone on the bus looking out of the window, but, I’m a real banger convert since I’ve been allowed to make them the way I wanted.”
Perhaps the strongest impulse behind Self Esteem is the liberating freedom of exploring your own vision and not worrying what anyone else is thinking.
“I want to renounce the worry of being called a bitch or a diva or all that shite,” exclaims Rebecca. “I’ve never been called that, but I’ve certainly felt like that’s what’s going to be said about me behind my back. That not being there anymore has been a nice change for me in my life.”
Once the album is out in the world, Rebecca has big plans for her videos and aesthetic.
“I plan to do this for a bit, then do a Rebecca Lucy Taylor record, then you can just lay me on a piano and wheel me around,” she laughs. “It’s like Jane McDonald cabaret style, and I’ll be a national treasure by then, so it totally works. I want to be 'on Strictly Come Dancing' level of national treasure. That’s the next plan.”
It’s been a long time coming for her to have this level of freedom, and she’s going to make the most of it.
“I feel like I’ve never been taken seriously and had an ordeal convincing people of my ideas, but now I’m being trusted to make my ideas come to life. There isn’t any feeling better than that.”
The next big milestone for Self Esteem is her next London gig at the Village Underground in March. It’s a landmark gig.
“I’m going to make it a bit of an extravaganza. If that comes off the way I want it to it will be great.”
In many ways, this first big solo London show is an occasion she’s been waiting for her whole career.
“I’m obsessed with how I’m not getting married or having kids,” she says. “I once had a note in my phone that just said, 'Your career is your kids!' On its own, it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever heard, but I feel like the Village Underground is my first marriage. That’s the most important date in my life, so I’m finally going to get my cisgender, straight women white wedding feeling.”
Taken from the March issue of Dork. Self Esteem's debut album 'Compliments Please' is out 1st March.
Featuring Sigrid, Drenge, Sundara Karma, Indoor Pets, Stella Donnelly and more.