Everything is Expensive, the new album from Esthero, is out today, but as the singer explains, sheâs been ready to release the 13-song collection since August 2011. Thereâs nothing dramatic about the delay, she says. Universal, who distributes it in Canada, was just waiting for the right moment.
âAfter seven years, whatâs another couple of months?â she laughs, over the phone from her home in L.A.
Thatâs how long itâs been since Estheroâs last album, 2005âs Wikked Lilâ Grrrls. But then, it was seven years between the release of that future-jazz confection and its predecessor, too. (In 1998, the then-teenager entered wailing with Breath From Another â Torontoâs contribution to trip-hop in an era that birthed Portishead and Massive Attack. The disc went Gold here in Canada, while making her a regular feature on late-â90s MuchMusic off of videos like âThat Girlâ and âHeaven Sent.â)
Since then, sheâs experienced stadium crowds (please see the âJunkieâ tour with Alanis Morissette). Sheâs co-written one of Kanye Westâs biggest hits, 808s & Heartbreak single âLove Lockdownâ and also voiced J.A.N.E., âYeâs sexy-lady-spaceship on the Glow in the Dark tour. She is the proto-Fergie, having collaborated with the Black Eyed Peas in the pre âLetâs Get It Startedâ era, and sheâs written and performed with everyone from Nelly Furtado to Cee-Lo.
At the moment, though, the 33-year-old singer is ready for her latest re-introduction. And what Everything is Expensive makes clear is that the Esthero of 2012 is a girl -- or, rather, âgrown-ass womanâ -- with skills.
She can deliver power-pop (âSupernaturalâ), AC/ country ballads (âGoâ), R&B (âHow Do I Get You Aloneâ), virulent pop (âNever Gonna Let You Goâ) â and probably anything else you ask for, though those are just four of the genre offerings available on her third disc. It makes for an eclectic sampler of work, sure, but itâs also a bold presentation of her talent.
âI donât know if thereâs a deliberate thing to be like âlook what I can doâ with all these genres, because itâs not on purpose. Itâs just who I am,â says Esthero of Everything is Expensive, which she also executive produced. But she does think the end result makes a statement.
âI feel the first album was very much a stylist record. I was a vocal stylist. Then the second record was a singerâs record. I sang my ASS off on that record. And then, this record, I was very deliberately trying to become a better songwriter,â she says.
Just writing a song -- period -- was the first challenge, though, which partially accounts for that seven-year gap between records.
Call it a quarter-life crisis, maybe. Around the time of her 30th birthday, the singer says she thought that sheâd never make another record -- a paralyzing thought for someone whoâd only ever wanted to be a musician, and moved to Toronto at 16 to start her career. âSomething happened to me around 30 where -- and not just on a career level -- I felt like the hands of God came out of the sky with a pair of cymbals and just smashed me in the head, and I was justâ¦dumbfounded. People would say to me: âSo, are you going to make another record?â I dunno.
ââAre you ever going to make records?â
âI just didnât know who I was, what I was here for, what was going on,â she recalls.
âI think Iâd definitely been dealing with a great amount of depression from the previous album, as well, just feeling really disheartened,â she says of the post-Wikked years. âI would go into the studio occasionally and do stuff and I would get joy from it, but the joy was almost immediately taken out by another side of my brain,â she says. âIâd leave and Iâd think: âWhatâs the f*cking point? Nobodyâs ever going to hear it.â
She invested a chunk of money into some studio time: âfour days to record two songs.â She was more prolific than she anticipated: âfour days later I had four songs. And then within a good week, week and a half, I had what was probably the makings of an album.â
The makings of what she describes as âkind of an Americana-y record,â though. She considered offering some of her output to other artists. âA lot of these songs, or a couple of them, were songs that I wanted to give away,â she says. She âwas sort of imagining Faith Hillâ while writing âGo.â (Sheâd begun the process of pitching it to the country starâs team before realizing she wanted to keep the ballad for herself.) And âBlack Mermaid,â a wounded tune that was one of the first album tracks to take shape, was written with a friend in mind; she was going to give the song to musician Cree Summer before another Canadian pal in the business, producer Chin Injeti (Eminem, Drake), had a word. (Chin heard me sing it one night and he was like âthis is the record you need to make.ââ)
As for those worries of not finding an audience, her fans have actually helped fund the albumâs release. Though the record has a major-label distributor in Canada, sheâs independent everywhere else, and launched a Kickstarter-style campaign through the site PledgeMusic to crowd-source funding for things like a touring band, marketing and promotion. On October 9, she met her goal. (A portion of the surplus will be donated to L.A.'s Van Ness Recovery House.) And fans pledged in exchange for her CD ($15), but also Skyped fashion consultations ($50), a Korean BBQ date in Hollywood ($500), and a private two-hour karaoke party ($800). (Each of those items sold, FYI.)
No, sheâs not freaked about selling her time to strangers. (âWell, first of all, I carry a weapon,â she jokes.)
Instead, itâs kept her closer with the listeners she once feared werenât out there. âThe gift that I get from the fans is just so immeasurable, and thatâs why I deliberately wanted to create pledges that would allow me to connect with them in really fun ways,â she says. âItâs so NICE to not feel alone. I relate to them more than they know.â
Everything is Expensive is out now.