Singer/Songwriter Rebecca Lucy Taylor, better known as Self Esteem, Talks About Doing Things On Her Own Terms
STYLING by SIAN O’CONNELL
ASSISTED by Sam Waite-Fazio & Neheroth
MAKEUP by PHOEBE WALTERS
Photography by Olivia Richardson
Styling by Sian O’Connell
Assisted by Sam Waite-Fazio & Neheroth
Makeup by Phoebe Walters
While the rest of the UK could only muster a doughy, sallow and tentative step out of lockdown in the spring of 2020, singer/songwriter Rebecca Lucy Taylor, better known as Self Esteem, rose imperiously, gloriously and impassively like some kind of indie Boudica. The release of “I Do This All The Time”, the debut single off her sophomore album, Prioritise Pleasure captured the imagination of the country.
Inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s infamous piece “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”, the half spoken word, half rousing, super intense sermon on how to survive life caught the strong wind of the zeitgeist and sailed into the nation’s psyche.
Self-directed by Rebecca, the “I Do This All The Time” video went viral, TV shows booked her to perform it live and radio stations whacked it onto their playlists. “I knew it was good,” she says about the song that sees her giving herself, and the world at large, raw, untainted advice. “It was a very organic thing that happened really personally with myself at first, it’s like I had this little bet with myself that I could make this specific thing, a 2021 “Sunscreen.” Literally. I dunno why people tell me every day it reminds them of that song when it’s legit the m.o. I had for the whole thing. But yeah, I guess it’s a bittersweet feeling that wow, I’m not alone but fuck, all y’all are as miserable as me? You should have said!”
Her latest body of work is so much more than that debut single though. It was followed up by the album’s title track, a tub-thumping incantation on being free from the societal shackles imposed on women while the rest of the record is just as loud — and proud. Tracks that build to their own huge, soaring choruses (more on that later) and seem to symbolize an artist who’s feeling total freedom to create. The writing and recording of Prioritise Pleasure, it seems, just poured out of her: “it was bizarrely… easy?” She says tentatively when speaking of her sophomore album. “I kept looking around waiting for the clanger to drop and it just… didn’t? I think I finally know what I am trying to do as an artist and I was… just doing it? I honestly wish I could explain it better than with lots of question marks but the way making music has always involved such a feeling of pulling teeth slowly out of my own skull so for it to now feel like taking my bra off at the end of a long day is just so heavenly to me.”
No stranger to the music industry — Rebecca has been a darling of the indie music world for over a decade, either solo as Self Esteem, or previously as one half of cult indie band, Slow Club. Something that means she’s long enough in the tooth to realize that with the music industry, although you do give a fuck what people think, it’s also OK to sort of not give a fuck. “I spent a very, very long time giving a fuck,” she agrees about this fact. “More than a fuck. I would take my fucks and give them to you if it meant it made you like me more. And yeah, the sheer amount of being alive and doing music full time has made me pretty comfortable and confident in myself. Aging at all is so sensational, having a second life in the industry completely on my terms whilst being old enough to say no to shit is such a beautiful blessing.”
The music industry is a brutal rollercoaster — you’re either successful or failing, and the furor, plaudits and success surrounding Prioritise Pleasure don’t seem to be fazing Rebecca. “I mean, the idea of ‘what success is’ is the thing I’m not comfort- able with. I’ve always wanted so much more than what was happening in my life,” she explains. “In relationships, art, my career. The pandemic taking everything away and me finally being still and calm for a prolonged amount of time (and how much mental clarity it gave me) made me see that I was already successful. I love to make my art and music and for someone to give a shit- as long as I can make ends meet I don’t need anything else. I don’t know if I answered the question. I’d love to be rich and like shoot pool with Rihanna but I’m also only really truly bothered about being able to carry on making work for the rest of my life- and if success and money and stuff means that’s possible then I am more than comfortable with that.”
Originally hailing from Sheffield, in the north of England, home of Jarvis Cocker, Arctic Monkeys and more, she’s more than aware of her home city’s talent for producing lyricists who can describe real life perfectly and succinctly with a catchy hook.
“I think Sheffield is a city that produces these incredible artists who make large, wide- screen, poetic art but we are so scared of someone calling it pretentious we put this wink-wink shit on it to get the point across,” is her explanation for this northern knack.
“I don’t write songs to make money,” Rebecca continues. “I write them to feel better and then show off singing them. It’s wealth to me that I get to do that. I also think I’m making good use of the time I have been given to be alive and that keeps me less cynical if it is something I have to remember to think every day.”
I mention to her that while Prioritise Pleasure is packed full of clever and sardonic lyrics it’s the huge choruses right across the record that stand out. They build and blossom. They cascade and roar and, quite frankly, they sound like raw catharsis. Something she absolutely agrees with. “Massively so. When I imagine bliss, it is screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs with a thousand others singing with me as we exorcise the demons of all the fucking up I do. I dunno – it doesn’t seem like there’s a point to music unless it’s moving you. Cool electronic boy stuff that just pootles along has never and will never do it for me. Why get to the chorus, the crux of the work and let it trundle? Why not take every opportunity in life to make the chorus abso- lutely obnoxiously enormous?” @selfesteemselfesteem