interview: estère on cluture clash and her electric blue witch hop

October 6, 2014

I am a child of culture clash… one whole, two halves, I crack the world and spin it around. Breaking egg shells…” – ‘Culture Clash’ by Estère.
Estère Dalton is a 22-year-old producer, writer and singer from Wellington, New Zealand. In 2013, she released her self-titled debut album, and performed at festivals in Denmark and Korea – although she’d like to travel more, she’s very calm in her approach to the whole music industry thing – focusing more on her desire to be an honest artist; one that’s building a body of work that will lead to a discography. This, she says, is the start – a chapter that’s got her making music she calls “electric blue witch-hop”.
We spoke to Estère about that and much more!

Interview by Aleyna Martinez, AFROPUNK Contributor

“When I went to high school I started drumming in an all-girl…what would you call it… I wouldn’t even say rock or anything, I’d just say psychedelic. We were called Cyber Sex on Mars and I was like third form and it was this group of seventh form girls and the ones that wrote the songs were actually really, really good. One of the songs was like, ‘Was she septic, was she sour, did she blow your mind, how much did she charge per hour.’

“I was drumming and I’d sometimes do some weird operatic wailing, but a part from that, that was what I was doing and I really liked it. It taught me that I really liked to drum.”

Her MPC, which she mainly produces her music on is named Lola, she says, “It’s like a friendship and it goes through phases like with anything, sometimes you spend all your time together, sometimes you have a little bit of a break, make new friends.”

“At the moment I’m working on building an electronic drum kit so my time with Lola has become a little bit less. It means building the pads and then building a stand. I’m using a brain that already exists, a module, so I’ll be able to sample sounds that go into this module…I want to put that in my live set.”

“I’m thinking of ways to develop what it is that I’m doing by myself.”

Dalton says drumming is her passion because it’s something she’s always been able to do easily. “I started drumming when I was 10 and I’d tried lots of instruments out, but drumming, I just loved — like I just had an immediate connection to it because I could do it, it just flowed through me. I could just feel it”.

Born on a little “hippy” island called Waiheke, before there were big mansions on the hill, a place where Estère says, quite poor people used to live; her single mother who’s also a writer, encouraged her to read a lot of books. Classics like Anne of Green Gables became favourites, “it just makes me feel happy, every time I read it, just the language and the description…very innocent, very old fashioned”, she muses.

Last year after releasing her album she played a few impromptu shows in Paris and London, she also performed at Arhus Festival in Denmark and did another two in South Korea, “Which was quite a different experience in the crowd because people were really attentive, one of the shows I did was like playing to a crowd of like 20,000 or something, it was broadcast live as well, so including the broadcast, but in the actual theatre it was held, everyone was just sitting very still and I was dancing and stuff”.

“I just pull energy from the music and myself, like I know that I’m there to perform and I’ll just give it my all no matter what.”

She says that so far her experience of the music industry has been fine. “It’s full of opportunity and it’s very…it’s quite elusive, there seems to be a lot of facets to it. My experience has been good so far. I like traveling and seeing new places, I haven’t done much of that,” yet.

Being half European, or as they say in New Zealand, pakeha, and half African the idea of ‘the other black experience’ is something Dalton says she understands:
“I suppose because my experience of being black, as well, is in a different cultural context — I was born in New Zealand, my dad’s from Cameroon and a lot of my life — especially in Wellington when I was younger — I was quite an exception. People would look at me and were just so fascinated because they’d never seen someone who looked like me which is always kind of weird, I just got used to it, but it garnered a lot of attention”.
“My experience of being black is definitely like being the other side of black… it is a funny question especially because I don’t really think of myself as black … that’s not how I’d even describe myself. Everyone’s got their experience in terms of where they’ve grown up, their cultures, what they’re attraction to other people have been.” “I didn’t really grow up with my dad’s family at all but I grew up with the Mahals, to some extent as well, so that was my experience of a black-american family, you know which was really cool.”

The Mahals who are American immigrants from Hawaii were also Dalton’s first experience of a musical family. About 10 years ago in a little community of Wellington called Aro Street, the Mahals would put on block parties in the summer; live music would bounce of the concrete, local foodies would make curry to share. It was a scene for adults and children. Olmecha Supreme was the name of Imon’s band; Deva Mahal, who currently lives and performs music in New York as Fredricks Brown, would be in the lively bustle and a 13-year-old Estere would be amongst it, at the time she was dancing with the band and good friends with Imon and Deva’s little sister, Zoe.

“That was my experience of a musical family and a musical household… going to Imon and Devas’ gigs and hanging out at their house all the time — no one in my family that I grew up with plays instruments — because [the Mahals] are all amazing musicians that was something really powerful to be around, like some high calibre examples.”

Dalton’s father now lives in France and her experience of going to visit him and his new family was what inspired her song ‘Culture Clash’. “I was in Nantes in France, and I was experiencing, like, being with my family and having interactions with my father that were definitely like, deeply rooted in cultural misunderstanding, and then I went to Germany, thought it all over, and wrote Culture Clash.”

“I feel like I’m a child of the world, I’ve got families all over the place, like I’ve got family in Africa, I’ve got my host family in Germany who I think of as my family; family in France and a lot of my friend’s families in New Zealand as well are from [different countries] and I count them as my family too.”

Paul Simon is my favorite lyricist she says, “Definitely, he’s amazing. The way that his words are quite effortless and glide over his music but they’re also very…he uses amazing metaphors and really, really great rhythm, His writing’s authentic and you completely believe it, there’s nothing contrived about it. It’s just a beautiful form of expression essentially, that he’s just nailed”.

Do you like modern music? I ask her. Some of it, she says. We start talking about Kanye West: “I really like some of Kanye West’s work, it is hard I suppose because…I don’t really like the stuff I’ve heard from his recent albums, but that’s because it sounds, I mean, he is put in the mainstream but it sounds, like a lot of the synths and the heavy vibe, it sounds pretty mainstream so that’s why people are probably a little bit confused.” “He’s trying to be out of the box, but he’s still in the box.”

Being her own person and “staying true to myself is a thing that I value highly”, Dalton says.

“I want my albums to be is an honest portrayal of where I am as an artist. For my new album, or even for the other one I had the option of having it much more produced and polished sounding. But what I wanted to do was really capture what it was that I had been learning and doing with Lola in my bedroom, so people who listen to my music and follow me can really kind of see my progressions as an artist and it will be the same for my next album.”

In terms of reaching a bigger audience and growing as an artists she says “I don’t really think it’s worth worrying about whether a place is going to accept you or not, if you do that then you’d have to compromise and change what you’re doing. It’s not going to work anyway, in the end, unless you wanna be like a pop star and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a pop star and I don’t scorn the idea, but I don’t think I’m going down that line”. Photo above by Rachel Lafferty