Self Esteem’s second album Prioritise Pleasure is the next layer of her ‘fuck all of that’ cake – even tastier, even chunkier than the last, with hunks you’ll be chewing till your jaw hurts and bits you’ll be picking out your teeth for an age afterwards.
The album features a diverse range of confident pop beats to bash her bracing and embracing lyrics into your brain. There’s still that sweeping sound to her voice, supported by layers of vocals that are part of Rebecca’s signature sound. This is underscored by a variety of noises, repetitions and samples – some sweet, some contorted and grating. Highlights are ‘I Do This All The Time’ for its earnestness, ‘Moody’ for its catchy and to-the-core chorus, and ‘Still Reigning’ for the way it seizes and carries you off.
We spoke with Rebecca Lucy Taylor (Self Esteem) ahead of the release of the album.
This interview first featured in the November 2021 issue of SNACK.
Your most recent video, for ‘How Can Help You?’, to me, on the surface, seems like a woman getting to be free; you’re getting to be sweaty and messy, chebs oot, playing aggressively and joyfully at the drums. But what kept coming back to me was the lock and key necklace. Maybe it’s that you’re actually trapped and just performing for the gaze of others. Or actually, maybe you could free yourself from this trap, but have chosen not to. What was that about?
I learned to play the drums at 13/14 – I loved it. I played the drums in my old band live, but I would always fear the people looking at me – the wrong kind of attention. It all plays into my childhood which was very much like ‘don’t draw attention to yourself, and that will keep you safe’. The album is about how fucking tired out I am by that and how angry I am that I just haven’t been able to live my life how I’d like to because of the threat of male violence or male gaze.
The video was more about me reclaiming the drums in a way and going look, when I play a drum, my tit will move – you’ve got to fucking deal with that. As well as that, I’m very aware of how much that thumbnail will get a nice click – ooh tits, ooh sweaty tits, even better – but then what they’re having to hear is about how fucking done in I am by it. I thought it was a fun way to get a message across. I’m always trying to do this Trojan horse thing and it was another one of them. The lock and key – yeah, it was the freedom from the fear of playing the drums. I’ve got a lot of weird comments. So I guess my work was done.
You knew that was gonna get attention, but at the same time it’s a comment on how female figures are treated and why, for example, female MPs and MSPs are given extra social media training while males do not.
Yeah, it’s been wild. I think you are just perfectly explaining why I do this. It’s like a weird, double art thing: the second part of my art is this bit where you get to see how absolutely insane just me being me makes some people.
So how much then does the reaction to it influence what you do next as an artist?
Great question. I think I’m almost always just doing what I want to do. I’ve been making music full time since I was 18/19. So it’s never far from my mind that whatever I do will be digested by an audience, however big. I don’t think I actually know what I’m gonna do. I am so busy with this one that all a part of me can think about next is: could I have a holiday?
I’ve never done any of this in a manipulative sort of manner. It maybe looks like I’ve gone, right, do a pop record to get out of a band or whatever. It was never that, it was just I’ve always done what I needed to, and what I want to and I’m sticking to that – I’m being true. I believe it is why people like it, because I’m extremely authentic. There’s no bullshit. So I’ll always just stick to that, I think.
I was comparing your videos for this album to previous ones that you’ve done. The older videos contain a little bit more in the way of oddities and colour. But what you’ve released for this new album, so far, are all on a stage, are very dark, and you’re always wearing a black outfit, whatever that outfit might be. I was wondering if you could just tell me a bit more about that?
I think I’m ready to not be so jokey, I think I’m ready to be very clear on what I’m saying. I’ve always used humour or sexiness or colour or fashion and stuff as a way to sort of make it palatable. I wanted the starkness of that on stage. I shot them all in one day as well.
Have you seen that film Dogville? It’s a very tough watch. It’s all set on a soundstage, there’s no set – it’s all just thrown on the floor kind of thing. I was really inspired by bringing everything down to the bare minimum of what needs to be there. The idea was that the videos would lead through and it was as if you were seeing a show on a stage, you know? I don’t want faff – although I’m shooting one tomorrow that’s just silly and funny. I guess it just felt right again. I just stuck to my gut on it all.
‘Affection’ is a theme I feel throughout your videos and your lyrics. Why do you feature this so heavily throughout your work?
I think it’s just where I’m at, I think… oh, although, it was where I was at before too. I don’t know what the answer is. I think, given a chance to have a hug or not, I’m gonna take the hug! I’m a Libra. I’m extremely affectionate. No one’s ever as affectionate as me. I need it – part of being alive is other humans for me, and then, artistically, it’s where my brain goes. As soon as you go, right, I’m going to take a picture of you for the album cover, what do you want? To my mind, it was like, me oiled up with all these people around me. For me, it’s like the lifeblood of being alive.
The new album starts with ‘I’m Fine’, which has the sample, ‘there’s nothing that terrifies a man more than a woman that appears completely deranged’. Can you tell me how much of that is in your act/persona?
The live show is definitely a sort of exorcising of demons. Not just mine – there’s five of us going for it. I did a sort of summer school with a load of 18 to 21 year olds, and we had all these discussions. We were making a piece of theatre about consent – it was equal parts exciting and amazing, because so many of them were comfortable with their sexuality and not frightened of gender and stuff in the way that I was at their age. But so many of them still are just frightened by men every day.
We did this chat about what you do to keep safe. When I was making the record, I was like, one of them said this fucking amazing thing, what was it, and I went and found it: ‘You are either deranged and crazy or you’re doing what everyone wants from you, and there’s no room for middle ground’. I want to be an attractive, great, sexy woman who people like, as well as being angry and fed up and scared, and full of hate for our lot and what we’ve been given. What’s the middle point of that? I guess it’s me. But I mean, I’ve been called crazy forever. I don’t think I am. I think I’m just literally trying to exist in a world where I didn’t do what would have kept me safe or would have made everyone happy or would have made sense. And I’m not that radical.
How much does gender and sexuality play into your art?
Never very consciously, but I was in a band with all men since I was 18. Like, my life has been ‘how to be the girl in the band’. I didn’t realize how much that had caused a lot of issues I’ve had and a lot of shit things that have happened to me, and I sort of realized there is a difference. I was always a tomboy but I was a dickhead with it when I was early teens to early 20s. Acting the cool girl, dya know what I mean? But actually, that all wears off fucking quickly.
This is the root cause of what’s up with me. I often felt like a burden or a diva or whatever. But my needs were different because of my gender. And that’s as simple as I can say it. My work is living in this post-realisation world of ‘I’m full of quite a lot of anger’. There’s quite a lot of injustice about my 20s and teens that I’m processing and then there’s also stuff from more recent times. [Thinking] to make people fancy me I’ve gotta do xyz and now knowing I didn’t have to do any of this, and all of this was fuuucked by the way. It’s quite a hard space to live in – but it’s also sort of exhilarating because I can see a way forward for the rest of my life now not being addled by such bullshit. So all my work is gendered, I guess, because I’m still dealing with the realisation that being a woman isn’t equal. It’s not fucking fair.
People are like, ‘Oh, the album’s very timely’, and I’m like it’s not, it’s not! This has been my life forever. How dare you, just because you know there’s some women in the press at the minute that have been killed – that’s always happening!
Prioritise Pleasure is due for release 22nd October via Fiction Records.
Self Esteem will be performing 6th November at The Bongo Club in Edinburgh and 7th November at Audio in Glasgow
All photo credits: Olivia Richardson