An Interview with Esther ValleeWritten by Linnea Tjörnevik
It’s Thursday morning at the Odalisque Magazine headquarters and the studio is prepped with enough shoes and looks to dress a whole regime of fashionable women. Esther and her manager arrive and I quickly realize that the girl who’s songs I’ve been listening to nonstop for a week, is a warm and down to earth effervescent individual. We sit down while Esther is in hair and make up, and in the pleasant buzz from the team prepping around us, including dogs and babies, I got the opportunity to get to know the rising pop sensation that is Esther Vallee.
LT: Let's do a quick recap of the essentials and correct me if I’m wrong. The music has always been a big part of your life and you knew from a young age that this was a career that you wanted to pursue. You had the opportunity to work with different vocal coaches and that is how you developed your voice. And your career really began to soar when you, by coincidence met video producer Jonas Quant and you have now just released your fourth single, Numbers. Correct?
EV: Haha, yes, pretty much. We quickly get in to a conversation about pronunciation, which leads us in to discussion about her artist name, Esther Valle.
LT: Your artist name, where does it come from?
EV: The name is 50% made up. Esther is a family name since way back and I have always had a relation to that name and always thought that if my parents didn’t name me Sophie, that I would have been named Esther. Vallee was spontaneously created when I was in LA, one and a half year ago. We were sitting in an Uber and tried to come up with names that would go to Esther. I wanted a name that works well in both English and Swedish and then somebody said Vallee [Valley] and after that, I started to introduce myself as Esther Vallee. It just clicked.
LT: Oh, sorry I’ve been pronouncing it in a Swedish accent until now.
EV: No worries, like half of the Warner office, have been saying it like that as well (laughs).
LT: Is it important for you to have an artist name to you?
EV: Well, I decided a long time ago, that the day, that hopefully would come, when I got the opportunity to produce and release my own music, I would want to have an artist name. I felt that I wanted to put Sophie in a more private sphere and Esther in another, more official bubble. Although I’m hundred percent myself when I’m Esther as well. I want to create a unity regarding my music, my artistry and me. And in that sense, I feel that the name is a vital part.
LT: You have just been to New York and recorded the video to your latest single, Numbers. How was that?
EV: It went very well! It was a surreal feeling and everything went so fast.
LT: What has the process been like?
EV: I have been in contact with the director Joakim Karlsson from the agency Good Company ever since this summer, when they heard Numbers. They liked what they heard and started to write a script and creating an idea that really got me and my team interested. I’m just in love with the idea, Joakim has really gone outside the box playing with new and original perspectives.
LT: How do you mean?
EV: Well, for example, we have been working a lot with contrasts in the video. The lyrics and its meaning is quite dark and troubling, the melody is kept light and melodious, and we wanted to channel this in the video.
It was so much fun and I’m so grateful to get the opportunity to work with such a professional team. It has been such a cool experience to see something I have created being transformed and taking another shape like this. It feels big that my work started a creative process in someone else, that then turned into this video.
LT: I’m so excited to see the video. Your songs have been on repeat in my flat for a week now. My roommate was first going to kill me but now she is just as hooked as me.
EV: All four?
LT: Yep, I’m a fan now.
EV: Oh wow! Thank you, now I get embarrassed haha.
LT: Where did you get the inspiration for Numbers?
EV: Like a lot of young girls, I have always dreamed about falling in love with someone special. I was a typical girly girl who watched romantic “chick flicks” and imagined myself in those perfect serendipidous situations. I had my first boyfriend when I was 15 and we were together for a good run for that age. I like relationships, discovering a person you connect with and getting “the feels”, learning about one another, growing together. It actually has been quite educational and I have learned a lot about people and the dynamics of relationships and communication. I have witnessed and experienced that a lot can be hidden under a seemingly perfect surface. Some of my supposedly fantasy-true-love relationships have unfortunately contained some pretty dark elements.
The song drives inspiration from this, from the hysteria surrounding the notion of a perfect façade and how this, more than often hides something completely different. What people can do and become in that desperation for love, or maybe more accurate the absent of it. How powerful that longing can be. And finally the stress and powerlessness we feel when that façade breaks and ones weird, dark truths are about to be revealed.
This is the scenario that has been my and my co-writers main inspiration but it can be applied in so many different ways. We continued to talk further and developed the idea with the concept of how a person will communicate about these dark secrets. We ended up with these coded messages, for example when I sing “My code for you is 342”. The code is a further reference to the must of maintaining the perfect surface. Such a deep explanation (laughs).
LT: Yes, very but it’s intriguing! I have listened to the song so many times and wondered about the “432. How has the journey and your personal development been from your first release, compared to this one?
EV: I first had the double release of “Hard Times” and “Your Name” and that felt more like a test run. Not officially, but for me personally. The feeling was more like, “Let’s drop this and see what the reaction will be like”. And the positive reaction I got from that release determined quite a lot. But after the dust from that first hype settled, it took a while until I my next drop. I worked a lot in the studios and continued to write but it was a lot of work behind the scenes. Then, almost a year later, I release “Crush”. I remember that I was a bit stressed that it had been almost a year from my first to my second release, but now I realize that it needed to take that time. I learned that it’s no idea to stress it, but rather let time be a part of the building process.
Now, I feel more relaxed, but I’m really excited about the Numbers release. I also have a lot more of material ready and it’s just a matter of releasing the right song at the right time.
LT: It feels like a reoccurring theme in your songs is love and heartbreak. Is this because you have a lot of personal experience in the matter or is it derived from a more general context?
EV: Everything comes from the heart but the lyrics and the stories that they tell, is not solely based on personal experiences. All the passion, pain and meaning to the inspiration come from a personal space. Like a lot of us, I have also been through some pretty dark and painful stuff in my life and of course that colors my lyrics, but I want it to be done right. Those feelings surrounding love have for a long time been a main inspirational vein for artists to tap in to. Unfortunately, I feel that when it comes to the pop genre, that the feeling is described without depth and in a superficial way. I want to oppose this and show that pop music today can have more substance and a deeper meaning. I don’t solely want to be associated to the subject of love but if that is what I have been, that is still okay because love is such a never changing concept and it can take a million different forms.
LT: What makes you unique as an artist?
EV: I have given that a lot of thought and it’s a very interesting question. Today everyone is engaged in different matters; politics, feminism or something completely different. And these matters are therefore often used to brand and build an image for oneself, based on your position in a particular field. And although I, of course, have a lot of opinions about our society today, I have decided that I want my image to mainly be a reflection of what’s already inside me. I want to use my genuine emotions and let that be a part of my music and image. A key notion that I have had to learn growing up, is how to turn something sad or painful into something positive. Using it as creative fuel or motivation. Either you let the setbacks in your life drown you or you emerge stronger from it. It sounds like such a cliché but it is also true.
LT: When I have read earlier interviews with you, where you have mentioned that your voice and your sound haven’t always been obvious but rather something that you had to build and work on. What did that process look like? This was so inspiring to read because I feel that the general view of singers and musicians is quite black and white. Either you got it or you don’t. It’s refreshing that you have such a transparent approach to your story.
EV: Thank you. When I started out I felt just that. I wanted to do this so much but I doubted that I could. But I fought for it and now I’m here and I want to share that with others that are in the same situation as I was.
I started playing the piano when I was very young and quickly moved on to writing my own songs. I remember that two of my friends always were singing and that I thought to myself that I wanted to sing as well as they did, but never got any affirmation from my peers. My voice has never been an obvious equality of mine. But I realized that I had more genuine interest than my friends and that this was something I truly wanted to peruse. My parents helped me to see a voice coach and that’s where my journey started. I have worked with a lot of different ones but it wasn’t until high school when I worked with this particular coach that helped me see the uniqueness in my voice and how I could use that in order to create my own personal sound, my ID. It has taken a lot of time and it has been a lot of up and downs, a lot of hard work and it is still something I work on every day but today I feel confident and proud of my voice. And I want to show and work against that myth that says that if you are not born with a star quality voice, you´re not able to be an artist, because that’s not true.
LT: So, how do you feel? Do you have time to catch your breath and take it all in?
EV: (Laughs) No, not at all!
LT: You are originally from Gothenburg and live in Stockholm now?
EV: Yes, I also go back and forth though. I have Jonas, my producer in Gothenberg and all of my family there too. I decided to move to Stockholm with my boyfriend because he works here now and it’s so close and I can do my thing here (Stockholm) too. It took me a while to feel “at home”, but now I love it.
LT: What gives you that kick from your work?
EV: So many different things, but I get a lot of kicks from when I’m mad, haha. I’m like grinding my teeth and need to write it down or process it in some way. The writing process, in general, gives me a kick. And then, of course, you get a kick when you get a response to what you have created. But the biggest kick of all is when you are on stage. It’s like a drug. You just want more and more.
LT: What have we to look forward to from Esther Vallee, what’s your dream?
EV: Well, the world, of course. We call our territory “The World”. I want to perform on all of the stages in the world, no doubt. First I want to have all of Sweden with me and I’m also set on taking on the world. I don’t know how to describe it in another way.
LT: And in the nearest future, what is happening?
EV: In 2018 I will continue to release singles. I’m not going to say anything about an album but it’s on the radar and I have material for it. But, I want to continue to release singles for now and show how strong my songs are. After that, we will see what follows.
Check out Esther Vallees new single, Hardcore on Spotify and her new video directed by super star director, Nikeisha Andersson.