Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Self Esteem 230119 Photo by Parri Thomas 001
Nine Songs
Self Esteem

Rebecca Lucy Taylor talks Matthew Kent through the songs which not only inspire her to be creative, but have become the reason why she continues to make music.

04 May 2020, 09:30 | Words by Matthew Kent

“It’s quite interesting actually that I’ve spoken more about my feelings, where I was and what was happening, rather than these songs, but that’s music for me and that’s what I make music for.”

Spending an hour talking to Rebecca Lucy Taylor, AKA Self Esteem about the pivotal songs in her life is a total joy, but as well as reflecting on the songs that matter to her, she’s also got work to do. “I can’t just sit and do nothing,” Taylor explains from her family’s home in Sheffield where she’s isolating with her parents. “Well I can,” she adds “but it has to be after a big amount of work, so this is kind of dangerous territory.” She released her debut solo album Compliments Please last year and just last week dropped its companion EP Cuddles Please.

The four-track collection strips back and re-imagines three of the album’s highlights and a cover of Alex Cameron’s “Miami Memory”, with the help of the Sheffield-based choir, Neighbourhood Voices, which was founded in 2017 with the aim of creating a safe space for Sheffield singers to find their voices.

As for that next ‘big amount of work’, Taylor is somewhere in the middle of it, album two that is. “I’ve already written most of it” Taylor says, and she’s ready to move onto the next stage in production, so that “as soon as the lockdown restrictions are lifted a bit and I can get to the studio in Margate, I’ll be starting the next album.”

That doesn’t mean she’s at a standstill, Taylor is doing everything she can to ensure she’s got something to do, from hosting live workouts on her Instagram, to curating her online festival PXSSY PANDEMIQUE with its all female-identifying line-up featuring performance artists, poets, comedians and fellow musicians.

These Nine Songs map out a handful of important relationships in Taylor’s past, present and future. One is tied to childhood holidays spent alone with her favourite album and Walkman. Another is pivotal to her parents’ music taste, which led to a creative breakthrough for a young Taylor struggling to add more of herself into Slow Club’s sound, the indie-folk duo she co-fronted for over a decade. However, most of these songs hang on the joy and despair of her romantic relationships, a theme which of course Taylor has recognised.

“Music that means a lot to me, I think it’s stuff that helps me personally” she tells me. “I’ve realised [that these songs], it’s all stuff that’s made me feel better about my place in the world, in terms of music and what I’m doing.”

Delving deep into emotional stories that read like excerts from a tell-all autobiography, Taylor’s favourite songs aren’t just music that she loves to stick on her headphones. These songs are so intrinsically tied to memories, decisions and points in her life that it’s hard to imagine one without the other, the song without the story, or the story with the soundtrack of the song.

“Just Wait Til Next Year” by John Maus

“I did the list, I sent it and then I actually forgot this song. I thought ‘Oh fuck, I better put “Just Wait Til Next Year” on.’ I hadn’t listened to it for ages. I tried to choose nine songs quickly, the first things which came to mind, and not think about it too much and this had gone from my mind a bit.

“Basically, I’m just going have to talk about exes a lot in this. I was going out with Gareth, who is still to this day my favourite boyfriend I’ve ever had. He sort of wooed me with mixtapes and this was on a mixtape that he sent. He was like ‘It’s the most beautiful love song ever written’ and I still sort of agree with that.

“The lyrics are so desperate and I really respond well to simplistic expressions of want. He’s like ‘I want to put my fingers deep inside you’, ‘You mutilate my soul’ and ‘I hate you’. That’s what being in love is for everyone, like ‘I want to do absolutely everything possible to you, and also I hate that you’ve done this to my brain.’ The song even sounds like a trudge into the fire of Mordor, which is what being in love with someone is, I think. Well obviously, it shouldn’t be, but for me, it’s always this slow resignation to burning alive. This song sounds like that.

“I get very depressed sometimes about my career. I currently get really upset that I’m not Christine and the Queens, that’s really bothering me. Then, I have to go ‘No, you’ve just got to get over it’. I love John Maus and he always makes me feel better, because he’s incredible and some of his work is very influential to me.

“His t-shirt is my favourite t-shirt, but for a long time, he just had a normal job. He’s one of these people who makes beautiful stuff and doesn’t devote his life to it in the way that I do, so thinking about him always helps me re-jig a bit and go back to thinking ‘I make art for the reason of making it,’ not to be invited on Lady Gaga’s concert, fine.

“I do hate that he calls someone his ‘stupid bitch’ in it, but then I also think that’s quite interesting, realising that now that didn’t used to bother me and now it does. You can see how I’ve changed over the years, where I’m like ‘Actually you shouldn’t speak about women in that way.’”

“These Days” by Nico

“Basically, this is all about boys who made me mixtapes in the mid-‘2000s. My friend Jon Gray is from a band called The Mae Shi - who feature on this list later on - and they were on Moshi Moshi Records at the same time Slow Club were.

“They came over and we did The Great Escape and all of those sorts of things. It was 2009 or 2010, a real golden era for all that shit and a very formative time in my life, because I didn’t go to uni or anything, everybody I met in those years really shaped my view of the world.

“Jon, to this day, is still one of my very greatest friends in the world, he’s family to me. After meeting them and loving it so much, later that year I spent a load of my own money and I went out to LA just to hang out with everybody I’d met on this little tour, which I would never do now. He picked me up from the airport and said, ‘This song is so you’ and I can still remember that airport drive. My brain was racing, I’d flown out to LA on my own.

“The lyrics are perfection and I think it’s my favourite ever song in the world. I love that it’s just a series of statements about a resignation to feeling so gutted with the world. It’s beautiful and it resonates very hard, still to this day. It’s very emo in a really non-embarrassing way, which I realise is my jam, if a lyric is really depressing and it’s not pathetic.

“Musically, it’s so gently devastating and the lyric ‘I had a lover, I don’t think I’d risk another’ is huge to me. Every single time I’ve been through it, I get to the end of a relationship and I think ‘I don’t know how many more of these I can do.’ Very narcissistically every lyric means so much to me.

“I think it’s something that’s become a real staple of how I write and I think it’s one of the first songs I heard that was really saying ‘I’m shit too’, do you want I mean? and being very honest about yourself. A lot of songs are like ‘Fuck you, how could you do this to me?’ and obviously I do write like that as well, but I think a big part of my first solo record, which I didn’t even realise when I was writing it, is that I’m being very honest about my flaws too, which I think is a really fertile place to write from and I find it very interesting when people do that.

“There’s quite a few Nico songs that I love, “Somewhere There’s A Feather” is another big one for me and there’s a storyline around her and that era and that time is very evocative for me. Also, her being a woman who sang other people’s songs, there’s some weird ingénue shit that I find quite interesting. That song is just… and to have never heard “These Days”, when my heart was soaring anyway. It was a lot and I still go straight back there every time I put it on.”

“International Valentine” by Aidan John Moffat

“This is from another boy, called James, that made me a mixtape, I met him at a festival in Fife and he was onstage wearing a little sailor outfit. He was playing a chaos pad out of a Domino’s pizza box. Charles, my old bandmate, had gone to the hotel because he’d had enough, but I’d stayed out on my own.

“Again, I was 22 or something, staying out on my own. I felt very alive and adult and I saw James on stage dressed as a sailor with a chaos pad and it was really a big deal for me, because that was the sort of person I wanted to gravitate towards, and I did. I still speak to him every day, I collaborate with him a lot and 12 years later he’s still a huge part of my life. He sent me a CD, a mix. This was the first track on it and, again, it blew my fucking brain.

“I reference those strings in every single record I’ve made since album two of Slow Club and every single producer goes ‘Well, it’s just an old record, you’ve just sampled an old record’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, no, but how can we recreate that?’ and they just say ‘You’d have to go back to the thirties and record the strings, we can’t recreate this’ and I’m like ‘Goddammit.’ I think that string sound is unbelievable and it took me years to realise what that noise was.

“I’m so into spoken word at the moment - obviously not the gash stuff - but there’s some that can be so legit, and I think it can hit way better than a melody can. I love Aidan Moffat’s stuff anyway and the lyrics are very plain. I’m a broken record on this to be honest, but he’s very simply saying what you want to do or fantasising about what you wish you could do with somebody, especially at the moment.

“It’s so boundless what your imagination can do and I think about lyrics about imagination and fascination about someone, because it’s always that bit which is better than reality. Ultimately, it often is, and I think people like me get into the shit that they get into because our imagination is too good. Life is disappointing. I’m just putting that together myself, you’ve saved me some money on some therapy, thank you.

“It’s beautiful and simple. When I get asked to do songwriting workshops and things I always cite this song. When I can’t write and I’ve got nothing, I think about this song and I just try and write this, because it’s quick and it’s to the point and I think there’s nothing more beautiful.

“I’m afraid I’m dabbling in spoken world on the next album. I’ve got a song called “Sometimes I Think That’s The Problem” and it’s meant to be my version of “Sunscreen”, the Baz Luhrmann song. I basically wanted to do a Self Esteem version of that. I’m gunning for that to be the opening track on the next album, nobody else wants it to be, but I’m the boss.”

“Kangaroo” by This Mortal Coil

“So, I’m back to talking about Gareth, my favourite boyfriend I’ve ever had, he’s happily married now and we’re really good friends. This is from the same mix that he sent and again, I put it on every example of good songwriting and I’ve ripped it off quite a few times on various recordings of my own.

“I haven’t actually gone into This Mortal Coil’s back catalogue at all, but I’m obsessed with this song. But I’m a bit like that, I can be quite lazy and save things. I didn’t watch Alan Partridge until a couple of years ago, I save things that are going to be a big deal for me for later.

“It’s the lyrics again. They’re like ‘I saw you, you had on blue jeans’ and I fucking love it. He sort of mixes that with saying ‘Your eyes couldn’t hide anything’, it’s like poetry meets mundanity, that I really vibe on.

“Sonically it’s really atmospheric and it’s that dead-simple reverby chorus sound on a guitar, that got sort of ruined in 2011/2012 because everyone did the nostalgic ‘80s thing, but the actual thing people were inspired by is still mega, if that makes sense. I felt quite allergic to hearing anything that sounded like that for a while, but if you actually go to the original source it’s amazing.

“It’s Twins Peaks music and there’s a reason why everyone rips it off. It’s beautiful, but also foreboding and full of tension, which really evokes what it’s like when you’re looking across a room at someone who you’re completely in love with.

“I was living in London and Gareth wasn’t in London. We’d met, we talked on the internet a lot, it was really sweet. It was before FaceTime and things like that and you didn’t have Skype, so we were still learning about each other via long emails and post. It was so exciting and now it seems quite healthy, whereas now when you’re seeing someone you just Whatsapp them morning, noon and night; you don’t get any of that slow learning about each other, it’s impossible now. Even when I’ve met someone these days, and I think ‘Let’s not Whatsapp all the time, let’s try to take it slow.’ But you just fucking don’t.

“I was in a band, we were touring and there was always this romance about leaving - I was always leaving. So when we saw each other it was always there was a beginning and a middle and an end to that. We weren’t building a future together, because we were both in these touring bands and we put that first. Loads of very angsty feelings of yearning and growing.

“That song felt so beautiful, serious and real and that’s how it felt like to be sending CDs back and forth. I can’t explain it better than that. Hopeful I guess. Over the top romantic hope.”

“Desperado” by Linda Ronstadt

“My Mum’s favourite band is The Eagles and she’s been to see them loads. Growing up as a kid, my Dad was a real muso, but he’s really into prog and really disgusting, horrible music. I am now, and nostalgically, into Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and stuff, but as a kid I hated it. I was ‘Turn it off!’, but The Eagles was the one band my Dad would play a lot in the car that I liked.

“I knew this song really well and around the third Slow Club album I was trying to find a way to have an angle in that band, that would scratch the itch I had to perform, but still be in keeping with the vibe the band had - which was folk and whatever. I found Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac and all that sort of crowd; that was a spec I could try and write songs to and that was a cool reference for the rest of the band too. I was trying to find my place in that new folk world, but I wanted to sing my heart out and I wanted to say how I felt and wear my heart on my sleeve.

“It was finding those country singers that had enough cool about them to get past the gate for that third Slow Club album, and visually I was really channeling that kind of thing. I got a load of Linda Ronstadt records and her version of “Desperado” is a real example of singing really well, and at that time I was really, really into just singing the absolute best I could.

“It’s interesting how I had to do this whole convoluted thing - only with myself - to feel alright about it onstage and in the band I was in. Now everything I do is up to me and I don’t have to find those remits. It’s interesting now to listen to it and think that all I wanted to do was to sing really well and sing the song really fucking well. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s all she does on this. It’s a brilliant song that already existed and she just sings it beautifully.

“I put it this song on here because it helped me around that time, it helped me go ‘It’s alright that I’m a woman who wants to sing really well in a band that has guitars.’ In that world, singing great, people don’t really want that and unfortunately I’ve always found that difficult.”

“Unfucktheworld” by Angel Olsen

“This is another one about my relationships. I had a good, hefty relationship that I’m still completely not over and I heard this song about a year ago. Since I renounced new folk or lo-fi, I felt very detached from it for a long time and I didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to think about it and didn’t want to make it, certainly.

“I’m alright and life goes on, but the relationship with this person was that I thought we were going to have a future, I thought we were going to have a life and I thought we were going to build and do all the things that everyone else does and it came quite close. I was the closest I came to it.

“This song came on my Discover Weekly on Spotify. I just click that on sometimes because sometimes I can’t bear to think about what to listen to. “Unfucktheworld” came on and it’s everything I felt, and still is really. The lyric ‘I am the only one now’, the idea that it’s just so hard and you’ve come as a pair, but then suddenly you’re just not, you’re a one.

“It’s a breakup song, it is what it is, but it’s the act of listening. This song is bleak as fuck and it says that really beautifully and poetically. It’s really lo-fi and grainy and dirty and weirdly, it reignited something that used to be my whole M.O. for so long, that style of music.

“I had a very profound moment of this song saying how I was feeling when I didn’t even realise that was what I was feeling, so I felt less alone and I really attached to it. I understand, a lot of people tell me that’s how my music makes them feel, and I had a very strong example of that happening to me. It sounds really stupid and silly, but it really reminded me why I do it.”

“Real Gone Kid” by Deacon Blue

“This is a late entry actually. Isolation has been making me realise how important it is that I’ve got these five friends and over the years I always look at how much of this was ‘this boyfriend’, ‘this girlfriend’, ‘this thing’. It’s all relationships, but the one sort of long true love has been a handful of these friendships I’ve got that I’ve really leant on, certainly in this situation.

“I have this one friend called Jess, and I think we listened to “Real Gone Kid” in the car once, it always reminds me of her. I’ve been streaming my workouts and I put this on a playlist because it’s such a euphoric, energetic song. When I put it on the playlist I thought ‘I hope Jess is tuning in and doing my workout’, because I realised I’d done a sort of romantic gesture to a platonic friend but it felt as big as a love message would be to a lover.

“In conclusion, it’s ‘our song’ but we’re just friends. I’m quite obsessed with the idea that true love can exist and it doesn’t have to be sexual. I mean, the song isn’t really about that, but it’s important for me because it’s the first time I realised I’m loved in my life and that I’ve shared these songs because they’re as important as some shitty boyfriends’ ones.

“When I was writing this list, I realised that song represents something that’s important and new and actually healthy for me. I just wrote a song about another friend and how much I love her, and I was like ‘Fuck, this is so nice.’ My songs are about all sorts of things, but a lot of the time they’re about romantic love. I kind of want the next record, for quite a big part of it, to celebrate the non-traumatic, non-chaotic partnerships in your life.

“I’m 33 and a lot of girls at my shows are a similar age and older, aren’t married and haven’t got kids and feel so fine about that, but it’s more the world that makes you feel like you’re a big loser. The relationships you have are just as important as so-and-so who’s married with all her kids, you’ve built this with your people and that’s just as good.”

“So Good” by Destiny’s Child

“I think I would have been about 10 when I got the CD of The Writing's on the Wall. We used to go on holiday to a caravan in Cornwall and my brother would never play with me, but I had this Walkman. I felt like the whole record was injecting my brain with sugar or something. It’s so instant and so gratifying and so exciting and it’s like sherbet in your ears, I just fucking love it.

“Over the years I’ve returned to this song in particular and it’s just bonkers as well. It’s so not following the rules of what pop music should be - or it is - and the layers and everything about it really informed where I eventually got to when I was trying to explain to people what I wanted Self Esteem to be. There’s such an urgency to the harmonies and the melody and the beat. It’s like orange and yellow to me.

“It was important to include “So Good” because that whole record is still a massive, massive inspiration to me now. It’s really long; there’s spoken interludes, there’s a lot going on and it’s not really playing by the rules, but it was this huge pop record and it’s just magic. That song, especially. It’s like a getting out of bed in the morning song.

“Now, I still admire it so much, but there was so much going on in those records and all of Destiny's Child stuff. It feels very ambitious as an idea for a band and obviously there’s a lot of people behind it, a lot of people writing and a lot of producers. There’s something so magical about it, They were so talented and what went on to happen, happened, which was Beyoncé being the biggest star ever.

“I often get in sessions with producers who will say that something’s too wordy or there’s too much going on, but it’s like ‘Nah, Destiny’s Child were hugely successful and its chaos.' I love the confidence of it and I have to remind myself of that. People will have you singing one word over and over again as the chorus because they think that will get you on the radio, and I remind them of this song.”

“Run to Your Grave” by The Mae Shi

“Jon, who I spoke about earlier, was in this band. There were four of them, but there were actually a lot of them and it was an interchangeable line-up. They are another group of people where if I'm feeling really depressed and shit about my career, I think ‘Well everyone in that band was in the moment making the music and playing the music in the moment.’ There was no major plan or bigger picture for them, it was just about the art.

“I think this song is just so beautiful melodically and with the lyrics, I sort of take from them what they’re not about in a way, which is always good. It reminds me of a time that Slow Club toured with them and another band called Casiokids. My eyes were being opened to the world of staying up all night and running wild and free. I wasn’t getting off with any of them, it was just being around all these people with so much to say. We were all so self-indulgent, but I really enjoyed it.

“Meeting Americans was huge for me; it was such a big deal. They were all such big musos and so many bands that are important to me now were introduced to me by Jon or the people in that band. We’d stay up all night in people’s kitchens, it was like my Freshers Week.

“I did a cover of this song and I used to play it onstage with them and scream along. They’re just really happy memories of baby me, learning to be a bit freer and less embarrassed of myself. And I felt really fucking cool, I think it’s the first time I remember feeling cool. It was great.

“So, it’s an important song again because of the story, and also I think it’s a fucking great song. Now and again I’ll meet people who know that cover I did, or I’ll have a Mae Shi conversation, and if someone brings it up with me it’s like this ‘If you were there you were there’ time in indie music. It was really short-lived and magic.”

Self Esteem's Cuddles Please EP is out now via Fiction Records.
Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next