Estere On The Deeper Meanings Behind Her Brilliant New Album, 'Archetypes'
The remarkable singer-songwriter waxes philosophical about her third collection
“I use music as a medium to find meaning in my life,” Estere says down the line from her home in Wellington. “Because I’m agnostic, I don’t have a specific religion so I look for meaning in life through delving into different philosophies.”
We’re talking about the concepts and ideology behind her startlingly good new album Archetypes, which she released last month.
Far from just a collection of folk-infused, neo-soul grooves and electronica, the album is instead, in her words, “an exploration of what it can mean to be human”.
That’s heavy stuff. But the musician and producer has never been one to shy away from embracing big thoughts or following through on artistically ambitious ideas. It’s fair to say that on here, on her third album, she’s gone for broke.
It was recorded in Wellington and Bristol, the spiritual home of the UK’s underground electronic music scene, and she enlisted Stew Jackson, famed producer of the hugely influential, bass-heavy group Massive Attack, to work alongside her as co-producer.
She broadened her sonic scope, replacing samples with musicians and creating a lush sonic texture and atmosphere to get lost in.
That is fitting, considering the record is a full-blown concept album, with each of its 11 songs based around or representing a different archetype. Being a fairly simple sort of fellow, I possess only a limited understanding of what an archetype actually is so I ask Estere to explain.
“It took me a long time to get to this understanding and I’m still not 100 per cent sure whether Carl Jung would agree with what I’m saying,” she confesses, referring to the distinguished Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, whose theories had lasting impact.
“But essentially you can think of an archetype as a common pattern that all humans have the possibility of being exposed to. It’s not a stereotype, it’s a pattern that fits into anyone but will manifest differently for different people.”
I ask for an easy example and she says the idea of a mother is a basic archetype.
“Everyone has a mother and everyone has a different relationship to having a mother,” she explains. “But that mother is an archetype, because there’s a pattern of motherhood; conception, then the mother carries the baby and then the baby’s born. But archetypes are infinite. There’s not a limited amount. They’re universal patterns that come into people’s lives at varying times.”
I begin to think I’m getting it, so I ask if, based on this idea of common universality, are we all just living the same life?
“No,” she states. “But in saying that, to be human we all experience. Obviously our experiences are really different but there are some things we all share. That’s what’s interesting to me about archetypes. It’s an idea that there are experiences that go beyond identity.”
To reach her conclusions Estere studied books on Jung’s work but also found inspiration in the dark. “I’m a bit of a dreamer and did a lot of dream journalling,” she says, noting that she filled six notebooks with vivid recollections of her dreams and notes of what the symbology meant. “We’re all dreamers but I have very odd and intricate dreams most nights and if I really study them it’s like I’m living another lifetime.”
The waking moments sometimes felt like that too. The album was ready to go last year but then the pandemic hit, forcing all her release and touring plans to be pushed back.
In fact, she was doing the soundcheck for her Auckland Arts Festival show, Into the Belly of Capricorn, when she got the news the shows were cancelled as the country prepared to go into its first lockdown.
“Generally, my mind last year was a little like scrambled eggs,” she says. “I can’t really remember what happened. It’s very odd. I suppose it was a psychological limbo state.”
It’s recognised that art is never finished, only abandoned, so with the album in the can, how did she resist the temptation to go back into the songs and tweak things or just generally fiddle about with them?
“I didn’t,” she laughs. “Stew got quite a few emails from me saying, ‘I just added this to this song’, or ‘I just changed the mix a little bit’. At some point he was like ‘you just go for it and do what you gotta do’. Unless it’s gone I’m the type of artist who can’t leave things alone.”
But now, with the album out, the Auckland Arts Festival show rescheduled for March 4 and her largest ever tour of New Zealand booked in right afterwards, 2021 is shaping up to be anything but atypical for one of Aotearoa’s most ambitious musicians.