Writer, Kanye collaborator and notorious perfectionist back for hometown show
“My intent is to debut as much new music as possible,” says Esthero of her Lee’s Palace gig.
The drought is almost over.
Esthero admirers who have been jonesing for some new music ever since 2005’s Wikked Lil Grrrls will finally get some relief in 2010: first with Sunday’s Lee’s Palace gig featuring the dazzling hometown girl and her 10-piece band, and then a new album called Everything is Expensive that she’s intent on finishing in time for Christmas.
But 72 hours before she hits the stage, the 32-year-old singer and songwriter born Jenny-Bea Englishman still hasn’t finalized the set list. “I’m struggling a bit emotionally, because the show’s really, really important to me — it’s my first hometown show in a year and my intent is to debut as much new music as possible,” says the Stratford-born musician. “I want people leaving this show saying, ‘Wow, not only is she really the best bitch to hit this town, but she’s ours.’
“My intention is to walk people down memory lane and give them a bit of the first album (1998’s Breath From Another), the second album, and take them on a bit of a journey and then play the new stuff. I wanted to cover a lot of ground.”
However, with only 36 hours of rehearsal under the band’s belt, the notorious perfectionist is keeping it open. “My band keeps asking me how long the set is, and it depends on how good the tunes are,” she explains. “It could be an hour, but if it all sounds great, I’ll go up there for three hours — I’ll play until I fall over. I was hoping to introduce five new tunes, but I think maybe I’ll only play like three or four.”
She asserts that the new tunes are markedly different in style, even though she’s kept her public profile up recently with contributions to Timbaland’s new Shock Value II(singing “Undertow’ with The Fray) and Kanye West’s recent 808’s and Heartbreak (co-writing the Top 3 Billboard hit “Love Lockdown,” as well as “Robocop” and “Street Lights”). Contrary to her sensuous and soulful jazz-inspired polyrhythmic and trip-hop/dancehall-inspired pop gems like “That Girl,” “Half a World Away” and “Fastlane,” Esthero describes her latest material as “really simple, pretty songs.”
“There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles,” she continues. “There are no beats on this record. Everything is live. It’s mainly bass, guitar and drums, upright bass and cello. There are no horns. There aren’t tons of harmonies. It’s really border singer-songwriter and it’s got a bit of ’70s vibe.”
Esthero has lived in L.A. the past four years, and starred in the “Yes We Can” music video inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign slogan along with Scarlett Johansson, Common, John Legend and many others. How does she feel Obama is faring?
“I think he’s doing his best,” she says. “I think he’s doing well. I love that he’s a total rock star for president and actually getting people caring and interested in politics again in America — especially the youth. With Obama, people need to be really patient with him. He has a really, really big mess to clean up.
“My hope for Obama is that he has the opportunity of a second term, and that they’re not looking for him to solve the world’s problems in a four-year span, because it’s impossible.”
Esthero performs a sold-out set at Lee’s Palace Sunday night as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.