The Sound Cafe
Global Music Artist, Esbe, Releases New Album 'Under Cover'
With five albums of her own compositions released just within the last three and a half years, prolific London-based singer, producer and composer Esbe has consistently demonstrated rare talents for composition, poetically deep lyrics, and innovative original arrangements. As a self-releasing musician insistent on the freedom to choose exactly what and how she records, Esbe’s music has always manifested as an eclectic blend of her many influences — from her early training as a classical guitarist to her affinity for drawing on a diverse, multi-cultural array of contemporary, world music and film scores — while she’s simultaneously continued to resist easy categorization and submission to the music industry’s usual creative constraints.
So, when one of her former guitar students suggested she record some covers of her favourite pop songs during the COVID- 19 lockdown last year, Esbe took the challenge as an opportunity to harness that background and defiant creative philosophy to put into practice her belief that pop music shouldn’t be pigeon-holed by either instrumentation or harmonic construction.
The resulting album Under Cover (September 17th on New Cat, Cadiz Distribution) taps into Esbe’s classical training, disparate influences, and her visionary pop sensibilities, to reimagine ten of her personal favorite classic pop songs, interpreted through a broader range of harmonies not typically considered to be part of the pop harmony-bank. By releasing this inspired collection of unexpected arrangements for a set of songs, already so globally familiar in one guise, Esbe hopes these classic tracks can reach a new audience and shine in a new light.
Before Esbe embarked on Under Cover she knew that, for these songs to have a renewed meaning for a contemporary audience, the arrangements, approach and production would have to be substantially different from the original recordings. After all, these are all perfectly formed songs by iconic musicians with distinctive arrangements – classics that everyone knows and loves. This was both a subconscious and conscious decision. Esbe didn’t contrive to work in a particular way, she just approached the arrangements as if she’d only ever heard the vocal, almost treating the song as a re-mix. Esbe loves exploring sounds to create a distinct palette for an album and then adapting that sonic theme for each individual track.
“From not wanting it to sound like a pastiche, karaoke-ish cover version of the original, I’ve changed the harmonies and the underlying chord structure from the original,” explains Esbe. “I felt that in order to make the tracks say something new, the production had to be significantly different to draw you in.
In the process of reworking the songs’ instrumentations and other sonic elements, Esbe notes that this often changed the mood a bit as well. The overall feel of the album is perhaps slightly introspective with themes all pertinent to the human condition and life’s troubles, but Esbe feels songs dealing with these themes resonate the best, for her, and for us all.
“I’m drawn to the contemplative, and I have an appreciation for introspective music, Esbe muses. “I’ve always loved Elizabethan music, which is very reflective. I love their melancholy.”
In producing the album and choosing the construction and instrumentation, Esbe wanted to make use of both orchestral arrangements (most evident on the tracks Summertime and Amazing Grace and her bank of atmospheric sampled sounds (showcased prominently on Sound Of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Having accumulated much experience in the craft of orchestral string arranging, she feels that, with careful and sensitive programming, sampled instruments can make the listener feel they’re in an auditorium. This is mainly because the instruments she uses from Spitfire Audio’s sound-bank were all recorded at London’s Air Studios, famously founded by Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
As an adoptee born to a Turkish-Algerian father and an Austrian/Polish British mother with some Jewish heritage, Esbe’s multi-cultural background has informed her approach to writing and singing, and the influences she has blended to create an individual but varied sound. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, London, where she gained an LRAM and won the prestigious ‘Julian Bream Prize for Guitar’, Esbe performed as a guitarist and singer in concerts around the UK. She particularly enjoyed singing Dowland and other early composers and this soon developed into setting poetry to music, and then to the complete process of composing, song-writing, recording, and production and mixing.
Esbe’s musical influences are drawn from the classical world where she began her creative life, and her arrangements and orchestrations display this. But, intriguingly, she is equally happy to encompass flavours from around the globe, as heard on her albums Mystra, Desert Songs and Saqqara. The album Far Away showcases her sensibility for guitar accompaniment, while on Ten Songs she experiments with overlaid guitars, creating some unique textures.
As well as writing her own lyrics, Esbe has set an eclectic choice of poems, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to the nonsense poet Mervyn Peake. And for the album Desert Songs, she chose a selection of 8th – 13th century Middle Eastern poets in translation, including the celebrated Rumi.
A prolific and versatile composer, Esbe has also recorded two further albums, collections of poem settings, and a song cycle, ‘Elektra’, devised as an animation film, for which she wrote the original story, lyrics and narrative links. This semi- staged piece is similar in format to Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, with an allegorical story exploring the emotions of a young girl as she transitions to adolescence.
For Esbe, living in a time when so many resources are at the producer’s fingertips is one of the primary joys of recording independently. All albums were recorded and produced by Esbe, working alone in her small London studio, and apart from Desert Songs and Under Cover, all lyrics are her own.
These albums show a rare artistic talent and provide insight into her truly individual mind. This continues in the art-work she designs for each album cover and the many videos she’s created for past tracks. As an artist also with a strong visual creativity working alongside her musical work, Esbe conceived the theme for Under Cover after having just read the book Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem and being inspired by the historical insights into those who have lived and worked along London’s River Thames over the last 5000 years. From this, Esbe found herself wandering along the banks of the tidal Thames by the iconic Tower Bridge, and found a perfect spot for the photo for the cover of the first single Yesterday.