Interview: Esmé Patterson goes sci-fi

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Esmé Patterson w/ Elizabeth Moen, Brooks Strause

Trumpet Blossom Cafe — Sunday, July 22 at 9 p.m.

Esmé Patterson will play the Trumpet Blossom on Sunday, July 22. — press photo

Trumpet Blossom Café will host a formidable tripleheader on July 22, 2018. Headliner Esmé Patterson is making her first appearance in Iowa City since Mission Creek 2016, bringing a shift in song style from angry protest rock to a more energizing dance vibe. She’ll be joined by two talented local artists: Brooks Strause and Elizabeth Moen. Tickets are $10-12; doors open at 9 p.m. Patterson took a few moments from her studio time to talk to me on the phone on a hot day in mid-July.

Woman to Woman was a series of cover songs that then led to your release of We were Wild, which you’ve described as a way of listening to yourself rather than other women. After those, what new kinds of conversations have you been interested in pursuing?

Just to be clear, I’m a songwriter who happens to be a woman describing her experience, not just a “female artist.”

Right — I apologize for being unclear in phrasing that question. What I’d really like to know is: What are the new conversations you’ve been oriented toward?

For my new record, I’m really inspired by Sun Ra, and his idea of a planet where black people are free. I’m going a bit sci-fi in this record — I’ve been into Ursula LeGuin and Octavia Butler and seeing science fiction as a humanist view of how things move forward. It’s musically inspired by everything — I listen to all kinds of music.

You’ve collaborated with Iowa City favorite William Elliott Whitmore on a split 7” called Play Each Other’s Songs. Can you talk about that process — both covering his music, hearing yourself covered? What was that like for you?

That was a dream come true — Will Whitmore is a gentleman and an amazing musician. I’m lucky to call him a friend. We were on tour together, and I’d never heard him play live. When I did, we were talking one day backstage, and I said I should cover one of your songs, and he said, “I should cover one of yours.” I recorded it out at his cousin’s studio, Flat Black, which was great. I like Iowa people a lot — it was a nice project with good people.

In what other ways have you found yourself growing as a person or as a musician (or both!) since that time?

I’ve been touring with a rock band, playing crazy electric guitar and pedals and doing rock and roll shows, mostly as a political protest — to play angry and loud. But I’ve moved through the evolution of rock and roll. Now, I just want to make people dance, lifted up, elevated, ready to have energy to do good in the world. So we’re making music to help people have fun.

Do you think that dance can be seen as a form of protest?

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I’m not trying to express anything specific — I’m trying to be a human being and connect with other human beings in a place. Standing in a place and feeling something together is healthy for us, and it helps our communities function together when we take the time to all show up together, and feel something, and be in a room and share an experience. It’s a human experience. We’re lucky to provide that for people and ourselves.

How do collaborations differ from your work as part of a band, and from working with other musicians on your solo career?

I’m a very reactive chemical. I like to be combined with other elements. It’s difficult to create alone, to create a world by yourself. I like to find people who can bring something to the table — if you can apply that perspective of finding the elements, what is the best purpose of them, what does everyone contribute that is special? This is how the world could work, also … but if everyone did what they were good at and what they like, it’d be a better world. I try to see what people want to do and work with them rather than impose my vision.

Anything else?

I’m excited to come back to Iowa. I enjoy how people are close to the land, and community is beautiful. It’s true of Colorado also. [Iowa is] one of my favorite places.

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