Rebecca Lucy Taylor: “I had no fucking self-esteem at all and that was what was wrong in my life.”
Felten Ink recently had the pleasure, the privilege of speaking with Rebecca Lucy Taylor, the former Slow Club musician and now ‘front’ for her own solo project, Self Esteem. Her first record as Self Esteem, ‘Compliments, Please’, was released in 2018 and now Taylor is back and gaining more huge and rightly deserved applause for ‘I Do This All The Time’, as well as her latest single, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’. Both tracks are a tremendous affirmation and example of Taylor’s own attitude to her own self-esteem and her rampant individuality. The former is also an uplifting ode to spoken word pop (and self-help analysis). But please, do keep your Baz Lurhman comparisons to yourself.
In our conversation we discuss her attitudes and career as a solo artist so far, multi-tasking to the extreme, dealing with the world online, Self Esteem as an art as well as therapeutic project, and how one deals with their own sexual desires for a muppet.
Rebecca, forgive me. When I first heard your solo material as Self Esteem I had no idea you used to be in the wonderful Slow Club?
Yeah, remember that slag from Slow Club? That’s the year’s tagline. A lot of people don’t realize that.
How is it for you, in terms of going from being part of a band to now working and thriving on your own solo project?
Self Esteem is a direct sort of solution to things I was unhappy about in a band. Obviously, I’m really proud of what we did, it’s 10 years of my life, I toured the world, really learned a lot, you know? I didn’t go to university, I went straight out of school into a band and had a really weird but amazing time. But I think creatively I found it very difficult to compromise. So that’s why Self Esteem is quite like… there’s the music but then also I’m hyper-focused on the aesthetic and the look and the direction of everything. And the show and just all these other parts that it, that is the art of making. Whereas in a band you’re having to sort of compromise and there are other people’s tastes and things like that. I don’t think I faired very well, mentally. Like I find it really difficult to not be, as a creative, ‘totally seen’. So Self Esteem is all about that really and that’s why I look like I’m having just the fucking time of my life all the time. I loved the band and I love the people I made music with but, fitting into someone else’s idea is, was pretty bad for me (laughs).
I tend to be more drawn towards artists who are perhaps egocentric but definitely like to have control. How do you feel about that in relation to being an artist?
Well, you see that’s the thing, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think like you’re almost told your whole life, especially as a woman, to be like ‘stay in your lane, don’t show off, don’t think your idea is the best one’. Whereas actually, it’s like sometimes it was and is, do you know what I mean? And it’s society’s structure that made me go, ‘Oh sorry, excuse me, do you mind if I…’ etc. And it stifled me creatively. And I’m not saying what I’m doing now is better, I feel much more realized. Yeah, I guess it’s egocentric but I don’t believe that’s as bad as we’ve been made to believe it is. I think if we all put ourselves first a bit more everyone would be a bit (laughs) happier.
Now it feels like you really own your own output. Does that make sense and how have you evolved?
I think like just the natural way, like when you’re like 16 and you love bands and you want to just copy it. It’s very different, like learning what your actual ‘art practice’ is and what’s important to you. I mean, it was very much when I started making music I wanted to be like Tilly and the Wall or Bright Eyes or things like that. And over time I’ve learned what I like to do is fucking sing, rather than just being sweet. I like to perform. I like to move an audience, I like things that feel a little bit like there’s so much music. To my mind, if you’re going to bother making any more, it needs to either say or be something completely new or say something new, or at least take you on a journey. That’s what I’m into. A lot of people like to hear the same kind of thing over and over again and that’s fine as well. To keep myself entertained is the thing I focus on really.
I guess being in a band so young helps you learn these things?
What I learned from being in a band as well is like, you write all these songs and you make all these records and then you’re touring them for like two years and the tour is not as cool and fun as it sounds. It’s really boring and hard and uncomfortable, and you make piss all money for how much time it takes out of your life and how much it disrupts your life. For me, Self Esteem has been about making sure that when I’m doing all this work of touring, and as we all know making not much money, it’s got to be fulfilling. And all this is a bit more interesting for an audience, I believe.
Prior to this interview, my wife saw me on my laptop watching you get intimate with Kermit. Can you clear this up?
(laughs) And she was like, “Not again. Not with the frog porn again!”
That was quite a while ago now I shot that. When I was a kid, when people asked me who I fancied, I would say a frog. I’m bisexual. It was obviously a way of me kind of hiding what I was feeling. But all the way through my life, all the greatest loves of my life have had long arms and legs. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence but yeah the idea was that I can’t put a label on what I am, I’m just attracted to Kermit (laughs). That’s the first thing I took my own initiative and wrote and directed something myself. And it’s weird as fuck, but I love it.
I’ve always had a thing for Miss Piggy so I totally identify.
I’ve been following you on social media for a while and you’re admirably very vocal about the amount of crap you get sent to you and call it out often. What’s it like having to put up with all the stupidity and garbage the internet (especially some men) can throw?
Well, the internet is just a faceless version of what life is like for me as a woman who performs I guess. I remember turning 14 and the world got weirder and scarier because men started looking at me in that way. It was a real shift, but I was still a child. So what I get, what gets said to me on the internet is often…. I actually don’t fare too badly. Like, it happens but I think it’s probably way worse if you’re Rita Ora or whatever. I’m not very famous so I think I get away with a lot but men love to sort of comment on my appearance.
My life has just been people commenting on my appearance. I don’t let it affect me because it sort of proves my point and what I’m trying to say all the time. I don’t hate men at all, I really love loads of them. But that is in the zeitgeist now, isn’t it? The way that I think a lot of men don’t understand the fear that you live in every single fucking day as a woman. You’ve got to make allowances for the fact that some people are just fucking sad. And this gets them really going, and I just think, ‘honey if you need to tell me I look like a slag on the internet, then go for it’. If that’s gonna make you feel better, go for it, because I want to be kind (laughs).
You do still seem to remain positive regardless when it would wear other people down.
I sometimes get angry and I try not to because you’ve just got to wait for these people to learn themselves and I do think like, you know, with my best mate’s kid, a little girl, I think the world will be a bit different by the time she hits a certain age. The conversations we’re having now and the kind of move, there’s a shift, you know, feminists, or just even fucking awareness of the inequality that’s been happening, you know shit that happens in the news… at least these things are finally being spoken about.
You only get so far with positivity on the internet, and you give so much of it and what you get back just makes you, or it makes many vindictive and hateful. But it also depends on where I’m at, like if I’m feeling a bit shit anyway or whatever like it sometimes can hit me a bit worse. It’ll be interesting because obviously with the new songs there’s a bit more buzz going on for me than usual. And you know, I’m getting a lot more followers, things are happening more than usual so I’m just gonna see how it goes. My mental health is something that I’ve absolutely devoted my life sorting out.
I’m no analyst or psychologist but the name in itself, Self Esteem, it does appear you’ve made a very conscious decision to focus on positivity, ’empowerment’, call it what you will, with this project?
Oh no. You’re totally right. When I was in Slow Club, we used to tour a lot and we spent a lot of time in LA. And I was friends with this band who were these like, real sort of authentic fucking psychedelic punks that made music for making music’s sake. Everyone had these cool names for their projects and I remember being like really wanted to do one myself and I was either gonna call it Sex Appeal or Self Esteem. So, I’ve carried that with me for like, nine years. I needed an outlet so I started just making art under the name Self Esteem and then it just carried on.
But yeah to answer your question, I had no fucking self-esteem at all and that was what was wrong in my life. But I called it that because I thought it was a cool project name. And it’s actually become really self-fulfilling. In the sort of beautiful way that will be great, you know, in the documentary. I would say three years ago I sort of started with a new therapist who was like, ‘you have no self-esteem, you really don’t love yourself’. And I was like, ‘oh, okay. I don’t know how I deal with that, but let’s try’. I have figured quite a lot of that out and it’s really revolutionized my life personally and also my work. So it’s hilarious, but yeah, it’s self-fulfilling. But I will still make some music under the name Sex Appeal and see what happens with that. In some format.
Along with the music for Self Esteem I understand you’re also in charge of the choreography and shooting in the videos? How do you manage to juggle all of those (‘I Do This All The Time’ and ‘Prioritize Pleasure’)?
I lose my shit, I find it very difficult. I do a lot of prep, I’ve sort of learned over the years. It’s often for very fucking little budget. I’m really used to sort of making something good out of not a lot but learned that if you’ve got no money, you need the prep and the time. But if you’ve got loads of money you can whip something together and it’ll have the same result. I pulled all the money that I got from the label to make videos into one and I shot three videos on that one day. So there’s two more videos to come that I shot that day. But I did just a ton of prep. I did not stop thinking about it. I planned it within an inch of its life. I’ve done a few videos that I directed for other people and really enjoyed that experience because I’d had fuck all to do with me on camera and I could like focus. But it’s another one of those things, I think Self Esteem is unfortunately this … I’ve worked with other people, I’ve tried to do other things, I tried to collaborate but think it all just has to come from me and have that really concentrated vision being communicated, really on the nose. And it makes you know, job a bit harder but I’m, I’m also like work’s more fun than fun. I don’t really like relaxing so I’m fine with it.
You sound like you have a million things you want to do at once and it must be tough?
I’ve always been like this. When I was in Slow Club, it was like I had to wait. My life was waiting to be in the studio, waiting to record, waiting to rehearse, waiting to tour. So all that downtime, I was misplaced in a way and became me just fucking about my twenties, basically. I like to structure my time, I like to have projects. Genuinely, there’s nothing more fun. Like, going to the pub and getting pissed up and coming home, eating a takeaway and falling asleep and feeling shit the next day is like, don’t get me wrong, something I do a lot of. But I don’t love that as much as I love working on something I’ll record or, or create. I guess I’m kind of lucky that at the moment everything I create has a small audience. I could just be shouting into the void and I don’t know what. I think I would still always do it though, do you know what I mean? I think that’s just my lot. And it’s frustrating, I can’t hold a relationship down and I’m a bad friend. I’m really shit, I’ll not remember your kid’s christening. But I can’t help it.
I’m fascinated by artists who treat their work like a normal job, like a discipline. Like I’ve heard Nick Cave say he goes to his office in the morning and just writes till whenever. Whatever works I suppose. I don’t suspect that’s how the process works for you?
I’ve worked with people that treat it like a day job. Sit with the guitar all day. I used to try and be like that, I think I thought that meant you were a real musician or whatever. But again, it’s just another thing, I am 34 now, it’s like I know what works, what doesn’t. I am open to trying new things, but for the most part, I get how I am. And Self Esteem, as a, I think of it as more than the music, it’s an art practice and that is what I hope you get as an audience member or a consumer. It’s like performance art. I think that constant sort of stream of consciousness, to me is interesting and helps you have a fully realized idea of me. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with making sure everyone sees me, but that’s what this is. I don’t sit and go write. But, you know, if, some company said I need a song like this, we’ll pay you this much, can you write it? I’d be like, “Yeah, fuck yeah I love that.” I am still just finding it all out.
You would appear to speak to the outsider, which I love, but is that a fair comment?
As soon as I hit like eight or something I was louder, weirder or my imagination got stranger. There are all these things, especially as a woman, that you’re like ‘oh’. I never had boyfriends. I’ve just felt like an alien the whole time but the difference now is I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and I really, really celebrate that. I think there’s a fuck ton more people than you realize that feel like that. But, many go through the system, and especially as a woman if you’re sort of polite, quiet, pretty, clever, but not too clever, like all these things. I just can’t be asked to conform when it just doesn’t naturally happen. But if it does, nice one. After me trying to reform the system. (laughs)
Rebecca Lucy Taylor, thank you!
The new album by Self Esteem ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ will be available later this year.
Self Esteem are also playing live. Find tour dates and venues here