PREMIERE: For Esmé “Modern Love”

Photo by Vanessa Heins

Everyone has that friend so obsessed with getting a boyfriend that she completely misses the interesting, multi-layered, kick-ass person who’s right in front of her (herself). Ok, we’ve all been that friend. Canadian band For Esmé addresses self-love in their newest track “Modern Love” off 2018’s Righteous Woman.

I was looking for somebody / to figure me out and come to love me / like I was wanting / I was incomplete / like winning love would justify me,” front-woman Martha Meredith sings into her bathroom mirror. The video for “Modern Love” features a variety of actors dancing, singing, screaming this reminder into the glass: “To make your own damn bed / sleep in it / cause you are the one who’s got to live with it.” It’s an anthem of self-acceptance, a tried and true reminder that ultimately you have to fall in love with yourself before you can receive love from anyone else. “Modern Love” is the Folger’s coffee of music; from the starting beat, it’ll be the best part of your morning playlist. Skip the mirror, grab a cup, and fall into step.

Watch “Modern Love” and read our full interview with Martha Meredith below:

AF: You’re from Toronto. Can you give us an idea of the music scene where you grew up?

Martha Meredith: I actually grew up on a farm near Peterborough, which is North East of Toronto. There was no ‘scene’ per say, so I was always making mix tapes and homemade music videos (lots of choreographed dances), playing piano and singing in choirs and plays as a kid. Later, as an emo teen, I’d mostly venture to Toronto to catch shows. I joke about Peterborough because it’s such a small town, but it actually has a wonderful creative scene that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. So many of my creative peers in Toronto right now have a connection to or grew up in Peterborough that people joke that there must be something in the water.

AF: Do you remember the first song you wrote? What was it about?

MM: Ugh I hate this question because the answer is so embarrassing! The first significant song I ever remember writing was about a boy I was having a fling with at the boys summer camp I worked at in high school. We were essentially the least compatible duo imaginable, but at the time I took our inability to have a normal conversation as having a deeper romantic meaning. I wrote this song that, though is so cheesy to me now, really resonated with all my women friends that worked there with me at the time, and I was pretty proud of it. It was about overthinking what to say to someone you like and just being so awkward. My friends advised me that it was really good and I should perform it at the camp coffee house, because no one would know who it was about. That was some of the worst advice I’ve ever been given. I did perform it, and everyone knew exactly who it was about and I’ve honestly never lived it down.

To give you an idea, the chorus included: “I talk to you more in my head than for real, and all I want to know is how you feel.” YIKES! But, it was catchy and the feeling of satisfaction that I felt for making it was addictive, so I kept writing. Luckily, I’ve improved.

AF: Tell us about the writing process for Righteous Woman. Did you know the themes you wanted to tackle on this album early on?

MM: I have always been interested in songs that resonate on a psychological or existential level, and I’d started to experiment with some of that on my last record Sugar. My favorite songs critiqued societal structure or my role in it, and I wanted to narrow that focus in for Righteous Woman. I’ve always identified as a feminist, but in writing Righteous Woman I spent more time interrogating my internalized misogyny and some of the toxic ideas that I have either learned or been exposed to. I was deep into work on myself in psychotherapy when I started the record, and really staring down some of my unhealthy notions about womanhood, about myself. Generally I was feeling pretty angry about the expectations and double standards I felt were placed on me and women in general while simultaneously trying to really unpack my own privilege – a learning curve I’m still climbing. The title came later, when I realized there was a solid thread weaving through the record, of trying to cultivate authenticity and self respect. Of knowing when to speak up to stand up for yourself, and when to shut up to hold or make space for others.

AF: “Modern Love” was inspired in part by Joan Didion’s essay “On Self Respect”. Can you walk us through the writing process? Did you start with a line from the essay? Was the music already written?

MM: “Modern Love” started after I got engaged to my now husband and I was feeling uncomfortable with the reaction I felt I was getting from many people (especially women) like I had accomplished my ultimate goal in having secured a husband. This irked me significantly and as I started to interrogate that feeling I realized that my younger self had often defined herself by her relationships to and ability to attract men. Something about that caused me to revisit “On Self Respect” which is an essay I’ve always loved. It is like a signpost to reread to get back on track; for me it works every time. I wanted to write something that had the same ability to remind me to take full responsibility for myself, to forgive myself, to be true to my own character. I embrace the current ideology of self-love in theory, but struggle against it often internally. It always feels like a push and pull. Self Respect is different – there’s no discomfort for me about wanting to cultivate that.

AF: On Facebook, you had this to say about writing “To Hate“:

“I remember at the time feeling frustrated and helpless about the treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada, about the murder of black people at the hands of police in the US, about the seeming impossibility of bringing abusers to justice…. The list of things eroding my hope about society has since stretched much longer. It’s soul crushing. But that is the root of this song. I can’t become apathetic to what’s going on, as helpless as I often feel, and I need to remind myself all the time to find more hope amidst all my cynicism and rage. I have to stay vigilant, informed and keep fighting hate in every way I can, using the privilege and shelter from injustice that I do have to help make the world better.” 

This echoes the thoughts of a lot of people right now. How do you make it a point to address these issues in your art, while also keeping yourself fresh, focused, and not totally depressed?

MM: I honestly really struggle with that. I’ve read the research confirming indefinitely how unhealthy it is to be on social media all the time, but I also learn so much there. Twitter for example has allowed me to engage with communities that I didn’t have a direct connection to before (shout out to #nativetwitter for the memes but also the labor of helping educate white settlers like myself about the realities and deep problems in this country we live in, as one example). That has helped me hugely broaden the range of perspectives through which I think about the world. It is also the fastest place to find out what is going on. Like so many women, it was impossibly hard to pull myself away from the Kavanaugh stuff this week because it fills me with so much rage. I wanted to be on the front lines, but I was also playing shows, attending a conference and sick, so I had to take care of myself.

I’m in this constant battle between tuning in and tuning out. I know how it affects my mental health, but I’m simultaneously so outraged with the state of the world and how sincerely fucked up things are that I need to feel really engaged as a citizen. Being a citizen in our globalized era is such an overwhelming task! It’s so vast. The levels of corruption, misinformation, and lack of empathy – it’s all so heavy. I’m trying to learn balance: making space for engagement, activism, debate, etc, while also making space for myself, for peace, for art, and for forgiving myself for not having all the answers. The best tool I’ve found over the past couple of years, as obvious as it sounds, is to make more room for gratitude. Taking time in a day to write down what you love and are grateful for can really give you strength to face the things that make you angry, complicit, or sad.

AF: What Toronto artists should we be spinning right now?

MM: I just got home from Pop Montreal and really enjoyed seeing both Fleece and Jaunt’s sets there – both great Toronto bands! Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with The Highest Order, they’re my #1. Recently I had the pleasure of catching Loom at Venus Fest and Brooke’s songs have been on repeat for soothing my soul ever since. Another artist I am really into right now is Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. She’s a brilliant author, songwriter and poet doing really important work in Canada right now. I am currently reading her book  As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance and learning a LOT, and I like to listen to her music too. Check out her song “Under Your Always Light.”

AF: Besides music, what’s something you’re seriously into? We’re talking macrame level hobby.

MM: I used to do ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, all of it, and I still find moving to music continues to be one of the best ways to center myself and express really freely. I’ve been renting a dance studio sometimes lately just to move. It makes me feel really in touch with myself and brings me a lot of joy.

AF: I’ve just stumbled upon a For Esmé show. What can I expect?

MM: A good time! Lots of dancing, some high energy theatrics, and really excellent players. I am so happy with my band right now – it’s a real pleasure playing with Charles Tilden, Karrie Douglas, Lewis Parker and Liam Cole. The energy is huge! Together we’ve taken these electronic songs and extended and experimented with them to get a really fluid, dynamic set. I think the songs are the most compelling when you hear them live.

For Esme’s Righteous Woman is out now. Want to see the band live? Check out their tour dates below!


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