Esther Rose Dances Away the Heartbreak on Third LP How Many Times

Photo Credit: Akasha Rabut

Taking shape over the course of two years, New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Esther Rose offers a different outlook to romantic losses and hardships – unique from the wallowing cries of the average love song – on her third album How Many Times, out March 26 via Father/Daughter Records/Full Time Hobby. Carefully acknowledging viewpoints from both parties, Rose’s personal anecdotes are meant to move audiences both physically and emotionally.

Rose’s sweet alt-country, folk pop twangs and two stepping rhythms originate back to her experience as a fresh New Orleans local. Roaming the noisy streets filled with traditional jazz bands, the singer-songwriter found her niche in NOLA’s own eclectic country music scene. Seeing the parties of joyful folks gathered around lively country music shindigs, Rose joined in on the fun and felt particularly at home.

Other than the two-step dance accompaniment, it was the soft weeping tones of the pedal steel guitar and frantic bowing of the fiddle that particularly piqued her interest, reminding her of a beloved legend Hank Williams. Drawn to his “lonesome voice and three-chord [compositions] on the guitar” Rose felt personally connected to not only these foot-tapping rhythms, but also the warmth and intimacy of songwriting itself. Album single “Songs Remain”reminisces on Williams withthe singer’s intimate vocals accompanied with the slow strums of the guitar.

How Many Times is ignited by the spark of lyrical compositions stemming from little moments in Rose’s life – an exchange of words in arguments, overheard conversations and catchphrases born out of heart-to-heart chats. Representative of significant experiences in her life, her songwriting process served as a means of introspection and self-discovery. “I would say that our experiences as humans really shape us,” she describes. “So I use songwriting to examine my life, experiences and relationships.” 

Her affinity for looking outward at life’s circumstances causes her to analyze its meaning and her own perspective carefully and thoughtfully. She crafts her lyrical phrases with the intention of looking at the bigger picture, processing each moment with the proper care it deserves. “It’s a universal experience,” she describes. “Whatever it is that sets up the song is being present in the world and paying attention.” Listeners are given a peek into the intimacy of these referenced conversations in tracks like “Good Time,” where Rose sings “It’s a real good time for bad timing” with conspiratorial inflection, the sort of wink and nudge one might give a close friend during a night on the town.

The idiosyncratic outlook at relationship pain Rose expresses in her songs seems to be more than solely grieving and throwing blame or anger on the other party. Allowing herself to feel the torment of heartbreak, the musician simultaneously expresses her acceptance of the hurt she’s feeling while poking fun at her own negative reaction on “My Bad Mood.” She sings candidly, “You got your new blue jeans and the girl of your dreams/I guess I should go and do the same/Oh, I’m getting pretty tired of me and my bad mood.”

Rather than focusing on blue tones of the average love song, the musician has an interesting way of shaking up the vibes of the gloom through her change in tempo. On the album’s title track Rose keeps listeners engaged with a sudden change in time signature in the middle of the song. Soothed by the sustained wails of the fiddle in the beginning of “How Many Times,” the listener will find themselves tapping out a faster tempo by its end, concluding with a light-hearted touch. Other tracks, like “Mountaintop,” “Without You,” and “Keeps Me Running” carry on as the fast-paced instrumentation allows listeners to forget about emotional turmoil.

Rose’s says her affinity for upbeat tempos helps “iron out [her] nerves,” rather than giving into the emotions of bluesy, dismal sounds as a bandaid for hardship. How Many Times may have the same effect on fans, who can experience her music as the artist herself would, turning painful emotions into songs worthy of dancing to. “What I’m trying to do sonically as a songwriter [is to] explore emotions in a way that by the time I’m done writing it, it has changed the emotion into something that we can all dance to and have fun with,” she says.

With an ever-changing state of mind, Esther Rose is currently working on new music touching on themes of future fear, family, health, and the planet. “I’ve never played it out with my band,” she says of the new material. “So the songs feel really exploratory and kind of goth with a lot of different tangents.”

In the process of making How Many Times, Rose turned to the records of Faustina Masigot and Kiki Cavazos to soothe her emotional state of mind and feel a sense of companionship. “These records were there for me. I love how music is that companion for heartbreak,” Rose says. Understanding the importance of music in our daily lives and the profound effect it can have on others, Rose hopes How Many Times can similarly accompany listeners in times of sorrow, or on lonely nights, or long drives. She adds, “My dream is that my record will do that for other people.”

Follow Esther Rose on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING MELBOURNE: The True Story of Bananagun Invigorates the Senses

Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

Bananagun kick off their debut tropicalia-afrobeat-jungle safari mashup album, The True Story of Bananagun, with the lyrics “There is nothing special about me, just another apple on the tree,” but nothing could be further from the truth. This five-piece band hailing from Melbourne have something special.

A love for The Jungle Book united vocalist, guitarist and flautist Nick van Bakel and his cousin, drummer Jimi Gregg as kids. As adults, the image of Mowgli swinging wildly through the cartoon trees of a jungle canopy to this swinging safari beat makes total sense. Jack Crook (guitar/vocals), Charlotte Tobin (djembe/percussion) and Josh Dans (bass) were all friends prior to becoming bandmates, which shows in the easy harmony they find for what sounds, to my ear at least, like a lot of instruments to make work in sync; to think that Bananagun began as a solo project for Van Bakel is mind-blowing.

It’s no surprise to learn that the group provide such eclectic, unusual and yet cohesive tunes when they have spent so much time playing spontaneous late night jams, often hanging out at Melbourne producer John Lee’s Phaedra Studios in Melbourne. Certainly, the tightly-knit group make an impressive impact on record – it’s a deep shame that their May tour was cancelled and we can’t (for the foreseeable future) combine some form of Brazilian-Afro-dance with ’60s flares and oversized sunglasses in a big outdoor party somewhere.

The symbol of the banana as a gun speaks much to the peace, love and unity that the band is all about. If I told you this album was actually a cleaned up version of a sixties recording, you wouldn’t blink an eye. Beautiful afro-orchestral “People Talk Too Much” is lively and percussive, enlightened by joyful bursts of sax and strings that rise and sound before lulling back to their own worlds. The spirit of Fela Kuti lives on in this single – the highlight of the album, for my liking. A cacophony of birds turns into a symphony on “Bird Up!” flute and strummy, summery guitars raise “Perfect Stranger” into the clouds, sixties-style multi-vocalists hark to the Monkees on “Modern Day Problems,” and toy piano even makes an appearance on “The Master.”

Van Bakel lives just an hour or so outside of Melbourne, away from the hubbub of the city centre. “Bird Up!” was a mash-up of the songs of the kookaburras and parrots that soundtrack his daily life in regional Victoria. It is emblematic of the album as a whole, reflecting both the personal lives but also the daily inspirations and nostalgic influences on the band members.

“Taking The Present For Granted,” in particular, is a paean to mindful, conscientious living. It is prescient in its reminder that we must get out of our own narratives of anticipation or rehashing the past to embrace the sensory wonderland of the right now.

The True Story of Bananagun was released in mid-July via London imprint Full Time Hobby Records. Bananagun joined the label in 2019 alongside artists like Serbian-Canadian ethereal folk singer Dana Gavanski, Brazilian psych-pop duo Aldo, and dark indie-Americana purveyors Ohtis. The match seems a natural fit from an outside perspective, with an eclectic roster of international artists who have taken a world of influences, personal and collected in their physical and artistic travels, and channeled them into harmonic offerings of the individual to the collective. As diverse as Full Time Hobby’s roster is, there’s a sense of joyfulness, a searing need to tell stories and to connect, at the heart of the music – and that’s especially true with Bananagun.

Right now in Melbourne as we face mandatory mask-wearing, hundreds of new Coronovirus cases daily and constant news of deaths and illness, something as buoyant, nostalgic, and shamelessly celebratory of just being alive and making music as The True Story of Bananagun is a tonic for the spirit and senses.

Follow Bananagun on Facebook for ongoing updates.