IT has been awesome speaking…
with For Esmé’s front-person, Martha Meredith. She has been talking about the new single, Doubtmouth, and what comes next in terms of material. I ask about her tastes and what we can expect in terms of gigs; whether she will bring the band over to the U.K. (she is based in Canada) – and how she manages to unwind away from music.
Martha talks more about sexism in the industry and how she fights against it; why it is important to create parity; some new artists we need to look out for - and what it was like studying at Queen’s University.
Hi, how are you? How has your week been?
Hi. My last week was a little nuts since I shot two music videos and released a single, but hey: busy is good.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Martha Meredith; front-person and creative director of For Esmé; writing to you from Parkdale in Toronto.
Doubtmouth is your new single. Can you reveal the story behind the song?
Absolutely. I’ve worked on a few all-male teams in the last few years and I kept running into this problem where, when I was passionate about my opinions on things and confident in my knowledge, people seemed to get annoyed. I noticed, in contrast, that the exact same attitude was totally acceptable when expressed by men.
I got to work on these projects because of my opinions and knowledge but, then; these dudes would be mad when I expressed them in a way that was inconvenient to them. I found I had to word things in this certain, careful way to be taken seriously and they didn’t - and I got really frustrated by that.
It is taken from the upcoming album, Righteous Woman. Are there certain themes and stories that inspired the songwriting?
Totally. I’ve always identified as a feminist but, in reality, I’m really trying to dig into what that means in my own life - I ran into a lot of difficult questions. In trying to find my own voice and raise it, I was self-conscious of taking up space as a white woman who has had a ton of privilege in life. I was also in the midst of planning my wedding to my longtime partner and found I was terrified. Not about being with him, but about the attitudes I felt people were projecting onto me about what it means to be a wife.
I realized that, even as an outspoken feminist, I still was applying all this pressure on myself to fit into a certain role of what a woman is ‘supposed’ to be like - and the record is about confronting those expectations in myself.
I get the feeling there is a frustration that stems from years of working for and around men and remaining silent – seen as ‘too confident’ and bold! Do you feel you have been silenced and judged because you are confident?!
In my experience, a lot of men who say they love strong women don’t actually love it so much when that strength is directed at them: when she tells them they’re wrong, really sticks up for herself or knows more about something than they do. I think an equally important part of this conversation, though, is the role women play in this. The pressure women feel to be really accommodating and nurturing gets internalized. I know I have not always stood up for myself with the emotion I felt because I was scared to be labeled. The threat of being called a ‘bitch’ or being told you’re too emotional is real.
While I have certainly experienced being silenced, my biggest hurdle is learning not to silence myself; to stop caring so much about being some perfect (and fictional) example of womanhood. Our culture is screaming toxic gendered ideas at us 24/7 from billboards, magazines; T.V. - and it’s a lot of hard work to shut that out and listen to yourself (and speak your own truth).
There is sexism in music and the world at large. How important is it for female artists to stand up and ensure they are not overlooked?!
I think it’s important to stand up against sexism for sure - and it can be a pretty thankless task. I think too, though, that there is a beautiful movement happening right now. When women really support each other’s initiatives we can change the landscape of the industry and the culture at large. I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of founding the Toronto Womxn in Music community - which we call TWIM. We’re a grassroots organization connecting woman in the industry here in Toronto…and it’s been such a rewarding experience.
Maybe we didn’t have the channels before that: we needed to lift each other up and help each other be heard - and I am seeing that change. The key thing is that the work is never done. We have to keep fighting hard; not just for women’s voices but for all marginalized voices to be heard and celebrated. The homogeneity of the music scene is boring! It’s so much more interesting and exciting when it’s vast and inclusive.
How important was your time studying at Queen’s University? Did study there provoke you to explore feminine anger/roles and channel that through songwriting?
It did and it didn’t.
I studied Psychology and Politics and learned a lot about sexism and feminism that way - but sexism in academia is just as big a problem as anywhere else. My time in university was early-days in my feminist awakening and I think that even though I was working on my feminist ideas, my scope was so limited. I had a lot of blind-spots. I mentioned internalizing things before and I think my time in university involved a lot of discord: on the one hand, I was this confident and outspoken woman; on the other, I still had all this internalized misogyny that I hadn’t confronted yet. I was still trying to be a ‘chill girl’ back then. I wasn’t great at calling people out; maybe because I hadn’t quite learned how to call myself out yet either.
That emotional discord, though, IS why I started writing music - and continues to be my driving force. Writing songs about conflicting feelings is, for me, the best way to get to the bottom of them
What is it like recording and playing in Toronto? Is the city a pretty open and exciting place to be?
Toronto has so much to offer. Sometimes, it saddens me because I think there is so much brilliance here but it always feels like the city has a bit of an identity crisis. We want to be this major international player but we don’t have our sh*t sorted, you know?! All the D.I.Y. music venues keep shutting down and it’s getting too expensive for artists to even live here. That being said; Toronto is home to so many of my favourite artists and the arts community is very enriching. It’s a beautiful scene; full of so much potential and so much great work.
Which artists are most important to you? Who do you count as influences?
Lyrically, I’ve been heavily influenced by Fiona Apple, Emily Haines and Karen O. I love the boldness with which these women show their feelings so unabashedly. Musically, the most played records in my house are Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
We have lots of things coming up in Canada in the next few months. It’s Canadian Music Week in May and then we’re having a big album launch and what we call ‘the 401 tour’ - the highway that connects all the major cities in Ontario to one another.
Do you think you’ll come to the U.K. this year?
I want to come to the U.K. so bad…and tour Europe more extensively. We’ve had so much support from the U.K., online, and never had the chance yet to come play there. Honestly; I sometimes feel like Europe ‘gets’ For Esmé more than Canada - so it’s definitely one of my ambitions to get over there and play for you!
IN THIS PHOTO: The Highest Order
Which new artists do you recommend we check out?
My favourite Toronto band is The Highest Order - it’s psychedelic Country music and the best thing going. Front-person Simone Schmidt also has an incredible solo endeavour called Fiver. In both projects, Simone shines as the ultimate lyrical craftsperson - insanely intricate, poetic and political. My friends Saxsyndrum (from Montreal) make the best experimental Dance music (sax and drum-based) that makes me want to move so much. I had them play my wedding as a special late-night performance...
Recently, I was super-impressed with Vivek Shraya’s new project called Too Attached and their E.P. called Angry. It is brave and bold and super-badass. The new FRIGS record is amazing, too — Bria Selmena is so raw and real...and it’s super-powerful. Oh, and Land of Talk - Life After Youth!
PHOTO CREDIT: Too Attached/PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Wong
What do you hope to achieve, personally, in 2018?
Honestly, to release myself from the shackles of my own perfectionism! I know that sounds intense but I am my own biggest obstacle most of the time.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
It’s hard to pick one!
I get a lot of joy from performing and a different and equally important sense of fulfilment from writing something new that I am obsessed with. Those ‘aha’ moments are what I live for. But, a pretty magical night for me was when we played the WayHome festival here and we did a surprise late-night show that started just after Neil Young performed. There was a pretty serious dance party from this huge crowd that just sort of appeared in the darkness. Neil and his wife cruised past our trailer on a double bicycle earlier in the day and I was like: ‘Is this real life?!’.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Listen to yourself: not to what everyone else is doing.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I read a lotttt. I love to escape to the wilderness and get out of the city whenever I can. I spend a lot of time on an island on Georgian Bay (when it’s not winter).
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
My pick would be Land of Talk’s This Time. I think it’s so beautiful - it makes me cry, but in, like, a hopeful way, if that makes sense.
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