Estère Dalton was born on Waiheke Island, but this self-described "electric blue witch-hop empress" is a Wellington girl through and through.
She's been known around town for what feels like forever, but in fact started playing gigs only 5 years ago when she was 19 or 20. I remember seeing Estère at some gig spots around town, and playing with an ensemble band she was part of at Bodega and falling a bit in love with her magical lyrics and unashamed comfort with who she was. Her music has the rhythm of a poem, and the smarts of a great writer, and the beats of a boss. There's something distinctly modern, yet nostalgic about her sound, which is the kind of songs you'd put on to get in the mood for a great night out with your girlfriends, to crack into some crazy shapes to up the ante.
Now Estère is touring New Zealand to celebrate her latest mini-album 'My Design' and, luckily for you, will be playing at Caroline in Wellington at 9pm tomorrow night, 1 December. The rest of her tour dates are here and include Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin. Go along! You have GOT to give Pro Bono Techno Zone - her new single - a listen.
How did she get here?
Her journey in our city started at age two when her family moved down to Paekakariki. Her mother is CEO of Citizens advice bureau and her father works in engineering in France (they met in New Caledonia, before moving to New Zealand - her father is from Cameroon). Educated in Wellington, Estère attended Te Aro High School for most of her life, and then Wellington High School (with a year-long exchange in Germany) and Victoria University.
It was in high school she began to write music. "I started playing music originally, solo as a child" Estère explains, "starting with the Harp when I was five. It was bigger than me! Then I joined a girl's punk band in high school playing the drums. I liked it because I'd tried so many instruments before, but with the drums, you didn't need to know theory to play, not like Piano where I'd have to practice my scales or whatever. I also play acoustic guitar and sang, but I was never very confident with the instrument so could be quite stressful."
For Estère, a breakthrough came with winning the New Zealand musicianship award at Rockquest, meeting David Downes (accomplished New Zealand composer) who showed her about mastering songs. She continued to experiment, playing live gigs. "It was the first time I'd seen what you can do in post-production" Estère explains.
At the same time, a friend started making beats on an MPC (now, her instrument of choice)."I thought it was awesome!" Estère enthuses. Not knowing where to start, she took a paper for a Semester on Sonic Arts at Victoria University as part of her Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in anthropology and philosophy. "That taught me the ground-work about mixing and recording. I made two songs at home, with this really budget interface. I put it on my Sound Cloud and all these blogs started picking it up, and then I was asked to do more gigs. I had to quickly compose some more songs because I only had two."
At University, Estère found that her music started to overtake her studies. "I realised that I was only going to do music. I wasn't going to go and look for a fulltime job when I finished school. You never know what will happen though - thankfully I am still really busy but who knows?" Estère says.
Where's Estère toured?
Estère has indeed been busy. She's toured every continent save America. "Last year I played Festivals in Mozambique and Swaziland. I went to South Korea even, playing in the same festival as a choir of Monks" Estère says, "You see quite a lot of the country when you tour because you're always driving, I like that you have a huge focus when music touring, more than being a tourist."
From big to small festivals, she's played them all. A favourite memory is playing at a tiny festival of just 200 people in the French village Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, the village where the film Chocolat was made "The locals all chipped in and provided food for the festival. It was magic" Estère says, sighing. "Such an amazing experience." Another highlight is playing Glastonbury. "It was the wettest year ever and there was mud up to mid-calf!" she exclaims.
So how does she survive on the road?
Vital to making it work on tour is having a really good nourishing place to return to, explains Estère. "I get really exhausted after a show and I just need to go somewhere where I can be by myself," she says. "On tour, you're not rooted, you have no sense of grounding. You need a good place to stay. Checks and balances are important to stay in good mental and physical health. I look at others touring schedules and don't know how they do it sometimes." To be happy, she needs a clean bed, her laptop for Netflix, coconut oil and a kettle for a cup of tea
Does she think about the experience of being a woman artist and producer in a genre dominated by men?
"I think I used to, but now there are more females around. A few weeks ago I went to an event called the Women's Symposium of Electronic Music, dedicated to women in producing and making electronic music. It comes up from time to time but its good people are talking about it."
Auckland is so close you can fly up. I think you can tell artists from Auckland because they might do things like brand endorsements more readily. Wellington is such a creative hub. I think eventually I'll move to experience more of the world. Welington is so easy though, so chilled. I love living here.