UK ARTIST’S DEBUT ALBUM, BRAVEFACE, OUT ON AUGUST 11 ON CHOCOLATE INDUSTRIES
FIRST SINGLE “I LOVE YOU” OUT MAY 26th WITH PRINCE PAUL REMIX, LIMITED TO 300 VINYL COPIES
Esser, a 23 year old UK native, created an album’s worth of forward-thinking, explosively catchy electronic pop songs in his bedroom. Braveface, with no label or marketing behind it, incited the Kaiser Chiefs to bring him on a sold out arena tour as their opening act, motivated Cee-Lo to enlist Esser to do production on his upcoming solo record and it caught the attention of legend Don Letts who recently performed with Esser on stage in London.
Aside from attracting the ears of tastemakers across the world, Esser’s talent as a songwriter is undeniable. With a knife-sharp sense of style, lyrical wit and bombastic production skills, Esser’s approach to pop songwriting comes from a distinctly British standpoint, flush with undercurrents of ska and dubstep. This is some of the catchiest and smartest pop to come out of the UK in a long time.
The first single from Braveface, “I Love You”, will be out May 26th as a limited edition 300 copy vinyl pressing complete with a handmade letterpressed jacket.
Check out the video for “Headlock”:
Braveface is out on August 11th on Chocolate Industries.
Download the .mp3 for “Headlock” (please re-host/post this .mp3!):
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Anyone who claims that pop music no longer boasts great characters needs to discover the music of Ben Esser, who records simply as Esser. A 23-year-old Essex boy brought up on UK garage but such a fan of legendary 60s producer Joe Meek that he’s planning to get Meek’s portrait tattooed on his chest, Esser makes music which is Reminiscent of the sunshine days when boys did cutting edge conceptual pop.
First single I Love You, three beguiling minutes of off-kilter loops and vocal samples pulled together with a dead-on pop sensibility and such wonky lyrical observations as “You bring me up then you tear me apart.
Still, love is no excuse for bad art.” has already been described by NME as “playschool pirate pop”, while Popjustice.com acclaimed it as “weird but sort of brilliant”. Its video, in which he sings the lyrics into a camera while getting paint and food thrown over him, is, Ben says, a “pained artistic expression” partly influenced by the artist Martin Creed, who made a short film of a girl trying to be sick.
That’s just for starters. Released on the ultra-hip Merok label (Klaxons, Crystal Castles, Teenagers) as a limited edition of 500 7″ singles, it will be released Stateside by Chocolate Industries as a 12″ in an even more limited edition of 300 in letter-pressed jackets with an exclusive Prince Paul (De La Soul) remix on the B-side. I Love You will be followed up by by an album on Chocolate Industries, which gives Esser’s extraordinary imagination full rein. Produced by Lexxx (Crystal Castles), sidekick of the A-List mixer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (U2, Madonna), Esser’s debut album “Braveface” will include songs of peculiar brilliance. There’s Headlock, which sounds like an inspired collaboration between Pharrell Williams and Jim Noir, and contains the surprising lyrical plea “Bury me in sand like a knackered stallion”. Leaving Town, a disillusioned ode to London, sees Esser reinventing trashy glam rock like young, lap-top packing Brian Eno. Stop Dancing, a moody, half-whispered, hip hop-inflected minimalist pop song, sees Esser lyrically exploring his experiences clubbing as a teenager: “It became a massive thing to get on the train from Chelmsford and go to a club in London and lose your mind”. All the songs bar one are around three minutes long. “I find it really pleasing to write something that’s concise and actually make really bold decisions about things,” he says, “because there are infinite possibilities about what something can sound like”.
Esser grew up in a house full of music – his father was, he says, “a jazzer” who used to teach at the Colchester Institute. “Family members would come over and play – there was always music happening. It was always something you’d do for fun, to get together, so that’s the attitude I grew up with.” Growing up, Esser listened to hip-hop like Slum Village and A Tribe Called Quest, but it was UK garage that made him realize it would be possible to make records himself. “At school, everyone seemed to have a friend was making a track in the studio so it was close to home, it felt like something was happening. I think I always knew that it was ridiculously cheesy and bad, but it was exciting to see what it might develop into.”
Esser started experimenting with loops and synthesizers, making “Ninja Tunes-type stuff” that he’d attempt to persuade his friends to rap on, then upon leaving school started playing drums in a covers band managed by one of Freddie and the Dreamers. “We played Mustang Sally, Beatles songs, Songs by James…” Many of their gigs were at holiday camps. “Some of them were really great because it was like classic English cabaret,” says Esser, “I remember playing in Skegness and that was amazing, this old guy who’d been an entertainers for years and years and dancers… real English holidays.” On the other hand, “Butlins on Christmas day was rough as fuck. There were massive fights between these guys who had been drinking all day and their kids were running riot – that was hell.”
After almost two years, his affection for classic 60s pop “tainted by this dark memory of holiday camps and drunken women being really gross,” Esser left the covers outfit to play with two members of the “broken beat” DJ collective Bugz In The Attic, then spent another two years as the drummer in Ladyfuzz, an indie band in which at last he could play original material. He also enrolled in Music College. “Towards the second half of the last year of being in Ladyfuzz, that’s when I started to write songs. And then through that process I decided that I didn’t want to be in a band anymore, I wanted to do it on my own.”
The transition was far from easy. “I ended up signing on for a year. I pawned all my guitars, everything. I just about survived. But it got to the point that I had my bills to pay, but I wouldn’t be able to wait for my cheque to clear, so I’d have to go to cash converters and cash my cheque. They’d take some stupid percentage, and I’d pay my bills and just have to wait for the next one because I didn’t have any fucking money.”
Nonetheless, the songs started coming, as the “bits and pieces” of “loops or ideas or choruses or verses” he’d constructed started to coalesce. Esser also took a keen interest in mainstream pop music, “really listening to melodies and lyrics. I’ve basically just been listening to Radio 1 and all the cheesiest pop music for ages now. I’m just interested to hear people that are pushing it, that are at the top of their game.
There are always certain things that I find interesting within songs. About You Now by the Sugababes was really great. It was all chorus – brilliant.”
Esser started working with fellow Essex boy Paul Epworth known for his production for Bloc Party, Primal Scream among others (though nothing came of it beyond the demo stage), got a publishing deal, and formed a band, which features his younger brother Reuben on drums. “The band developed out of the songs,” he explains. “It started off quite rigidly, it was just me programming the samples, getting someone to trigger them in the right way and getting the other guys to play the parts, but I think it’s developed beyond that now. Their personalities are coming through. We’ve supported Foals and the Mystery Jets and our own tour’s really coming together.” Not that Esser wants to be locked into one format. “The next record could be a different band,” he says. “It could be two people, it could be 20 people. It can be whatever it needs to be for the music, I’m not restricted by anything.”
Esser is also bolstered by the fact that he already has enough material for two albums. After a long period of roughing it, he also enjoyed the bidding war that erupted around him: “it was the nicest thing when I started going round meeting labels and being taken for meals and things – it was a massive treat,” he says sweetly. Now he’s preparing to unleash himself on discerning pop fans everywhere, with an album that is essentially his demos beefed up by production supremo Lexxx. “I really liked the sound of the stuff that I’d recorded, even if it was just weird things like me tapping on my desk at home,” says Esser. “That was something I wanted to keep on the record, so it was a case of turning those demos into proper productions to make them sound like a record, so that’s where I am now.”
Esser seems also destined to cause a stir thanks to his dress sense, which is as eclectic but stylish as his music. “I love looking in YouTube and finding videos of mods,” he says. “I love those youth movements and it’s a shame that we don’t have things like that any more in the same way. I’m interested in classic bits of clothing that have come from a few places and are thrown together. That’s what I love about sampling, that you can take something from two different worlds and combine them and create something completely new. For instance,” he says, gesturing at his bowling shirt, “They were wearing this shirt on a Beach Boys album cover. I’ve got the 90s calculator watch, dunno about these trousers.” He looks at his white, rolled up jeans. “Tennis? Wham!? Don’t put that in…”
Magpie he may be, but Esser is also a truly original talent, a classic British pop eccentric whose kinship with Joe Meek goes more than skin deep. Watch out Damon Albarn – Essex has spawned a new pop genius, and you’re old enough to be his father.