HLN meets the musician: Lizzie Esau
We chat to the Geordie singer-songwriter about everything from pretending to be Kylie Minogue and pre-show yoga rituals to her dreams of playing Glastonbury…
Lizzie Esau has only released two singles into the world so far, but already she’s getting a lot of attention – and it’s coming from all the right places.
Born in London but raised in Newcastle, before the pandemic the singer-songwriter was performing at local pubs – now her singles have been picked up for BBC Introducing playlists, she’s been booked by venues from June onwards and she has record labels, DJs and creatives from the North East and beyond all more than a little keen to work with her.
And we can see why. Channelling those soul-grunge, early hip-hop vibes, her singles Young Minds Run Blind and Haven’t You Heard? demonstrate enough lyrical honesty, grooved-up basslines and infectious pop-bop energy for us to really believe she’ll hit the big time. And we’re willing to bet it’ll be someday soon.
We caught up with Lizzie to learn about her musical journey so far, what’s next on the horizon (we hear there’s some fresh music coming at us), and how she’s feeling ahead of her long-awaited return to the stage next month…
When did you decide you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I don’t know if there was ever a specific point, but there are loads of home videos of me from being, like, three years old and all I would do is sing. I’d sit people down and make them watch me! And I used to pretend to play the piano on this little bench we had. I think it was mainly because of my Dad – he’s a bass player so I always had music around me. And my Mum’s an artist, so I was probably always going to end up doing something creative.
I’d always be writing little songs, all the time. So by the time I got older and people started asking me: what are you going to do? Music was always the answer. There was never anything else I could see myself doing.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
This is a little bit embarrassing! But I remember really wanting to be Kylie Minogue when I was like around two or three. My Mum or Dad must have put this live show of Kylie on the TV, it was when she’d wear all-white around the Can’t Get You Out Of My Head era, and I was just like: I want to do that! I didn’t have an all-white outfit so I used some white silky pyjamas! I remember it so vividly.
Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
Well, it’s not Kylie anymore! I love Jorja Smith and Arlo Parks is great, I’m loving listening to her at the moment. Then artists like Clairo and Beabadoobee. I’d say I’m into indie-pop with a little bit of hip-hop thrown in there too.
For anyone who hasn’t heard your music yet, how would you describe your sound?
A combination of all of that, really. It’s definitely pop, but it edges more towards indie-pop, particularly in my newer music. And there’s an underlying hip-hop influence, especially when I’m singing almost in a rap-style. So a bit of a mix, really!
When you’re writing music, where do you find inspiration?
In terms of the lyrical side of things, it comes from real life. A lot comes from my own experiences – and sometimes I’ll write about something now that happened years ago. Or I’ll be looking at other people’s lives for inspiration. It always tends to be everyday life that inspires me. But every now and again I’ll hear a song by, say, Arlo Parks, who writes really poetically, and that will inspire me to try and write a little more obscurely – and not say things just as they are as much. I try to evolve!
I write music and lyrics, but I’ve started working with producers now as well, which is great because they bring their influences and experience to the table too.
You also do a bit of toplining for dance tracks. How does that work?
It tends to be that a publishing label would have these DJ tracks and would be looking for someone to write on it, so you pitch to them. Some of mine got picked, and that’s when I started working with the acts themselves. So I’ve been working with a really cool DJ duo on a couple of tracks recently.
It’s different to the way I normally work and it’s definitely a different style of writing when I’m thinking about dance music. But it’s fun!
How easy has it been for you to break into the local music scene, especially during the pandemic?
It was only really just before lockdown that I started contacting people in the industry, especially in the North East. And I quickly realised that as soon as you start putting yourself out there and reaching out to people – other musicians, promoters or events organisers – people really do want to help you. Especially in the North East, I didn’t realise quite how supportive the local scene is but we have such an amazing community here. And it’s important to give support back to others in the industry too, that’s the lovely thing about how it all works. You really have to become an active part in the community.
There’s been an amazing response to your second single, Haven’t You Heard?, so far! Can we expect any new music from you soon?
I’ve got a new single coming out in June. I’m not 100% certain on the exact date just yet, but we’re looking at early-to-mid June. And it’s definitely got more of a indie-pop, hip-hop vibe. It’s actually the song I’ve been most excited to put out so far! I’ve loved everything I’ve put out up till now, but I’m really excited for this one.
June is also the long-awaited return of live gigs for you! Your first gig back is set for 18th June at The Independent in Sunderland. How excited are you?
Really excited! Before COVID, I’d do solo gigs – I had a band but we weren’t quite ready to gig. And then through lockdown, whenever we could, we’ve been doing the odd livestream. But this gig in June will be the first time we’ll be playing together, live, as a band. With actual people in the crowd!
How would you describe your live shows?
I just played in pubs before the pandemic, so my live performances have changed quite a bit! My solo gigs used to be quite ballad-based, it was usually just me and a piano. But it’s completely different now – it’s much more energetic, all of the songs I play are really upbeat. And that’ll be really important, especially for the gig at The Independent, because I’m supporting Komparrison – I’ve got about 30 minutes to keep things really high energy. So it’s going to be a good vibe for sure!
Do you have any rituals or routines before you perform live?
I drink a lot of warm water – I feel like cold water really closes my throat up when I’m nervous! So I always make sure I’ve got warm water handy. My manager is also a yoga teacher, so she’s really good at breathing exercises before I go onstage. I mean, I’m no good at yoga at all! But she’s amazing and the breathing exercises really work, so I think they’re going to become a ritual in the future. I get so nervous before shows so I need to breathe!
What advice would you give other women in the North East who may want to pursue a career in music?
The thing that has helped me a lot so far has been reaching out to people. If you don’t put yourself out there, nothing will ever happen. So even if it’s just little things – uploading a demo that you’re happy with to somewhere like BBC Introducing, for example – that generates radio plays and you never know what that may lead to.
Make contacts with people in the industry to collaborate with and recognise that we’ve all got different skillsets. I used to think: oh, I do a bit of Logic, I’m sure I can produce music all by myself. But I can’t – I’m not a producer. And working with a producer will take my music to the next level. So be open to working with other people who bring different ideas and skills into the mix.
So force yourself to become good at networking! And that’s really hard – I’m so pleased I have a manager, because I don’t feel like I’m that great at it! But you’ve got to put yourself out there and connect with people.
What’s your ultimate career ambition?
This is really big, but I’d love to play Glastonbury. If I could headline Glastonbury, I think I’d just die the next day! I’d be thinking: yep, that’s it – I’ve got nothing left to give! But yeah, headling Glasto… I can’t even say it, it’s too big! But yeah, I’d love to do that. It would be the best moment of my life.
What was your first gig?
This is quite embarrassing, but I think it was my Dad’s band! He’s in a prog-rock band that were quite big in the ‘80s. It’s not what I usually listen to, but his love for music has definitely been a huge influence upon me.
Who would you most like to duet with?
What album could you listen to on repeat forever?
This is so hard! I think for nostalgia, probably Avril Lavigne’s The Best Damn Thing, because it reminds me of my childhood so much.
Another local artist we should really look out for?
There’s so many! I think Nadedja is great, I’ve been following her for a while. I really like her vibe.
What song would you love to record a cover of?
Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead. I’ve heard really nice covers already by Holly Humberstone, Arlo Parks and Phoebe Bridgers of that track. I mean, it’s kind of already been done, but I’d love to cover it. Unoriginal, I know!
What’s one song you really wish you’d written yourself?
Probably Let It Be. It’s so simple but I always think: how did you come up with that? How did no one think of that before?
If you’re going out and about in the North East, where are you most likely to go?
Since lockdown, whenever I’ve got a spare day now I’ll go on a big walk with my dog and my Dad, down at the beach. That’s what I do with my days off now. It used to be: oh I’m going clubbing, I’m off partying. Nope, now it’s a long walk on the beach!
Lizzie’s next gig will be on 18th June at The Independent, Sunderland. For tickets, click here
All photos of Lizzie courtesy of @Victoria__wai