Esther Rose on “Safe to Run” and Finding New Roots | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, December 5th, 2023  

Esther Rose on “Safe to Run” and Finding New Roots

Desert Bloom

Apr 21, 2023 Photography by Brandon Soder Web Exclusive
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Towards the end of our interview about her new album Safe to Run (on New West), Esther Rose jokes, “Just make me sound real smart.” Originally from Detroit and after a decade in New Orleans, the Santa Fe-based singer/songwriter needs absolutely no help in the “make me sound smart” department. Over an hour-long conversation, it becomes clear that her moves and melodies and individual lines are carefully considered. Referencing her 2019 song “Rio en Medio,” where she sings of leaving her heart in the desert city she now calls home, Rose points out that that her move to Santa Fe was one contemplated long before it ever happened. “From New Orleans, Santa Fe is in the range of ‘if we start driving, we’ll be there in two days.’ Wanting to get away from the summer heat and hurricane season, this is the closest, most beautiful, most enchanting place in that orbit,” Rose says.

Rose’s masterful 2019 album, How Many Times, found the artist in the throes of the end of a relationship, but the album’s breezy fiddle reels and Rose’s humor got the listener through without too many tears. Safe to Run finds Rose more in a period of transition. One marked by halves. Half the songs written during lockdown, when she spent time with her sister and nephew in Vermont; half written after her move to Santa Fe. Half recorded with musicians from New Mexico and half recorded or, at least finished, back in New Orleans. “It was really important for Ross Farbe, the producer, to come out here, hear my band, get in our space, see what we see, drink our water. So we did the tracks here and took them back to New Orleans. So there’s kind of this little bridge between worlds, having Alynda Segarra [Hurray for the Riff Raff], singing on the album’s [title song] was like a dream come true,” Rose shares.

And the songs themselves bridge the gap from heartache to new beginnings. One of the musical and vocal highlights of the album, “Spider,” finds Rose having a final say on a few levels. The song finds Rose as a fly caught in a web, but later flexing her wings and back in the air. But the song also marks an end of an era. “With ‘Spider’ that was me saying, ‘I’m not exploring this shit anymore. This is my final word,’” she says. Turning over a new leaf, “New Magic II” feels likr the answer song to How Many Times’ “Songs Remain,” with the promise of new songs to be written. “I gave myself a long time to explore other things happening in the world and some of my favorite writing was from that time. ‘Dream Girl,’ ‘Levee Song,’ ‘Chet Baker,’ those were all songs where I’m like, ‘Nope, I’m not talking to you. I’m not talking to anyone. Just talking to me,’” Rose says in explaining the shift away from focusing on heartbreak. By turning her songwriting lens outwards, Rose found plenty of third parties in her gaze. Ranging from Phoebe Bridgers to Jesus Christ, you have to listen intently to “Dream Girl” and “Arm’s Length” to get to the heart of where Rose is coming from. The sparkly pop of “Dream Girl” relays a certain Californian’s rise to prominence. Though Bridgers is never mentioned by name, the parallels seem obvious. “I became extremely obsessed with Phoebe Bridgers. So entranced by her magic and fucking devastating power of feeling. I just put together this iconic story. It’s like Dolly [Parton] and Joni [Mitchell] and at some point in these amazing [women’s lives], there’s some guy that’s trying to say, ‘I invented you.’ It’s part of the dream girl’s story,” Rose explains.

“Arm’s Length” balances faith with certainty. Unsure whether salvation actually exists, the song relays Rose covering her bases. She pokes fun at the man upstairs (“You take yourself so seriously, you’re a shepherd go count sheep”), but also claims to have a friend at the pearly gates in case admission is needed. “My uncle has a quote on his fridge that’s so good: ‘I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die and find out there isn’t; than live my life as if there isn’t and find out that there is.’ I grew up with basically every kind of religion you can think of being taught to me. That’s what I call the hippy abuse,” Rose says. Though quick to make light of a situation and more than a little self-deprecating, Rose takes her role as a songwriter seriously. And she also pays homage to those that came before her. Not only the prior references to Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell, but also in the way that John Prine paved the way for her to tackle some of the subjects she does with equal doses of humor and humility. “I do risk pissing people off as a musician, but I also don’t want to walk too lightly. I feel like my role model in that is John Prine. He could sing about Christmas or sing about Jesus or whatever he wanted. It’s the role of the poet to reflect the times and I think it’s important to push boundaries and have a laugh at ourselves. [Prine] really broke a lot of barriers for what you can say in a colorful way in music. Using humor, but also being tender and never preachy about it. That’s important to me,” Rose concludes.

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