Self Esteem's Rebecca Lucy Taylor on Prioritise Pleasure

We chat to Rebecca Lucy Taylor about Prioritise Pleasure, her second album as Self Esteem, and discuss the importance of being listened to as a woman in music

Feature by Tallah Brash | 20 Oct 2021
  • Self Esteem

“I can’t be arsed to tidy this room,” Rebecca Lucy Taylor laughs over Zoom from her messy bedroom in her Margate flat, and it’s like catching up with an old friend. Chat quickly turns to trying to convince her parents to use her flat as a holiday home – because she knows “they won't be able to resist cleaning it” – and constantly returning to dead plants due to her now very busy schedule: “I’m slowly killing them off with my success,” she notes with a wry grin.

The “success” Taylor is referring to is legit. As Self Esteem she premiered I Do This All the Time in April on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6 Music radio show, which he played twice in the same slot. An honest and relatable spoken word exploration of how complicated life can be, it resonated with a lot of people and things have since snowballed, with a knockout performance on Later… with Jools Holland, a live session for Lamacq, and an emotional performance at Green Man festival to her biggest crowd to date. In the lead up to her forthcoming new album, cover shoots for the likes of DIY and NME have also ensued, the latter of which is an homage to Britney Spears’ iconic 1999 Rolling Stone cover, only instead of a Teletubby, Taylor's bedmate is Kermit the Frog. #Relatable

But before Taylor made her musical return this year, during the pandemic she was running regular workout sessions – Steam with Self Esteem – from her flat over Instagram, and we admit to being one of her 'Steamers'. "The idea that you can workout with me for a year, and then come and see me live and we're in the same room together... I think what I get off on is true honesty about myself and I think it's quite intimate, we exercise every day, and you doing it with me, there's something really beautiful about it to me."

Taylor tells us how lockdown allowed her to re-evaluate what was important to her, and how stopping for a year really helped her mental health. Crucially, she's realised she doesn't have to revert to how things were in the before times. "I have, for the most part, definitely been saying no, going home when I want to and things like that. Not going to people's things, just because they want me to, is the biggest shift for me – that's prioritising pleasure as far as I'm concerned.”

Prioritise Pleasure is the title of Taylor's new record as Self Esteem. Due on 22 October via Fiction Records, it's bigger in every aspect than its predecessor, from its supercharged instrumentation to the depth of emotion found in its lyricism and vocal layering. “I thought I would get loads more budget for the second album, and I did not,” she admits with a chuckle, “so it was like, 'Okay, so how do we turn everything up to 11 with exactly the same amount of money we had the first time around?' All the songs were just very there and clear to me, and Johan [Karlberg, producer] and I have now got a synergy that we didn't have on the first record so, weirdly, the only thing that was difficult was figuring out how to make an orchestra out of my mate Galps [Sophie Galpin] in Manchester on one violin,” she laughs. 

“It's kind of fun in a way because the album is so big sounding and bombastic and widescreen and cinematic, which is what I wanted to do, but I still did it with fuck all… I'm so glad I haven't achieved what I want to achieve quite yet, because imagine if I had access to an orchestra or a full choir. That's what excites me about album three."

Before getting ahead of herself, she adds: "I said what I needed to with Compliments Please, but only just… and Compliments Please was 14 tracks but it could've been 20. I was like, let's just keep going, and the same's happened [on Prioritise Pleasure]. But I think it's because I've been a musician since I was 16/17, full-time doing it, and I had so many ideas I couldn't do. So many things I wanted to do, I've just parked, and I think I thought they were gone, but they weren't. So it feels like I'm extremely realised and it's all well thought out and unbelievably worked on, but it's just like the overflow car park's been opened.

“All it's been really, Self Esteem, is my manager has just listened to me and gone, ‘Okay.’ No pushback, barely any pushback ever. Even my label don't. And that's what happens when you just fucking listen to a woman and let her make what she wants to make." 

For Taylor, who as one half of Slow Club found it hard to have a lot of her ideas taken on board as it wasn't only her project, this hits hard. But since turning her focus to Self Esteem she's been able to implement a lot of the ideas she'd been previously sitting on. "I know if you're looking close enough you can see it's all coming from me, but that's actually not easy to execute,” she says frankly. “To be at the level I'm at, and people trust me to do it all, it’s why this is as good as it is.

"And I was up for being diluted at the start, I was like, find me a co-writer to make a pop hit with, because I just wanted out, I wanted to be not a fucking indie artist for the rest of my life, I wanted to not be skint every month, and I was like 'How do we do this?' And so I was complicit at the start in doing what they probably do with a lot of artists – put it in a shiny wrapper and give it over to an audience in a really controlled way – but pretty quickly I realised I can't do that either. And my manager, I actually advocate for her being so brave to just go with me on it.” Taylor continues: “But I don't think I'm doing anything that mad, I think I'm just doing something very true to me and it makes me wonder how many other artists could make something a bit more intriguing or layered."

Every single released so far from Prioritise Pleasure has been affecting in some way, from the toxic relationship explored over rollicking drums on How Can I Help You to the powerful journey for self-love found on the title track as Taylor sings, 'Shave my pussy (that's just for me) / Unfollow him (that's just for me) / Keeping busy (that's just for me) / And sleeping in (that's just for me)'. As well as the music being massive and unlike anything being released right now, so too is the Self Esteem live show, and it's all down to Taylor's vision being given the space to breathe and develop. 

But her incredible all-singing, all-dancing live band, and the support that in turn comes from them is also worth celebrating. “It’s unreal, I could cry even thinking about it,” Taylor says. “There's an extra layer I didn't realise was going to be there which is their personal gain from performing it, and what that does on the stage, there’s some sort of fucking mad chemistry that goes on where it feels bigger than playing it live. I want Self Esteem to be this multi-layered experience, not just an artist who you like the songs of and you go and see live, and there's something about, like, what a fucking evangelical moment we're having together that feeds into an audience. 

“For many years I was like 'why am I even fucking doing this with my life? I’m skint, it's shit, I can't keep up with any relationships I've got, I'm the worst friend everyone's got because I'll never be at your wedding, I'll never be at your christening.' There's so many negatives, and the only positive was to create what I wanna make... there was always this negative self-talk of, ‘What's so important that you've got to say.’ And that's all dissipated now I've got this gang, that it's for them and then therefore it's for audiences and it does feel important to be doing it, which is what I always needed to feel.”

Prioritise Pleasure is released on 22 Oct via Fiction Records
Self Esteem plays The Bongo Club, Edinburgh, 6 Nov; Audio, Glasgow, 7 Nov; St Lukes, Glasgow, 1 Mar 2022