Grammy award-winning singer Estelle is more in tune with herself than ever before. Crafting her songs to match the raw emotions she experiences in life and on tour, she creates music that’s a pure extension of herself. Her latest singles “Conqueror” and “Something Good” off of her upcoming album True Romance represent strong and uplifting stories of an artist who has made it through the industry a little bruised but always looking forward. Though she’s had much success starting out with co-signs from Kanye West and John Legend, she explains her apprehension for those who are starting out in the industry today. She also talks about how YouTube and SoundCloud are the new hustle and why having a strong sense of self is necessary to survive in this business.
I’d like to talk about “Conqueror” and “Something Good” and the positive message they convey. How did these songs speak to you personally while you were recording them?
“Something good,” I wrote that record in Atlanta with [producer] D. Smith after my recording process was coming to the end and I just wanted something that felt fun. D. Smith is a drum driven producer so his stuff is real loud and impactful. You feel something when you hear his beats and I wanted something that made you feel like dancing, or made you feel happy. I wanted it to make you feel something, which was the whole point of the album. The song is about getting back on your feet when you feel like you’ve been knocked over. Everyone goes through those moments and this is the kind of record that celebrates when you’re back on your shit.
You have two amazing male dancers in your “Conqueror” video.
They were freaking awesome. It’s a calm and contemplative record. It’s something you can turn on before you go out and conquer the world but you’re not going to be like, “Yeah, smoke some weed and get ratchet for this!” You’re going to be focused when you hear it. It makes you feel empowered and the guys in the video move with the shape and style of the song.
Is that why you had Misty Copeland do a different version of the video? How did that come about?
She was directly impactful in that space. I wanted Misty in the video because she’s amazing. Watching her dance is a whole other thing… I’ve seen her perform various styles of ballet and share her story too. When everyone was telling her “you can’t, you can’t, you can’t,” she did it anyway.
“Conqueror” is blowing up, especially with its role in the film Addicted and you performed it at The New York Children’s Gala. Did you feel like it would have such a huge impact on people?
Well yeah, not to sound cocky but I don’t write or sing records that I don’t think people would feel. If I don’t feel it and it doesn’t mean anything to me then I’m not singing it. So for this record, I heard it and I got goose bumps. This is exactly how I feel right now. A million people can tell me no, I can’t and I shouldn’t… but guess what? This is how I feel and either way I’m doing it my way. I’d rather stand tall than live by anyone else’s standards. You know, I do my shit.
Right. That’s amazing and I’m pretty sure that is genuinely why the song has taken off.
Exactly! I think for me, every time I sing records for people that I care about, people seem to care about them too. People hear and feel your energy and intention in your music. It’s not just some bullshit, you know, it’s real.
The “Make Her Say” video was amazing. I really enjoyed it and it was something I didn’t expect. Right off the bat, I’m totally engaged with the couples and I want to talk about where you found these people.
I worked on the video with Chris Robinson and he’s wonderful. I’ve worked with him on so many things so when we talked about this, I was like, “Chris, I want to do this video and it can’t be a typical video. It has to feel like real sex!” We started with couples talking about [sex] and it made me laugh because some of the couples knew each other and some of them had no clue who each other were. They were all so cool. I was the granny on set. I was the autie going, “You can’t shoot there, shoot from up here not from below. Get that camera up!”
But they were so into it.
I loved it! To me, humans are able to completely get out of their skin if they don’t have to be held accountable, you know? And I think they killed it. What I loved about it the most was the freedom. I didn’t want a bunch of video models or a bunch of super buff guys. I wanted real people because that’s what real people feel when they break up with somebody and they go and have sex with someone else. They want to be sure that their sex is poppin’ so… that’s what it is.
What was the song writing process for this whole album?
It was how I felt at any given moment. I feel like I have the most blessed and “what the hell” existence when it comes to music and the fact that I do this. This [album] was me broken up with somebody good as hell and just… here. It’s the shit that happens when you’re in between, trying to fix yourself and trying not to be a complete fuck up for the next person. It was me trying to get to this space where you’re happy with yourself and that’s where I was– that’s where I’m at. I was just trying to fix me.
That kind of ties in with your album title True Romance. It’s “true” as in the “truth”.
The truth on your levels and on your terms. Whatever makes sense to you, you’re just finding that love however you can find it.
How do you feel about the music industry today?
I feel genuinely sorry for anybody just starting and at the same time– not sorry, I feel nervous. I feel nervous because they don’t have the same structure that we had when I started. I started in ’98 and that was pretty late to come into it. And then I had another rebirth here in 2007 so you know, I came right on the edge of no more sales and no more budgets. It was like, figure it the fuck out! But then I also know it kind of separates the weak from the… you know… the good from the bad. There are people who actually love their jobs and want to do music and people who are here for the fluff of it. What I would love to improve is quality control. That would be wonderful and that’s the worst thing you can say as an artist because art is subjective but if something’s wack, it’s just wack. I just want there to be a balance.
What do you think about artists coming up on Youtube and SoundCloud and how would you compare that kind of grind to what you went through?
That’s the new hustle! That’s the new open mic.
Do you think that’s why they’re continuously coming out music? They kind of have to since it’s their only way of exposure.
Absolutely. It’s the new open mic but it’s in a bit more of a permanent format. At a physical open mic, you can go and fuck up and no one saw it so you’re good but when you fuck up and it’s on SoundCloud, it’s just on SoundCloud for the world to hear. That’s often your first look [at the artist], so that’s why you should get around people who know what it is and ask them for advice. Don’t be ashamed, get it right the first time.
What would be your dream collaboration?
That’s so hard. It would be wonderful if I could collaborate with Ella Fitzgerald or generally be in her space. That would have been my dream collaboration.
Who are you listening to right now?
I just downloaded Goapele’s album, she’s really good. I love her. T.I.’s album just came out… I’m here for the turn up! And then there’s OG Maco. “Bitch you guessed it. Woo! You was right.” That’s my song! I love it! I don’t know what he’s talking about but it’s fantastic. I can’t wait for Kendrick Lamar’s new stuff.
Yes! That’s coming soon.
I can’t WAIT. Please hurry.
Maybe that’s the dream collaboration: you and Kendrick?
Kendrick Lamar, there you go.
What kind of what advice do you have for musicians who are coming up right now?
I would say follow your gut, follow your heart. My entire life I went with my strongest gut feeling no matter how many people told me “no”. I would go with it anyway and everything would fall into place. Go with your gut and have a very strong sense of self. Those are the two things you will need.
[Photo: Getty Images]