Henry Oliver talks to E^ST, a young Australian pop artist whose two recent singles are turning heads around the world.
Last week, up and coming Australian pop singer-songwriter E^ST (pronounced ‘East’) released her new single ‘Blowjob’, a confrontational look at the loneliness and emptiness that can result in the mismatched expectations of hook-ups. “I really don’t know, why are we so damn hard to love,” she sings. “Down on my knees / Really just need, just need your open arms / And you just need a blowjob.”
E^ST, at only 19-years-old, has been through an entire cycle of a music career. Signed to a publishing contract in Sweden at 13 and a recording contract in the US at 14, she was soon dropped by her label and, at 16 started anew as E^ST, a name she took as a symbol of new beginnings. Since then, she’s released three EPs, but in the last couple of months has released two singles on a new level. First, ‘Life Goes On’, a joyous song of heartbreak and longing, built for friends in arms singing together and sharing their pain, and now ‘Blowjob’, a song that’s turning heads around the world.
The Spinoff: How are you feeling about having your new song out there?
E^ST: I feel good. It was really nerve-racking putting this one out. I was really stressed about it and wasn’t sure how people were going to react, what they were gonna read into the song. But it was also like super relieving to put it out because I wrote it in September last year, so it’s been with me for awhile and I was like, I need to freaking just share it now. Like, I’ve kept this long enough. So, it was nerve-wracking but also really exciting and reliving. And so far the reaction has been super positive.
Why stressful now, or is it always stressful?
Yeah, it’s always a little stressful, especially if it’s been a long time between songs. Just for myself, my expectation is quite high and I guess this one was particularly stressful because just the lyrical content and how personal it was to me, you know?
Did it feel like you are putting more of yourself into the world than you had before?
Yeah, well, all the songs that I’m writing and I’m deciding to put out, come from a really personal place. But there was just a brutality about it, like a brutal honesty that maybe I’ve avoided in some of my other songs, which makes it feel like I’m being more real than ever.
And was that intentional or is that just what happened when you sat down one day to write a song?
It was just what happened. I wrote this one in London with my friend Jim Eliot, who I also wrote ‘Life Goes On’ with. This, um, situation that the song was inspired by what had happened like two weeks prior to me meeting up with Jim. So it was a really super fresh thing in my life and we were just both really quiet that day in the studio. Jim was just kind of playing the piano and I just wrote for that song. It was something that neither of us really put much thought into. We just let it naturally unfold and then it was after we wrote the song I was like, ‘Yeah, that is really intense’.
And you really lean into that intensity on this. Like, you’re not fucking around with the title…
Yeah, if you’re gonna go there, you may as well bloody go there.
Part of me was kind of scared calling it ‘Blowjob’ because the last thing I want is for people to think that it’s a trick to try and just get them to listen to the song, you know, like clickbait or whatever. I really didn’t want it to come across that way, but then I was like, I just have to call it that. There’s no way around it. The song says it as it is and I want everything around the song to represent that as well.
And there aren’t any other words in the song that sums it up like that.
Yeah. I mean, trust me, I definitely thought about it, but it just made sense so I just have to roll with it.
Your music started with a lot of acoustic guitars but that element seems to have gone now. Does the songwriting still start with the guitar or have you moved on?
The new stuff I find is actually more piano-based, which is cool. I actually enjoy playing the piano and more than I enjoy playing the guitar. But every song is really different. They come about in a different way and they need to be treated differently. You know, like some songs start from a beat and others start from chords on the guitar. I try not to stick to one because each way of doing it you come out with a completely different result, which is always really exciting.
When you go to work with a songwriter are you bringing material that you already have started or just seeing what happens?
If I’m working with another songwriter or producer, I prefer just to start from scratch just because then it really feels like a true collaboration. Whereas if we start from an idea that I’d already had, I can kind of get a little possessive and I’m maybe not as open to that input and influence because I’m like, ‘This is my idea’. So if I’m working with someone else, I normally have to just start with a blank canvas.
You’re managed by Saiko, who is based in New Zealand (and LA) which is interesting because the music industry is much bigger in Australia than it is in New Zealand. How did you wind up with a New Zealand manager?
It kind of came through my label. I was without management and I trust the guys at my label and I was like, ‘Do you have anyone you’d recommend me meeting with and talking to?’ And they told me Saiko in New Zealand are really great. I really just connected with them from the get-go. I feel like New Zealanders have to work super hard to make it. New Zealand’s so far away from everything, it’s a pretty small country, and it has a really unique accent as well, so to make it in other markets you have to really work hard and you have to hustle and I respect that about New Zealanders. And you can see it in all the different aspects of the industry, not just in artists. Like I could tell that my management had those qualities, so I just really connected with them.
And you’ve worked with some New Zealand artists?
And I played a gig in Auckland last year with a few other artists and there’s just something super cool about what’s happening in New Zealand right now. I was blown away by the music I was hearing and I think because New Zealand is kind of isolated, more interesting things are coming from there. I find it really, really inspiring. I love being in New Zealand and hanging out with the artists there. I’ve worked a little bit with Thomston, we’ve had three writing sessions, and I’ve worked with Sachi. We have a song coming out together sometime in the future. I don’t know when but we wrote the song like basically a year ago now. So I hope it does come at some point. I also just love listening to music from New Zealand, like Fortunes, they’ve kind of broken in the Aussie scene here. Matthew Young is super cool. I don’t know, I’m a big fan of what you guys are doing.
How do you feel like having an Australian accent in a global pop context? What does that mean for you overseas? When people sing, some of their accents get softened out a little bit. But then there are certain sounds of vowels, like in ‘Life Goes On’ there are bits where the music drops out and you can suddenly hear your Australian accent quite clearly. Do you consciously use it as a point of differentiation or do you use it for its musicality or are you not aware of it?
When I sing, that is naturally what I sound like. But I view the way you pronounce things as just another vocal technique. Certain songs require different pronunciations just because it feels right in the song. I wrote a song the other day and I was singing it how I would naturally sing it with my accent and it was just sounding really bad and I was like, ‘I’m gonna try it with a more American accent and see how that feels’ and it just changed the whole feeling of the song. But I do like to sing as naturally as I can most of the time. And you know, I think I feel like most people have embraced the accent overseas because it’s something different.
When I started thinking about it in terms of Australian artists that are well-known internationally, I thought about Tame Impala how he could be almost anywhere, but Courtney Barnett is like the complete opposite where her accent is so strong that it’s part of her music and, I think, reads as authenticity.
I just think about how I react to accents like I think of Fortunes. I love that Connan (Mocaksin) has a super strong New Zealand accent. It does sort of make it even more endearing, I think of like a load of UK music as well. I’m not from there, but I still really enjoy listening to the music and oftentimes an accent only adds to that. It doesn’t take away from it.
You’ve got something of a global career, you’ve worked in LA, London, Stockholm…
I mean, I love Australia and I think the music here is like one of the coolest in the world that I’ve come across like I’m super thankful to be a part of it, but in saying that, it is also really cool to be able to work with people from different countries. I feel like everyone does things so differently depending on where you are in the world. People in LA work super differently to people in London and then people in London work really differently to the Swedes. And I’m someone who doesn’t really like falling into a routine or a pattern and I find that travel really helps me to learn new things and push myself as an artist and a writer.
What are those differences?
I mean, this is going to be me generalising and I’m not applying this to everybody. In Australia, I find that people really celebrate individuality. If you look at all the artists who are having successful careers in Australia, you can’t really compare one to another. You can’t compare Montaigne to Vera Blue, or compare Vera Blue to Meg Mac, or Meg Mac to Tame Impala, but they’re all having really great successful careers. And that’s what I love about Australia. There’s really a spirit of celebrating weirdness and quirkiness and letting people be themselves.
I found in LA it was a little bit the opposite, to be honest. Just listening to the radio, every song just sounds like the one before and the one coming next. People love having a formula and they love following the rules. Not everyone is like that, it’s just the general feeling that I got there. And then in London, I feel a balance of the two, still wanting to make music for the people but taking that uniqueness and working it into being more commercial.
I was talking to a New Zealand artist who has been around a lot of songwriting camps and he was talking about how much people would be like, ‘Oh, you need this to happen at eight seconds and then you need this to happen and like 40 seconds.’ Is there that pressure or can or as you just put that out of your mind?
There are definitely people do write that way and do think that way. And that’s not to say that that’s a bad way of going about it. I mean, they’re writing a particular kind of song for a particular purpose, you know, and doing it well. But that is just not how I go about writing. I try not to think about what’s going to happen with the song when I write it. I just sort of let all outside thoughts in only when I’m deciding what to do with song but not while I’m creating it.
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