Over the past decade, Te Whanganui-a-Tara singer-songwriter and producer Estère Dalton has been a bold, colourful and individual presence in the Aotearoa music scene. Melt, Estère’s latest single and the third from her 2022 EP ‘Mākara Peak’, presents a tropical, trancelike soundscape which exudes warmth and sensuality, finds Nur Lajunen-Tal. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.
Her first release since 2021’s ‘Archetypes’, which saw her collaborating with Massive Attack producer Stew Jackson, ‘Makara Peak’ finds Estère returning to the beat-driven bedroom pop that has largely defined her career. Melt, like the rest of the EP, is entirely self-written and produced.
“Since I started my music career, I’ve produced all my own music,” says Estère. “The only project where I didn’t produce by myself was ‘Archetypes.’ That was very much a collaboration, but it was cool because I wasn’t super confident with being in studios and working with session musicians, especially because I can’t read music, so the language I have for session musicians is limited. It gave me a lot of confidence, and then I’ve gone back to self-producing. That’s where I sit most comfortably. I think my natural calling is production.”
Bearing this statement in mind, it shouldn’t surprise that Estère’s writing process typically starts with creating a beat.
“I started the song when I was at my grandmother’s house in Auckland, just kind’a playing around on Logic. Just making a beat. I think I went through a couple of lyric iterations. That’s generally how I write. I can come up with lyrics pretty quickly, but lyrics that I’m happy with take me often a long time. There will probably have been some weird titles and weird chorus lyrics. It might have been called Sushi at one point!
“I was trying to be quite sparse in the production and the music, and really trying to push the idea of doing non-linear vocal melodies, but still having quite a pop sentiment in terms of there being a catchy chorus and stuff like that.
“The chorus is a total accident. It ended up just being me trying out some crazy harmonies – and really struggling with the harmonies actually, because I had this busy synth line. I was like, ‘Gosh, what am I gonna put over that?’ I wanted the vocals to be really large and layered. I ended up using a tool which does automatic harmonising for you, and then I re-recorded my actual vocals over that. I use a lot of harmonies, but I struggle with harmony as well sometimes. I hadn’t really done that before, but now I use this tool a lot, especially to get harmony ideas.”
For the lyrics, Estère drew inspiration from her relationship with videographer Paascalino Schaller, who also directed and filmed the song’s NZ On Air funded music video.
“The song is written about being in a long-term relationship with someone, and appreciating how that person makes me feel, and why I’ve stayed in this relationship. I’ve done a lot of touring, I’ve been away for months and months at a time, and things can get quite hectic. You’re travelling a lot, you’re meeting lots of people, but then, when I see this person, they make me melt. There’s something about them that draws me back to them.”
The vibrantly tropical music video was filmed while the couple were on holiday in Rarotonga, and showcases the island’s natural beauty, in particular its spectacular underwater world. Estère maintains that the intention hadn’t been to film a music video on the trip.
“It kind of ended up just feeling like a good idea when we were there. We weren’t 100% sure on the treatment or the concept of the video. When we were there we were trying to come up with it, and then we were like, ‘We should just do it here!’
“It was pieced together footage of doing different things. We went swimming with the turtles, and a lot of it was that. There’s a couple of turtles we met and kind of just like followed around. Obviously, the coral reef in Rarotonga is super beautiful and abundant and colourful. It was so nice, every morning just going out and swimming with these beautiful coloured fish, and seeing octopi, and all these kind of things. The video got formed on that whole travel experience. I think the idea was kind of that I was thinking about someone. There was a certain kind of longing in the video because it’s just me alone. There’s no one else in it.”
Coming up next for Estère is a reconnection with her roots, both physically and musically. Though growing up in NZ, her father’s family roots lie in West Africa.
“I’m looking to make another album, and this album is going to be an exploration of my Cameroonian ancestry, and my experiences as someone from a diaspora living in NZ, and then travelling to Cameroon and finding my roots. I’m getting really into digging through Cameroonian music, and starting to reference that a lot in what I’m gonna do going forward.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s gonna involve travelling to Cameroon, which is where my father’s from, in West Africa, and connecting with Cameroonian musicians as well. I haven’t been to Cameroon before, and half my family live there. For me, the experience of making music is very much about unpacking and discovering my own identity. I think this project that I’m coming up to is gonna be really important because it’s gonna be symbolising a part of my ancestry that I’m not so familiar with.”