Track By Track:

Esther Rose

How Many Times

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introduction by tom johnson

track guide by esther rose

We were big fans of Esther Rose’s 2019 album, You Made It This Far, a wholesome collection of swashbuckling, heart-beating country songs that found a lovely balance between its light and shade. New album How Many Times covers similar ground but leans a little further into the darkness, conjuring something spellbinding from the day that’s fading her around her.

It feels more focused but less settled, a result of the album documenting the end of a relationship that really left its mark. Rose’s greatest trick is, perhaps, her ability to chronicle such things without ever impairing the listener with the heaviness that could have stifled the sentiments she delivers so beautifully. These songs bristle with flamboyant sincerity, swaying with that old Louisiana groove that ripples through the heart of this tremendous record. 

Here, Esther walks us through each of the album’s ten songs, reflecting upon their deeper meanings and the stories that lie in their shadows. Check it all out and stream the album below. How Many Times is out now Father/Daughter Records and Full Time Hobby.

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Track Guide

How Many Times

It’s a headphones song, a walking song. getting closer to the ground / turtle bone. 

Turtles remind us to get close to the earth when we are in danger. I wore a locket with a tiny turtle bone inside it for over a year until Tiff suggested maybe it’s time to take it off… but it was a parting gift. How Many Times is when all the gifts and memories only bring pain. I check my phone, watch a show, pace the room, stare at the cigarettes, open the fridge, look at the bottles and always that persistent wave of pain resounding like a bell through my body. It’s the moment when getting closer to it is the only thing I haven’t tried yet. I remember walking trancelike to my writing table thinking no numbing tonight. tonight I am going to sit here and look at it.

Keeps Me Running

If How Many Times is a walking song then this one is a sprint. This song is about not being ready for a new relationship and knowing it. It’s about wanting to break old habits and taking time to change. It’s about being too much of a mess to start a new relationship, but being okay with that, the way that intense loss can sometimes streamline intuition. 

This song is the continuation of what I learned from writing Handyman; stringing the chords together in a surprising way, creating a melody that flips and dances around and makes way for a group chorus.

My Bad Mood

This is about owning up to being hard to deal with. I’ve always been “moody”. Over time I’ve learned to accept my moods; that’s usually where the songs live.  

Although this album focuses primarily on matters of the heart, I cut the most bitter songs. Although they can be cathartic to write and process, as a rule I do not believe in sharing the you did me wrong songs. We all know there are two sides to every story, every song, and I try to stick to my own perspective. 

Coyote Creek

Coyote Creek is about relearning how to trust. Writing this song was so exciting that I completely lost focus and couldn’t finish it for a month or two, which is not like me at all. This one just felt like such a good release and I couldn’t wait for it to be done already. I write fast and am not the best at editing so this song is like a photograph; what you see is what was there. 

Max Bien Kahn brought a California surfer vibe to the guitar solo. Cameron Snyder’s harmonies are soulful as hell. Cameron was going through a heavy breakup at the same time and we had some truly cathartic moments singing together. 

Good Time

The idea for this song was born late at night on the side of a road, broken down on I-24 somewhere east of the Land Between the Lakes. I had just wrapped many months of touring and was finally headed home to New Orleans from Mineral Point, WI but decided to swing through Nashville to make a quick GemsOnVHS video. That’s what happens when I’ve been on the road too long… a 15+ hour solo drive and to just “swing through” Nashville seems reasonable. My Subaru had other plans and the engine blew up. I remember thinking how cliché, I wonder how many other songwriters arrived in Nashville tonight on the back of a tow truck… 

This song is about embracing recklessness and laughing at myself while at the same time being damn scared because it felt like my life was blowing up all around me.

When You Go

My songwriting golden rule is ‘no bullshit’. I will write and scratch out lines to get closer to what’s really going on. With this song, I wrote the first verses and then froze. The song starts as this kind of self-assured i’m getting over you song. I was scared to go to the no bullshit place to see what was below the surface.  I sent it to my best friend and songwriter soulmate Julia and she urged me to finish it. The next day I wrote the chorus and I remember crying, crying, crying and then crying some more. It’s a very primal feeling; please take me with you

Matt Bell’s lap steel playing is an integral part on all my records. Matt is gifted with incredible musicality and deep listening and his performance on When You Go is jaw dropping. The steel sounds as though it is sighing and crying.

Songs Remain

This is the only song on the record that we recorded in my home. It was a hot afternoon in June and Ric Robertson showed up via skateboard, possibly still tripping on acid from a session the night before. I wanted to bring Ric on for this song because playing music with him is profound; he is a deft and sensitive player.

We only did three takes of this song but I knew we had it because all the hairs on my arms were standing on end and it felt like my whole body was singing.

There is so much tenderness in this song but it was a damn journey to get to that place. I had to write and live a lot of bitter, jealous, messy songs to get to Songs Remain and a lot came after. I sequenced this song towards the middle of the record so it feels like a peaceful valley, a resting place. 

Mountaintop

This song idea came to me on a flower farm nestled under El Salto Mountain with the Taos mesa stretching out below. There’s a streak of high desert themes running through all of my albums and through the years I’ve learned to spend as much time as possible in New Mexico.

What I cherish most about climbing a mountain is hardly the view. I love the long ascent and packing a good snack… but mostly I love the sonics. At the summit I close my eyes and zone out and listen to the wind as it picks up speed and passes through the trees, gaining momentum, taking shape and definition, all other noise is reduced. You can hear how high you are by the immensity of the wind. The sound clip before Mountaintop is a voice memo from the summit of Mt. Philo. It’s impossible to truly capture that indefinable rising sound of the wind. 

Lyle Werner’s fiddle playing is a mainstay on my records and on this song it is genius. At the time Lyle was listening predominantly to Baroque chamber music and traditional Cajun ballads and I wonder if that combination flipped a switch because what he wrote for the chorus is so compelling.

Are You Out There

It was New Year’s Eve and I was on a date with a wonderful new person, really trying to really try to date again. At about 11:30 p.m. I lost my nerve and biked home. I panicked because I can’t fake it for anybody and going home to be alone with my guitar is how I reconcile. This song is the sister song to How Many Times because both songs are completely present: facing heartache and not covering it up or numbing it out. The acapella melody line drew me in and by the time the fireworks started I was okay, it was just another night and I was singing for my candle flame.

Without You 

We had just finished soundcheck at the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa, TX and the band went looking for food. I never eat before I sing so I was wandering around the train yard when this song came to me. The first line of the song amused me because I knew that very few people were coming to my show in that tiny little town, at that divey little bar on a Monday night. 

This is the first song I wrote for this record. Looking back there’s an innocence to it, like I was trying to write a song that was so honest and true that maybe it could fix things (that never works). I sequenced this song at the end of the record to emphasize how cyclical learning can be. So many times in writing these songs I would think surely this must be the end. So many times I thought I really figured it out, I finally knew how to protect myself, I could fix my heart. But there is no fix. I am slowly learning to get to know heartache like it’s an old friend and to stop running.

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A Music Journal ~ Issue 8

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