On a cold Monday afternoon in Philadelphia, Penn., singer-songwriter Esmé Patterson is on a brief respite before a tour stop later that night. Patterson, who’s tour heads out west to Solana Beach’s Belly Up on Feb. 15, has grown accustomed to the hustle of being on the road.
“I don’t really live anywhere right now,” Patterson laughs with a hint of seriousness. “I used to live in Portland, Oregon, but after almost 10 years of being on the road I don’t pay rent anywhere. I feel as comfortable being on tour as other people are at home.”
Patterson is at the helm of a charmed career, her most recent highlight being the release of the album We Were Wild, her third as a solo star. Released last June, it received raves with Rolling Stone’s Jon Dolan calling it “subtly charming” with “cute throwbacks” peppered throughout, while NPR chose standout track “No River” for its Songs We Love showcase.
Patterson points to her nomadic lifestyle as one of the main inspirations for her alternative pop tracks. “My work is constantly evolving,” she notes. “There’s an interesting term called `background processing.’ Right when you’re trying to think of something specific, you pull it out of the swamp of your brain. Songwriting is a background process for me. I’m living my life and taking in my surroundings and then write about them later.”
Patterson’s journey started in Boulder, Colo., where she grew up in midst of the Rocky Mountains, later co-founding the folk rock assemble Paper Bird. From there, she wound up in Portland and has led a life on the road ever since. When it comes to actually sitting down and crafting her deeply personal tracks, Patterson says she has not one surefire process. “There’s a lot of different ways it happens for me,” she explains. “I’ll sometimes sit down with a guitar and a piece of paper and a pen and then it kind of comes together. For me, music is very intertwined with poetry and it can’t really be separated. It’s hard to describe; each song has its own spirit and personality.”
Finding songwriting “cathartic,” Patterson has turned to music as a reaction to the ongoing political upheaval in the United States. “I feel I have no illusions about the realities of where we’re at,” she said. “I myself wasn’t surprised in the election in some ways when a lot of people around me were shocked. I feel incredibly lucky to have this unique perspective by meeting people every day around the U.S. and looking them in the eye and shaking their hand. It’s a really interesting time to be driving around America and kind of scary also, but at the same time a beautiful experience.”
As for her own career, Patterson says she can’t point to one singular moment that transformed her life, whether it was her smash collaboration with the singer-songwriter Shakey Graves with “Dearly Departed” or her stints performing on shows from Late Show with David Letterman to Conan on TBS.
“For me there are no levels of achievement, you just keep on doing and making. It doesn’t matter matter how many people are in the room, it just matters if you reach people or not. Not thousands. If you reach two people, you’ve done your job.”
Patterson and the band Lucero will perform at the Belly Up (143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach, 92075) Feb. 15. Doors open at 7 p.m., the show starts at 8 p.m. Visit www.bellyup.com and www.esmepatterson.com.