Safe To Run is the excellent fourth album from Esther Rose, and it’s out tomorrow via New West. Not only do we have a premiere of the entire LP for you, but Ms. Rose was also kind enough to take us on a track-by-track tour of the record.
Rose: The writing for the album spans two years, starting with “Spider” in April 2020 and ending with “Insecure” in January 2022. The recording process began in August 2021 and ended in February 2022. Gathering the details here to see plainly how much effort was required to complete it. I think that’s how it goes every time, although this time, the songs begged for a little extra.
The first session was in New Mexico with my new band. Then (producer) Ross (Farbe) and I took the songs to New Orleans to work with some longtime collaborators and heroes of mine. The third session was back in New Mexico.
My challenge every time I picked up the pen was: “Not another heartbreak song—look around you.” Writing from depths never explored and feeling sometimes like I was losing my mind, a softness unfurled.
From my new tiny bedroom in Taos, I texted Ross: “The angels are fucking loud out here.”
I’ve moved out of a chaotic, transitional place. I’m not running anymore. This album feels different to me than everything I’ve made before it. But who knows? I’ve traded hurricanes for wildfires.
Full-Album Premiere Of Esther Rose’s “Safe To Run”:
Track By Track With Esther Rose
I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
I saw the mountain peaks: white, green, gray
And purple mountains spreading down from Santa Fe
Sometimes, a song is a dialogue I’m having in my head with my teacher.
Driving through Utah toward New Mexico, I suddenly realize that I do not know what state I’m in. I am momentarily lost in the Four Corners. I feel as unresolved and circular as the chord progression of “Amelia” by Joni Mitchell, which has been on repeat for the past hour. It is October 2020. I tell myself, “This is the last time I’ll come to the desert before I go back to New Orleans and bury my head in the swamp because the world is ending. Better enjoy it.”
Instead, what happens is a series of quiet, small, totally life-altering events.
“Stay” is the dark horse of this album. I let my love of Elliott Smith lead the production style, doubled and intense.
The agreement I made with my friend in Placitas was this: Make a record in his rambling 1970s farmhouse in exchange for taking care of his CBD plants. I haven’t done farm chores since I was a little kid in Michigan a few lifetimes ago.
My routine: hot tub + coffee, water the weed, record for 12 hours, mezcal + bed. Repeat.
I remember a particularly glorious morning when Ross was tracking the pedal steel for “Stay.” We turned a glass nursery into a reverb chamber by sending instruments into it through a speaker. That repetitive, soaring, aliens-are-landing, pedal-steel arrangement was echoing through the farm while I was watering the weed. The plants were towering over my head, and tiny perfect water droplets sparkled in the morning light. And I sparkled with them.
2) “Chet Baker”
Someone slides into my Instagram DMs. They want to know: “Do you remember me?”
I am transported into a decade-old memory, a weird weekend with a crew of dangerous college preps and a car crash.
Chet Baker on the deck when the pills kick in
Yes, I did remember, and what came next is this short study of my townie life in Ann Arbor:
Ann Arbor, MI. I’m waiting tables and waiting for my life to begin. I go to the public library and borrow CDs to burn on my computer. I gravitate toward the jazz section, and the first time I hear “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” my DNA changes. Soon, I’m making music as The Shy Girl Show, butchering jazz standards on my Casio SK8 with three-fingered chords and slow disco beats. At night, I’m mostly alone in my room, awake at weird hours, popping stimulants and getting a few hours of sleep before working my brunch shift. I am perpetually hungover, and the songs I make are my lullabies, an effort to connect with myself.
The sun is setting, and I want to walk. It is cold, and the wind makes my eyes water. I make my way over to the 8ball Saloon. A band plays upstairs, but I don’t want to pay the cover, so I head down the alleyway. Maybe I’ll meet someone. Jimmy Starlight is checking IDs. I feel lucky and dangerous and depleted and gorgeous all at once. A stinking wave of popcorn and stale beer and sweat hits my nose. I roll a cig. I wish I liked pool, but I just like people.
This song is my attempt at reaching out to my younger self to tell her: “It’s all right. I got you now. We’re OK.”
At the first band practice with (bassist) Meredith (Stoner) and (drummer) Lonnie (Leary), we played “Chet Baker” and clicked instantly. I asked them what they were doing in the summer and if they wanted to make a record.
I love Lonnie’s four-on-the-floor intro. Cameron (Snyder)’s synth part in the bridge. Adding that freaky synth texture feels like a promise from us to you that we’re not going to take ourselves too seriously.
As I was writing this I remember thinking: “This. Is. My. Final. Word!!!”
Lonnie calls this one an “emotional dump truck.” We tracked vocals live, and I tried to redo them later, but they didn’t hit as hard as the original take. There’s something kind of deranged happening in the third verse, the situational complexities—you can feel it. It’s our favorite to play live.
4) “Safe To Run”
This song is the perfect distillation of where I was as an artist during this phase. I tend to name my albums after the song that captures it all best. Lyrically, “Safe To Run” siphons all the top-of-mind topics: belonging, disillusionment, climate grief, childlessness and partnership.
Sonically, Ross and I threw every idea we had on this song, and it absorbed everything as if it were just this mega-powerful container. We built so many layers into the outro. I love Ross’ counter melody on the Mellotron and the high-pitched, one-note synth drone, which he refers to as “the angels.” Nick Cohon, of Bay Area death-metal band Cormorant, brought the doom by arranging the ascending guitar outro. It was so meaningful to collaborate with Alynda Segarra (Hurray For The Riff Raff) and to hear the song start to fly. Alynda’s voice is this expertly tuned muscle; when they sing, you feel everything.
I also want to tell you that the bed track is the first take of the first song on the first day of recording. I want you to imagine everyone gathered in a mostly empty house in the hills of the Santa Fe National Forest. It’s hot outside, and it’s monsoon season.You can smell the piñon and juniper. The house is shadowy, with a big room where we set up, facing each other.
Writing “Safe To Run” broke me. I traveled to a place in my mind that was farther than I’d ever explored, and it shook me. Or maybe I was just hungover from the pandemic and vulnerability. I remember crying and walking up the mountain in Rio En Medio, where I had self-exiled and where my heart was waking up.
I am still just as unresolved and circular as “Amelia,” and I resume the conversation I’ve been having my head with my teacher:
Oh Julia, it was a false alarm
5) “St. Francis Waltz”
Here am I, tip-toeing toward intimacy: How does it feel to come home to me?
This song took many shapes, with the third session finally cementing it. I listen to ambient electronic music, but do not know how to create it. That’s where the beauty of my collaboration with Ross shines. Ross gave the band weird instruments, asked them to jam along to the song, then did his editing magic to create what we refer to as “the vibe.”
Lyle Werner has been a longtime collaborator and has played fiddle on all my albums. Taking the songs back to New Orleans to work with my original collaborators felt like a bridge from past to present.
6) “New Magic II”
A true-blue love song. This is the last song that I wrote in my home in New Orleans before moving to New Mexico. It was the morning of my 34th birthday, and everything in my house was in boxes except my writing table.
I texted my boyfriend: “I’m fucking scared! Am I really doing this!?”
He texted back: “Nuestra Señora te convoca al desierto alto y mágico.”
This is the moment I wanted to capture with “New Magic II.”
Later, I went back to New Orleans to recruit Silver Synthetic as the backing band. For a moment, I tried to to hide how tender the lyrics are with a heavy-rock vibe, but I ultimately gave in and just let it be the tender song it wanted to be.
Looking back, I can see that the self-exiled, heart-blasting experience of writing “Safe To Run” broke me open so that I could open up and write “New Magic II.” In that way, each song leads into another; they are fully interdependent like an ecosystem.
7) “Dream Girl”
Along with everyone else, I got pretty obsessed with Phoebe Bridgers during lockdown. I was reading little tidbits of press and started to see this story emerge, one that reminded me of other iconic female songwriters such as Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell. At some point in these mind-blowingly talented women’s careers, there is some guy who is like, “I invented you!”
He said he made you what you are
You were no one till he made you a star
A pair of eyes, a narrow view
He was lucky to be in the room
I wanted to write about that “phenomenon” and about how cool the Dream Girl is.
No worries if not
Do you need space
She’s really pretty
Did you used to date?
I wrote this song as an apology to my partner after a night of bad behavior on my end. I also wanted to make him laugh. You know you love my ice cream bunny kisses.
The bass and Mellotron play the riff in the chorus, which gives it the glittery Wilco vibe we were aspiring toward. This is the last song I wrote for the album, and I can feel it reaching new territory: more production, more pop shit.
9) “Levee Song”
This song, “Arm’s Length” and “Dream Girl” share a similarity in that I’m searching for stories outside of my little view. I think my songwriting started to develop from a pandemic urgency to get out of my own head and look around for stories. Casey Jane is my dear friend, and she is definitely That Girl. She’s probably had at least 100 songs written for her, so I figured why not cast mine in the bucket.
Ross and I weren’t exactly sure how we wanted this album to sound, but we knew we wanted to try new things. I love drum machines. It felt nostalgic and fun to use a programmed beat to kick it off.
10) “Full Value”
When I moved to New Mexico, I noticed my partner using this turn of phrase: “full value.” He used it to describe a truly rewarding outdoor experience. Coming from New Orleans, where I basically lived in bars, I loved hearing all the new language and observing the culture that has developed with folks who spend most of their life outside.
At the time, I was working at a coffee shop in Taos, just kind of taking it all in, thinking about what the “full value” experience meant for me: moments of ecstasy in the mundane, feeling my tiny attachment to the bigness of life, getting a little destroyed by the beauty of people and places.
Rain, like angel’s teardrops
Just softening the blow
When it comes today, I’ll close up early
And I’ll drive out to the view
I just want to live forever
I want I want the full value
11) “Arm’s Length”
I was listening to Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed. I delighted in hearing her say “selfie” and her deadpan, no-bullshit approach to the climate crisis. I’m speaking to American excess, needing things vs. hurting the planet, the paradox of being alive and our collective disease of buying shit.
Esther Rose Tour Dates
April 27 – Nashville – Brooklyn Bowl Nashville w/ Fruit Bats
April 29 – Atlanta – Variety Playhouse w/ Fruit Bats
April 30 – Jacksonville – Intuition Ale Works w/ Fruit Bats
May 2 – Panama City, FL – Mosey’s Downtown
May 4 – Decatur, GA – Eddie’s Attic
May 5 – New Orleans – The Broadside (New Orleans album release show)
May 8 – Asheville, NC – The Double Crown
May 9 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Pour House
May 10 – Athens, GA – Flicker Theatre & Bar
May 11 – Chattanooga – Cherry Street Tavern
May 12 – Charlotte, NC – The Evening Muse
May 13 – Greer, SC – Albino Skunk Music Festival
June 23 – Athens, GA – Athfest
June 26 – Nashville – Dee’s Lounge
June 27 – Lexington, KY – The Burl
June 28 – Newport, KY – Southgate House
June 29 – Cleveland – Winchester Music Tavern
June 30 – Milwaukee – Cactus Club
July 1 – Spring Green, WI – The Shitty Barn
July 2 – Chicago – The Hideout
July 3 – Berwyn, IL – FitzGerald’s American Music Festival