Maria Hanlon sat down with Esther Durin at the Talent House to chat about her music career so far, FROM CHURCH TO WORKING ON CUTS WITH HEADIE ONE, DOING BV’s for STORMZY, TIME SPENT AT UD, and THAT ALL IMPORTANT advice for up and coming artists…
Maria: I first saw you at one of the UD Open Mic nights and I was blown away by your beautiful vocals! So take me back to the beginning. Have you always sung or was it something that came later in life?
Esther: I sang from the age of six. I started singing in school, I was in the cloakroom hanging up a coat and the teacher overheard me and she was like, ‘Who is that? Who’s singing?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s me.’ I didn’t really think much of it because I used to always sing and she said ‘You’re not allowed to have lunch times anymore, you have to practise!’ She was like, we need to focus on this now. At first I was very reluctant because as a kid, I’m trying to hang out with my friends, play kiss chase with my crush. I was thinking, what do you mean? Rehearsals? For what? Although it really did discipline and train me. Then in the end of year assemblies and Christmas assemblies, I’d do all the main solos. I was Beyonce in my year six play and I did Mariah Carey for Christmas.
M: That’s when you know you’re good, when you’re the kid doing the solos in the school play…
E: Exactly! That’s when all the teachers were like, oh my gosh, ‘Esther needs to go on X Factor’ or ‘we found something here’. I went on Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor and didn’t get through either of them. I was heartbroken for a year and stopped doing music. That was when I was about 12 or 13. Then at about 14, I was like ‘I’m gonna try and take it seriously’, so I started doing loads of showcases in the borough and was still singing in church every Sunday, so that was a way a lot of people would hear me sing. Then I started getting bookings, and then from there, went to uni, started getting more bookings and started getting more collaborations. I did my first collaboration with Headie One back in 2018, which was huge for me at the time. That put me on a really good platform as the song got about 3 million listens on Link Up TV. And then from there I got booked to open up for Burna Boy, back in 2018 as well, which was again just a lot of eyes on me and it’s kind of just been up there from there.
M: Wow, that’s an incredible journey so far! So from then, how did you shape your sound into what it is today?
E: When I was younger, I loved Beyonce a lot and then as I got older, I didn’t really have a favourite. I think I’m my favourite musically because I have so many different genres that I make that I’m inspired when I get different sounds out of myself. But I think that again comes mainly from the collaborations I did because I was taken out of my comfort zone when I did the Headie One collaboration and opened up for Burna Boy. I just feel like being around all these people honestly influenced me. I was doing backing vocals for Stormzy around that time too for Top of the Pops when ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ came out and stuff like that. So, a mixture of all of that, I would say, is what made me go, you know what? This is now my sound. I also went to Nigeria last year for a month to just make music and that really influenced where my sound is today because I was like, ‘oh my gosh, Afrobeats’. I infused this into R&B and infused it into gospel, and that’s kind of where my sound was cemented.
M: So let’s chat about what you’ve released so far this year, tell me the story behind ‘Royal Blood’?
E: At the time I was with a guy and I felt like I was his queen, he was my king, and we would always talk about how we’d wanna instil that into our kids and it just inspired me from those conversations that me and him would always have to make a song about royal blood. Like the fact that we are all royal heritage and we all come from royal lineage. So it was just to kind of encourage others as well, like, ‘okay, this is how I feel about myself’, but I know a lot of people don’t feel that way about themselves, so how can I encourage you guys to feel that way about yourself?
M: I also love your song ‘Step Up’ which was recently featured on BBC Introducing on 1Xtra, which is amazing! How does it feel knowing your songs are getting a lot of love and radio play?
E: It feels good! I have been thinking about my music career my whole life, so to see it actually being co-signed by so many people now reminds me that I must be doing the right thing.
M: We’re currently sitting in UD’s Live Room so tell me about your relationship with UD as I know you’ve been working with Michael Amarteifio (Studio Manager) here. When did you first find out about UD?
E: Shout out to UD, I love UD! So last year, in October I got a DM from Michael about this space that they were opening and how they wanted to build a community of artists that are doing well, some that are up-and-coming, and give people a space to network and build, because we don’t really have that in London, specifically for like the Black community. I finally ended up coming down with my partner at the time and we met Michael and we were blown away when we got here. Specifically this room that we’re in right now, I walked in and thought I’m going to do a live recording here. I don’t know when, but I’m going to do it. I had just watched Aretha Franklin, and in the movie there’s a part where they go into a live room, and she’s working with these caucasian men, and everyone’s like, ‘oh, why are you working with them?‘ And they’re like, ‘we’ve got a vibe’, and then they ended up creating some of her biggest albums in that live room. So when I came in here, I was like, yeah this is the next location for this. Then UD started offering me sessions here and I’ve just been coming back ever since. Whenever they’re doing anything to promote the UD brand, I always try my best to be here. Like today, for example, they offered me the space to do what I need to do and it’s really helped me. So that’s why I love UD personally. I love the fact that they are so invested, specific shout out to Pamela (UD’s Founder/Director) and what she’s done with this place and her intentionality over the years with so many other artists has never stopped. So shout out to her and shout out to UD.
M: A lot of the artists that come to UD are often starting out in their music career, so what advice would you give to an artist who’s at the very start of their journey?
E: I think just be yourself. I know it sounds so generic, but it’s so hard to be yourself when you can see so many people being other people to get fame and money, because that’s very prominent in the industry. There’s so many people that have obviously created alternative versions of themselves to make money. And it’s like, who are you? What do you care about? What’s important to you? Not what’s trending. Not what does everyone want to hear? You don’t need to make what everyone wants to hear because you just kind of get drowned out into the noise. So be yourself, because there’s a high chance that an experience you’ve gone through is unique to you and can really touch a lot of people and that will usually be the song or the writing credit that you do that will take you to the next level.
M: Some great advice! For someone who hasn’t seen you perform yet, what does a live set look like from Esther Durin?
E: It’s fun. I think being on stage is my favourite thing to do. I feel like I’m at home on stage. I don’t want to be on stage with just anyone though. Even if, let’s say for example, I’m doing a set and there’s like a band member that’s just not on time. I can’t play with that person. It’s not anything personal but it feels like my space, this is home for me. This is the one place I can actually do whatever I want. I think there’s freedom in it. It’s free and fun.
M: So doing a full circle on the interview, I mentioned that I first saw you at one of UD’s Open Mic nights. Obviously they’re incredible for up and coming artists, what do you think is so brilliant about them? And would you encourage people to come?
E: I think there’s a great network here, so if you know exactly who you are as an artist and you’ve got your songs ready and they’re good songs, you could find your manager just being at UD, you could find a deal doing a UD Open Mic, or you could just find more people to write with, or you could just make friends. You might find the next bass guitarist that’s going to be on your next single. Even the guy that did the live recording with me, I met him here on a social day and he was playing in the next room and I walked up to him, I didn’t even know him and I was like, ‘could you play on a song that we’re doing?’ and that’s how he did the live recording. That’s just because I came to UD. You can only imagine how much more you can gain from just doing an open mic because you’re actually showing your talent and sharing it with people.
M: Definitely. The thing that really stood out to me is how supportive everyone was. Everyone just wanted everyone to do their best, there was no competition, which I think sums up the energy here at UD perfectly. Just to finish, what else have you got coming up this year?
E: So my new single ‘TETHERED’ is out now and everything else y’all gotta wait and see!
Photography: Dres Lenses