"Haze," the best song on Essie Jain Wilkinson's transfixing Ba Da Bing debut We Made This Ourselves, begins deliberately. Above a graceful piano, she sings gently, her loping, subdued British-expatriate voice confiding in measured breaths, "All of this yearning has poured out/ While their understanding is not around." Things build: The vocals double, intertwine and collapse.
The second verse eases up like the first, slowly rising, perfect in its pacing. This time, a horn swells just beneath. Cymbals roll. And the march begins. The piano enters a stride, and Essie—louder now, with her doubled vocal tracks meeting finally in the middle—sings—triumphantly, rewardingly, confidently—"I am right behind you."
ESSIE JAIN: I just finished working like a mad person, actually, so I can speak. I'm doing music full-time at the moment, and I'm in that rather strange position where I've been handling everything myself—management, booking, stuff like that. It's just reached the point now where it's getting a little overwhelming.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: These are good problems to have after a debut record, right? Needing a manager and a booking agent?
I'm not the kind of person who's like, "Hey, I need some help!" But I'm in way over my head right now. I can't deal with all of the stuff. It's kind of sad because you're, like, glued to the computer all day. I'm just trying—while I'm keeping up with everything—to reach out and get some kind of team together.... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to start the conversation all whining, but you're the first person I've spoken to all day that's not on the computer.
Your songs build a little like your career. They start slowly, and then they're huge and busy in a good way. Do you see that?
It wasn't a conscious decision. Going in, I didn't say, "This is how this is going to go. Things are going to build like this." That was almost an accident. But for the second record, I can see things being a bit different. Some of it's faster and it digs its heels in a little bit more. My voice has changed a lot as well. I've gotten much more confident, so my singing has taken on a different place, too. I can imagine a progression to bigger things.
You mentioned having more confidence now as a vocalist. Is that the product of having a record out and working it and having success with it, or does it have more to do with your personal life?
I think it's actually a little more personal than that. The record I made—there's three years of my life in that, and the things that I've written about and the emotions on that record, there's a lot of my personality. I was a lot more reserved in general, and I'd gone through some pretty tough stuff. My music became the only place I could have a voice and think about things. It was an almost internal record. It was this quiet little place I went to clear this stuff up.
So life has gotten better since then, it seems?
In the past year, I've had some success with this record, and it's given me a lot of confidence. And life has gotten a lot better since that record. I really think that being a musician is one of those things where you put in the most work and you get the littlest feedback. You don't get much finished product, especially in the earliest stages of things. You're working your ass off, and it's difficult to keep going at some points because there's a lot going against you just as one person. Then, when you get the record out, things change: The world comes to you a bit more instead of you continually going toward the world.
Essie Jain plays Nightlight Saturday, July 21, at 10 p.m. with Vibrant Green and Lost in the Trees. Tickets are $5.