I was fresh to music journalism when I first interviewed Estrons a year and a half ago. I was so nervous that I dropped a glass bottle of chocolate milk in the dressing room. Front person and vocalist Tali Källström wasn’t taking any of my shit either: she (rightly) dismissed my dumb questions flatly, and was not forthcoming with her answers. This time round, (on her sister’s phone, because her third in two months had snuffed it), Tali is a different person.
I can think of several reasons why she might be more relaxed this time round.
For one thing, she’s not having a nervous tyke ask her non-questions about the immigration crisis right before she’s due onstage. For another, it’s her son’s forth birthday (she’s about to ice his cake), and for a third, she’s not in the presence of the band’s guitarist Rhodri. Most importantly though: the debut Estrons album is finally finished.
“The making of the album was a chaos,” she says, before adding gratefully: “but now we’ve got these songs that we’re very happy to share with the world.”
Under the title of You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough, these tracks clock in at under thirty minutes long, careering through a smorgasbord of emotion in the tide of that heavy, recognisably-Estrons guitar and Tali’s tearing, emotional voice.
The LP’s artwork mirrors the dichotomous title, depicting a split image of water splashing onto a face and fiery lava erupting from a volcano. Calm and passion. Cool and heat. Tali and Rhodri. Though happy now with the product that they’ve conceived together, the two bandmates clashed again and again, butting heads in a chaotic creative relationship that has ultimately culminated in a visceral album that lives, breathes and burns.
“There’s a love/hate dynamic,” Tali says in her unflinchingly confessional manner, “we’re not just like a group of mates: there’s a lot of battles and control involved and a lot of striving for perfection from Rhodri. He thinks almost in mathematical sums and I think in metaphors, so it leads to a lot of conflict from both sides. He thinks we should play to a metronome, whereas I think thats completely insane!”
With these disagreements; this “pushing and pulling”, Estrons have created a mongrel sound of exceptional vitality that is impossible to pin down. “We describe ourselves as an alternative rock band [now], but we’ve been called everything under the sun.” ‘Pop’, ‘pop rock’, ‘indie rock’, ‘pop punk’ and more are all genres that have come up, and this time last year, Tali herself gave me the term ‘heavy pop’ to describe her band, a term she also supplied NME.
Now though, after misgivings on this label from both Rhodri and the (sizeable) Estrons fanbase, Tali takes a new, calmer stance on the matter: “it cheapens things when you try to really nail down a genre. Does it really matter? I try not to worry.” And I hear her smile down the phone.
At least the band have one thing they’re sure on, and that’s that they don’t fit in. Estrons means ‘Misfits’ in Welsh, and that new logo with its bold strikethrough represents this well. The design draws irresistible attention, screams rebellion, and also quite accurately represents the numerous edits that had to be made to finish this ferocious debut full-length.
“The album is a snapshot of the creative journey and development that we’ve been through. It’s where we’ve been and where we are now.” As such, it’s a tapestry of old and new, songs that had to be exhaustingly repeated, stitched together using old vocal takes and shot through with real tears.
“I could never put down the vocals that I wasn’t completely feeling at the time. You can’t fake it on a record, and having to feel an emotion while making it technical at the same time was quite a difficult process.”
But that’s what Rhodri wanted, and in hindsight, it’s what Tali wanted too, though by no means did she have an easy time of it. Emotionally-taxing verses and throat-shredding choruses had to be revisited and revisited again in order to get the delivery just right. In fact, they “did have to pinch some of the old vocals,” in order to keep the raw energy that their live shows vibrate with intact. Others came easier. Of love song ‘Cameras’, Tali says: “I got the chorus right because I remember crying when I was singing: you can hear my voice wobble and it sounds like I’m trying to do vibrato, but I’m actually just being taken over by emotion.”
‘Jade’, a previously-unheard track, is similar in its emotional varnish: Tali cries on that one too. “Theres a lot of little naughty bits like that, where we’ve kept in what you might call mistakes…but I think that’s what makes a beautiful record, isn’t it?”
These so-called mistakes do make for an extraordinarily real album, its performances, production (by bassist Steff) and mixing all functioning together as a snapshot of the chaos that reined during its making, and during Tali’s own “crazy life.”
As an individual, Tali is extraordinary. Even down the phone, her angers, frustrations and passions are as palpable as her voice is in those moments of emotion on the album. “Less eager to please” and “less careful” in the interviews she conducts these days, Tali is steadfastly honest, and she’s extremely personable for it. “Art is just a massive wank over yourself isn't it?” she laughs, “it’s a lot of restudying yourself. It’s about discovering, self-growth, self-realisation. Self, self, self, boring, boring, boring.”
As well as building self-belief in finishing the un-finishable album, she also went through a form of self-realisation during the making of the video for new single ‘Body’. In it, Tali reclaims her autonomy in a series of grainy, home-shot videos and photographs of her naked face, body and brand new heart tattoo, which she wryly calls her “replacement heart.”
The shape was inked in celebration of ‘Cameras’’ release, the outline going over where, Tali says, her real heart “should be.” This first inking also came about after Tali heard an ex-boyfriend telling people that she’s “heartless.” “That made me mad,” she admits, “but I’ve owned it now.”
Tali owns everything she does. In her mediations on the difficulties of working with Rhodri in the studio, she is careful to expound on her own “bad traits,” and while she agrees that being honest with oneself is of ultimate importance, she admits that she “doesn’t know about” being honest with other people: “I’ve lied my way through many things.”
Maybe she has. But not her art. In this she is so honest it is often disconcerting. “Estrons lyrics are quite direct, and if you’re going to sing about it so directly, then you’re going to have to answer directly” she says of themes that cover sexual intimidation, misunderstanding, vulnerability and pain.
Tali argues this honesty must beget honesty: “the most important thing is that you’re always being true to your art. The minute you step away from that and start feeling as though you have to dress or behave or talk about things in a certain way is when it starts becoming very soulless and you might as well just call yourself an entertainer, not an artist.” Tali does do things her way. Even when she’s been pressured (and she has, of course, faced industry pressures), she’s fought through them, with and without the rest of her band. You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough is a manifesto for that honesty: a chaotic thrash through the sounds of a crazy life.
You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough comes out 5 October