Toronto singer/songwriter, Mar Meredith (AKA For Esmé), and I have been emailing back and forth for the last couple of years. The music she shares with me always highlights a sense of female empowerment and self-awareness that was relevant when our musical relationship began and is even more relevant now. Mar’s music is steeped in meaning, her lyrics deep in thought. She recently released the music video for her latest single, “Modern Love.” Together with director Nick Tiringer, they captured the essence of “Modern Love” in a visual form. The video and single were greatly inspired by Joan Didion’s 1961 essay, “On Self Respect.” Mar discussed this and much more with me in detail. Enjoy the video and read all about it below:
MFL: When did music become an integral part of your life and when was For Esme born?
Music has been pretty central for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a farm outside a small town, so music always made me feel connected to a broader world and big ideas that I craved having more access to.
For Esmé came into being in 2013 and has had a rotating cast depending on what I’m making and working on. It was inspired by J.D. Salinger’s ‘For Esme with Love and Squalor’. I’ve recently learned some troubling stuff about Salinger, which has called the band name into question in a new light. The character Esmé is this very precocious thirteen-year-old girl though, who is sharp as a tack and wants to be a jazz singer. She’s very outspoken — arguably rude — while trying to sound sophisticated. Regardless of my thoughts on Salinger I still feel very beholden to the character Esmé and like to imagine now writing these songs of empowerment for her, or a modern version of her.
MFL: You mention the essay, “On Self Respcet”, by Joan Didion as a “bible/map” for you. How did Joan Didion’s essay find you or rather, how did you find it?
I seem to remember first reading it soon after moving into the first apartment I ever had to myself. I remember scrawling “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs” on a post-it note and sticking it right on the front face of my desktop. It stayed there for years until I switched over to a laptop full time. It felt really important to remember that. I think social connectedness/social media makes it especially hard for us to center ourselves in our own character, to be true to ourselves and not fret over everyone else’s opinions of us. But like Joan Didion says “the dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough”. It’s easy to fool other people, but the person you have to face at the end of the day is yourself — and whether or not YOU like what you see is what determines your own sense of fulfillment.
MFL: It seems like you have spent a lot of time thinking about self-care and self-respect. When did you know that you wanted to write a song about it?
My interest in song writing has almost always been about self-discovery. About knowing myself, speaking through my truest voice. I find that society makes doing that hard — truth telling is not ultimately encouraged or appreciated in our glossy Instagram world. I read a fascinating and rather heartbreaking report in the Atlantic called “The Confidence Gap” that described in a lot of detail the way women in our culture are brought up to be less sure of themselves, to be less outspoken. I also read a lot about female anger and the ways that it is treated very differently from male anger. I think the emotional display by Brett Kavanaugh the week before last is an interesting (and frustrating) example. If a woman had behaved that way she would have been ripped to shreds for being overly emotional, defensive, shrill. It’s such a double standard. Anyway, I read a lot of psychology studies about these things when writing the record and it really enforced the importance of self-care and self-respect. Of believing in yourself, listening to yourself, speaking your truth. A lot of the songs on the record wrestle with frustration, so Modern Love is a nice break from that: it’s a big affirmation.
MFL: Do you feel a certain level of release/relief when you write, record and share a song about something that has occupied this much space in your mind? Explain.
Absolutely. To be honest, turning a deeply internalized feeling, or a realization about myself into a song that feels so right and true is the greatest high I probably ever experience in life. It’s euphoric, it’s a huge sense of emotional release and relief, like a puzzle solved at last. That high is a rare occurrence, and one that I find I’m always chasing. It can be such a long stretch between those emotional/musical victories. Releasing the song can also bring relief, in the sense of getting some validation, but I find public validation doesn’t have the same longevity or substance as the personal creative victory does.
MFL: How did you and Nick Tiringer, the director of the music video for “Modern Love”, come to work together?
Nick reached out to me about making a video and had a few ideas. As soon as I read the one about women singing the song to themselves in the mirror it was just “BINGO.” In writing the song I’d thought a lot about it being like a post-it note you’d stick to your mirror, to remind you to love yourself, to practice self-respect. Kind of like the Joan Didion post-it I had for myself. It just fit the intention of the song perfectly.
MFL: What was it about the collection of women you chose for your music video that spoke to the idea behind the song?
Nick and I, and our producer Amanda Foates all reached out to different women in our circles to be in the video, and we were thrilled with the response. It was important to me that the video show that women of all ages, backgrounds and aesthetics need daily affirmations from themselves. It was so special for me to watch all these different folks interpret my words in their own way in that little bathroom. It made my heart swell.
MFL: Why is the track called “Modern Love?” Is there something new about this kind of self-respect or perhaps it’s something that has gotten lost and needs to be regained in society?
I got engaged not too long before writing this song, and I was surprised and frustrated with how I felt people were treating the event as ‘the biggest accomplishment of my life’. I didn’t feel like my now husband was treated that same way at all. It felt like women’s lives are so often defined by their relationships to men. The hardest part was realizing that in my past I had sometimes defined myself by my ability to attract and maintain relationships with men I was infatuated with and I hated that. So I wanted to send a message to myself and to contemporary women at large that we are enough, we are complete on our own, that rather than obsessing about finding love from someone else, we have to focus on loving ourselves.
MFL: How has your music changed or developed over time since the beginnings of For Esme?
If you hear anything from my first (self-titled) record in 2013 you’ll hear a pretty drastic change from that to the next two. At the time I was writing all my songs at the piano and they were accompanied by electric guitar. I hadn’t started writing and producing my work electronically yet then — I don’t think I had even considered that I was capable! Starting to demo songs in logic and create the soundscapes myself with arpeggiators, plugins, delays, it all opened up a whole new world. Suddenly I had the tools to make a kind of music I had always enjoyed consuming. Now my knowledge about electronic production has grown immensely, and I feel the need to actually hone it in again. To make my next collection with a more narrowed scope and focus and really develop a specific new sound palette.
MFL: What is in store for the remainder of 2018 and next year?
Coming up right away we have shows in Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Peterborough and Kingston that we’re really looking forward to. Once that wraps up I am really looking forward to spending November furthering the new songs I’ve been working on. I also have a great video collaboration with Laura Lynn Petrick to release in the near future! In January we are excited to be heading out to the east coast for the first time to play In The Dead Of Winter Festival in Halifax. We are working now on routing more tour dates around that. It is my hope to travel to the West Coast early next year, too. We have a lot of listeners out there and have yet to go.
Big thanks to Mar Meredith for continuing our musical friendship and taking the time to share her thoughts with MFL and all its readers. You can follow her on Facebook, her official website, and Spotify. Her latest record, Righteous Woman, is out now.
Featured Image PC: Vanessa Heins