photo by Galin Foley
Esther Rose’s last album ends with a moonlit declaration of love at 2 a.m. But as life would have it, 2021 has her in a completely different state.
Unlike the lilting lovestruck tunes of 2019’s You Made It This Far, her latest project, How Many Times, out on Father/Daughter Records March 26, opens with a weeping fiddle, an ice cold shower and prescription meds, with Rose pondering, “How many times will you break my heart?”
“You kinda only get your heart smashed wide open once. It’s just that bad once,” Rose says, calling from her brand-new home base of New Mexico. “And then everything after that is how you recover and how you cope and how you learn.”
Her third country album is that post-breakup recovery. With incredible imagery, Rose’s vivid revelations may just take you back to certain scenes from your own heartbreak journey.
You won’t find too many ballads on How Many Times — it’s more “crying in the club” (or, rather, crying in the honkytonk) than anything else. Lap steel and fiddle take turns soloing, stand-up bass keeps a steady heartbeat, and Rose’s vocals are crystal clear. As you’re singing along, you can feel along as well.
First, Rose sets fire to her past on “Keeps Me Running.” Ignited with motivation, she transforms the wallowing phase into the downloading-Tinder-again-and-maybe-visiting-the-gym phase. But on “My Bad Mood,” she’s grumpy, shuffling across the dancefloor, unable to shake her ex as she tries to move on. Each song is another layer of her readjustment to her new reality.
“This record is my total, complete learning curve,” Rose says. There’s yearning, forgiving, stubbornness, fear, rejection, growth and nostalgia. One moment she’s pleading, “Can I come with you? / Please take me with you / When you go,” and in a moment of acceptance she sings, “I am glad it was you who broke my heart.”
Surprisingly, you won’t find any angst on How Many Times. Rose says the angry songs didn’t make the cut, and it’s for the better. Writing through the pain helps her hone in on what she really wants to say.
“You kind of have to get through those bitter, mad songs to get to a deeper understanding,” Rose says. “I feel like every great song has two or three bummer/OK songs that came before it.”
Certainly, crafting this record helped Rose process a chapter in her life, but she doesn’t subscribe to the “songwriting is therapy” cliché.
“Therapy is amazing and people should go to therapy, and not just have art,” Rose laughs. “[Art]’s a companion for life. Music is a companion for life.”
Her IRL companions, including co-producer Ross Farbe, were essential in capturing the moment, Rose says. Recorded live to tape with “a great group of folks and friends” at The Tigermen Den in New Orleans, How Many Times relies on the type of simplistic collaboration that lets the storytelling soar.
“Recording together was just really natural,” Rose says. “We didn’t have anything too much in mind. It was more just about supporting each other and listening to each other. There’s a lot of listening and space and people not playing too much.”
Australian alt-country songwriter Julia Jacklin’s breakup album dropped as Rose was wrapping hers up. Listening to music like Jacklin’s provided solace and helped the healing process. “I want my record to do that for people,” Rose says. “That’s my ultimate goal.”
“You kinda only get your heart smashed wide open once. It’s just that bad once, and then everything after that is how you recover and how you cope and how you learn.”
It’s now two years after recording How Many Times and, in retrospect, it’s a perfect encapsulation of a moment in time, full of accomplishment and heartbreak — two emotions that fed off each other.
“I feel like, ‘Wow, that was a lot of work and effort, and I’m so pleased with the way it came together.’ But I’m also like, ‘Wow, girl, you were so in it, and what a struggle,’” Rose says. “Things have shifted so much in my life.”
On her last birthday, Rose walked to a car rental agency and took off for the high desert, which doesn’t seem as spontaneous as it sounds when you listen to her songs about moving West. There, she’s weathering a different change — one she says she’s blissfully embracing.
Esther ends How Many Times with “Without You,” a spirited tune that has Rose yodeling about the romantic void in her life. And just like her previous album, she leaves her music open for a new chapter.
“I think that looking back always helps,” Rose says. “But I think I’m in a place right now where I’m trying to expand out of my comfort zone and push myself.”
She’s been spending more time in nature, listening to good music of all genres, developing her songwriting even further. Maybe there’s a rock album on the way — who knows, she says. No matter what, she’s going forward.