The first thing Esmé Patterson does is warn me: "I'm about to get a tattoo today, so I might be kind of distracted." Even though we're on the phone, the singer's light laugh rings clear like one of her songs. "I just felt like getting a tattoo today. It's just something I like. I don't plan them out beforehand, though."
Luckily, we're able to talk before any needles actually come out, and Patterson's restless and odd nature quickly shine through. The musician relocated from Denver to Portland last year; she's gradually transitioned from Americana-sweetheart to indie-rock iconoclast; and she's a self-described "priestess" when she performs.
"I think music really is a sacred space," Patterson says. "I feel like I'm a priestess in a way where I'm just making space for people to have transcendent experiences that really don't have anything to do with me. I'm just there, I'm holding this space and allowing people to feel something together that means whatever it means to them. I take that position very seriously. And of course, it's really, really fun for me, too. I get a lot out of it. For me, it's a kind of mystical experience."
Bendites can catch Patterson's sonic magic at Crow's Feet Commons Friday night. She's performing for the Mt. Bachelor Apres Ski Party, with local group Blackflowers Blacksun opening the show. This won't be Patterson's first visit to Bend—she says she loves playing the Volcanic—but she's grown a lot in the last year, both professionally and personally.
"This has been a big year of change for me," she says. "Leaving [the band] Paper Bird, moving from Colorado, lots of big, personal waves in my life. I had a lot to write about, a lot to process and move through. It's been a difficult process."
That process started with Patterson's departure from Paper Bird. The folk-pop sextet (which included Patterson's sister) helped revitalize the Denver music scene with intricate, catchy songwriting and impressive live sets.
"For me, the exciting part of Paper Bird was the community, and singing with my sister, and being part of what I felt was a movement to create really positive music, which I thought was kind of revolutionary and interesting at the time because all the 'cool' music that my friends were making was really dark and sad," Patterson says. "I thought there was something kind of exciting and very different about making unabashedly positive music."
Her excitement slowly started to fade, though, as the band moved toward an indie-pop sound. Patterson's focus gradually turned towards other endeavors—in 2012, she released her first solo album, All Princes, I, experimenting with more ethereal sounds and darker lyrics; and the hit song, "Dearly Departed," a playful, bluesy break-up story that she co-wrote and performed with musician Shakey Graves, landed her appearances on Conan and SXSW. ("That was such a trip, a crazy, crazy trip.")
The final nail came with the release of Patterson's second solo album, Woman to Woman. The sort-of concept album challenges stereotypes of women found in popular songs, something Patterson says just naturally developed while she was writing.
"So much of being a woman is people project these ideas and feelings onto you, and so rarely do these women that are objectified—even if it's a positive, it's still objectification—so rarely do they have their own feelings and their own thoughts," she says. "I was really just trying to tell these stories, and I didn't really have any intention or goal behind it. It's been a really cool experience hearing everybody's reactions to it, people's feelings about it, and what it meant to them."
With both parties realizing that they were headed in separate directions, Patterson amicably left Paper Birds last year, after eight years with the band. It's been different in the best way.
"I'm playing guitar, and I didn't play guitar in Paper Bird, which I love playing electric guitar. It makes me so freaking happy," she says. "I can just be myself, write about what I want to write about [whether] it's very sexual or very violent or very intense or very mystical, something like that. I'm the only person that's responsible. Which is terrifying also, but also very freeing."
Patterson is also enjoying the West Coast atmosphere—"You can be as weird as you want to be [in Portland], and you're not going to be the weirdest one, which is great."—and feels welcomed and challenged by the music scene. All of these experiences informed her untitled new album, which she'll release this spring.
"We're in the mixing stage right now, which is really exciting," she says. "I'm really proud of the songs. I think they're the best work I've done so far in my life. I'm really excited about them. There's definitely some difficult material that I was negotiating, and it wasn't like a pleasure cruise writing this record. It was definitely kind of an intense experience, but I think really fruitful and really valuable."
Patterson promised to preview several of her new songs, along with a surprise or two, at her Bend show. Be sure to check it out.
Esmé Patterson with Blackflowers Blacksun
6-10 pm. Friday, Jan. 15
Crow's Common Feet, 875 NW Brooks St.
All ages, no cover