How E^ST turned heartbreak into her spotlight moment
On her debut album I’m Doing It, the Australian musician finds power in processing heartbreak through sincere pop music.
There’s a lot of power in processing a lowlight in your life through the means of music.
For as long as pop music has been a thing, this process has been central to some of its most powerful moments. Take one of the genre’s defining stars in Robyn, who translates feelings of heartbreak and loss into hand-gripping, passionate electro-pop that’s consistently referred to as some of the genre’s most relatable and moving. Lorde is another example, her second album Melodrama - one of the best pop records of the last decade - dissecting the complexities of emotions and emerging on the other side more knowledgeable and piece with the person behind them.
For E^ST, the musical alias for Central Coast-based musician Mel Bester, writing pop music has always brought an opportunity for self-reflection. No matter how euphoric the melodies surrounding her may feel, Bester’s vocal is always marked with swelling emotion; a weightedness that doesn’t so much hold down the sounds moving amongst her vocal, but juxtaposes them to make them sound happier and feel brighter. It’s a fine line difficult to balance, but it’s something E^ST can do with ease, much like many of the musicians she looks up to: Jeff Buckley and Imogen Heap, for example.
Since emerging with her 2014 Old Age EP, E^ST’s ability to dissect the most intimate moments of her life through rushing pop music has constantly remained at the forefront, strengthening with everything she does in a way that showcases her evolution and maturation. Her 2015 The Alley captured her masterful songwriting in a time before it had even fully developed, while the Get Money! EP a year later - famed for its Mallrat-assisted title-track - felt like the introduction to a future arena-selling star, in a time where Australia’s pop music sphere was blossoming with talent finding their way to the spotlight.
While her 2018 EP Life Ain’t Always Roses felt like a tease of what she’s capable of, E^ST’s debut album - this Friday’s arriving I’m Doing It - genuinely feels like a new beginning, like the entrance of a popstar we knew was always there, just waiting to come out and emerge when the time was right. It goes further into the mind of its multi-faceted creator, breaking down the complexities of a relationship’s end and the turbulent rollercoaster of emotions that comes alongside. It’s a moment that really feels like E^ST entering the spotlight - baggage and everything else included - but in saying that, it’s definitely been a long time coming.
E^ST’s life has always been somewhat of a rollercoaster, but musical exploration has been constantly present throughout her life, even when everything around her is changing. She was born in South Africa, moving to New South Wales as a child where she moved around, following her family as they moved between Dubbo, Sydney and Tamworth. She was homeschooled; an introvert who “found it difficult to be the outsider” while growing up, before eventually finding escapism of kinds through music, which became a prevalent part of her life from a young age.
There was always a drive and dedication in E^ST’s life to evolve her musicianship and come out of her shell through music; a passion that didn’t take too long to be noticed. She was scouted by record labels she sent demos to while just becoming a teenager, and was then later sent to a writing camp in Sweden when she was 14 - a strange, far away place for someone who was still coming to terms with who they were, using the creative release of music as an avenue to explore themselves, and what drives every feeling and emotion that underpins their work and who they are.
The aforementioned EPs that defined her earliest success were glimpses of Mel Bester’s understanding of herself, unravelling the emotions that fueled her music and coming out the other side empowered and reinvigorated. It’s a powerful process that has underpinned many of her past releases, but none more so than I’m Doing It, which breaks down a period heartbreak to its rawest and most potent emotions, stomps all over them, and allows Bester to emerge the other side victoriously, confident and feeling on top of the world.
“I’ve always used songwriting as a way to process my feelings and the situation around me,” she says down the phone from her home, where she’s been spending much of isolation “eating curry and watching Studio Ghibli films,” she mentions. “When I was writing the songs that would become this record, I was in the thick of feeling everything that these songs are about. A lot of these songs came from journaling, writing things down to make sense of them and process them as time went on.”
I’m Doing It is an album almost split down the middle, with its central track Turn being the core of the album; the turning point between Bester’s feelings of heartbreak and sadness, and the freeing empowerment that comes afterwards. It’s represented in the album’s sound, too. It’s first half, held down by stand-outs such as Flight Path and Fresh Out Of Love, is marked by brooding sombreness; the heaviness of E^ST guiding herself through the relationship’s end, and the storm of negativity that often surrounds a break-up. The album’s second half, meanwhile, is notably euphoric; a rush of brightness and happiness that’s both empowering to E^ST and whoever stumbles upon it, providing an example of someone who’s come out the other end on top.
“It was very coincidental,” E^ST says on the album’s split in emotions. “I started writing this album in March of 2019, and it was right when I was going through the thick of those feelings. I made the decision to turn I’m Doing It into an album shortly after, and finished writing for it by around July of that year. By the time July had come around, I had done a lot of growing and my situation had changed a lot - my life was changing, and I was changing as a person too. The songs I was writing were taking on new tones and feelings and towards the end of the album writing process, I realised there was that journey there,” she continues. It did, however, make the album’s tracklisting easier to organise, she laughs.
However, there are moments when these boundaries are blurred, at least on a surface level. The aforementioned Flight Path, for example, speaks about “going from being close and intimate with someone, to being complete strangers,” but melodically, it moves with the pace of Taylor Swift’s 1989 record, with a pop sheen that disguises the underlying meanings. On the other side of the spectrum, Walking Home In The Rain - which sits in the album’s second half - is a dimly-lit piano ballad that’s amongst E^ST’s rawest, laying out every emotion undisturbed by the typically brighter productions present across much of the rest of the album.
“I feel like that contrast is something I’m naturally drawn to, I really love songs that feel bittersweet - they’re my favourite kind of song,” she explains, breaking down this bittersweet balance present not just across this record, but those that influence the musician, ones that shaped the album’s sonic palette. “One of my favourite songs of all time is Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, which talks about the different sides of life and how something can be so beautiful one moment, and then so awful not long after. There’s a lot of good and bad in everything that happens to us, and I think it’s important to show both sides of that.”
I’m Doing It is a cathartic release, and you can feel that in its core, regardless of the particular song in question is one of the more sorrowful moments from the album’s opening, or empowering and passionate from its latter moments. It’s E^ST, wrapped up and ready; her heart and soul poured into a collection of tracks that are reflective of the long-winding that it took to get here, both musically - I’m Doing It, in many ways, feels like the product of a bursting Australian pop market reaching a newfound prime - and personally, with the battles E^ST had to overcome (those that writing this album helped her process).
“I think it’s an album where every stage of it is important to recognise, regardless of whether you’ve been there or not,” she says. “I think it’s important to recognise when things are going bad, but then to also have those songs that even if you’re not feeling hurtful, there’s this person who has gone through similar things and has made it out the other side a little bit stronger, smarter and filled with hope.” It’s important to recognise, E^ST says, that there’s often a light at the end of the tunnel, as cliche as it may sound sometimes. “You know it’s not going to last forever.”
I’m Doing It is a long time coming for E^ST, summarising a decade-long period of growth and evolution both as a musician and person. In many ways, it feels almost like an end of a chapter, but the beginning of a whole new one at the same time. “I think putting out this record is going to make me feel a lot lighter about myself, and those expectations I have upon myself that have all kind-of lead up to this moment,” she says, asked when how releasing such a monumental and personal project like this may inform her future.
“I have no idea what this album is going to do, where it’s going to go and where it’s going to take me, but I just hope people connect to it.” With an album as potent, brilliant and powerful as I’m Doing It, it’s going to be hard for people to do anything but.
E^ST's debut album I'm Doing It is out Friday, July 31st via Warner Music Australia.
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