'[It's about] what it feels like to fall in love with the idea of somebody,' Patterson tells EW
Credit: Daniel Topete

Esmé Patterson’s decade-long career is something akin to musical chairs. She fronted Denver folk collective Paper Bird throughout the late aughts, unveiled an introspective solo cut, All Princes, I, in 2012, and shifted through a stack of fictional perspectives on 2014’s Woman to Woman, a wildly imaginative collection that retells famous songs like Elvis Costello’s “Alison” from the subject’s female viewpoint.

On We Were Wild, her forthcoming third LP, Patterson decisively twists the limelight back toward herself, swapping conceptual narratives for real-life grit. EW is excited to premiere “Wantin Ain’t Gettin,” a barside ballad that serves as the epitome of her deeply personal return. The ripped-from-her-diary tune revisits her Americana roots, reflecting on a love affair’s sour demise amid solemn acoustics and a swaying, downtempo twang.

“[It’s about] this guy who was trying to seduce me while I was in a relationship with someone else. He made all of these promises, and when I finally left my boyfriend, he was like, ‘Oh. No, I definitely don’t want to date you,’” Patterson tells EW. “It was just a time where I was thinking about promises and what it feels like to fall in love with the idea of somebody rather than the reality of them. Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.”

For more on her upcoming record, EW spoke with Patterson about the song’s “sad bastard” sound, what her last album taught her about songwriting, and learning to embrace who she is while penning the next one.

“Wantin Aint Gettin” is streaming exclusively below. We Were Wild is due out June 10.

The songs you’ve released thus far for We Were Wild have run the gamut: “Feel Right” has a gritty rock undertone, “No River” is airy and pop, and now you’ve got a country tune. How does “Wantin Ain’t Gettin” fit into the rest of the album?

We picked those because they were sort of the three extremes. With a lot of the songs I was working on for the new record, I was exploring spaces that were brand new for me, and in some situations really uncomfortable, which is exciting. I’ve done a lot of work in folk and Americana music over the years, so for this song in particular I kind of just allowed myself to write a country song. I was just allowing myself to do what I was comfortable with and what I felt like was easier for me to do. That was part of the exploration for me—that I didn’t always need to try and be 100 percent reinventing myself. It was okay to just write a song that I felt like I knew how to write. It’s very much a classic country song in that it was exactly what was happening in my life. It wasn’t sugar coated at all. It’s a pretty straightforward sad bastard song.

That certainly fits with a country aesthetic.

Exactly. I feel like I let myself write just a straight-ahead country song. In years past, I think I would have been like, “No, I’ve gotta be weirder or more dangerous.” On this record, I was really just trying to let myself be who I am and not judge that. I didn’t want to be somebody I’m not or somebody better of flashier, or somebody who is not as flashy as I truly am. I wasn’t trying to be overly humble or self-effacing either. It was just like, this is it. This is me for better or for worse. I was trying to allow myself to do things the way I really wanted to and be who I am.

It’s an interesting contrast with your last album, Woman to Woman, because that was entirely fictional. Was it difficult to settle back into a more personal mindset, or were you ready to let things out?

It was so f—ing difficult. It was like coming back from a vacation and going back to work. It’s hard to write about your own life, because you’re like, is this interesting at all to anyone else? You’re like, “Here’s all the things that I’m thinking about and going through, who even knows if anyone else is going to care about this.” And also, introspection is a difficult process—to look into your heart and look into your soul. For me, I’m trying to get to the bottom of s— and figure out what makes everything tick and what makes humans in general tick. I go super deep into it, and it’s a very intense experience.

That’s a lot to tackle. What did you learn from writing this record?

I learned so much. That’s the thing about it. It’s difficult, but it’s 100 percent worth it. Every step that you’re able to take forward is completely yours, and no one can every take that away from you The life of a touring musician is often ungrounded and kind of confusing. You’re constantly moving and changing and challenging everything that you know. You realize that there’s not much you can actually possess, but every step you take toward the journey of the heart is something that’s yours forever and something that no one can ever take away from you. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Coming away from a more imaginative project, did that affect your songwriting process going into this one?

Totally. Writing that last record completely changed how I listened to music. It was really refreshing to take a break from writing about my own life and do kind of a thought experiment. I think it gave me the perspective and focus to turn a new eye back onto my own life and my own experience, and start writing from what felt like a deeper, more mature place. The process of writing the songs was to find a particular popular song and do a really deep reading of it and a really deep listen, and try to find out what I thought the songwriter was really trying to say. I had to look past the familiarity of the songs and try to put myself inside of them. Doing that definitely made me look very deeply into the lyrics and figure out what was at the core. It made me less able to take things at surface value, so when I was working on stuff after that album, I was like, “Woah. I have to go hard.” My standards for myself were very much raised.