Estelle on New LP ‘Lovers Rock,’ Her Parents’ Love Story and Meeting Prince

Estelle on New LP ‘Lovers Rock,’ Her Parents’ Love Story and Meeting Prince

On her new album Lovers Rock, out today (September 7), Estelle tells the rich story of her cultural and generational roots. Joined by an all-star cast of Afrobeats, dancehall and reggae artists, the singer revives lovers rock reggae played throughout her upbringing in the U.K. while harnessing the Caribbean and African influence of her Senegalese mother and Grenadian father.

Aside from their influence on the LP’s sound, her parents also inspired the narrative of Lovers Rock. The album is a sweet retelling of their unconventional and rather cinematic love story — love at first sight, three daughters and then, a 20-year break before the two got back together and got married.

Below, Estelle elaborates on how her parents’ love story reflected her own, her relationship 10 years later with her breakout hit “American Boy” and the first time she met Prince.

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What is your connection with lovers rock and why did you decide to take that direction with this album?

I wanted to do it this way because it’s my core and root of where I am and who I am. I’ve been working on this record over time, for six years, and I went back to my roots as far as where and how I wanted to make this album. Everything just kept going back to the music I love the most, the energy I love the most and I felt the most comfortable in. When I started thinking about its subject and all the subjects and what the real story was, I was born in the middle of the lovers rock era, which is a romantic R&B reggae style of music, and that’s essentially why I called it lovers rock.

You talked before about how this record was based on your parents’ love story as well as how it reflected your own love life. Can you talk about your parents’ love story?

They met, they had me and my two sisters, and then they broke up. They got back together 20 years later when I was 23 and they got married. Their whole story was kind of like home. They’d never actually broken up in spirit and energy. They kind of just were with other people and single for a very long time, on my dad’s side. Their whole thing was just, ‘Well, I’ll wait and we’ll get it done and we’ll get back together and it’ll be good.’ And when they got back together, it was like, well why were you guys ever apart?

What was it that clicked for them to get back together for good?

I think when I got halfway through the album, I got to take them to Grenada for the first time, which is my dad’s home. It was almost like a new beginning for them. I’d never seen my mom so happy and so young. They were so free and so cute. Imagine any island-related love story and then picture it being your parents. It’s what you’d imagine when you listen to a Bob Marley record. I kept writing this story over and over again and revealing myself a little bit, and through doing that, I realized that I was living something that wasn’t me. I’ve spent these past few years rediscovering who I am.

What do you mean by living something that wasn’t you?

I’m the oldest girl. I watched my mom deal with a lot of situations for too long, be over it and be upset and pine for my dad without knowing it. I watched her behavior be something that just wasn’t healthy. I just watched my mom go through things and in turn, took it for myself and went through them in different ways — all the while, telling myself that I wasn’t going through them, but actually repeating what she was doing. For me, it was like, you start to have the presence of mind and see yourself walking through these moments and looking through your mom’s story and seeing the parallels. You kind of have to either change that or stay in it and stay miserable.

Do you feel like this was a healing process?

Absolutely. Everything has been consistently healing. In a way that’s like, I just have to do better and every day I choose to do better, I’m healed a little bit. Every day I choose myself over a negative scenario, I’m healed a little bit more.

You have so many great featured artists on here, both new and old acts.

Yeah, Luke James [was] my dad’s favorite. I love that record ["So Easy"]. Ut has a special place in my heart. Chronixx, Kranium, Konshens – they’re three of my favorite reggae/dancehall music artists that I love, appreciate and adore. Alicia Harley, HoodCelebrityy and Nick and Navi are just brilliant young women. Anybody I work with, particularly women in this scenario, I like to help. I feel like my side role in this industry is to level the playing field and stand in the face of what you’re told you can’t do. To that end, I always want to highlight women who are doing things that aren’t traditional and who have viewpoints that are their own.

You grew up listening to Afrobeats, reggae and dancehall, and now those genres seem to be growing in popularity on a worldwide scale. What do you think it is about today’s climate that makes that possible?

I think it’s the change in culture, the shift of coming together. Maleek Berry is in London, and to me, he’s the epitome of it all. In London, we’ve been appreciating Afrobeats because it’s first generation. My mom came from Africa and I was born there, and we learned how to make all the foods and at the same time, we were in school listening to Duran Duran and Wham. To me, it’s the coolest thing in the world to go on Instagram and see all kids of all different races and shades doing shaku shaku, out here getting your Congolese on. It makes me happy, it’s like, ‘Yes! This is what we strive for.’ I’m just happy it’s all crossing over and figuring its way out.

I’m sure it was cool for you to connect with the different places you considered home. Where did you work on this album?

I’ve been between L.A., Atlanta, New York and Miami. Those are the four main places that I recorded the album. You thought I would’ve just been down in the Bob Marley studio in Jamaica. That’s the sign of keeping it core, keeping the music close to the source.

When you were in New York, you got the keys to Brooklyn. How did that happen?

People know me in Brooklyn. When I moved to New York, I did a short stint in the middle of the city and then I went over to Brooklyn and I stayed in Brooklyn. Anytime people would see me in Brooklyn being real regular going to the store and things like that, they were like, ‘She really lives in Brooklyn.’ I stay in the community when I’m out there. I go to the club and the bars and hang out at reggae spots and little lounges. It felt nice to be acknowledged to really shout out Brooklyn.

Between Africa, England, the Caribbean and the States, it feels like you have so many different homes.

It’s the whole internationally accepted [thing]. I feel great about that. I literally have been to almost every country in the world. Because of a record like ‘American Boy’ or because of a really good album and body of work, I’ve been literally everywhere. I used to live in a garage, so I think about that and the fact that I have been to nearly everywhere in the world and so far because of music and me staying true to it, had the most beautiful career. I can’t complain. I’m just grateful.

Looking back on “American Boy” 10 years after it was released, what’s your relationship to that track now?

Oh, I love it. It’s a great song. I’ll never complain. Once I caught myself complaining, I was like, ‘You know what. Shut your face. You prayed for a record like this and you got a record like that. You got more than a record like that.’ It’s joy, and I watch people’s reaction to it and they have joy, so who am I in that moment of all joy and all love and all fun to be like, ‘Stop that!’ God could have blessed somebody else with the same inspiration but he didn’t. He gave it to me, so I’m grateful.

When you came by the TIDAL offices, you shared an awesome story about how you met Prince. Can you share that story again?

My lawyer at one time was representing Prince. One year, we were at the [GRAMMY] awards and it was the year before I won the GRAMMY and I’m having just a shit time in general. I did a show I didn’t like. There were just so many things happening.

My lawyer turns up to this afterparty and he’s like, ‘Yo, Prince is doing this afterparty. Do you want to come over here? He’s going to come.’ I’m drinking vodka, and it’s like 2, 3 in the morning and I’m thinking Prince is not coming at this point.

Prince is in the back room, and my lawyer is like, ‘Come say hi to Prince,’ and I try to straighten up and get my life together and then, I got sober within a second. Prince is down there and he’s talking to me, giving me all this life advice about 360 deals 10 years before they happened, about how to handle myself. He just started telling me this stuff in a room with him, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It was just like, ‘Holy shit!’ It was just like, ‘What!’ Nothing you could tell me for the rest of my trip was going to mess with me after that.

He popped back up again when I did ‘Conqueror’ and was like, ‘That record is amazing.’ That’s the record that will take you out in the world. He’s like, ‘You stay the queen you are and you let people do their job.’ He was a reminder that when every artist just wanted to do more or feel better or do great, he just reminded us that we were not crazy to think, feel and want that. I appreciate him for everything.

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