by Rich Hobson
photo: Imogen Forte
Reinvention has always been a core principal of rock music. A perpetual promise, rock offers to turn the shy, awkward outsider into an arena-filling otherworldly alien, offering absolute metamorphosis as it takes the inherent otherness of an individual and transforms it into a currency of charm and mystique… provided you can fit in with the Boy’s Club. For every Bowie, Cuomo or Corgan, you’ll find a Love, Dalle or Turunen; artists who exhibit the same massive personalities and forthright opinions, and yet ultimately get crucified in the press (or worse, by friends and family), sending a simple message – women should have personality, just not too much personality.
“It’s easy to call women mental – it’s a classic,” admits Taliesyn Källström, vocalist of Welsh rock band Estrons. “I’ve not had ‘difficult to work with’ yet; I generally keep pretty good working relationships with the people in the industry. I have had journalists tell other journalists ‘be careful – she’s scary!’ and it’s like… I’m not, but women are taught to be quiet and polite, and I’m definitely not scared of speaking forward. I was a bit worried about what to say in the beginning [of Estrons] because I didn’t want to be misquoted, but then I got misquoted anyway so it was like ‘fuck it, might as well say what I’m going to say anyway’ – I hate boring interviews.”
Bold, charismatic and engaging, Källström seems tailor-made for the role of frontwoman, unafraid to express her thoughts on everything from motherhood to what it means to be a role model in 2018. A large proportion of this, she admits, came from the influence of her own mother, the single most inspirational figure in her life. “She single-handedly raised two kids and was my biggest influence,” Källström says. “She doesn’t listen to music – says it affects her mood too much – but I think it was her taking me to gigs, and her having a strong personality that was my main hook. She’s not a meek person at all and taught me to know exactly what you want to say.”
Although her upbringing taught her to be confident in her own thoughts, Källström was still not quite ready for the spotlight when she landed her first notable gig, a short stint playing percussion/keyboards for the band Threatmantics in 2009/2010. “I was heartbroken when I left Threatmantics, so when Rhodri (Daniel, guitar) cornered me and asked me to be the lead singer in a band it was like fuck off – I never want to be in a band again!” Eventually relenting and joining Daniel for practices, Källström still found herself facing an uphill battle as she came to terms with being front and centre of a band. “I’d been singing since I was three years old and I grew up wanting to be a mega pop star, before realising that it wasn’t really my personality at all. Even with Threatmantics, I’d never been the lead singer – always sharing vocals with someone else – it wasn’t my band and I wasn’t fronting it, so that was something I had to get used to. There was a lot of projectile vomiting pre-gigs!”
Nervousness aside, Källström established herself as a confident vocalist and lyricist, drawing on her experiences across the extremely turbulent five-year period from the formation of Estrons to the release of their debut, resulting in a record which exudes a sense of self-confidence and triumph in the face of adversity. Everything about Estrons’ first album celebrates exactly who they are – from the band name (Welsh for ‘Aliens’) to the title of the record itself – You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough.
“It’s about relativity; one person’s trash is another’s treasure,” says Källström. “You might think all these things about me, but somebody else might think I’m great because of that – it’s empowerment to not worry about what people have to say.”
They might not be interested in what people think, but Estrons have clearly caught the right ears, earning accolades from the likes of NME, Radio 1 and Kerrang!. Applauded for their bold, energetic sound which has drawn comparisons to everyone from QOTSA to Marmozets to Garbage, whilst refusing to pin themselves to any one style or era of radio rock. You Say… weaves a stunningly diverse sonic tapestry – from sleek, punchy rock intro ‘Lilac’, to groovy, anthemic sing-along ‘Make A Man’ and swagger-filled funk rock in ‘Aliens’, the band masterfully use style and tone as a way of soundtracking an intense, unpredictable sonic journey – a reflection of the environment it was born into. Critically, Estrons tap into the inherent empowerment and communal joy that comes from singing along to a great, catchy chorus; offering a sense of solidarity and inspiration which also allows Källström to come full-circle and fulfil the position of role-model in much the same way her mother did growing up.
“It definitely wasn’t intentional!” she exclaims. “I think your early 20s are even more difficult than your teens as suddenly you’re expected to be an adult. When I started developing these thoughts and feelings like ‘I think I’m being subjected to misogyny’ or ‘I really feel like there’s a lack of equality in race and class’ [my mom] made me not afraid to talk about those things and address them.”
In turn, this unabashed demeanour has endeared the band to fans, forging solid connections between each and the music they create. But then, that’s the power of music – to inspire, to empower and to offer a sense of escape even when it feels like all is lost. “I don’t feel super-strong or super-cool,” Källström admits. “But I’ve also met a lot of people telling me I inspire them. We’re not massive in any way, but if we’re inspiring a few people to feel like that, it’s valuable.”
Being positioned in the spotlight hasn’t come without its drawbacks, however – while Estrons’ message exudes an undeniable positivity and independence, it has also put Källström in the firing line so far as misinformation goes. “We released the album and finally got a Wikipedia page… and there’s just so much untrue stuff there I want to rip it up. The Wiki makes me sound awful – it says I got pissed on-stage and threw a shoe and that’s why I was in a prison cell, which is completely not what happened.”
The story that ‘Drop’ was written from a police cell has been repeated both in interviews and press materials for the band, but while Källström admits the story is based in fact, it’s particulars owe more to a tendency for imaginative wishful thinking than to a realistic sense of cause and effect. As comical as the wiki narrative is for the story behind ‘Drop’, the truth is a lot darker.
“I wrote ‘Drop’ in a police cell completely sober, put there for something I didn’t do” she says. “I was really shitting myself. I didn’t have a pen so I just started chanting the lyrics – that’s why they’re so repetitive. I was trying to figure out how to cope with how awful these things being done to me were; I felt like a victim but really didn’t want to, I wanted to own it. The answer was ‘kill it with love/kill it with kindness’ and it evolved into a message of empowerment, to stop listening to people telling you how you should be and that you should be stoic. But Wikipedia just makes me sound like a fuckhead!”
As dramatic as that story is, it’s almost unsurprising that ‘Drop’ isn’t the biggest talking point on Estrons debut. That accolade goes to ‘Make A Man’ – an anthemic ode to lust which flips the typical sex narrative on its head.
That said, ‘Make A Man’ wasn’t entirely intended as a song for embodying female sexuality – at first, anyway. “I was taking the piss out of the Mulan song – I shouldn’t say that, Disney might sue me! – and it just became this massive thing. They say that about art – you make the art and then come up with the concept afterwards. This very strange thing happened where I got to thinking about women’s opinions and thoughts about femininity and equality and empowerment, and started developing it all alongside the music even though that’s not what I set out to do. Realising ‘fuck, I have feelings and opinions about what it means to be a human being in the western world’ and running with it.”
In many ways, this sense of rolling with the punches life has to dole out and turning them into lessons seems like a crucial part of what Estrons have achieved with You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough. Källström doesn’t see the record as offering catharsis so much as documenting her setbacks and eventual triumphs, reaffirming herself in the process – something that became vitally important when she found in 2015 out she was going to be a mother.
“When they give birth, a lot of mothers experience post-natal depression because it’s like they’ve lost a large part of their identity. It’s like ‘I’m a mother now’ and people get depressed about that. I was very lucky because I’d been in the band for about two years by that point, and I remember the scariest call wasn’t ‘mum I’m pregnant’, it was ‘Rhodri, I’m pregnant’ – because it was a potential obstacle for the band. But, he was like ‘okay, that’s fine’. I gave birth, then five months later while I was still breastfeeding, and my tits hurt like hell because I couldn’t feed, I left to do some dates on tour.
“It’s helped me savour some identity as a woman and I feel lucky in that way because I feel some women feel like they lose a part of themselves in becoming a mum. I think it’s important people still keep doing what they are doing; whether it’s a book club, a band or studying. It’s still frowned upon for women to still do those things – I was told a lot of things, like ‘you’re not maternal enough’ because I was working full-time as a chef, I was studying and ‘Make a Man’ got released so I was doing the band and I was commuting to uni. You get feelings of guilt, whereas men have a lot more freedom where it’s like ‘the woman can take care of it’. I did get a lot of backlash, but I’m fucking glad I didn’t stop.”
Currently studying for a degree in English Lit/Creative Writing whilst also balancing being a full-time parent and frontwoman of a newly-popular band, Taliesyn Källström is testament to the idea that the notion of reinvention, or just being one singular thing, is entirely outdated. Instead, she offers an alternative which – stressful as it can be – allows each person to be completely and utterly themselves, to indulge their passions and their ambitions simultaneously. As she puts it: “People should feel empowered and not miserable all the time. Feeling that they need to be somebody else and reinvent themselves, then getting depressed because we’ll never truly be like that, it’s like ‘chill the fuck out, be yourself and let things happen’.”