I recently attended Tiger Balme’s concert and left with an overwhelmingly full heart. Still less than a year old, I was surprised at the collective energy that the band created as the crowded space immediately started vibing to the rhythm and melted into every echoing sound. I remember lots of laughters during Estyr’s performance at one of our LooseLeaf launches—the first time I heard her perform—and how tranquility quickly filled the then-crowded space when she started singing along with her acoustics and Anda’s harp.
It always seems like Estyr’s collaborating and creating music, and filling various spaces around Toronto with warm smiles. I was curious what that journey has been—navigating her musical career as a solo artist and a crucial member to multiple bands—which Estyr shares those insights below. This feature comes at such perfect timing as a new member joins Tiger Balme and a very exciting solo project is due next month. Take a read and also learn about her “favourite” Asian. Canadian artist who she instantly fell in love with. – Mirae.
Mirae: Tell us a bit about your creative practice. When did you see singing and music as a way of expression? How was Estyr formed?
Estyr: I started singing with a $200 Sony boombox. It was my prized possession. I also sang at church. That helped me realize music is never a solo act—it always invites and connects a community. At a certain point I wanted to sing things that I couldn’t sing at church.
I started going by “Estyr” (instead of Esther) in 2018 when I realized I wanted to create an artistic world that wasn’t limited by me. I also realized that if I was going to create art, I had to create boundaries between who I am (Esther) and what I do (Estyr).
The ambience throughout your debut EP [Welcome Back] puts me at ease. Within your honest lyrics, warmth lingers, and maybe it’s the magic of your soul-stirring, blooming voice. What has been the process in writing your own songs and sharing it to the world? Where do you find inspiration for your music?
I’m so glad to hear that! [Welcome Back] started with a daily songwriting challenge in 2014. I started on January 1st, and gave up by the 9th. By that point I had written enough to get me going.
I went through a crisis of faith in my early twenties and I needed to share that experience because it was the loneliest thing I had experienced. Making music was very much a choice. Even if the end result was shit, I wasn’t going to stop. I gave myself permission to be wherever I was at.
I really loved your performance with Anda at our LooseLeaf launch, and I find it so beautiful how the musical collaboration evolved into Tiger Balme, which also includes Danielle, Jessika and most recently Yang. I am so in love with the band’s music and the delicacy of feelings embedded in the lyrics. In a band description, it says Tiger Balme’s music is “rooted in the gentle power of resilience”. Could you tell us more about this resilience? What intentions do you bring to Tiger Balme as a member?
Thank you for the kind words! That collaboration with Anda was the first time I met her AND when we first played together. She started playing harp on one of my originals, “Fight for the Light”. When she started playing I had this moment of homecoming with the song where I thought “this is what this song was always meant to be”.
Honestly, those words you’ve quoted are Anda’s, not mine; she’s good with words—much better than me! When we started Tiger Balme we realized that girl groups were often brash or saccharine. We love both kinds of girl groups and realized we were neither kind. Tiger Balme is about a resiliency that’s quiet and reserved, and strong when necessary. Like a flower growing in the sidewalk. Or a fierce community of friends.
To me my core intention with Tiger Balme is friendship. I need these women to survive! Both as an artist and a woman.
Aside from Tiger Balme, you collaborate with many other artists including Violeta’s Door. How do you navigate between the various musical spaces, including your own solo work?
I like making a lot of music. Each musical project is like a different playground. Practically speaking, it takes a lot of Doodle polls and group chats to make it work. But honestly it’s a treat because I’m figuring out who I am as an artist, and it’s nice to have different spaces to play in.
What themes or questions are you currently pondering about?
I’m at this point where I’m supposed to be an adult, but I have no idea what that means. Speaking of which, what does it mean to be a musician? I have no idea.
What’s coming up next for your in your creative career?
This year is all about experimenting with different sounds and collaborators. This August I’m releasing a single called “Human Alchemy” (produced by Squiggly Lines) and a video too! The video project is special—it’s my first time working with an entirely Asian team (Michelle Ngo and Serville Poblete). I’m also working on a new song with LE-VI. It exists in a more electronic space.
Martin Anon and I are working on beats for live sets I’ll perform abroad this summer. His artistic ear is incredible.
Lastly, do you identify yourself as a “Canadian” artist? What does it mean to you to be creating in “Canada”?
“Canadian” feels like a less important self-descriptor to me than “bi-ethnic” or “female” or “Torontonian”. I always feel this reluctance to commit to that label…until I travel. When I leave, I realize how safe I feel here most of the time, such as how I don’t need to explain myself to others. That applies to my day-to-day and my music. I decide who knows what about my ethnicity (most of the time).
New Creator to Creator feature every other Thursday!