First there’s the hair. Then there’s the Pearly King jacket made specially for him by legendary stylist Judy Blame, and the neck tattoos of Victorian hand symbols inscribed with the words good and bad. Twenty-four-year-old musician Ben Esser is casting himself in the proud lineage of English dandies. You can find the same eccentricity in his songs, which have the pop sensibility of, say, PharrellWilliams, but with the art-school spin of Brian Eno. Growing out of experiments with beats, loops, and wonky synths, Esser’s sound is homespun electro-pop, with lyrics about love and London from a perspective that he describes as “post-teenage angst.” His biggest inspiration is Joe Meek, the groundbreaking British producer of the ’60s who created strange, space-age records in his London flat. “He made music from another world,” Esser beams about his idol. “On the surface, it’s shimmery and happy, but beneath that there’s something dark and sinister lurking.” Right now, the noise around Esser is still an underground buzz—but one with the potential to get louder. His debut album, Braveface (Chocolate Industries), is set to hit the States in June. He’s just done an arena tour supporting the Kaiser Chiefs and is about to write songs with Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley.
Esser’s career actually started when he left music school to play in a cover band that toured holiday resorts around Britain for two years. “There were massive fights between these guys who’d been drinking all day and their kids who were running riot—it was carnage,” he recalls. It took a couple more years before Esser finally managed to release a single of his own, last year’s “I Love You,” complete with a video which found him covered in food, an homage to visual artist Martin Creed. It’s that kind of creative weirdness that Esser wants to develop. “Because I make my music by myself, I’m in a really lucky position,” he says. “If I don’t like it, it won’t happen.” Who’d argue with the owner of a quiff like that?
To get a free download, go to Esser’s official Web site.