Esther Stephens & The Means

‘Not enough young female singers aspire to have a good work ethic’

Words: Tom Goldson
Photography: VICKI LEOPOLD

Esther Stephens reveals her top 5 female vocalists 

Between them, The Means’ Marika Hodgson, Tom Broome and Abraham Kunin have played with some of the most in-demand musicians in the country, individually sharing their skills with artists like Hollie Smith, Moana Maniapoto, Home Brew and Sorceress. As a unit, The Means are an in-demand studio and live band that have been called upon to back up some of NZ’s biggest voices, but it’s only just recently that they’ve emerged with their very own voice, courtesy of soul singer and actress Esther Stephens, who is now a permanent fixture in the band.

The television and vocalist talks about the female artists who have inspired her most over the years 

5. Yukimi Nagano

Every time Yukimi releases something, I want to know about it! She’s the kind of singer who, along with the rest of Little Dragon, keeps pushing ideas about how soul can blend with indie pop, can blend with electronic music, can blend with jazz, and so on. I particularly love her phrasing; she definitely influences me as a writer.

4. Etta James

Fearless, irreverent, independent – I love Etta. Her distorted growls are second to none; an incredibly, even painfully, connected vocalist. In particular, with Trust in Me, All I Could Do Was Cry and her stunning live recording of Baby What You Want Me to Do, she truly puts her whole heart and soul into every word and sound.

3. Beyoncé

Queen Bee has got to be my mainstream pop pick. I admire her not only for her boundless talent, but for her incredible discipline. Not enough young female singers aspire to have a good work ethic! A true diva gets enough sleep, water and rehearsal time so she can deliver a flawless performance to every paying audience in every city on a relentless global touring schedule. I truly believe she’s the MJ of our time. 

2. Björk

Working my way through Björk’s albums has been a big part of my musical education – particularly because she pushes ideas about what a “beautiful” female vocal sound is. She is a visionary musician, so experimental and probably one of the bravest vocalists I can think of. 

1. Lauryn Hill

Lauren Hill inspired so many soul/hip hop vocalists of my generation, and certainly kicked things off for me. I like female vocalists who a) sound like women, not girls, b) have something of substance to say, and c) are noticeably connected – there’s a short fuse between what’s going on internally and the sound emanating from them. Lauryn ticks all these boxes, as do all the women listed below.

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02 2015

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