Ester Dean sounds every bit as cheery as the kids she’s singing to on “Let It Grow,” the uplifting cut and lead single from 3-D animated film Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (in theaters today). The 24-year-old Oklahoma native and Los Angeles transplant is not just a singer. She’s also responsible for writing major hits for stars like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Usher, and Rihanna.
While she was in New York City working on her forthcoming debut album, Dean checked in with Complex to talk about working on The Lorax, as well as the stories behind some of her biggest records. She even revealed the thought process that frees her up from getting too attached to songs she writes and sells. Songwriting may not be the world’s oldest profession, but there are certain similarities between the music game and the pimp game.
Written by Brad Wete (@bradwete)
On The Lorax single “Let It Grow”:
“I just got to see the movie, so it’s actually nice that I know what the movie is now. They have a lot of different songs in the movie, and one of them is called ‘Let It Grow.’ It has all of the characters singing a song about letting the trees grow. Then they needed a pop version of something like that—a version that could go on the radio. So I came in and Tricky [Stewart] asked me to do a song. They took it to me at 8 o’clock at night, I gave it back to them at 8 o’clock in the morning. That really threw them for a loop. I don’t think they thought I worked that hard or that fast. That’s how I do it. As long as somebody gives me something and I like it—you know what I’m saying? I’ll do it really fast.
“In L.A.—that’s where I live—I go walking in the trails and walk through the trees and stuff like that. And it’s so crazy because that week before they sent it, I had been trying to write little freaky songs and just different songs that I normally write and I just couldn’t. I was just wondering why I couldn’t get out what I wanted to get out. And it wasn’t that I was trying to get out that, I was just trying to get out something. And when that song came I sung it and my mom came in, and my sister came in, and it was like an experience for me. I got to say what I believe in. Even though they’re talking about seeds, I’m talking about planting seeds in the state of the mind and letting them grow. Because I believe in mind states, you know? Somebody can say something good to you and somebody can say something bad to you, but at the end of the day those are all seeds. So I was coming from that place.”
“I also did [a soundtrack cut for the movie] Rio. I did ‘Let Me Take You to Rio.’ It’s so funny because I never mean to sing the songs—all these songs that you hear are demos. They’re demos, and when the movie people get it they have other people sing it. Once they hear the difference, they’re like, ‘Ah well, can we keep Ester on it?’ Like, ‘Let it Grow,’ I sang that for somebody else. And then they came back to me. I wrote the end-title song for Ice Age: Continental Drift, so that’s coming out. And with that one, it’s going to have the cast in it, and then I got a part in that movie. But, it’s all demos.”
On her solo career:
“As of right now we have ‘Gimme Money’ and it’s featuring Nicki Minaj. I’ve been working on my album for like two months, and the thing is, I write songs every day. So, all we do is look at the songs and see which ones belong to me. And I could have written something super, super hot. But if it’s a better fit for another artist, I’ll give it away. We’re about to work ‘Gimme Money.’ So ‘Gimme Money’ is my single already. It’s a song that I was getting ready to put out. And [management] was, like ‘OK, but you can’t just have one single.’ So I had to hold ‘Gimme Money’ from the time that I wanted to put it out, and I had to go back in there and I had to really work. And I had to stop focusing on any other artists, and start focusing on myself. So if any artist comes out now, and they have my song, it was probably sold to them a while ago.”