There's something entrancing about people who are open about their feelings - and music is often a way for people to express these feelings, especially feelings that they may be hesitant to talk about otherwise. The entrancing feeling is exemplified on Empress Of's debut album 'Me', an album which [as the title would indicate] is deeply personal, the musings of Lorely Rodriguez in album form.
From singing, “All I want to be is you,” on 'Everything Is You', to calling out street harassment in 'Kitty Kat' [“I'm fending for myself when you still call me pretty”], Lorely delves into topics of love and affection, backgrounded by a sound solely produced by herself.
With an Australian support slot for Hot Chip lined up for early 2016 - we're crossing our fingers + toes that Empress Of makes her way down to New Zealand soon.
We spoke to Lorely about her debut album 'Me', songwriting, production, and more…
"Being Empress Of helps me just to open up and share stories with strangers. And maybe do things that I would normally be afraid to do, like travel the world and play for strangers every night, or like write a really, really intimate record."
COUP DE MAIN: Back in 2012, you released the Colourminutes series on YouTube - with each different upload represented by a different block of colour. Do you have chromesthesia - the condition where you experience music entirely in colour?
EMPRESS OF - LORELY: No, I don't. I wanted something where people wouldn't look at my press photos, they wouldn't focus on who I was, like the artist or whatever. It's my demo, I just want people to focus on the demo, not me as a person.
CDM: Congratulations on the release of your album, 'Me' - I love it. You produced, recorded, and engineered the entire project yourself - was having that control over every aspect of the sound something that was really important to you?
LORELY: Yup, definitely.
CDM: The recording process for the album is pretty fascinating - living alone for a month in a small village in Mexico must have been pretty crazy. Do you think the setting you were living in influenced the way your album commented on your regular setting of NY?
LORELY: I didn't write a record about Mexico, I wrote a record about my life. And I think being completely out of the elements of my everyday life sort of just highlighted everything and made it more apparent as to what I wanted to write about.
CDM: For instance, songs like 'Standard' seem to bring up the disparity between Mexico and New York and class differences. Was it strange to return to New York once you had finished the album?
LORELY: Yeah, it's going to be a bit shocking but that's just my normal, everyday life. It wasn't shocking.
CDM: The mantra in 'Need Myself' is awesome: "I just need myself, need myself, to love myself, to love myself." How does it feel knowing that lyrics you wrote and used as personal mantras are now out there in the world, and words that so many other people can relate to?
LORELY: It's a really nice feeling, and really beautiful that I can take something that is sort of difficult in my life - a difficult experience or a difficult moment or something - and I can create something positive out of it that other people can relate to.
CDM: We recently interviewed Hana, who mentioned you as an inspiration for a female producer, when we were talking about the gender disparity that is common in music production today. Why do you think that production is such a male-dominated space, and how do you think this is changing?
LORELY: Hana said that? That's awesome, cool! I can't really say why I think it's a male-dominated genre or profession or whatever, because I'm a female making music. And that's just very second nature to me. I'm just the one making music, and that just happens to be the case, I don't really think about it a lot. It goes into-- my life influences my music, but that would relate to any artist. I don't sit and think, “Oh my god, I'm a female making electronic music. I'm a producer. I'm a rarity, or a token,” or whatever. I have this conversation so much, you know? I just don't wanna have this conversation. One day, I just want it to be average, or normal. Because dudes don't have to talk about why they're making music. I can just say within the last three years of me making music and me being a producer, I've seen a lot of change in the amount of electronic female producers out there. I could just name so many more female producers moreso than I could before, which is great. Eventually someday it's just something that I don't have to talk about.
CDM: On 'Kitty Kat' you call out street harassment - I absolutely love the line, "If I was a man, would you still do the same?” How important is it to you for your music to have strong messages that comment on not only your own life, but society in general?
LORELY: The cool thing I think about making music that is a reflection of my everyday life, is that I experience a lot of things that other people experience. There are universal themes in a way, some of them are really personal and some of them are social commentary. Because everyday shit like this happens. So it's not like I'm consciously trying to make social songs or whatever, socially aware songs, I just happen to write music about everyday life. And those things happen in my everyday life.
CDM: On the 'Systems' EP you sung in both English and Spanish, but on 'Me', you just wrote in English. Do some songs better lend themselves to be written, or sung in a particular language?
LORELY: Definitely. I think when I write music in Spanish, I know that I'm going to write music in Spanish, so there's totally a different voice kind of that's going into the songwriting process, because it is different. Language is so specific and divided to the words, and you can't really express the same things in English that you can in Spanish, so there definitely comes a separate brain in mind to writing like that.
CDM: The album has really beautiful imagery throughout - one of my favourite lyrics is, "All I want to be is you." Do you consider yourself a romantic or a realist?
LORELY: Definitely a romantic.
CDM: I love that you came up with Empress Of from a tarot card reading. It's a card connected to fertility, mothering, and strength. Do you differentiate between Empress Of and Lorely - do you see Empress Of an an alter-ego, or a purely musical character?
LORELY: Empress Of is me. It's like a Sasha Fierce moment a bit, it's this alter-ego that I find really empowering. I can be sort of nervous in performing for people that I've never met before every night, like strangers, it is really exposing. Being Empress Of helps me just to open up and share stories with strangers. And maybe do things that I would normally be afraid to do, like travel the world and play for strangers every night, or like write a really, really intimate record. It's just the thing that lets me do things that I would normally be afraid or hold back from doing.
CDM: Do you write lyrics specifically for song-form, or do you write poetry or prose that develops into a melody?
LORELY: I write songs over beats.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
LORELY: I think that really depends on the person. I think everyone has a different experience with songs. I think really, really great songs where it's like, “Oh my god everybody loves this song,” there's like something about it that immediately captures someone and has to become a part of their life, like a soundtrack to their life, like one of those songs that define a moment in your life. And honestly, it could be any song to anyone. A lot of my favourite songs are soundtracks to my life.
CDM: You opened for Florence + The Machine earlier this year - do you have a favourite song of hers?
LORELY: I like 'What Kind Of Man' a lot, from her new album.
CDM: What is your spirit animal?
LORELY: Michael Jordan.
CDM: What do you have left to achieve on your bucket-list?
LORELY: A lot. And I don't have enough time to talk to you on the phone to tell you everything I wanna do on my bucket-list. But, a lot.
CDM: If you could curate your own music festival, who would you want to play and what would it be called?
LORELY: The festival would be called… I don't know, it would be called like 'Emotional Raaaaage' and it would just be me playing for 12 hours, until I get sick of myself. I just wanna play the same song until I drive myself crazy.
CDM: Have you ever written a love letter?
LORELY: Hell yeah, I wrote a love letter like yesterday. I love writing little letters. But now they're in the form of text messages. <laughs>
CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
LORELY: If I was a country, the country of Empress Of, my national anthem right now would be 'Alright' by Kendrick Lamar because I just like listening to that song a lot. At this very moment.
CDM: What was the first song you ever wrote, and what was it about?
LORELY: The first song I ever wrote was about some boy in high school. I can't remember what it was called, but I can remember it being really bad.
CDM: When can we hope to see you perform a show down here in New Zealand?
LORELY: Really soon I hope, like really, really soon. I'm coming to Australia - it would be really awesome to sneak in New Zealand somehow. It would be amazing and it would make me so happy.
Empress Of's album 'Me' is out now - click HERE to purchase it via iTunes.
Watch the 'Standard' music video below…