Before we all went into indefinite isolation, Empress Of was already there. Between tour stops promoting her second album 'Us', and supporting slots on some pretty exciting tours, Empress Of – born Lorely Rodriguez – locked herself away in her home studio in LA, ferociously creating a third album that was practically writing itself.
She's back at home now, albeit not necessarily by choice this time, putting her current schedule on hold.
"Things are sort of like shifting around," she says over the phone from Los Angeles. "I had like a bunch of promos scheduled around the world, which are now cancelled. So I'm just at home, and I might start writing some new music. Just because, you know, I don't know what else to do. But I do have a record coming out in three weeks!*" (*3rd April, it's out at the 'time of press').
Rejoice! Some music is still happening! And a great joy it is, this album. Written over the course of two months, in between intense touring for her own record and supporting slots for Lizzo, Blood Orange and Maggie Rogers, Lorely created her most exciting and personal record yet.
'I'm Your Empress Of' came about spontaneously after feeling a disconnect between the love and connection she was feeling with audiences and others on tour, and the intense self-reflection and loneliness she felt when she returned home. The result of letting that energy build up and releasing it in her music is reflected in its sound – urgent and immediate, 'I'm Your Empress Of' is giddy, intense and extra danceable.
"Traveling the world was like, something that was happening in my life. A lot of those beats started on planes, and then I would come home, and it's like that quiet, you know. It's like the isolation that I had at that time, I really took advantage of the moment when I wasn't on stage."
Touring with artists that have a genuine connection with their audiences was inspiring for Lorely, although her personal life was stuck somewhere else, and the desire to exorcise her current feelings pushed her to create new music about her situation.
"I was touring like, Australia, Mexico, Europe, in like a month. Really crazy travelling, so when I got home, I was just like, oh my god, I don't even know who I am because all I've known is entertaining other people and being on flights. I would say the isolation and just coming home from the massive adrenaline drop that playing live music is, like I'd get off stage and not know what to do with all that adrenaline. That was a catalyst for just wanting to stay home and write music."
It's the first time she'd written on the road and in between tour stops, and while she says no process for making any of her three albums has been the same, 'I'm Your Empress Of' was the easiest to make, because it was just happening naturally.
"It was the first time I've done something like that; I just had to write it. I wasn't going out. I wasn't partying. I was just like, I don't know, I just felt the urge to get up out of bed and write. It's like a perfect storm. I could say a lot about this record, but this record just happened. It's like the perfect thing that a lot of artists strive for, just the immediacy of writing something and creativity channelling you, and you're not chasing it. I didn't chase this record, it just came out. And I think it's because I had an opportunity, I had a window of pause from like, the world's the craziness, like touring and promoting and performing and entertaining and like merch, meet and greets. I hit pause and really took that moment."
While on 2018's 'Us', Lorely worked on striking a more equal exchange of energy between herself and her listeners, and honing her skill as a producer, creating a sound that was uniquely Empress Of. On this record, she steps closer to both of those goals, naming the album accordingly.
"I wanted to call it that because I realised on this album that once it was written, it's like not my feelings anymore. In a way, that's like me really taking advantage of how therapeutic and healing songwriting can be. I also really love the bit that my mom says in the first track where she's like, 'I only have a daughter, but it's like having thousands of daughters because there's a little bit of her in everyone', and I think that that's a really good way of expressing what I mean by 'I'm Your Empress Of'. It's like I'm giving myself to other people."
Oh yeah, and that's her mum talking on the record. Dropping in at various intervals to narrate the album and provide some grounding and rational words for her daughter. She pops up in the opener to introduce herself and the record, and acts as Lorely's subconscious throughout the record.
"It's about like my growth as a woman. I feel like I really arrived at a place and I wanted to use my mom's voice as the subconscious, because she says some crazy stuff. She's like, 'You gotta make yourself a woman that nobody is going to mistreat'. And like you know, you never think about those feelings when you're like caught up in a relationship, that you're giving so much of yourself in, you know?
"She usually has so much to say, like she talks a lot of shit, but with a mic in front of her, she was like, I don't know what to say! I was like, well talk about being a woman! Talk about being an immigrant, talk about being a mother, talk about being a lover, like, just talk about everything. And then it started to come out, and it's just like, amazing soundbites."
The way the soundbites of her mother link up with each song is interesting – seeing the intergenerational similarities show themselves in 'Void', where she mentions 2016 single 'Woman Is A Word', and notes 'you make yourself the woman you want to be'. That's shown in Lorely's work ethic, and that fact that she finished this up almost entirely alone, even if that connection is an accident.
"I didn't put that in there because I wanted to prove something, but I was at home, and I wrote all these songs, and I felt the urge to finish it. But to have written a song called 'Woman Is A Word' and then have like, a different generation experience that same thing, like a lot of woman-identifying people feel that way.
"It is something where hearing someone's family on a record, it just like reveals a lot about the artists, you know? And like generational things and cultural things. A lot of my favourite records have that, like Dev's record, Kendrick's record, Tei Shi did it on her record, and it's a cool way of showing more of who you are."
This is the most 'Empress Of' sound we've heard from Lorely yet too. The record is confident, heartfelt, and consistently treading the line between sobbing and dancing it all out instead. She mentions that this is her favourite record she's made, and that the songwriting is really good, and that it sounds like a very 'Empress Of' record, and she's right. It's the boldest album she's made, and the most open – revealing "embarrassing" feelings (her words) post-breakup – and it feels like she's settling into her own groove.
"There's a lot of post-breakup songs, a lot of loneliness songs and there's like a rebound song in there where the lyrics are like, 'you're not the one, but it helps'. A lot of lyrics that in any other context would be really embarrassing. You know, like 'choose me over her'. When I wrote the songs, I was like, oh my god, if I wasn't singing this, I would never say this out loud, and that's really healing. I remember writing that song, 'Not The One', and just feeling like I've always wanted to capture the sentiment of rebounding with someone and just like wishing it was your ex. I feel like there's really, really good songwriting on this record in a way that feels different to me and I'm happy to progress as an artist."
We're already seeing Empress Of 2.0, but it sounds like there's more music to come yet. While it's sort of impossible for her to go out and tour the record just yet, she is eager to crack on with some new music from her bunker. Good thing she's had the free trial.
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Empress Of's album 'I'm Your Empress Of' is out now.
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