Interview: Discovering ‘Me’ - Empress Of: “This album was about learning how to love myself more”

Discovering ‘Me’ - Empress Of: “This album was about learning how to love myself more”

Brooklyn-based producer Lorely Rodriguez’s debut album is all about self-discovery. She talks the “scary” experience of confronting isolation.

Empress Of has a laptop to thank for her head-turning debut album ‘Me’. It’s mid-August, and she’s about to play out her three-night residency at Dalston’s tiny Power Lunches. It’s a diverse range of shows that have seen her supported by the likes of East India Youth and Kero Kero Bonito (“they said they were going to DJ, but they pretty much played a full show” she recalls excitedly). And they’re shows that may not even be happening if it weren’t for her academic understanding of electronic music, her enviable confidence that permeates through diary-entry lyricism and, believe it or not, acquiring a laptop.

“That was a big thing for me, because I grew up listening to jazz and classical music,” she recalls. “What I like about it is that it’s so different, but it still feels like there’s a purpose or a study or an intent behind dance music like that. It has an academic past to it, where everyone knows the secret, sacred 12”s. Depending on who you are, you can make any sound you want.” Lorely’s prowess in these genres is impressive for someone who kicked around in guitar bands for most of her life, but these technical talents are understandable - she used to be a member of math rock band Celestial Shore. “We played a lot of loft shows and house shows and basement shows, so it really resonates in that part of me,” she explains.

‘Me’ is one of the freshest, most addictive pop records to emerge this year, full of emotional honesty, crystalline production and countless hooks. ‘Water Water’ - one of the album’s most hard-hitting and immediate tracks - is a smooth, forward-thinking club banger; ‘Icon’ is a sprawling-yet-subtle electronic soundscape with a velvety vocal. In fact, some of the tracks on ‘Me’ are so primed for the dancefloor, it’s a wonder she’s even playing basement shows rather than massive dance halls. “It’s definitely more intimate,” she says of her residency. “Yesterday I spilt beads of water all over my controllers, but it’s like, whatever. You get to see that shit. If there’s a barricade and there’s a big stage… you’re not invited in to it as much.”

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“Three minutes of vibe is cool, but a song is really hard to write. I wrote this record perfecting a song as much as I could.”

Lorely Rodriguez

Having started out in 2012 releasing minute-long demos via YouTube, Lorely is used to making direct connections with fans, and over time she’s nurtured a diary-like nature to her songwriting. For ‘Me’, she travelled to a friend’s house in Mexico on an isolated writing retreat after struggling to find a creative spark in New York. “It was so scary,” she remembers, clearly still reeling in part. “Confronting a fear like that… Being alone and isolating yourself, confronting insecurities… That’s why I wrote a [personal] record like that, because I only had myself to write off of. It was about learning how to love myself more, and how to respect myself more, and what I needed as a lover and as an artist. You learn a lot about yourself.”

The high definition feel to the record is down to Lorely’s excellent production, something that really stands out the more ‘Me’ refines its grip. Giving in to an urge to control everything, she is meticulous in her methods - if she isn’t going to be challenged by and excited by her own music, then what’s the point? There were even moments when she had to tell her manager how it is. “There’s a song on the album called ‘Threat’,” she says, a smile slipping out as her mind recalls a fond memory. “I sent it to my manager and he’s like ‘yeah, it’s not as good as the other ones,’ and I’m like I don’t care - I wrote that song at like 3am, when I was scared for my life. It’s gonna be on the record!”

Her previous EP ‘Systems’ was, in her own words, “more about textures, sound and haze”. On ‘Me’, she’s completely reinvented her own idea what of Empress Of should be. “I was masking behind this idea of what I thought Empress Of was,” she admits. “That was great for who I was then, but when I made this record, I felt like the music came out so much more stronger because it was about real things in my life.” For someone who’s conquered their fears, there’s a comical irony to what Lorely found to be the most challenging aspect. “I didn’t expect it to be so hard to write a song,” she laughs. “It’s really hard to write a song you know! Three minutes of vibe is cool, but a song is really hard to write. I wrote this record perfecting a song as much as I could.”

Empress Of’s new album ‘Me’ is out now via Terrible / XL Recordings.