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On her towering third album, Lorely Rodriguez brushes off the idea that she’d follow the naming conventions that had graced her records thus far — her debut release, Me came out in 2015 and was quickly followed up by Us in 2018. “Someone on Twitter was like ‘I thought this was going to be called We or Them or They, and I wrote back ‘why would I be so obvious?’” Rodriguez explained over the phone last week, when we spoke about her forthcoming third album, I’m Your Empress Of. “Basically, I wrote the title track, and I was like ‘this is the record title now.’ Once I wrote that song, I knew I would have to call the record that.”
During that brief but powerful opening track, and elsewhere across her third release, Lorely enlisted her mother, Reina, for a series of spoken word segments that outline her struggles as an immigrant who learned English, and her pride in the many worlds and selves that her daughter has been able to create. “I only have one girl,” Reina says on the track. “But that only girl is like having thousands of girls, because look at how many times she reproduces herself in each one of you!” Hearing a mother take pride in her daughter’s art is always poignant, but in the midst of a global crisis that threatens the most vulnerable among us, Reina’s words are even more uplifting.
Discussing her new album in the midst of the spread of Coronavirus, Lorely is adamant that it still be released, and that staying positive and focusing on edifying things like art and music is how we get through this. “We talked about pushing it back, but we all decided this is the record, this is the vibe of the record,” she explained. “I’m okay with it because I think it will be good to have new music out and give people something they can live with. But also, this record was written so immediately and urgently, I think putting it out like this is a true testament to how the record was made.”
Read an edited and condensed of our conversation about I’m Your Empress Of below.
The first thing that really struck me about this record is album title, and that plays into your artist name in such a direct way. Following up your debut Me and second album Us, what made you want to echo or repeat your artist name for this album title?
I think it’s a statement, and even more of a statement than when someone self-titles their album. I feel like it’s an arrival point where I have this confidence on this record. I wanted to open a record like that. I know why it’s called I’m Your Empress Of, and the title track and what my mom says and all that.
Let’s talk about that song, because I think there’s some pretty moving reflections on the power of language from your mom, and her voice also returns at different times throughout the record. Can you talk a little bit about having her as a speaker and why you wanted her words helping introduce the record?
Yeah, definitely. I wrote the song, and I was just like, ‘Hey, mom, can you come over? I want to record you talking for my album.’ So she comes over, and she’s like, ‘What do you want me to say?’ And I’m like, ‘You’re always saying so much about everything!’ I asked her talk about being a woman, to talk about being an immigrant, and talk about being a mother and a lover. So she kind of just like, over a 20-minute loop of the track, just went off. She just said things that I was even like ‘Okay! Okay, Mom!’ I have videos on my phone of her, I’ll post them after the record’s out.
I didn’t tell her anything to say. I didn’t prompt her. She just said a lot of things that I feel are universal as a woman. She really captured the theme of the record when she says ‘I only have one girl, but it’s like I have thousands of girls, because of how many times she reproduces herself in each one of you.’ It’s something that she’s seen from coming to my shows in LA — like how my songs have become other people’s lives, like their stories. That’s something I feel is really powerful about songwriting. Once those songs are written, they’re someone else’s form of expression. Someone else sees themself in those songs. That’s why it’s called I’m Your Empress Of.
I know you talked a lot before about feeling grateful to her, knowing the experience of your parents as immigrants coming here to give you a different life, but I think it’s so powerful to hear her. We’ve heard your thankfulness for them, but to hear her thankfulness back, her reaction to you, it was just so amazing to hear. It’s really emotional.
When I finished the first track, I felt like I did something very special, that really showed who I was culturally and as an artist and as a daughter. I’ve played it for a couple of my friends in LA, and they cried, because they’re my friends who grew up in LA with immigrant parents. They were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is my mom. This is also my mom.’ They felt like it resonated with them so much. It’s just so nice to make something that captures so much of who I am.
Let’s talk about the lead single, “Give Me Another Chance.” Why did you want that to be the song that introduced the album?
First, it’s my favorite song on the record. There is so much confidence on this record because I’m singing about things that are embarrassing and kind of vulnerable — like about begging someone to take you back, the text to your ex at two AM, or the rebound hookup. A lot of vulnerable things are on this record. I thought that song talked about a very desperate moment for me in a confident way. And I think that’s like growth as an artist, where you can lyrically sing about things that are new and also vulnerable, that gritty area that you don’t really want people to see. There’s a sexiness in the desperation.
Your work has always sort of skirted the line with indie pop and electronic music, but it feels like this album really recommits to the dance floor in a serious way. Can you talk a little bit about that sonic shift, or maybe what the progression feels like for you?
I think it sounds like that because I produced most of it. I made a lot of these beats while touring my second album, Us. I made a lot of them on airplanes and tour sprinters and green rooms, so I didn’t have that same collaborative process as like, Us. It was just out of necessity, because I wanted to say these things. I had these things to get off my chest. I wanted to write songs because it made me feel better. Naturally, as a producer, I love those BPMs. I love 120 BPM. I love classic drum machine sounds. That’s how I produce. You can hear that on my first record, Me, on like “How Do You Do It.” On this record, I feel like I’m 2.0. I’m doing a lot of things that sound like Empress Of productions, but it’s just like 2.0 — that’s naturally where I live. I think dancing is healing, and I think a driving rhythm is healing. This record is a very cathartic record. I lived in that space of writing very groove-centered beats and then saying embarrassing, vulnerable shit over it.
What does it look and feel like to produce an album on your own? You’re starting when you’re on the road, and then do you take it back into a studio? What is that process like for you for this time?
If you looked at the initial demo folders for this album, it’s all flights. The folder’s called new demos 2019, and all of the session folders are like “flight to Gothenburg,” “flight to Dublin,” and “flight to London.” When I first started working on this record, when I got back to my house, I was like okay, I want to hook it up to this beat and try writing over it. I have a studio at my house, so I would open like, “flight to Gothenburg” and that would be like “Give Me Another Chance.” I’d come home and kind of rework those things that I wrote on the road once I had the space and clarity to write lyrics and the melodies. I think I need space to write songs. I can do production, but I really need the space to understand what I’m going through.
Obviously, the world has turned upside down with response to coronavirus. How are you coping and holding up? How does it feel to release an album right now?.
I think being positive is such an important thing, and positivity is infectious. I think we should be spreading that in our community, like in the music industry and arts community, and with friends who have restaurants and all of that. I just think being positive and supportive is what everyone can use right now. But yeah, it’s been crazy. I announced my record a month ago, and my whole life has changed for this year, not being able to tour and not being able to promote this record in the way I want to, but this is reality, and this is the story of this album. I’m a lifelong artist, and I’m going to make a lot of albums. This is just one piece of the story.
I’m Your Empress Of is out 4/3 via Terrible Records. Get it here.