“Writing this record has been such a beautiful, creative moment for me,” says Lorely Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of. She’s talking about her brilliant third album ‘I’m Your Empress Of’.
Out April 3, it’s a shimmering collection of the Los Angeles-native’s dreamy, R&B-flecked synth-pop; only this time it’s fizzing with urgency and infused with huge, club-shaking hooks. “I think that this is my best album to date,” reveals the Honduran-American artist. “I think I’m really representing myself in an honest way.” She’s not wrong.
We video-chatted her at home in Los Angeles and talked heartbreak, touring with Lizzo and how she got her Mum to feature on the album.
When did you start working on ‘I’m Your Empress Of’?
“I had two months off and I was at home, and I just went nuts. I was waking up and working straight away. I was really heartbroken, and I didn’t have time to process it on tour, because I was having crazy adrenaline rushes every night from playing. So when I got home I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m alone in my house with these feelings that I forgot I had’.”
It sounds like the album is quite personal – what was it like when you listened to all of it back for the first time?
“It was really hard to escape how the record made me feel. I would listen to it back and then initially I would be really emotionally exhausted. And then after like 10 listens, it was like, overcoming it. I was like ‘Yes!’ I am that bitch!’”
Have you had that feeling before, or was that unique to this record?
“I think this record does more on a personal level than the other records. Some of the lyrics are just so personal, but they’re sung in such a casual way. On the song ‘Awful’, there’s a lyric and I’m almost yelling into the microphone: “I need some help, I need some help/I need myself, I need myself”. I was really sad, and I just genuinely needed someone to listen to me.
“When I listened back to it, I felt the way I did when I wrote it, which is so powerful. And I think that’s what’s gonna translate when my fans listen to it, or new fans listen to it. It’s the honesty of just singing bare lyrics like that. It’s not Shakespeare, you know? It’s not overdressed. And I think there’s magic in that.”
And your Mum appears on the album, in spoken word form. How did you get her involved?
“I knew I wanted her to do something on the intro, track one ‘I’m Your Empress Of’. So I had my mom come over and record over the beat of it for, like, 20 minutes. She always talks shit; she’s the old lady in the corner being like ‘why are you wearing that?’ Or ‘you shouldn’t text him back’. But when she was in the room, she didn’t know what to say. And so I was like, ‘talk about being a woman and talk about being a mother, talk about being an immigrant, talk about anything’ and she said some really amazing stuff.”
On that opening track, ‘I’m Your Empress Of’, you use a salsa riff. Was that something you used to complement your Mum’s experiences?
“It definitely was. My Dad is a salsa pianist, and he taught me that specific piano pattern when I was eight, and I wanted to put that in there because I really want to capture who I am. I wanted the opening statement to be a statement of arrival.”
Your debut album came out in 2015 – how do you think you’ve changed as an artist since then?
“I’ve definitely grown as an artist. I think that this is my best album to date. I just think it does a lot of things that take everything I’ve done to another level, and because I produced most of it, the production really sounds like an Empress Of record.”
“It’s always been important for me to elevate my culture as a Latin American and I think I’m really doing that. Having my mom say “it wasn’t easy to learn English”, on the opening track and then just hearing her accent and hearing her experiences. I think I’m really encompassing everything right now.”
Did you ever consider pushing the album back because of coronavirus?
“The thing I would say about this record is that it’s immediate. And it happened fast, and that’s why I’m not pushing the release back. I want the release to feel like the way I wrote it. I didn’t overthink anything on this record. It’s this little miracle that happened in the chaos of touring and going through a bunch of shit.”
Last year you were opening for Lizzo. That tour was wild, how did you find it?
“Crazy! That was one of the craziest months of my life, because I toured back to back with Lizzo and Maggie Rogers and those two artists are so different. I would open for Lizzo. And it would be like ‘Yeah! Pump up the crowd give it all you’ve got, give it all your energy!’, which is not like what I usually do. And then I’d be opening for Maggie and it’d be like: ‘Evoke this emotion and bring the songs out and deliver the messages.’ I learned a lot from touring with both of them. Both very, very strong women, and so empowering.”
Finally, what’s one thing you want to achieve in your career you haven’t done already?
“If Kate Bush was like: ‘Hey, let’s get in the studio’, I would die. Like I’m crying, my eyes are tearing up now.”
‘I’m Your Empress Of’ is out April 3