In the Middle with Empress Of

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The Autumn of 2018 provided many remarkable albums, with very few as striking as Empress Of’s Us. It is a record tinged wonderfully with dream pop and R&B influences, no less a poetic expression of the dichotomies of both pure comfort and exasperating detachment which love may bring. It traverses along the spectrum of groovy jams and hazy ballads, suitable for both the dancefloor, as well as the embers of the day before you might finally fall into slumber.

Since finishing a hectic tour of the US, Empress of is soon to embark on a tour of Europe and the UK, which brings her to Manchester’s hot new venue, YES, on 27 March. I spoke to Lorely Rodriguez, the woman behind the persona, to discuss the journey her career has taken so far and her identity as an artist.

You’ve recently completed a US tour and embark on an EU/UK tour next week. What have you been doing in the meantime?

I’ve been in bed a lot. I was really exhausted. I hadn’t toured like that in a while, just back to back shows and my show has gotten really energetic. It’s an hour of dancing and giving a lot, so I was really tired. But I’ve also just been trying to do my favourite things in L.A. and eat my favourite foods, because when we’re on the road, I get really homesick, which is new to me. I didn’t really feel like that before, but I think because when I moved back to Los Angeles, I’m around so many things that I love and are familiar to me. But yeah, today is my last day in L.A., so I’m definitely just going to eat some of my favourite foods.

Ahead of your European and UK tour, what are you most looking forward to?

I haven’t toured a lot in Europe or the UK. I did one tour when I was opening for Purity Ring in Europe and I thought that going to these cities was so much fun. But I feel like it’s long overdue. I want to come back and build an audience for my project, but I need to put in the work and tour a lot over there, which I realise I just haven’t. I’m excited to finally play there. I’ve never played in Dublin before and that’s going to be cool and I’ve only played Manchester once before, so I’m excited to build a relationship in these parts.

Do you have any specific memories of when you last visited Manchester?

I remember we had really good dinner before the show [laughing]. It was such a short day and a lot of this tour is also going to be like that – in these cities for just one day to play, so there’s not a lot of time to really experience a city.

Early on in your career, you gained some attention following a series of anonymous demos on YouTube. What was the thought process behind these releases?

That was the first thing through which I introduced my music to the public as Empress Of. I had written all these demos and they were all one-minute long and I didn’t want to worry too much about song titles or artwork, so I just catalogued them in this way that a different colour was attached to each song. I think it was a cool way to introduce my project to the public and some of those songs became part of a 7-inch and an EP.

Looking back on your second album, Us, which you released last October, it went down really well. It seems to have a bit more of a mellow sound than your debut album, Me, did. Would you say your artistic direction has changed slightly between these two albums?

I think, as an artist, I go through phases. When I was making my first album, I was listening to a lot of dance music and being inspired by artists like Caribou and Four Tet. There were a lot of moments when I went crazy on production. I think on this record, it was more collaborative, which I didn’t do on my first album, so there are lots of sounds from other people. But writing songs is important to me and I wrote songs first and then I worried about production afterwards, but I don’t know if that contributed to anything. It doesn’t feel mellow to me, because I’ve been playing it and it really goes off. I think a song at whatever tempo, if it connects with an audience, it’ll go off. I don’t think any album I make will be the same, I don’t want to repeat myself and repeat the process. I definitely took some different routes on this record.

The alias Empress Of is a unique one. What does it mean for you to label yourself as an empress?

It’s a weird band name. I think it’s hard for people to say and I like that. I like the imagery of an empress – my mum’s name is Queen and I think I’m inspired by how strong a woman she is. There’s something about the imagery of an empress that is inspiring to me. I’m a very in-the-moment person and I like the open-ended ambiguity of it: Empress Of … blank.

Yeah, because it feels like you’re asking the question “well, what are you an empress of?” Do you feel as though the kind of power which the name gives you might have changed from what it was at the start?

No, it’s just a reminder. It reminds of the possibilities and how things aren’t set in stone and how you can define your own journey. It hasn’t really changed, it just reminds me that anything is possible and that you can own anything in the moment.

You’ve spoken before about writing songs in both English and Spanish. Do these two languages have different intentions when you’re writing lyrics?

Not really. I’ve been writing music in Spanish since I started being Empress Of, but I feel like I know this language and that it would be weird if I didn’t use this other tool that I have to express myself. I’m trying to say the same things, but saying them in different ways. Having music, English and Spanish, these three different languages to express one sentiment, it helps me express something better.

You mentioned the artists that inspired your debut album, are there any particular artists that are inspiring you at the moment?

Yeah, I’m really inspired by a lot of female artists doing incredible things – I love Charlie XCX. I love the new James Blake record and Latino artists like Rosalia, I think her album is incredible. There’s so much amazing music right now, it’s insane.

One of the artists which you recently collaborated with was MØ, how did you find that process?

I’ve done a lot of collaborations and I do a lot of them at the same time. But I’ve always been a fan of hers and I think that the song we did together [‘Red Wine’] was great. I’m really inspired by her music and the way she presents herself in being so unapologetically herself – I love that. I really admire the trajectory of her career and how she’s taken control over it. She had one of the biggest songs in the world and she retains her essence of MØ.

Do you have any plans immediately after your EU/UK tour? Can we expect any exciting news in the near future?

I’m coming back to the States and then back to Europe to do a little tour around Primavera, because I’m playing that festival. I’ll also be playing some other festivals around that.

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