Empress Of a new pop empire

The powerhouse producer talks about her queendom.

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Imagine Lorde, Banks and FKA twigs performing some witchcraft and birthing out a sonic lovechild. That kind of sums up what Empress Of, aka Lorely Rodriguez, sounds like: a fairy with a catchy tune, who sure knows how to bring the quirky future-pop. Her latest EP, Me, feels both experimental and raw. Glamcult caught up with the Brooklyn-based singer-producer to talk about her battlefield strategy.

Without a hint of false modesty, Brooklyn-based Lorely Rodriguez simply but emphatically proclaims her genre “me”. And as a self-reliant powerhouse producer, her whole record breathes the same distinct signature sound—the “me-ness” of Empress Of. Adopting an experimental, minimal-yet-dance-floor-friendly approach, it certainly doesn’t feel like the term “pop” does Rodriguez justice, even though she loves the genre: “It’s so open-ended and a lot of sounds can fit into that word— as long as the song is there,” she explains. “You can even get a little crazy and call my music ‘electronic pop’ if you want!”

Back in 2012, our alarm bells rang over a series of anonymously released, 60-second tracks called Color Minutes. Titled 1-15, the songs were colour-coded across a palette from painfully bright yellow to blood red. Listening to Color Minutes is a cleansing experience, slowly rinsing you of everything that you are, leaving behind the sound and lyrics alone— which people have found vicariously relatable: “I just like writing songs about my life,” says Rodriguez, “and sometimes they happen to be universal themes or experiences that a lot of people can relate to. People have come up to me on tour and said, ‘Your record is called Me, but I feel like it’s about me.’”

Particularly obsessed with The Criterion Collection and Janus Films, film noir and Czech movies of the ’70s, Rodriguez is the hybrid manifestation of her quirky influences. On her celebrated debut, she tackles gender perceptions in Woman is A Word, explaining: “I’m interested in making my own definition of what a woman should be, not what that word means to society already,” acknowledging that she doesn’t conform to the codes the world gave to her for being a “woman”. Her distinct wild head of lion hair proves that she is definitely not someone to be messed with, as she whips it across the stage. It is her most favourite part of performing and dancing as well, as though she were possessed by an evil spirit on stage “I used to hate my hair growing up and wanted to have straight hair so bad. When I came to terms that it was actually a beautiful thing I should be proud of, I never stopped shaking my hair from left to right!”

An anthology of vulnerability in some ways, Me eases into a collected attitude while candidly tackling the highs and lows of relationships: “I think there are all kinds of relationships, and there is no right or wrong way to love. Something that is really important to me, though, is respect.” And we have nothing but respect for Rodriguez. She may have collaborated with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes and Kimbra in a session organized by Yours Truly—“Dev is a really good friend, and he’s someone I trust musically. It’s really easy for me to make music with him”—but she wrote, performed, produced and recorded every song on Me herself, working her magic and gaining a legion of fans in the process.

A good mind possesses a kingdom, and a self-produced EP with the intellect and quality of Empress Of rules our world. Rodriguez challenged herself to reflect upon what Me really meant to her, artistically growing on all levels. She dipped her toes deeper into the water by the lake house in Valle de Bravo, Mexico where she produced most of her songs, and challenged herself by opting for an unfamiliar, isolated setting: “I wanted to get far away from the day-to-day life I knew. I discovered that getting out of my comfort zone does interesting things for my music,” she explains. “It’s hard to write a good song, something that you can stand to listen to for months and months. Maybe that’s why people say my album is pop, because I took a lot of care in writing lyrics that I believed in and melodies I could sing almost every night…”

www.empressof.com

Words by Michelle Hèlena Jansen

Photography: Tonje Thilesen