IN CONVERSATION WITH: Empress Of
WORDS BY HANNAH TINKER
Lorely Rodriguez AKA Empress Of is fiercely fighting-the-good-fight. With lyrics delivered with her LA twang that wraps around millennial vocals – see “don’t be pissy with me” and “I don’t even smoke weed / it gives me anxiety” – Empress Of may have the ingredients for your run-of-the-mill pop songstress but she’s working with a different recipe to the norm.
Of course, releasing an LP infused with an R’n’B basis (her debut album Me) wasn’t a rarity in 2015 but Rodriguez stepped it up a level with the catchy electronica influxes throughout and a tracklist that smacks the stereotype of a dismissive female off its feet. From Kitty Kat to Need Myself, Me is rife with angsty feminine empowerment and, you’re invested in every word. These cries for self-love and fighting back are expanded on with the feat that the album was all, entirely self-produced. In comparison, 2018’s sophomore record, Us, sees her work alongside the likes of Dev Hynes, duo DJDS (Kanye West, Khalid, Kacy Hill), Cole M.G.N. (Ariel Pink, Christine and the Queens). It’s a collaborative piece that offers less of an internal monologue but more of a discussion on about mutual relationships.
It’s clear that the record, and Lorely’s method of creating it, cultivated from her peers and her relationships with them. When we catch her, she’s in Cologne, having played Amsterdam the night before at 12:30 am. Images enter the mind of fluoro-brightened rooms and revelers lip-syncing her high-octane hit track Woman Is A Word – as featured on another female-fronted plotline, the recently aired Killing Eve. She speaks of her relationship with Dev Hynes – who produced Everything To Me, the first track on Us – as “friends first and then collaborators”, with the singer recruiting him particularly because she penned When I’m With Him about their friendship. Yes, yet another stereotypical barrier is broken down, this time in the form of a song about platonic relationships.
Her reign began when ‘Empress’ was brought up on a tarot card that a friend pulled out for. “I related to it so much, the mothering, strong, feminine energy of it. There are so many parts of me. The anxious side, the insecure side but I feel so empowered by my own music and I wanted to show that to people.” What really translates is that she’s by no means calling herself the Messiah though – “I can’t be that person…” Instead, she wants to embody a character that raises others up, be that showcasing her friends’ talents through collaboration or sanctioning positivity into the minds of her audience.
Empress Of isn’t just about empowering women. A feminist through and through, equality is the name of the game, as best transcribed by the recent Perfume Genius cover of the aforementioned Us track When I’m With Him. “I love that he sang the song from his perspective. It’s just beautiful.” Lorely mentions how her version of the track is from the point of view of a heterosexual woman and Perfume Genius takes it and eloquently ties it in, from his own point of view.
As we continue, the talk turns to social media as Lorely reveals that she no longer uses Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth – Facebook. “Everyone’s constantly resharing political stories and views. I’ve seen friends go down spirals about ‘fake news’ and other political garbage.” Being from LA she is of course mostly aware of North American news and media but, we’re not too different over this side of the Atlantic. Globally, Facebook and generally all social media platforms have morphed from ‘hey look at my holiday snaps’ into a full-blown news site with twenty-four hour, twenty-four-seven, updated every microsecond. “I find it important to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world but I don’t want to be clouded by it.” A valid point of view amongst a society where ‘procrastination’ is a regular in our vocabulary.
The next two months sees Lorely take to writing once more, so perhaps You is in the pipeline? Two particular characters that always catch her attention are Mariah Carey and French new wave artist, Lizzy Mercier Descloux. “Before every show, I look at these two photographs and, it makes me feel like, they’re watching over me.” Let’s hope that these two iconic acts only continue to watch over this LA protégé.