Empress Of Portrait of the Artist

Empress Of Portrait of the Artist
Photo: Amanda Jasnowski
Not 15 minutes into my phone call with Lorely Rodriguez, the mastermind behind electro-pop project Empress Of, a stranger passing her front stoop in Los Angeles interrupts our conversation. "Sorry," she pauses, "some guy just went by and said [she puts on a low, dumb voice], 'Hey beautiful.'"
 
It's a moment ripped straight out of Rodriguez's most emphatic track to date, "Kitty Kat," on which thumping drum and synth blasts add even more weight to lyrics like: "Don't kitty kat me like I'm just your pussy / Let me walk away." It's also the kind of sexist bullshit that, in part, fuelled her move from New York City, where she'd gone to continue her burgeoning career, to Valle de Bravo, Mexico, a secluded lakefront town outside of the country's capital, where she spent five weeks composing the heartfelt, pointed and political pop songs that comprise her first full-length, Me.
 
"Kitty Kat" is just one of a series of honest, direct moments on an album that paints a rich portrait of a young artist across ten expertly produced and arranged tracks. Between songs about love lost (the skipping, rhythmic "Need Myself") and found (the snappy, vibraphone-aided opener "Everything is You"), fear ("Threat") and privilege (the reverb-splashed "Water Water"), Rodriguez lays bare her intensely personal thoughts and feelings.
 
"The only way to react to being vulnerable when you're alone and there's no one to talk to is to put it in a song," she says about her isolation in Mexico, which led to the soul-searching listeners hear on Me. And though she wrote these songs for herself, she understands why the songs might have a more universal appeal, too. "When you allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest, you reach more people. People can listen to the record and relate."