Published Oct 17, 2018Empress Of, also known as Lorely Rodriguez, has made the transition from her breakout debut, Me, to sophomore record, Us, by heading in a pop direction, working with new collaborators and claiming her space in Los Angeles amongst an inspiring group of Latinx artists.
"I think it's more getting across a universal experience," Rodriguez tells Exclaim! "The sense of community is something where you can be from all different backgrounds and all different histories, but you have shared experiences that relate you to each other — that creates empathy.
"It's less relying on the palette of the production, and more on the words that I'm saying. I think that's what it is for me. In the first record, I was really consumed with textures and transporting someone through the sounds, and on this one I still wanted to do that, but I wanted to be able to transport people through lyrics, as well."
The songs on Us utilize detail and storytelling precision to share Rodriguez's experiences in relationships in a way that listeners can apply to their own — creating the relatability off of which pop music thrives. By working with collaborators including Blood Orange, DJ Dodger Stadium and Jim-E Stack, Rodriguez was able to challenge herself.
"It's even more difficult to get your point across — for me, at least — when there are other contributors, because you don't want things to get diluted along the way," she says. "It's either more like if I'm working with someone now, with another palette, it's like we need to focus even more on retaining the message and the sound."
The bedrock of Us's songs was formed by Rodriguez, who explains that she always writes songs alone.
"I think it's important to reflect, and to shut off the rest of the world, and to have your internal thoughts speak up. For me that's always been a part of my process. There are very few times when I've co-written something with someone and then I end up liking it. Most of the songs I write happen alone, writing so many ideas. It's almost like I feel like someone journaling — that's kind of how I think about the initial process of writing music. So then, I bring collaborators in when I feel like I've reached a point where I've worked on things as far as I can take them for the time."
An active choice for Rodriguez was to push herself as an artist and recognize the changes that were occurring within her to move her music forward.
"I think like a lotta people think when you establish a sound, you have to keep a cyclical loop of the same thing, and for me it's very important to have evolution and growth as a producer and as a songwriter. That is a really important thing that I discovered with making a second album: that you don't repeat the same things. You grow and you evolve as a person and as an artist."
The shared experiences that Us seeks to convey connect to the greater adversities that grip our world, and where Rodriguez finds herself within it. Her latest music video, for "When I'm With Him," features members of the "amazing community of Latin artists that I am extremely inspired by in Los Angeles," including a member of "POC, female, vinyl-only DJ collective" Chulita Vinyl Club and performance artist, Leather Papi.
"Comedians and performance artists and DJs and musicians — people who are me, people like me, you know — reach for their goals and their dreams and work hard, and that's inspiring to me as well. So that's been a huge part of my community, as well: being represented by my peers.
"If I'm gonna put out music this time around, I need to really show up and represent myself," Rodriguez asserts. A way of doing just this is the bilingual writing that is featured on Us, heard on "When I'm With Him" and "Trust Me Baby." Writing in English and Spanish has expanded Rodriguez's palette and the extent to which she is able to communicate her feelings.
"Music is the language. English is language. Spanish is language. I feel like when I'm writing a song, and I'm writing a bilingual song, I'm writing in three different mediums. It's like I have these three different tools I can use to complete whatever I'm building. It definitely feels like I'm able to express an emotion I'm trying to convey more when English becomes exhausting — I've used it as much as I can — I use Spanish to convey whatever I want further."
Rodriguez has shifted the way in which she communicates vulnerability on Us, yet it is a record that is no less true to her experiences than past releases. The evolution of Empress Of has integrity as its core: "I feel like music is my way to express myself, and if I'm not being honest in music then what am I even doing?"
Us comes out October 19 on Terrible Records.