Published Sep 15, 2015Lorely Rodriguez, a.k.a. Empress Of, isn't the enigma she used to be, and for good reason: as a young woman of colour making electronic music, she knows it's important to be visible, to open the doors for others and provide a template for success. But years before she composed the pointedly political, intensely personal electro-pop songs that comprise her debut full-length, Me, Rodriguez was uploading minute-long, ethereal electronic compositions to YouTube called Colorminutes. In an attempt to present them free of any contextual shackles, they featured no track names or artwork beyond numbers and colour blocks. Now, Rodriguez tells Exclaim!, she wants to confront issues directly.
"The whole thing with not worrying about people seeing me, what I look like — it's just because I'm a woman making music, and I didn't want the first thing to be like, 'Oh, this is like, Hot New Bedroom Producer Girl Making Weird Music,'" Rodriguez explains from Los Angeles. "When I started making music, it came from a pretty naïve place. I wasn't really concerned with what I was saying, but how I was saying it, like sounds and textures and vibes. But there's only so much you can write like that, you know? At some point, you're just like, 'Enough with the smoke and mirrors!'"
Now, having made a name for herself with her smart, catchy songwriting and versatile, beat-driven production, Rodriguez is dogged by comparisons to other female electronic artists.
"I wish people told more dudes that they sound like Grimes," she states. "She's a total pioneer of what she does. She does the music she makes, and it influences tons of people. I don't know if it's a human thing, where humans just need to relate things to other things, but it's like, 'You're a woman; I'm going to relate you to other women.' Even if it's not the same!"
Rodriguez's music is traditionally structured pop songwriting complemented by thoughtfully arranged synths and drum machines, her elastic alto vocals front and centre. On Me, her lyrics have taken on heavy subject matter that's been weighing on her mind the past few years.
"Make Up" is an intensely personal song about a particularly special night with a loved one; "Water Water" addresses the privilege of having clean drinking water, and how many people in North America take it for granted; "Kitty Kat," a thumping track about being catcalled in New York (and basically everywhere else), features a chorus that repeats the line "Let me walk away." Where she sometimes sang in Spanish on previous releases — and on an alternate version of "Water Water," "Agua Agua" — Rodriguez says she chose to sing in English here to be as lyrically concise and direct as possible.
"For me, when I try to write in Spanish, there are twice as many syllables, you know? Everything's so ornate in Spanish. With this record, I just wanted to be able to say in five words what is bothering me, or making me happy. I wanted to be straight to the point so that when someone was listening to it, they could be like, 'Oh, I know what she's saying' within 30 seconds of listening to the song."
That directness means that despite their personal nature, the songs on Me have an easily understood, universal appeal. They're straightforward, and they're utterly meaningful.
"This record is the 24th year of my life, basically. I didn't mean to write stuff that other people could relate to; it just happens to be the way people connect to music. I also think there's a thing about being vulnerable and honest — when you allow yourself to be that way, you reach more people. People can listen to the record and relate."
Me is out now, courtesy of XL/Terrible Records. Catch Empress Of on one of her forthcoming North American tour dates, and watch her new video for "Standard" below.