Just days after the release of her debut album Me, Empress Of is a name circulating throughout speakers and mouths alike. A 10-track LP, Me is a product of pure emotion and unequaled force. A poignant composition in all facets, the album washes over like a glorious reawakening. Trial, error, love and isolation -- the themes are prolific and relatable like the artist behind them. In a recent conversation with Billboard, Lorely Rodriguez -- otherwise known as Empress Of -- shares the experiences that make Me pack such an unrivaled first impression.
How does it feel to have the album out there streaming right now?
It’s really cool. It’s sort of like surreal because, I don’t know, I just lived on my laptop for a while and then, you know, like, oh my god, I’m listening to this album. I don’t know. It’s a little bit crazy.
I’m sure you feel like this is the moment you’ve been waiting for in a sense. How are you feeling about where you are now?
Well, it’s just been within the last week that I’m getting a response from people on my record, so I’m like…I don’t know. I almost don’t want to stop and think about how people are engaging with it or whether they are. I just want to keep working. I have such high expectations for what I want to do as an artist and everything’s been so so, so amazing, and I love that I had the opportunity to make a record that I completely wanted to make, one hundred percent, but I’m nowhere near the end of where I want to be as an artist. I feel like there’s endless work to go.
It seems like all of the feedback on your album has been positive. You’re in a good space.
I’m very grateful that the feedback has been positive so far, just because it’s a personal record called Me, and if someone was to bash it, it’d be like…alright. I don’t know, I’m not to say that no one’s going to bash it, because everyone has their own opinions, but I don’t know, I feel really lucky that people have been into it, maybe because I put myself out there or maybe because it is a personal record.
It’s 100 percent you without any compromises. Is it easy for you to be that vulnerable or is that something you have to push yourself to do?
Well, this is my first album and my first really big endeavor. It wasn’t difficult to make 10 songs that I felt were good enough to put on a record, and the last couple of things that I’ve done, the EP that I wrote and the 7" before that, they were more of, like, vibes. I had just started making music as Empress Of, and I had this whole palette that I was aiming for that was hazy, dreamy, kind of pillowy, hiding behind textures and not putting myself out there. So, with this record, I didn’t really intend to make a bunch of straightforward…record and putting myself out there, but just the nature of how I wrote it, going to Mexico and being isolated for a month and I don’t know. It was mostly like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, so I was talking through these songs and telling my story. The first time for me was difficult, but I’ve been finished with this record since January of this year and I can still listen to it and love it, so I don’t know. I think it’s a really good thing, and I learned how to be able to open myself up and there’s real substance in the record. When I listen to it, it’s like looking at the pictures of my life, like my 24th year of my life.
Did you feel closer to yourself coming out of that process? I want to talk about Mexico, but I’m wondering how you felt when you left Mexico and had to get back into your regular groove of things?
It was definitely a little weird, to come back and being surrounded by people and having these songs, basically just working on these songs for the rest of the year. I worked on these songs for 9 months after that, after I got back from Mexico. I had such a positive experience there. I had a lot of fears and a lot of insecurities and a lot of emotional shit I was going through with my ex-boyfriend. I don’t know, so the record has really helped me grow out of that. Even to this day, if something shitty happens to me, I put on the song “Need Myself” from this record and I’m just like, “Oh, wait a minute. I’m a boss.” It’s sick. To me, it would be like…like, Beyonce must feel so sick listening to “Flawless,” so I feel like that is a moment for me. When I play that song live, when I sing that song live, I just remember that I’m stronger than anything. Nothing is impossible. From making this record, I learned that I’m the most important person in my life and no one else lives my life for me. So, sweating dates or sweating relationships or any kind of shit that comes your way that’s negative energy. It’s like why are you sweating over other people when you’re the most important person in your life?
What was your initial intent going to Mexico?
Well, a month before I went to Mexico, I signed my record deal with XL and Terrible and my manager’s like, “Ok, cool, now you’ve got to turn in a record!” and I had no idea what that meant. Like, no idea, and jammed with some people, like, producer here, producer there, a writer, whatever, and just like, trying to make something that’s good, that’s in your head, like, ok, you’re an artist and you’re going to make a good record. It’s such an open, vague thing, like, what is good? Who defines what is good? Also, it was my debut record. I was just freaking out, I don’t even know what this means. What does it mean “turn in your record?” So, I don’t know, I just, I didn’t know what kind of record I was going to make. And I still didn’t know what kind of record I was going to make until I came back from Mexico, and I wrote all of those songs that were about all the shit that was in my head. So, I didn’t know. I had no idea what the record would be. I just knew that I wanted it to be good, but I didn’t know how to do that, so I think going to Mexico and figuring that out. I don’t know, it was such a positive experience for me.
I read that your friend randomly offered for you to stay at his house in Mexico. How did that even come about?
I hit him up, because I had started to write a couple demos in New York and they all sucked. Living in New York as an artist is a hard thing to do. Everyone’s hustling, everyone’s got this really tense energy because it’s so hard to live here and make it here and pursue your dreams as an artist if you’re not super privileged. But, I was writing a bunch of shitty demos, and I didn’t want to tour that for two years, because, you know, you make a record and you tour it forever, and so I hit up my friend and I was like, "Dude, I don’t know what to do. I’m making a really shitty record and it’s my first album," and I was like “I want to get out of New York” and he was like, “Cool, I have a house in Mexico.” I was like, “Uh, what!?” And he would call me every day, like, “Did you buy a ticket to Mexico yet?” And I’m like, “I don’t even know where your house in Mexico is!” I remember when I bought the ticket, he was like, “Cool, so you know it’s, like, nature, and there are a lot of bugs and stuff.” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Yeah, and it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and it’s like a 20-minute walk to the nearest place you can buy eggs and tortillas from.” I was terrified. I was having panic attacks and actually the first week I was there, I emailed my manager. I emailed him at a cafe because the house I had didn’t have internet, so there was a little village close by and I went to a cafe with internet. I emailed him and I was like, “Dude, please please please please please buy me a ticket back home.” I was like, “I’m going to die here. I”m in the middle of nowhere by myself.” And he didn’t write me back. He didn’t respond to the email. He never wrote me back, and then four days later, I sent him a couple demos that I started to make on the record and he wrote me back, like, “This is incredible!” And to this day, he’s like, “Well, if I would have bought u a ticket back, you wouldn’t have made the record.”
That must have been so foreign, being there and being totally alone. Are you used to being a little more isolated like that? Are you an introverted kind of person?
I am sometimes, but I constantly, living in New York and just having all of your friends at the touch of a button, at a phone call. I’m so used to being surrounded by a bunch of people that I love. So, it was totally foreign. It was totally weird. I drove myself crazy, but in a good way.
When was the relationship you talk about in the record? Were you still freshly feeling those emotions?
Yeah, basically when I started to write the record. A month before I went to Mexico, we broke up, and we were still talking a bunch, like we’re not going to get back together. So, I was still feeling a lot.
You were still talking up until when you went to Mexico?
Yeah, he’s still in my life. We’re friends, but it was just like, when you initially break up with someone and you still have them in your life and you’re trying to get over them, it’s difficult to move on.
Can you talk about your choice to have this be a non-linear narrative?
The way I arranged the track list, I wanted it to start…Ultimately for me, I’m a producer... I wanted the first song on the record to be about the beginning of the end of this relationship that I was in, and then I wanted the end of the record to be about me where I was when I finished the record, learning how to love myself, so the first song on the record is called “Everything is You” and it’s about being obsessed with someone that you don’t even think about yourself. By the end of the record, it’s like, I'm just in the room with the lights on and there’s no one who knows I’m the icon,” and it’s just about being in your room at 3 in the morning, and it was where I was when I was writing the record. I had spent almost a year making this record and no one knew or didn’t ask. No one knew what I was doing. But yeah, I was just thinking about something that would keep me excited if I was listening to it and it wasn’t my album, but that’s how I think about it. And there’s still a story, but it’s not super linear. And you’re not completely heartbroken by the end of the record.
How are you handling all of the press now?
The best way for me to [operate] as an artist with productivity is just not think and autopilot. Just tell me where to be and when to be there, and I’ll just do it. I don’t know, it’s just with how I deal with things even when I’m stressed out or out of my element. I’m starting to collaborate with other people, and I’ve never done that before, and it’ll be like “meet so-and-so and this time” and I’m just like, I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to think about what we’ll do, I just want to show up. Because I’ll get nervous. I overthink things too much if I let it get to me. That’s why I don’t want to think about people writing about me or talking about me, I just want to play good shows and make people engaged with the record. I’m so grateful of the response I’ve gotten so far.
Do you feel like you’re here to stay for a while in New York?
I’m moving to L.A.! I’m from L.A., I’ve been living in New York for the past 4 years, and I am moving to L.A. November 20th.
How do you feel about that?
I feel like I think it’ll be a good decision. I don’t know. I went there for two weeks a couple weeks ago to play shows and write with people, I don’t know, it just felt like it was a really good change. New York is such a beast, and I learned so much from being a young artist here. It’s so sick being here and putting up with other people’s bullshit. [Moving to L.A.] is something that I want to do. Maybe a month into it, I'll be like, “What the fuck? I can’t drink any more juice or any more acai bowls!” But, I love LA, so we’ll see. So, I just have to keep it really real. Hang out with my mom.
Do you have a favorite album of the past year?
I don’t want to say Jamie xx, because everyone loves that record, but whatever! It’s such a good record. It’s not my favorite -- it’s up there, though. I just listened to that record so much in cars and at parties. It’s a soundtrack to a part of the year, you know?