When Lorely Rodriguez, the musician who goes by Empress Of, spoke to the Cut back in October, she was on tour with Purity Ring in Utrecht. Today, after a busy weekend playing at SXSW in Austin, she released the b-side “Woman Is a Word.”
Rodriguez’s songs find her talking about topics like water scarcity and the patriarchy, as well as the kind of intimate lyrical musings that don’t usually leave the Notes section of an iPhone. (“Nothing comes between us / but a piece of latex,” for one.) On a break before playing festival dates this fall, she moved back to her native L.A. to work on a sophomore album.
Read on for her thoughts on sharing vulnerable work, substance-driven creativity, and more.
When you got into the studio to record, were you concerned about everyone hearing these really personal lyrics?
I had thought about the energy that goes behind performing live, which is why I made the beats a lot more energetic or up-tempo. But I hadn’t really thought about performing the lyrics until I started and was like, “Wow, this is going to take a bit of practice to get comfortable sharing these stories with strangers every night.”
Is it therapeutic at all?
It’s just really fun. I don’t really feel like I’m healing at all from performing. I’m not in that point of my life anymore. It sort of feels like a play, it feels like a story.
As an artist, reflecting on my life has done a lot for me — made me able to make things I really care about. I’m just being really honest with myself. It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing — taking something that’s difficult, or a trivial moment in your life and turning it into fuel for the fire.
I was in Mexico writing this record, isolated, dealing with all these insecurities, and I wrote songs that are really empowering to me. It’s a cycle, remembering how important I am. But that came out of a negative experience. I wrote a song about it called “Kitty Kat,” and I perform it onstage every night for a ton of people. I get to share this story about how uncomfortable it is to get catcalled on the street. If someone does something bad to me or uncomfortable to me, I turn it into this.
How much responsibility do you feel to address women’s issues?
I’m a woman, I’m a young woman, producing music in a male-dominated music industry. I’m a young woman, walking down the street in New York and these are things I represent in my music. I’m not going to write about something I can’t relate to, it happens naturally. It’s not premeditated or anything. It comes with the territory of being a woman.
How do substances play into your creative process?
There’s a song on my record called “Icon“; it’s about taking Adderall. I don’t do any drugs, mostly because I don’t like them. I don’t like smoking weed. I don’t find myself very creative when I take them, I find I can’t really come up with good ideas that I feel confident about.
But when I was finishing my record, it was so hard after listening to the same songs for months and months and months. I was struggling to stay motivated, fixing little drum and keyboard parts and taking breaths out of vocal takes, really mundane boring stuff you do when you make your record by yourself.
One night it was like three o’ clock in the morning and I started writing this song, “If I wasn’t awake, I’d be dreaming — I took too many pills to be sleeping.”
Is there anyone you want to collaborate with down the line?
This is pretty crazy, but … I wonder what it’d be like to work with Azealia Banks. I’ve said this so many times. Yeah, she’s really sick and so wild. Or like Angel Haze — I want to work with a female rapper.
This interview has been edited and condensed.