IJUST WANTED TO DELIVER THEM IN A DIFFERENT WAY — IN MORE A DIRECT WAY, where if you weren’t there, you could still experience it,” Empress Of says of the experiences that informed her sophomore album, Us. In the wake of her lauded debut, the gorgeously produced and intimate Me, Lorely Rodriguez made a concerted effort to create a sense of universality on her new album by collaborating with outside producers to form a more cohesive pop vision.
“It’s less relying on the palette of the production, and more on the words that I’m saying,” she explains. “I think that’s what it is for me, ’cause [on] 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.”
Rodriguez uses precise visuals — images of rainy first meetings with future partners, sticky rooftop hangouts in New York with best friends — along with the vulnerability that has imbued her work since day one.
Rodriguez is irked by some of the responses she received upon announcing the new album: She tells of a fan commenting “I hope it still sounds like Me!” via Instagram.
“I wrote in the comments, like, ‘Why would I make the same thing twice?’” she says. “To me, that is a really important thing that I discovered with making a second album, is that you don’t repeat the same things: you grow, and you evolve as a person and as an artist.
“I mean, that’s why I reach out to people, because I love their production, I love their ideas, and I embrace them in my own production, and I learned a lot from working with people like DJ Dodger Stadium, Jim-E Stack and Blood Orange, that I wanna embrace. I think 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. The artists I look up to, they grow with the times, they evolve in their own way. I think I’m more of that type, rather than making the same thing over and over again.”
Rodriguez utilized a tried-and-true method for her songwriting on Us, working her songs from solitary writing to inviting collaborators in. “I always write songs alone. I think it’s impor- guez’s move back to Los Angeles, which facilitated her becoming a member of the city’s Latinx creative community in a way she hadn’t experienced before.
“Everything is so difficult right now in the States, and in the world, and I feel like communally, we’re all going through it. I definitely lean on people — I didn’t wanna have that not be a part of my music, as well. Since I moved back to L. A. [three years ago], I found an amazing community of Latin artists that I’m extremely inspired by in Los Angeles. You know, comedians, and performance artists, DJs and musicians — people who are me, people like me, [who] 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: being represented by my peers.”
Rodriguez describes the process of shooting the video for “When I’m With Him,” a bilingual track that is one of her favourite songs. “[It was] shot in East L. A., like 12 minutes away from my mom’s house,” she says.
She directed the shoot, which features performance artist Leather Papi, a member of Chulita Vinyl Club, and “this beautiful model named José,” Rodriguez enthuses. “Some of these people, I just reached out to on Instagram and was like, ‘Yo, I’m a huge fan of you, I’m shooting this day,’ and now we’re friends, and I’m supportive whenever they have shows, whenever they’re posting photos from photo shoots.”
Featuring her community prominently in her work is incredibly important to Rodriguez, who has been empowered by it — and in turn, is helping her peers gain recognition. “If I’m gonna put out music this time around, I need to really show up and represent myself,” she asserts.
The final key to unlocking Us is through the inclusivity of its bilingual approach — the record marks the first time Rodriguez has sung in Spanish since “Agua, Agua,” her Spanish-sung version of Me cut “Water, Water.” Both of Us’s lead singles, “Trust Me Baby” and “When I’m With Him,” feature lyrics in Spanish.
“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. 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 — so I feel lucky that I know two languages, because it’s more opportunity to be able to express myself.
“I feel like the world is moving towards a more global mindset, because tons of people who don’t speak Spanish listen to ‘When I’m With Him,’ and to me, that’s everything,” she says.
“I listen to Yaeji sing in Korean, I listen to Peggy Gou, I listen to so many artists who don’t sing in English, and I don’t know what they’re saying, but I know that the music is a language also, so it’s easy to be universal, you know?”
In communicating her truth by using her tools as a bilingual singer, songwriter and producer, Empress Of has created an inclusive record that seeks to bring the world together in just the way that’s rewarding to her.