For electronica songstress Empress Of, confidence is key
By Aly Comingore
Photographed by Sergiy Barchuk
Lorely Rodriguez is ready to get back out there. For the past two and a half years, the 28-year-old musician, who records under the moniker Empress Of, has been hard at work on her second LP, Us; bouncing between studios all over California; and living in her head. So this past spring, when friends asked her to play a party they were cohosting, she jumped at the chance. “After months and months of thinking, ‘I’m a shitty artist. I’m a great artist. I’m a shitty artist,’ it was a good test,” she recalls. “I was so high from that show that I asked my friends if I could open for them the next week.”
Three months later, Rodriguez is sitting across from me at a coffee shop a few miles from her Highland Park home. Sipping an iced green tea in the golden dusk light, she explains that she just got back from New York, and the album is done. “Now I’m doing the fun stuff—the art, the music videos,” she says, the newness of it bubbling out of her with an almost nervous energy. “I can’t really feel anything at this point because I put so many feelings into making it. But it’s good. I’m trying not to have any expectations.”
It’s a different story for her fans: Anticipation is building for her next album. In the seven years since Rodriguez moved to New York and started making music as Empress Of, her fanbase has grown from a small, mostly Brooklyn-based set to a sizable worldwide following. “The kids in Barcelona, they turn up,” she says, laughing.
Listen to Empress Of and you’ll probably want to turn up, too. At its heart, the project sounds both otherworldly and futuristic, a swirling confection of delicate harmonies, floor-moving synths, and unabashed reverence for pop grooves. “I like to dance and I like to see people move,” she says, “but it’s so hard to be like, ‘I want to write a song people will like.’ You can’t. People’s tastes and trends change too fast.”
So rather than focus on the masses, Rodriguez has made Empress Of a vehicle for self-discovery. On her 2013 EP Systems, she introduced herself to the world with an even split of songs in English and Spanish—a nod to her Honduran roots. Her debut full-length, Me, found her pushing deeper into her fears and desires to create songs like “How Do You Do It,” a frenetic floor-pounder about letting yourself love someone, and “Need Myself,” an ethereal two-step that features the zinger “I’m making love to myself / When I’m making love to you.”
Since then, Empress Of has kept busy: She moved back to her hometown of East L.A.; released a series of singles, including 2016’s glorious empowerment rally cry “Woman Is a Word” and 2017’s stinging kiss-off “Go to Hell”; and collaborated with L.A. electronic artist DJDS and NYC funk powerhouse Blood Orange. Oh, and she turned Lana Del Rey’s “Love” into a killer electro dance jam.
Together these things have helped to inform Us, which drops October 19th via Terrible Records. The album, Rodriguez says, is like the sequel to Me in a lot of ways. “Thematically, it’s about confidence. The first record was all about self-love, and this record is more communal love.” Getting there, she says, is part of the reason the process took so long. “I’m not an impulsive artist who works on stuff and is like, ‘OK, it’s done!’ I work on it, I let it sit on the hard drive for a year, and then I come back to it and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it was good.’ I feel the same way about clothes that I buy. If I buy a pair of a shorts that I don’t have the confidence to wear in that moment, I’ll hold onto them and maybe come back to them next summer because I worked out a lot, or I like wearing lime green now—things you weren’t confident about doing before.”
Us also has Rodriguez singing in Spanish for the first time since her debut. “I really wanted to make bilingual songs because it allows me to express myself so differently,” she says. “To me, everything sounds more romantic [in Spanish], even if you’re talking about walking outside to take the trash out.”
A bunch of things inspired the album, she says, including her family and the places she went to write. “I’m going to sound like a self-help book, but I read a lot about why breaking your routine can be a huge factor in tapping into your creative well,” she says. “It’s hard for me to be inspired by a place that I know really well, but I like being around my mom in L.A. because I can reference the things in my culture that I don’t see so much when I’m not around her—the music that she dances to, the way she cooks, the way she talks, the way she answers the phone. All of those things inspire me.”
Rodriguez’s culture has always been essential to her art. “Growing up as a first-gen kid, there was just no way of hiding it,” she says. “Even when I was in college hanging out with all my white friends—my family, my culture, my upbringing was so different from the way everyone I knew was raised. I felt like it was something that made me unique, and I really liked that. It’s always been a part of me, but coming back to L.A., I see myself represented so much more.”
In recent months, she’s shown her support for other first-generation kids by modeling for the L.A. clothing line Kids of Immigrants and deejaying fundraising events for undocumented children in need of legal services. Being at these events also helped inspire Rodriguez’s latest project, “Solidarity,” a monthly playlist series that spotlights artists of color.
“It’s such a crazy time right now. There are so many kids making music that makes them happy—and you can hear it,” she remarks. “If you look at the climate these kids are growing up in, you can understand it. There are so many artists now that are like, ‘Who cares if it’s groundbreaking or not, commercial or not, or made in a bedroom or a studio—as long as it sounds true.’ It’s a confidence thing, and that’s so inspiring to me.”
Wardrobe Stylist Turner, Makeup Artist Kristin Hilton At The Wall Group For Anastasia Beauty, Hair Stylist Chanel Croker, Producers Charlii Cruse And Taryn Sanders, Photo Assistant Graham Austin