Los Angeles-based songwriter and producer Lorely Rodriguez — aka Empress Of — released her debut record, Me, in 2015. The stunning, self-produced album set the tone for Rodriguez's unique brand of music — honest, pop-centric, and uncompromising. Her latest release, Us, is a new branch off the same tree, this time bringing in powerhouse collaborators like DJDS and Devonté Hynes. The result is a polished profile of a young artist coming into her own, but always on her own terms.
Rodriguez says that working with other producers and songwriters on this record felt more like a natural progression rather than a conscious decision. "It was a really natural transition," she says. "I had been working with other artists on their records. I worked with Blood Orange on his album. I felt confident I could do it in my own music, and it would still sound like Empress Of."
And it did. While her collaborators brought in even stronger pop melodies and driving percussion, Rodriguez's trademark scintillating vocal runs and personal storytelling remain the album's standout qualities.
Part of what makes Rodriguez's vivid descriptions of life and love so believable is because, well, they're real. She says that writing music based on direct experience is the only way she knows. "I write autobiographical music because it's actually the easiest thing for me to perform every night," Rodriguez says. "I've always written about what's going on in my life. I think it's good to be vulnerable ... whenever I'm vulnerable ... that's when I grow the most."
Whether she's singing about refusing to let an ex-lover hurt her again on "Timberlands" or the emptiness of a dying relationship on "When I'm With Him," Rodriquez paints emotional and intimate vignettes of universal experiences. While much of the record supplies stories of heartbreak and romantic love, Rodriguez leaves room for a disco break on "I Got Love." In this song, she spreads a message of unity and perseverance: "Kindness is a secondhand truth/ you pass it down from man to man."
As far as inspiration goes, Rodriguez says her songwriting has never been formulaic. Although she ended up renting out a studio for some of Us, she explains that sometimes home can be better than any state-of-the-art recording studio. "I like working on music when I feel like I have something to say," Rodriguez says. "Having my studio in my house is great, because whenever I feel like I have an idea, I can go get it down. It's just like accessing your creativity when it's there."
In fact, Rodriguez describes most of her career so far as being based on intuition and individuality. "I think my trajectory as an artist has been its own thing; it hasn't been a straight line," she says. "I've just been putting out music that's uncompromised. It's kind of a hard thing to put in a box. It hasn't been a straight line as far as success in my career goes, and I've kind of just made my own path."
Empress Of will perform on Thursday, Feb. 28 at UFO Factory; 2110 Trumbull St., Detroit; ufofactory.com; Doors are at at 9 p.m.; Tickets are $15.
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