Seeing Lorely Rodriguez aka Empress Of walk across the soon to be packed fields of Union Park sporting a black vest and pants over a white dress shirt, it became clear that she meant business. Over the course of our conversation it was apparent that Empress Of is not only one of most creative minds in alternative pop music, but also one of the hardest working.
Empress Of was one of many of the surprise guest appearances at Pitchfork, and certainly one of the most hyped. Joining Blood Orange for a stellar rendition of their hit “Best To You”, during his saturday set on the red stage, Rodriguez proved her musical chops while flawlessly belting out her chorus on the song. As they danced and sang together, the chemistry between Empress Of and Blood Orange was palpable. “Working with Dev Hynes felt very natural”, she explained “he’s a good friend of mine and I respect him very much as an artist. We really had no idea [Best To You] was going to be on the album, we were just writing. I would just go over to his apartment and eventually he carved his album out of so many demos.” The Blood Orange song Best To You received “Best New Music” from Pitchfork and is currently the most streamed track off of Blood Orange’s new album Freetown Sound.
Apart from collaborating with some of indie’s most original and groundbreaking artists, Empress Of recently completed a full tour of Europe. In true music star fashion she didn't forget to carve out some down time, albeit a modest amount by most people’s standards. “I played Primavera, and I had about a half a day off in Portugal, which was absolutely amazing. It was very rock and roll, checking out the whole town as much as I could in a couple hours.” This work hard play hard tendency Rodriguez lived in Europe has absolutely followed her on her trip back to this side of the pond. Not only did Empress Of perform with Blood Orange for Pitchfork on Saturday, she also played a show Saturday evening at Schubas to a sold out crowd. “It was a fantastic show, the audience was so great and energetic.” She said. On these tours and in her Pitchfork performance, Rodriguez performs solo, playing tracks from her critically acclaimed album Me. The album features a slew of creative pop songs. There’s huge, buoyant pop anthems like the track “How Do You Do It”, as well as more hectic, pummeling tracks such as “Kitty” or “Water Water”. There’s also a groovy undercurrent throughout, giving the album cohesion and purpose. Her set at pitchfork featured many of these cuts, and the crowd was very receptive to the bass heavy, dance inducing performance. “I always keep the live set in mind while writing”, Rodriguez elaborated, “I’ll often stand in front of a mirror in my room, just listening to demos, I’m often times so enraptured with a vocal melody that I just start dancing.”
These past several years have been an incredibly turbulent time for Empress Of. Coming off of the success of, “Me”, the hectic touring and press schedule has without a doubt taken a toll on the artist. To Rodriguez, though, the most important thing remains the art itself. “Right now, as an artist I’m focusing more and more on writing the song. I recently realized how important touring is, and how important it is to me to really find a way to relate to and communicate with the audience. When you’re touring so much, you really have to create songs that are important, that you can perform over and over again, so I’ve been writing songs that are important to me. And of course, I want to create something that’s, well, fun.”
Despite her increasingly refined and constantly maturing devotion to her craft and it’s personal relevance, Rodriguez continues to draw influence from artists around her, both old and new. It was charming to see an artists talk about the work of others as enthusiastically as they speak about their own craft. She expressed an equal amount of praise for the Savage’s explosive pitchfork performance Saturday afternoon as she expressed regret for missing Brian Wilson’s performance Saturday night. “I caught Savages on Saturday and I was absolutely blown away. They were absolutely fantastic. I was so bummed I missed [Brian Wilson], I had to leave early to make my other show at Schubas.” When talking about the rest of the lineup at Pitchfork, Rodriguez expressed a deep love for Brian Wilson’s 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds. “I love ‘Don’t Talk Put Your Head On My Shoulders’, she said, singing the melody of the title, "I like it because it’s really creepy. All the orchestrations on that album are kind of carnival sounding, that song doesn’t sound like a pop song to me, but it is, and that’s the music I want to make too.” When asked about musicians she’s been inspired by lately, she immediately responded with countless kind words for Angel Olsen. “I love Angel Olsen so much”, she gushed. “She’s amazing. Her new album is very exciting.” Whether its from 1960's baroque pop, or singer/songwriter music from 2014, Empress Of is constantly drawing creative energy and influence from the art around her.
In terms of her own music, Rodriguez expressed excitement about her upcoming album, but didn’t give any specific details about it’s contents. Whatever Empress Of has in store for us, you can be sure it will be a wonderfully original, daring piece of alt-pop, as much rooted in history's texture as the future’s cutting edge.