Lorely Rodriguez is feeling pretty confident these days. And why shouldn’t she? Over the last couple of years, the L.A.-based singer, songwriter and producer known as Empress Of has hit a new gear in her creative stride.
Rodriguez started her career after releasing a series of color-themed demos to YouTube in 2012. A 4-track EP followed a year later, but it was the bilingual singer’s full-length debut, 2015’s Me, that really brought her widespread acclaim.
But Me was an exercise in isolation. The Berklee College of Music grad wrote the album on the shores of Lake Avándaro, two hours outside of Mexico City. The stark contrast between that and her then-residence of Brooklyn only helped to make the already self-reflective artist more introspective.
Although the self-produced album’s sharply personal lyrics were undoubtedly part of its appeal, Rodriguez knew she was ready for a new approach on the next Empress Of release.
Preceded by one-off collaborations with Spanish producer Pional, UK singer Blood Orange, and breakout sensation Khalid, Rodriguez’s sophomore release, October’s Us, is the yang to Me’s yin in almost every way.
With nine of the album’s 10 tracks featuring co-producers (Pional and Blood Orange are back, as well as L.A. duo DJDS and multiple-Grammy-winner Cole M.G.N.), Us stands as a testament to the development of Rodriguez as an artist.
“Us is a very collaborative album,” she said while recently shopping for fabrics near her home in L.A. “I’m at that point in my career where I’m really comfortable working with other people. And I’m not worried about diluting the sound of my music. I’m confident that even if I’m collaborating, it can still end up sounding like Empress Of.”
So far, so good. The new album does swap some of the off-kilter sounds Rodriguez has used in the past for a more streamlined approach, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on any of the core Empress Of ingredients — uncompromisingly direct lyrics, seamlessly switching back and forth between Spanish and English, and the tangible, easy-going vibe.
While some see the new album as a move into a more commercial realm, the first-generation Honduran-American artist embraces that as a chance to expand definitions.
“As music progresses,” Rodriguez said, “there are less and less limitations on how to do things. Some people are saying that Us is a much more poppy record, but I don’t necessarily feel that way. How I look at it is, if I’m helping to redefine what poppy means, change the term pop music, or how people relate to pop, then I’m fine with that.”
Really, she’s probably even more than fine with it. In addition to the collaborations on Us, Rodriguez teamed up with a slew of fellow music makers last year, including Brooklyn indie rockers Dirty Projectors, Danish singer MØ, Canadian rapper and visual artist Tommy Genesis, and another song with Khalid.
And in January, she worked with producer Jim-E Stack on a stunning cover of When I’m With Him — the first single from Us — which features Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas) singing the lead.
“I’ve been a fan of his music for a while,” Rodriguez said. “But I had actually never met him until we were in the studio together. And it was very easy. It’s a powerful thing to have another artist sing your lyrics. You write them based on your own experiences, and someone else puts their own experiences into it and it changes the song.”
With the Us world tour just getting underway earlier this month (a deliberate move to give fans the chance to live with the record for a while), it’s doubtful that any kind of new music is coming anytime soon.
“I’m going to be playing this record for a while,” she said. “But I am writing music. And it’s been the most fun part of my whole creative career because there is absolutely no pressure or expectations from anyone right now. I’m just writing down ideas and having fun. And for me, that’s the best stage to be in.”
But Rodriguez has never been in a better spot as an artist, and that means there is plenty more music to come.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 10
Where: The Irenic, 3090 Polk Ave., North Park