This feature appears in V138, now available for purchase.
“People connect to my music in this melancholic, but optimistic way—I don’t know, maybe I’m putting off that vibe,” Lorely Rodriguez, known as Empress Of, says earnestly—and somewhat playfully, too. “Personally, I feel something when I make music that’s underlying [with] sadness mixed with hope.”
And though Rodriguez’s introspective, honest lyrics delve into everything from romances turned sour to the joys of womanhood, the buzz surrounding the LA-born musician is anything but melancholic. The daughter of Honduran immigrants, the songstress’ unmistakable sound toes the line between modern R&B and full-throttle, pulsating synth-pop. Growing up, the musician sought to strike a balance between finding her own identity as both an individual and a burgeoning sonic talent. “My family played salsa music, merengue, and lots of Latin rhythms,” Rodriguez explains. “And there was always this clash—especially in my teenage years—of trying to have my own identity as a Latin American. But now, I try to create a modern identity through Empress Of and not go into [the] tropes of what people expect a Latin American woman to look like.”
Fast-forward to the present—with three critically acclaimed full-length albums under her belt—Rodriguez is undoubtedly a pop force to be reckoned with. save me, the artist’s 2022 EP, is an electronica-infused, masterclass of heartfelt, experimental pop. Seductive and alluring, yet equally confident and assured, the lead single and title track, “Save Me,” combines Rodriguez’s flair for thumping melodies with a sincere lyricism that makes her music so infectious. Elsewhere on the five-track offering, slow-building, pounding production takes the reins sonically while the singer’s breathy vocals add a refreshing tinge of relatability. “This EP, it’s empowering, desperate, vulnerable, and sexy. The videos are my favorite I’ve ever made,” the Honduran-American singer tells V. “As an independent artist, it feels so good to have a project that I ran from start to finish.”
Like her commanding moniker, the creative is in full control of her destiny—an energy, and sense of freedom, that radiates through her most recent EP and general presence. After ending a years-long contract with XL Recordings, Rodriguez is entering a new phase of her career, spearheading her own music label—Major Arcana—where she plans to release all future projects with complete creative control. The LA-based singer-songwriter is set to join Carly Rae Jepsen on the pop star’s North American tour and is gearing up to release new music in the near future, followed by a solo tour in 2023. With Rodriguez’s ever-evolving sound and enchanting visuals, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. But if one thing is certain, Empress Of is not giving up her crown any time soon.
Ahead of her performance at Radio City Music Hall, read the full interview with Empress Of below!
V MAGAZINE: First, I want to go back to the early days. Can you describe your upbringing and what your childhood and teenage years were like?
EMPRESS OR: I grew up in LA, both of my parents are from Honduras. They immigrated here and so I grew up in a really Latino household. They played salsa music, meringue, and lots of Latin rhythms. And there was always this clash—especially in my teenage years—of trying to have my own identity as a Latin American. I was really obsessed with Imogen Heap and Regina Spektor. When I was in high school, I was like, “these women have such unique voices.” And I was trying to find my own voice—when you’re that age, you wanna separate yourself from your family and develop your own identity, but your friends are all doing the same things. I felt this tornado of “what are the things that I feel the most attached to.” I was really obsessed with music, I would practice and study music for hours and hours every day.
Q: What was the role of music in those early years? Were there any sounds or artists that influenced your sound or direction as an artist today?
EO: It was a bit of everything. I really loved pop music when I was a kid, I love Britney [Spears.] I grew up during the golden era of music videos and in an age where they had so much money to make music videos [with] these really amazing directors—Frank Jones and others were making incredible music videos. I vividly remember Britney Spears’ and Christina Aguilera’s music videos. It’s always the women navigating their voice in the industry [who inspired me.]
Q: Do you remember there being a moment where you knew you wanted to pursue music? Or was it more of a flow? What did that moment feel like?
EO: The first time I played a show, I was like, “I wanna do this as a job.” I was 22 or 23, living in New York, and I had three jobs. I was a nanny and then I would teach private music lessons to kids. I was running around the city a lot, from job to job, and then working on music at night. There was such a hunger for [music], I don’t know if it was the city or my music. But when I played a show, there were agents there and they were coming up to me [saying,] “we wanna sign you, blah, blah, blah.” And I was just like, “I wanna do this.” And pretty soon after that, music became my job. Thankfully I am so, so blessed that my passion can be my job.
Q: And where does the moniker Empress Of come from? I read that it’s from a tarot reading.
EO: I was seeing this guy and I had never had a tarot reading, and we were obsessive about music. We shared a lot of similar taste in music and [then] he gave me a reading and the first card he pulled out was the Empress card. And I was like, “Whoa. Maybe this should be the name for this project.” I was making a bunch of music at the time. It’s so funny, making a band name, now it’s almost been 10 years. There’s eras where everyone’s “Lil'” this or “Lil'” that. Or you’re an animal name, you know? And Empress Of—it doesn’t feel too specific. It’s like, “what’s that? Empress of what?”
Q: You draw a lot on your Honduran background, you have songs that blend English and Spanish and obviously with your parents being immigrants, I assume that played a big role in how you developed your sound. How do you navigate your identity through your music?
EO: I navigate my identity on a visual side, more so than music. My underlying goal as an artist is to create my identity of who I am and not have to be [solely] a Latinx artist. I am a Latinx and a Honduran-American artist, but visually, I’m most influenced by my background because that’s branding, you know? I try to create a modern identity of Empress Of and not go into too many tropes of what people expect a Latin American woman to look like.
There are stereotypical images of what that looks like—but that’s also our history. We’re trying to step into that more with styling, I’m working with a new stylist named Chris Horan and he’s like, “okay, we love the snatched silhouette, we love showing off your body, so we’re gonna do tight , dancing, and aerobic-type stuff. But let’s have you wear a crucifix.” Because that’s classic Latin American culture: to have a rosary. Or “let’s have you wear big flamenco, salsa-type sleeves.” Like where’s the romance? I love that and I did that on I’m Your Empress Of—going to Mexico, working with a Mexican team, and repurposing a lot of traditional things in a fashion way that are Latin American—cowboy boots, corn, different types of materials. It’s more on the fashion front than the music front, but I love singing in Spanish. I love working with artists from all over the world. That story is going to tell itself.
Q: And switching to your artistic process, where do you draw inspiration from?
EO: It’s always my life. I’ve had a lot of people tell me, and now that I’ve made a substantial amount of music—I’m always, someone’s breakup-era artist. I always get a DM like, “Oh, this song got me through this breakup” or “Whenever I think of this record, it reminds me of my last relationship.” And I’m like, “Okay, I guess that’s my thing.” People seem to connect to my music in this melancholic, but optimistic way—I don’t know, maybe I’m putting off that vibe. Personally, I feel something when I make music that’s underlying [with] sadness mixed with hope. I happen to write a lot of breakup songs.
Q: You recently released your latest EP, save me. What were you inspired by for this project? What was the creative process like for you?
EO: I put out this EP because it felt like a bridge between my last record and whatever’s coming next. The music still felt attached to I’m Your Empress Of sonically. But I really love this EP, it’s empowering, desperate, vulnerable, and sexy. The videos are my favorite I’ve ever made. I’m an independent artist and it feels so good to have a project that I ran start to finish and am responsible for. Because before that I had only put one song out under my label, “You’ve Got To Feel” featuring Amber Mark, and this just feels cool. Even if I’m spending a lot of my own money and investing in it—and who knows if it’ll work or not—it’s just great to be like, “I wanna work with this person,” and not have to negotiate my creativity with another partner.
Right now, I feel really hot, I feel so great. I feel great because I’m not as naive as I was once, but I’m still going through all the same things everyone else goes through. I’m really understanding my body, my sexuality, and it just feels good. It’s good to put out a project where I love the songs. I listen to them all the time and I love the visuals. I feel really, really sexy.
Q: It definitely comes across as a listener, the new tracks and visuals are amazing. And I know you recently made the move to become an independent artist? What prompted you to make that switch?
EO: I hadn’t done it yet and there are artists that I know that are independent and I respect them a lot. There are things that are scary about it, because if something doesn’t work, you’re like, “Oh, okay.” And you don’t have as many people working on a project as before. But it’s an amazing moment for me right now. I don’t wanna write anything off, maybe one day I’ll put out a shiny record with a major label. But right now it feels like a really good place to be. And I like having a brand’s identity where I can put out whatever type of music I wanna put out.
Q: I know you’re heading on tour with Carly Rae Jepsen soon. Can you tell us how that came about? What are you looking forward to?
EO: I have a booking agency and I’ll send the people I work with an email saying, “These are my dream people to tour with.” And it’s anywhere from pop stars to obscure dance music. And these are people who I’m like, “Oh my God, I would freak out.” And Carly is on that list because I’m a fan of her music. I had with her through Blood Orange because we were both on the same record, Freetown Sound. And we met at a festival cause we were jumping on stage with Blood Orange and she was so nice. She’s what you’d expect—she’s very, very kind and personable.
Whenever I go on tour with someone I admire, I learn a lot. When I went on tour with Lizzo or Maggie Rogers, those tours were really great because these are women who do very different things. And I learned so much watching them on stage every night with their fans. I had to be a different opener for both of these artists, so it’s just cool. And I’m excited to learn from watching Carly and I’m excited to hear my favorite songs of hers every night.
Credits: Makeup Alexandra French (A-Frame) Hair Joeri Rouffa (The Wall Group) Stylist assistant Tateh Hopper