The two preview singles from Empress Of‘s upcoming album ‘Me’ (‘Kitty Kat’ and ‘Water Water’) reveal how the project of Brooklyn’s songwriter and producer Lorely Rodriguez is evolving from its dream pop beginnings towards a more experimental sound, closer to the avant-electro sensibility of artists like Bjork and Gang Gang Dance. Since Lorely produces her own music, we thought it would be interesting to ask her a few questions about her favorite gear and creative process.
Apollo Twin Duo
How did you get into the idea of becoming a musician, and what pushed you towards electronic music?
My father is a musician so I was surrounded by music from a very early age. I got into making electronic music when I got my first computer.
What’s been inspiring your new record? Have your sources of inspiration changed from the early releases?
When I first started making music as Empress Of, I was consumed by sounds and textures. Making my debut album was much more about telling my story. I wanted to become a better songwriter so I could get my point across through words… not just sounds.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion? Or, in other words, how do you renew your inspiration?
It’s different every time. It really depends on the environment in which I allow myself to be creative. I really like new places and being vulnerable and unfamiliar.
SOLO VS. BAND
As of now you are a one woman operation, where do you get feedback for your music when composing?
My friends have strong opinions and whenever I play them my music they are very honest in how they feel about it. I really like watching people’s reactions to hearing my songs or demos for the first time, I try to sense whether it impacts them or not.
Do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you’ll need to start involving new musicians in your project to move your music forward?
Hmmm… it depends on what I need from whatever music I work on in the future. I’ve thought about collaborating with engineers during the writing process so I could just really focus on the music and not technical stuff. That would be fun.
What is your DAW of choice and why do you prefer it to others?
I made my album in Logic. I’ve used it for so long. I thought about switching to Ableton so many times while writing the record but didn’t want to focus on learning a whole new DAW.
What are the plug ins and “in the box” tools you abuse of?
I really love all the SoundToys plug ins, especially Decapitator. I got a Universal Audio interface to make this record, the Apollo Twin Duo, and some UA plugins came with it…which were sooooo incredible!
There’s an abundance of synths and samples in your music. Which synths do you currently use in your songs?
I use the Native Instruments Maschine. Most of my bass and drum sounds come from there.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your setup? (Please mention something realistic, not a Neve console)
I’ve heard the Access Virus is really cool.
What is it that most frequently ignites the initial idea for a song? A melody, a chord, words, an electronic sound, a loop?
Most of the time it’s a loop. I make a loop and then turn the mic on and let whatever melodic ideas come out.
Do you create the electronic arrangements during the compositional process or do you have sound design sessions during which you just focus on designing sounds/patches/patterns that can then be used in future tracks?
I do everything simultaneously. Produce, write, arrange, rough mix, fake master, bounce, send to manager, send to friend, get shitty email, open session again, change arrangement, change melody, re-bounce.
Is there an instrument that has become some sort of signature sound in your new record?
Yeah there are a couple of sounds that I like to bring back into my songs every now and then. I love tuned (Roland) 808s for bass and an claps. I also love synth trumpet lead sounds and really quick LFOs on synth pads. I’ve been using a lot of stuff like that.
Electronic music opens so many sonic possibilities that some musicians find it hard to know when a song or a section is “the best it can be.” How do you cope with the temptation of constantly trying new options?
It’s really hard. I try to get a melody over it as soon as I can and if I’m having trouble with the melody, most of the time I know it’s because the track isn’t strong enough.
You are also a “remixer” – what makes remixing other people’s music worth the effort?
I think really really liking the song makes it fun. Getting stems for tracks is always fun too…It’s like seeing a song with all its clothes off.
RECORDING SET UP AND MIXING
Did you use a studio at all to record “Me”?
Except for the vocals, no. I recorded the vocals at Electric Lady in New York.
What was your microphone signal chain for vocals?
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flip side, what aspects are the most rewarding?
I think trying to replicate the energy of a demo is the hardest part for me. When polishing a production or a vocal take, there’s always this feeling of “getting it right” or “making it perfect” but that isn’t always what the track needs.
Many recording musicians find mixing extremely frustrating, what’s your approach to it and do you rely on a “fresh set of ears” (i.e.. external mixing engineer) or not?
Definitely space. If you can afford to give yourself some space while mixing, do it. Also, listening on as maaaaany things as you can is important. The shitty headphones to the fancy monitors. Referencing is also important. Listen to all different kinds of music, then listen to your tracks.
THE LIVE SHOW
It’s often challenging to translate programmed music to a live setting, what’s your approach to it?
It took me two years to figure out the best way to do it. I use Ableton for my live set. I bounced out almost every single sound from my record so my band mates can play it on sample pads. It still allows for the live feel of having a person play something in time, without the lag or risk of trying to use a bunch of vsts I recorded my record with.
Do you consider the live show as a faithful translation of your recorded material or simply an opportunity to let your songs free to follow new directions?
I think the songs are there, the sounds are there, but the experience is different, it changes from day to day. I think the spontaneity of playing live adds a new energy to the tracks.
What pieces of equipment do you find particularly useful on stage?
I use the Novation Launchpad to play all my samples on. They are really durable and reliable and have tonnnnsss of pads which is what I need with all my sounds..
* BEYOND MUSIC
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
I love cassettes. It’s my favorite format. I put a cassette out through a Japanese label called Big Love and it was very special. I love the warble of tape on a cassette.