meta-scriptEmpress Of Is Here 'For Your Consideration': How Heartbreak, Horniness & Self-Acceptance Led To An Actualized Album | GRAMMY.com
Empress Of
Empress Of

Photo: Bethany Vargas

interview

Empress Of Is Here 'For Your Consideration': How Heartbreak, Horniness & Self-Acceptance Led To An Actualized Album

"How can we make it hot?" Empress Of wondered while writing her new album. Out March 22, 'For Your Consideration' is at once dancefloor ready and introspective. "I take my career very seriously, but I also am having a laugh at how absurd it is."

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Inspiration can strike anywhere — something that Empress Of learned during a night out at a strip club. 

The singer/songwriter and L.A. native returned to the studio the next morning, raring to work that energy into her new album. "I came into the studio, like, ‘Guys, I went to a strip club. I gave a beautiful woman money. That is the energy for today,’" she says with a laugh. "Almost to a fault, everything can be an inspiration." Her upcoming album, the ecstatic For Your Consideration (due March 22), was spurred by that type of sultry stimulus and winks knowingly at the seductive glitz of her Hollywood home.

Born Lorely Rodriguez, Empress Of debuted in 2015 with the sublime Me and has since perfected a formula of avant pop songwriting, high-energy electronic textures, and bold poetics across two further albums. But a distinct change powers For Your Consideration, in part powered by a surreal heartbreak: the press release accompanying the album’s announcement details having been broken up with by a film director, only to wind up bombarded by his "For Your Consideration" campaign for the Oscars. 

As such, For Your Consideration embraces the strengths of her first three records, while bringing a renewed immediacy to every facet. The house and R&B influences are distilled to their essence on some tracks, while others lavish in lush experimental pop. Lyrically, Rodriguez opts for raw, sensual tales of love, lust, and loss — sung in both Spanish and English. 

Nearing the release of For Your Consideration, Empress Of spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding inspiration from Raya dates and early ‘00s club music, losing your naivety, and finding her Lady Gaga transformation.

As an L.A. native, how has your perception of the entertainment industry shifted over the last few years? Was that something that had any impact on the way that you grew up and envisioned your future?

It's funny, I never saw L.A. as "the stars" and all that. But on this record, I'm embracing that L.A., or embracing that side of myself. I see "For Your Consideration" billboards everywhere. And now I'll have a "For Your Consideration" next year. But it’ll be like, "For your consideration: For Your Consideration." I think it's funny. I'm poking fun at it on this album. 

I don't think I've ever been so lighthearted with my album art and how I promote myself. I've always felt like an "indie darling." Maybe a little serious. And here I'm like 10 years into doing this, this is my fourth album, and I'm like, Let's ride a shooting star over Los Angeles. Let's be her. Let's send the message, and the message is she's a shooting star.

It feels as if you're introducing another side of yourself within this almost satirical and intensely contemporary conception of "the artist." It’s as if you needed to build to this level of poking fun, and now you’re comfy enough to.

For sure. And I think confidence is something you hear on the album. Even just working with this photographer, she was like, "If we're going to do this…you need to give me camp. You need to give me laughing, throwing your head back." 

I couldn't be serious on this album cover. And what I love about that is like, yes, I take my career very seriously, but I also am having a laugh at how absurd it is what we do.

I think there's a big misconception in art that you have to be stoic when you’re theorizing and contextualizing. The signs of having fun can actually be much stronger than projecting something more intense.

I think it's like you said: I'm comfortable. And there's also something when you speak about an album that you know is good. There might've been other times in my career where I was not as assured in something, like maybe I was doing something new. But even on this record, I'm doing something new. I worked with tons of producers and songwriters and all that, but I know it's a good album. If I didn't make it, I would want to listen to it.

You did work with some incredible songwriters for the album. There's never a moment where I hear something and think it sounds unlike you or out of place.

Age is confidence. And being older and having done four albums now, I just don't really doubt anything. I don't think I've compromised or was in a situation where a producer was pushing too much of themselves on a song. I feel like I was a very good leader on this album where even though I wasn't at the laptop or making the beats or whatever, I was able to convey what I wanted to make.

I agree with you about age — I know when I was young I would push myself and had this strange confidence because I was naïve! But as you grow older, you see a more complex picture. Thematically, does it feel like this captures that romantic, cyclical sense of longing and then having and then losing? 

Totally. You have that naive confidence when you're younger. When you're older, you have confidence about not caring anymore. Naiveness turns into "I don't give a f—." That is even more power in itself. 

The romantic themes and feminine themes on the record, the themes about wanting to be wanted and wanting to feel good, but being okay with letting it go — a lot of the lyrics are just a little bit more direct than I would have ever said them. An earlier me would drown it in metaphor. And I don't feel like I'm drowned in metaphor. It's like who I am right now. If you went on a date with me, I wouldn't be trying to present a version of myself that you would like. You would just get me. 

A lot of these songs were written with me using [the dating app] Raya for the first time and going on dates. [Laughs.] It's weird. It helps with when you're writing songs, because I'm tired of presenting a version of myself that someone can understand. Either you get it or you don't.

 But getting there takes a lot of sifting through your own personal crap doesn’t it? 

Oh my God. Yeah. There was a 27-year-old version of me that was like, [nervous muttering]. And now I'm just kind of like, "Yes, there's a lot of intention and a lot of art direction, vision, but to me it feels less safe, and I like that."

I feel like there's a sweet spot in an artist's career when they become less safe. And I have seen it before in other artists and I'm like, Cool. This is an evolution for you. I don't know if I'm quite there. I don't know if I'm at the Lady Gaga point of less safe, but I feel like it takes time.

I was struck by the level of detail you went into in the runup to the album, talking about the heartbreak you experienced with a film director. Do you feel like being that direct and transparent helped you just push past it and move through it instead of getting stuck in metaphors?

Everyone always loves my breakup songs. I get so many comments from fans being like, "Your song got me through my breakup." The song I have with Muna, "What's Love," is a breakup song — a "breakup song but I'm not broken." It feels like my "thank u, next." Like, yes, I'm heartbroken, but I learned so much in it.

Completely. And now you can really go and sing it to the masses and have the story be your triumph. Does that ever get uncomfy, though, having people run up to you like, "I loved your most painful traumatic moment!"

No — once music is out, it belongs to people, and it's up to them for interpretation. If I broke up with someone or if I was mourning someone and had to go and play this song about them on tour, it would be difficult. But when I sing the songs, they kind of feel like someone else's songs. When I’m on tour and I sing my songs, it's like I'm singing a song that I added to my playlist.

How far into the writing and concepting did you get before you started working with someone like Rina Sawayama or Muna?

I wrote a lot of these songs during a summer, and then going into fall, going into sessions, I knew I wanted to start everything with my voice. I feel like the voice is the most important instrument. No matter what producer or songwriters, I was like, "Can you just turn the microphone on, and can I just beatbox and hum and sing, and we just chop it up and make some world?" 

I was like, "I just want to write hot songs. I want to write horny songs. I want to write fun songs. I want to be on stage and I want to be sexy and I want to evoke this sensuality." And so when I was writing, I was just like, "Okay, how can we make it horny?" 

That’s so fun, especially because you’re doing it by being unapologetically dedicated to what you needed in that moment.

I wrote these songs over two years, but I definitely remember being in the studio and coming up with ideas with these songwriters and just being like, "How can we make it hot? I just want to feel hot."

There’s this incredible duality to your music that makes me think of artists like Björk — this ability to bounce between really lux, almost ballad-y melodies, and then you can get really club-ready. And then, you've got some electronic textures. Who were your influences here, and how did you go about harnessing that wide spectrum so cohesively?

I was listening to a lot of music from the early 2000s. I was listening to this band called Koop, and their album Waltz for Koop which has Yukimi Nagano on it. I was listening to Des’ree’s "You Gotta Be. I was listening to the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, with the Cardigans. I was listening to a lot of Pharrell and the Neptunes. I always listen to Saint Etienne. I just love the sexiness of being in a club in the early 2000s.

I was struck by how much singing in Spanish was emphasized on this album. Was that something you set out to do at the outset of the record?

On your fourth album, you’re like, How else can I make this exciting for myself? I’ve never written this much music on an album in Spanish. And I wanted to write with co-writers who write in Spanish. 

Just being in the room with them and thinking of themes and song titles that go with that flirty sexiness, like "Sucia" which means dirty, and "Fácil" which means easy, and "Preciosa" which means precious. It’s so fun. It made writing this album so exciting for me. For "Preciosa," the night before I had gone to a strip club and I came into the studio, like, "Guys, I went to a strip club. I gave a beautiful woman money. That is the energy for today. Let’s write a song." [Laughs.

Almost to a fault, everything can be an inspiration, whether it’s being objectified as a woman or being heartbroken or being on a Raya date and having a one-night stand. I hate and love that everything turns into a song.

After 9 Years, Ana Tijoux Returns With Songs At The BPM Of Life

Press photo of The Marias taken by Bethany Vargas
The Marías

Photo: Bethany Vargas

interview

The Marías Plunge Into The Depths On 'Submarine': How The Band Found Courage In Collective Pain

Following a major breakup, group therapy and finding solace in film, the Marías are back with a new album of ethereal pop. "It is my perspective on heartbreak, which can be interpreted in so many different ways," says singer/songwriter María Zardoya.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2024 - 02:24 pm

The Marías had undergone a seismic change by the time they started working on Submarine, their second full-length album. Lead singer and songwriter María Zardoya and drummer and producer Josh Conway had ended their eight-year relationship, uprooting their lives and creative partnership in the process.  

Instead of being subsumed by the breakup's emotional waters, the L.A.-based pop band took a six month hiatus. They traveled, tended to their loved ones, and considered the next steps for their careers.  
 
Luckily for their large, devoted audience, Zardoya and Conway decided that their breakup wasn’t an obstacle for the Marías to keep going. "Even though you lose yourself in every heartbreak, I think that is an opportunity to gain even more," Zardoya tells GRAMMY.com.

What followed was a fruitful period at their Los Angeles studio, where Zardoya, Conway,  keyboardist Edward James, and guitarist Jesse Perlman reassessed their dynamics. They spent long days working on new songs, pushing through with the help of band and individual therapy. The end result is Submarine, a record that tells a story of loneliness, grief, and transformation.  

Submarine is a vibrant listening experience, and reflective of the Marías' love of film and well-curated aesthetics. The album is full of expansive arrangements, ranging from dream pop to rock and jazz. Water-like sounds, R&B harmonies, and soft electronic textures add to Zardoya’s ethereal vocals which, complimented by shimmery guitars and subtle percussion, create a contrasting narrative of desolation and romance. 
 
The group’s musical union, and their distinctive sound, is palpable through Submarine. Tight-knit danceable songs, cheeky vocals, and Zardoya’s immaculate style — which seeps through lyrics about drama, paranoia, and even the claustrophobic feeling behind modern technology — make for a strong release, where love and hope are still within reach. 
 
Ahead of their world tour, which kicks off in Mexico on June 11, and in celebration of Submarine, the Marías spoke with GRAMMY.com about overcoming the band’s potential dissolution, taking inspiration from arthouse cinema, and the emotional process of creating their third album.


Looking at your docuseries for 'Submarine,' something María said caught my attention. "There were a few moments after ‘Cinema’ that I thought the band was over." Can you elaborate on that? 
 
María Zardoya: There was a point where I did think that the band was over. I think we were all in a tumultuous place. I didn't know if I still wanted to make music, and I didn't know if The Marías would continue. But thankfully, it did.  

We went to therapy as a band; Josh and I went to therapy together; and we all started doing our [own] therapy. Through all of that work that we did, we realized that the music is so important. We have so much to say, and what we have to say is important. Let's continue.  

In the end, that period only made us stronger. Today our relationship with each other, and my relationship with Josh and the guys individually are stronger than ever. So I'm glad that we went through what we did. 
 
Can each of you, individually, tell me why the band is important to you? 
 
Josh Conway: Music has been important to me my entire life. That's something that I kind of realized over the last couple of years; music is more important to me than anything else. I'll do whatever it takes to continue making music and making music with people that I love, especially. It's special to be doing this with all my best friends. 
 
Edward James: I've always wanted to be in a band. I love the concept of a group of people who are one for all and all for one, and who get to experience everything together. It's a unique interpersonal relationship dynamic that you don't get really with anyone else in your life. So apart from the existential pursuit of music that we're all drawn to, the camaraderie is so important, because of how difficult the dynamic is to maintain and to continue. I think doing it with the band sort of translates to every other sort of relationship you can have in your life.  
 
Jesse Perlman: Whether if we took one year off, or five years off, we would still, at some point, get back together and be like, "Okay, we're ready." I think we're so close, and we miss touring so much. This whole rollout and recording process that we did in the last year has just been so open — and I think we're just so ready to take this on the road.  
 
Zardoya: It's important to express myself, and to get out the feelings that are inside. That's why music is so important to me, and this band is so important to me. I've gotten a lot of DMs and letters in the mail from fans saying that our music has helped them through different periods in their lives. That they feel seen, and represented — with them being Latin and me being Latin — and how inspired they are. So music is important for me individually, but it's also important for me to keep doing this for the people who get something out of our music.

Jesse, you mentioned missing touring. What is everyone's favorite part of touring? A lot of musicians have detailed how touring can be grueling and financially unviable.  
 
Perlman: We're coming up on almost eight years of being in this band, and I feel like we've done it all. We've gone around the country so many times now, and that was special. But now we're at a level where we finally have a whole crew and we can play these bigger, beautiful theaters.  

We can make a cool, eclectic setlist with a mix of all the songs [from Submarine, Cinema and EPs Superclean Vol. I and II] — and that's my favorite part, putting together a fun set. Surprising the fans with interludes and jams and a big production with cool lights and stuff. That’s so fun for me. 
 
James: My favorite part of touring is just that feeling of nervousness before a show. Then sort of going over the hilltop as soon as we play the first notes of the first song. Then riding that feeling during and after the show. 
 
Conway: All of the trouble of getting to and from the venue, carrying gear, and the off days in a random city — all of that can be pretty grueling and taxing. But when you can play these songs, in front of fans that love you, and love your music and sing along. You can see people experiencing joy. It makes it all worth it, 99 percent of the time. 
 
Going back to the process of making 'Submarine,' María, you mentioned a transition between thinking the band was over to making music again. Can you tell us more about that moment? 
 
Zardoya: I think we took the intensity of Josh [Conway] and me transitioning from a romantic relationship to a platonic relationship and put it into the music. [We] also used it to work on ourselves and grow individually. I'm grateful for everything that we've been through, the intense moments and the hard moments because we just put it into music. 
 
How did you start and arrive at the theme of the album? From having an "aha moment" to completing the project? 
 
Zardoya: The aha moment came when the album title came into my head. I shared it with the guys and they were super into it. That's when the album’s world started to be built. When we started hearing how it could all come together, that’s when Submarine— the title and the concept — was born. I saw so much symbolism in using water to represent this going inward, this introspective journey that we were all on. And then using these underwater sounds in the tracks.  
 
Conway: There was also a moment when we had been working on the album for a couple of months. We had gotten to a good place after writing, and then María and I listened to the first six songs that are on the album now. That was the first time where María and I were able to conceptualize what it's gonna sound like when you listen to the whole album. We were dancing in the studio and that was just a really exciting moment. We both knew we just heard the beginning of the album and we loved it. 
 
You did a great track-by-track breakdown of your 2021 album, 'Cinema.' Can you talk about the tracks in 'Submarine?' 
 
Zardoya: The opening track, "Ride," is almost like an introduction to Submarine. Where Cinema started with these beautiful string arrangements, we kind of wanted the first track of Submarine to be a little bit more hard-hitting and in your face. Almost like it's slapping you into this world.  
 
Perlman: The intro to Cinema was dramatic. Then when you listen to "Ride" opening Submarine, it's more fun and light-hearted.  
 
Conway: Then "Hamptons." María and I were cycling through old beats, and that one caught our attention. We just started writing to it. We pretty much had the whole thing written on the first day. It was a lot of fun.  
 
Zardoya: I think thematically I wrote these lyrics after visiting the Hamptons. I wanted to hate the Hamptons because it's like this bougie place in New York, but I honestly loved it. It was beautiful. The nature was so pretty. 

What about "Echo" and "Real Life"? 
 
Zardoya: "Echo" is about being pulled into two different directions and living in that ambivalence, which makes you feel paralyzed. This was probably one of the hardest songs to write on Submarine — both thematically and then also piecing it together. We had a part written and it wasn't quite doing it. Then finally, one afternoon the chorus came out of nowhere. And then I think we were like "Okay, here we go. We've got the song." 
 
"Real Life," lyrically, is about the culture that we have with our phones, and everything being virtual. It’s about wanting to have that one-on-one human connection in real life. Songwriting-wise, it came out of a jam that we were all doing together in the Dominican Republic. We were there for a show. We started jamming and it all — the melody, lyrics, and everything — came out of nowhere. 
 
James: It was pretty much written in 30 minutes. It was crazy fast. 
 
Perlman: Whenever we play it, it's perfect every time. It's always the first one we soundcheck with. It's one of my favorites on the album. 
 
In a YouTube video, you said that 'Submarine' is not necessarily about your heartbreak. Can you expand on that? 
 
Zardoya: Words in songs live subconsciously, within me. These songs could be about us, they could be about something that happened 10 years ago, they don't have to be about anything in particular. They are subconscious thoughts that come up to create a song. It is my perspective on heartbreak, which can be interpreted in so many different ways. 
 
Have any films or music helped inspire or complement the aesthetic of 'Submarine?' 
 
Zardoya: I've always been inspired by visuals when it comes to what we do and how it merges with the music. Film was like my first love. One of the movies that inspired this album, 'Three Colors: Blue' by Krzysztof Kieślowskii, from the 'Three Colours' trilogy. Aside from the color blue, and how we've moved from red to blue in this album, in that movie, the main character loses her family at the beginning and she has to figure herself out and go on this introspective journey to find herself.  

That's kind of how I felt with this album. In the beginning, I found myself in this place of solitude and loneliness. Then throughout the album, just like Julie in the movie, I started to find myself and started to find courage in the pain that I had been feeling.  
 
Other movies that I rewatched during the making of this album were 'Lost In Translation' and 'Her.' 'Lost In Translation' is also about solitude, and I found that perspective inspiring the visuals and the record as well. Then on 'Her', technology and loneliness kind of go hand in hand. All of these relationships that we have with technology and with our phones were kind of interspersed throughout the album.  
 
Later I discovered that these two films were created in response to the end of a relationship [between film director Sofia Coppola and filmmaker Spike Jonze]. So I loved that as well because you create this art in response to something real and something tangible.  

In making 'Submarine,' did you learn something or find a silver lining? 
 
Conway: You don't have to be in a romantic relationship to love someone.  
 
Zardoya: Even though you lose yourself in every heartbreak and every loss, I think that you have an opportunity to gain even more. 

Conway: When the album ends, there is a glimmer of hope. In my mind, it feels like that you'll be getting out of the submarine pretty soon. 
 
Wallows Talk New Album 'Model,' "Entering Uncharted Territory" With World Tour & That Unexpected Sabrina Carpenter Cover 

Tones And I

Tones And I

Photo: Giulia McGauran

news

Tones And I Talks Her New Album 'Welcome To The Madhouse,' Opens Up About The Menace Of Online Bullying

Australian indie-EDM sensation Tones And I just released her debut album and most personal work to date, 'Welcome to the Madhouse.' But she won’t be going on social media to enjoy the attention—and here, she courageously opens up about the online bullying

GRAMMYs/Aug 11, 2021 - 11:07 pm

Tones And I used to perform in a completely vulnerable state—alone, afterhours on the streets of Byron Bay, surrounded by soused barcrawlers. "On the street, I put myself in positions where, in the middle of the night, drunk and disorderly people are everywhere," the singer/songwriter born Toni Watson tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "And still, no one has yelled or said profanities like they do online."

How could this be possible? It's called deindividuation—when people join up with mobs, they do things they wouldn't do alone. This goes triple for social media, where you can pick any name you want and replace your face with a pickup truck avatar. Under cover of anonymity, these types have tormented Tones And I to the point of sending death threats, prompting fear for her family.

"I just feel like it's getting to the point where a whole bunch of artists are going to start talking about it," she says. "It's a good thing to bring up. We have a voice."

Tones And I uses her voice in two ways—her literal one calls attention to Instagram vultures and her musical one sings about her deepest fears, joys and anxieties. Those feelings permeate her new album, Welcome To The Madhouse, which was released July 16. Its songs, like "Fly Away," "Fall Apart" and "Dark Waters"—which she wrote at various points in her life—paint a complicated portrait.

With all her challenges in the music business, does the good still outweigh the bad for Tones And I? Find her answer below—along with ruminations on her busking past, losing a loved one and overcoming hatred to find peace.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed//V91GRYjlR2I' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nice to meet you. Where are you located?

I'm back in Byron Bay, where I used to busk.

What was in your repertoire?

"Dance Monkey," actually. I played that for almost a year before I released it. I was never going to release it. That and four other originals. The rest was a bit of Disclosure, a lot of Chet Faker.

Usually, when you busk, you go for something a 65-year-old in flip-flops might know. I respect the more obscure choices.

Yeah, also, I busked with synthesizers and loop pedals, so it wasn't your typical [setup]. 

One time, the whole power in the town went out and none of the buskers were connected to the powerpoints in the stores. I was the only busker that kept going. Everyone flooded into the streets and had to get out of the buildings because the power was out in town. The whole road was full with a thousand people and no one could see anything. The girls were holding their phone lights over my keyboard to keep playing. Everyone was singing "Hey Ya!" in the street. It was sick.

What was it like to watch your breakout hit grow from a busking environment?

Yeah, it was insane. Crazy.

I used to do this cover of "Forever Young" [by Alphaville] and every time I played it, people would get up and start dancing. I wanted a song that was my own that you could dance to, so originally, I just wrote that song for my friends. I didn't even want to release music, to be honest. I didn't think there was anything good from releasing music because I didn't know any better. I just wanted to busk.

Tell me about the palette of colors you used for Welcome To The Madhouse—the inspirations behind its making.

That's really hard. I've always said that every song I write is inspired by some mood or even another song, but this album was definitely not a mood for me.

The fact that it's turned into a nicely wrapped box with a bonnet because I called it Welcome To The Madhouse and the music is depressed, happy then sad—I made it like that so it would all fit into that album nicely, but the reason is it was also written over the last two years. 

I've got songs from when I first got to Byron Bay, before I started busking, when I started busking, when I went on my first world tour and when [my friend] passed away. It was from such different times that there's no way this album was going to be one mood, or one time in my life.

When I wrote "Fly Away," the lyrics were so genuinely honest to how I was feeling. It could be quite sad, but I wanted to have a moment in that song where it felt really happy and very up-and-about and made you feel good. But, if you want to listen to it properly, you can listen to the slower version where I took that production out. It can show you that there's a really sad side to the song. It became my good friend's funeral song when he passed away.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed//R0vu5QfsD5E' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

My condolences. Can I ask what happened?

So, we'd all just gone away together because we had this tiny little moment in Australia where there was no COVID. We got back and we were at the beach all day for one of our good friend's birthdays. That morning, I got a call at 6 a.m. He drove into a pole and flung through the windshield and hit the road and died.

I'm OK with talking about it because people like to pretend online that he did it to himself. They don't know what's going on, so I guess maybe if I just say it once, people will understand that it was nothing like that. He was an amazing, happy person and he got into a car accident.

That's absolutely awful. Tell me about him in life, though. What kind of a person was he? What did he mean to you?

Well, he was probably the one in the group that brought everyone together—the girls and the boys. He was the loudest one, but in the nicest way. He wasn't rude or obnoxious. He was fair to everyone. He never got involved in anything if anyone was having any arguments. He wasn't just the closest one to the younger ones, like us, but also the parents. There are a lot of different places around his world that are really significantly hurt by this. He's got such a good heart.

Anyway, I met him probably 10 to 12 years ago, growing up. He's dealt with a lot in that time. His dad passed away. His brother's got cerebral palsy, so at the moment, I'm housing his brother. I've got his brother in a place where he can live on his own because he told me before he died that was one thing he wanted to do—to get his brother out of his grandparents' house because they were getting too old to deal with it.

It's a weird balance between expressing yourself and making a commercial product. How did your response to this translate into the tunes?

Well, there was a period where I originally tried to write songs about the person that he was, but that was too hard for me. So, when I wrote "Fall Apart," I wrote about the fact that we can't really deal with it yet in the way I wanted to. I tried the way I wanted to talk about him and who he was with the world in the music, which is the way a lot of musicians would talk.

I tried to talk about him, but I couldn't. So, I wrote "Fall Apart," which is really about how much we miss him and we're thinking about him.

People online were saying his death was his own fault? What's wrong with them?

There's a lot of stuff online, especially when I release anything. Online sucks. It brings people to a place where they don't know what happened, so they just create a story. Everyone does. If you don't give people enough information, they're going to create a story.

The story was that he was sad. [Beneath] the photos we would put up remembering him, they would say things like "Look how sad he looks!" and all that. I [even had to] convince his mom that he was a happy person. I'm trying to tell his mom, who wants more clarity, that he was a really happy person. I had to lock down that he would never do that.

Do you deal with other types of online bullying outside of your friend?

The fact that you ask makes me feel really good, because I thought I was famously known for it. It's really bad. I'm off social media, which sucks. Being a new artist, you're excited. It's so hard. You want to be authentic. Sometimes, it does affect you a little bit when there's whole, huge videos on their YouTube accounts about you. They also make them about other artists, too.

I need to realize, at the end of the day, it feels like it's always me because I am me. But there are other people, too. There are so many people who are going through it. It's just that I am me. I'm upset about things that happen to me. But when I see someone say something about another artist, I'm automatically really frustrated toward that person because it's absolutely freaking horrible. It's not about me for a second.

Tones And I. Photo: Giulia McGauran​

Speaking stranger-to-stranger, I don't think you "need" to do anything in response. This is a cruel environment. The onus is on online bullies to cease their behavior, not on you.

Thanks for saying that. It makes me feel better. I just don't want my family—my nana and pa—to see that. They're so proud of me when I see them and I would never share that stuff with them. And now, they see it and it's so sad. I don't want my papa to see that stuff online and my nana. It gets pretty outrageous. I keep my head down. I talk about what I care about, but I don't go on comments and stuff. If I looked for it, I'd probably not come out of the house.

The reason I decided to become a busker and not a YouTube artist is that I wanted to play live. I wanted to play on the street. On the street, I put myself in positions where, in the middle of the night, drunk and disorderly people are everywhere, and still, no one has yelled or said profanities like they do online. 

If you decide to stop on the street, that's your call. You can walk on, just like you can swipe away. But no one yells out s*** before they leave in front of everyone because they're held accountable, right in the moment, for what they do. Online stuff is really tricky. Everyone is like a warrior.

I hope the good outweighs the bad for you in this business.

Yeah, it does. It does. I just feel like it's getting to the point where a whole bunch of artists are going to start talking about it. It's a good thing to bring up. We have a voice. Whether I'm the biggest artist in the world or the smallest, I think it's really important to mention it. I always tell my friends that kindness stops bullies.

Give me a line on Welcome To The Madhouse that carries special weight for you.

I would say the bridge of "Dark Waters": "I don't see the world I got / But I keep rolling on / 'Cause I am never happy with enough / Until I'm drowning from it all." That song I wrote at the point where "Dance Monkey” had just gone No. 1, so I was at the peak of my "Holy s***!"-ness. My first billboard in Times Square. I had just gone to the States and played sold-out shows. I had just started a Europe tour as well.

And then, I got to a point where—I don't know why, but I was so sad. Maybe because my dreams as a busker, I had been pulled from that really quickly. Like, "Cool, we had fun. Let's do this." I didn't know why I was so sad. I kept trying to do more and more things, like "This will make me happy," but then it wasn't. I think I needed to be home and be grounded and see my friends. I got picked up and flung around the world. But that's where that line comes from.

Do you have a message for your trolls and haters?

I love you! Hopefully, we can meet in person one day. I just announced a U.S. tour, so if you want to come meet me in person, that's fine. Tickets are open for everyone. We don't discriminate at Tones And I shows. Also, I hope you listen to the album if you haven't. It isn't all the same, so I guess there's a song for—I'm not going to say everyone—the majority of you if you listen and pay attention. I had fun making it and I hope you guys enjoy it.

That's very magnanimous of you. No implied threat in there.

[Knowing laugh.] No, no. No, no.

San Holo Gets Personal With New Indie Rock EDM Album 'BB U Ok?'

Photo Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast

Photo: Peter Ash Lee

news

How Japanese Breakfast Found Joy On Her New Album 'Jubilee'

After years of deep, consuming sadness following her mother's passing, Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast, lets some light back in on her upcoming album, 'Jubilee,' which sees her exploring the optimism within her

GRAMMYs/May 29, 2021 - 01:21 am

Up until now, Michelle Zauner's albums as Japanese Breakfast were mired in grief. It's more than understandable: They were written in the wake of her mother's death. But while Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017) mourned her mother's cancer and passing—both depicted in harrowing detail in Zauner's new memoir, Crying in H Mart, where she also reckons with her Korean identity—her upcoming third album, Jubilee, lets some light back in.

Of course, one can't emerge from grief by discarding it entirely; Zauner sits with the darker moments, too. On "In Hell," she describes keeping her mother's pain at bay near the end of her life: "I snowed you in / With hydrocodone / Layer by layer 'til you disappeared." Notably, that song is a former bonus track, reinvigorated for Jubilee. Why, then, does she put that track, and the similarly reimagined "Posing in Bondage," on her new, optimistic album? For Zauner, it's a "good reminder of where I've come from." Her mother passed six years ago, and she's processed that grief to the point where "time has healed a gaping wound, and it's something that I will live with forever, but it's less debilitating." Most importantly, she said, "I want to write about something else."

So on Jubilee, Zauner strives for joy. She said she feels "like I'm able to do things in my life now that aren't all clouded over with grief," and she wanted to explore that optimism in herself. From the bright, horn-heavy opener "Paprika" to gothic, dancey tracks, Zauner's Jubilee hinges on possibility and hope: She reminds herself that she's allowed to feel joy after this deep, consuming sadness.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Michelle Zauner to dive deep into Jubilee, which drops on Dead Oceans June 4.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/2ZfcZEIo6Bw' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

I'm really curious about the timeline of working on the album and working on the memoir—did they overlap?

I was working on the book pretty intensely from probably 2017 to 2020. I sent out my first draft to my editor in October or September of 2019, so I kind of had this built-in break for three to five months where I just could not think about it, and it was in her hands, and I could go off and work on another big project. It was really time for us to start recording a new record, so I started writing and recording largely in 2019.

They are separate but, not to be cliche, they are interrelated in so many ways. Did you apportion certain ideas to one [project] or did they influence each other?

A good deal of the record has to do with my personal life in some ways, and a lot of it was the aftermath of where the book left off, [that] is actually the content of the songs. I think if anything, I wrote two albums that were largely focused on grief and then this whole book that really dove into that experience, [and then] I felt like I was actually really ready to fling myself to the other end of the spectrum and write about this other part of my life that is a bit more joyful.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/q2pQIqR-m_w' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

That's actually what I was going to ask you about—this album is titled Jubilee, which means celebrating the passage of time. Was there a moment or catalyst, like "it's time to turn towards joy," or was it a slow realization?

I don't know if there was a catalyst, I think it was the slow processing of grief over the past six years, and it just made space for me—time has healed a gaping wound, and it's something that I will live with forever, but it's less debilitating, it's less of my primary focus. I feel like I'm able to do things in my life now that aren't all clouded over with grief.

It was definitely a conscious choice to be like, "OK, I've written two very dark albums and a whole book about grief, I want to write about something else," because I feel ready to do that and I'm interested in these other parts of my life and joy in particular. I think a lot of what I was going through was: "You're allowed to feel again, you're allowed to feel joy." A lot of the record is about struggling or figuring out how to do that or making decisions for myself that allow me to embrace that again.

I feel like "Paprika" really encapsulates everything you're trying to do on this record — it's very naturalistic, there's so much possibility. And then there are songs on the record like "Savage Good Boy" and "Kokomo, IN" which are more narrative and use personas. Why did you decide to do that?

It just happened organically. It's something that I've done before and I've always had a lot of fun with, and I think it's just like flexing this different type of muscle. I think I read something about billion-dollar bunkers in the news, and it inspired this whole narrative about a billionaire coaxing a young woman to live with him as the world burns around them.

"Kokomo, IN" happened because I was taking a lot of guitar lessons at the time and so of course I was learning a lot of Beatles songs, and adding all these sort of more interesting chord changes, a lot of major-7s and major-4s, these same type of very classic chord changes that made me write this very sweet, classic song of longing and teenage feeling. I just followed the natural narrative that the song created for itself.

You mention in your new memoir, Crying in H Mart, about being seen as a "bad girl" when you were a kid. The song "Slide Tackle" brings that up, too. Do you still think of yourself like that?

As a bad girl? [Laughs.] I'm so obsessed with striving to be a good person. My brain is very occupied, and I think a lot of my songs really boil down to "I want to be better, I want to be a better person." That song starts with "I want to be good / I want to navigate this hate in my heart / somewhere better." A lot of my songs are like that—I actually had to catch myself, because I'm like, "You can't start every song with 'I want.'" [Laughs.]

And "Diving Woman" [on Soft Sounds from Another Planet] also starts that way: "I want to be a woman of regimen." A lot of these are very simple ideas of "I want to be a more regimented person, I want to be in control of my emotions, I want to be kind to people," and I'm still a moody little f***er, but I try to get a better handle of that as I've gotten older and I definitely don't value that part of myself. I always want to be a better person.

You mentioned your guitar lessons, and I know you did a lot of work as a songwriter as you were creating this album.

I felt a little stuck and needed some brushing up. I've always been very willfully ignorant of music theory and thought it would hinder my natural songwriting ability, and I realized after years of touring and working professionally as a musician, I got to meet so many stunning musicians who have this incredible education that I've become quite envious of. I feel like that really inspired me to get back in and see what it could bring out in me that was new.

Did you like it?

I really liked it, actually. I was like, "This whole time there have been this many chords?" [Laughs.] I felt really stupid that I'd kept myself away from it for so long.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/mcoC5ZgaFjY' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

Between "Posing in Bondage" and "Posing for Cars"—this might just be me being prosaic—I thought a lot about  the word "posing," like posing for art, or even posturing. Those songs are so chilling and isolated.

["Posing in Bondage"] feels really fraught with tension and I think it's very delicate but also kind of industrial. The song was something that we put out with Polyvinyl on a 4-track series, and it was a very, very low-fi version of it that I don't feel like did the song justice and it's always been a song that I really liked. This was another song that I co-produced with Jack Tatum of the band Wild Nothing. He is just a real sonic wizard, he's a real tinkerer of tone, and he found this perfect balance of tension and these really unique sounds that give it this very fragile, vulnerable feeling. I really was happy to get it where it needed to be, and there's this almost Enya-esque vocals at the end.

Can you tell me a little about how "In Hell" came together?

That was actually a bonus song for Soft Sounds, for the Japanese deluxe edition. It was just one of those songs that stuck around and has haunted me for a very long time. I think it's a very beautiful and intense song and some of the greatest lyric writing I've done. It's very melodic and pleasant…I just felt like it didn't deserve to die as an exclusive bonus track, I really wanted more people to hear it. I think it's almost more devastating because it's on a record that's about joy, with a lot of warmer songs. I think it finds a good place there, sonically it fits, and it's a good reminder of what I've endured and that it's possible to experience happiness after these two incredibly dark moments in my life and comparing them. That song's literally about euthanizing my dog and comparing it to snowing my mom under with drugs, and it's spun into a little pop number.

Even as we keep talking about grief and sadness, we go back to Jubilee as a tribute to joy. What, right now, brings you joy?

I have a really great life, honestly. I have the greatest job, and I value that so much. I was kind of a late bloomer in this industry and it's allowed me to be so grateful that I've won this lottery and get to be a creative person for a living. I'm so overjoyed that I've found love in my life that's incredibly stable and very fulfilling, just endlessly fulfilling. Those two things alone—I've just won the life lottery, in that sense.

Listen: Celebrate AAPI Month 2021 With This Playlist Featuring Artists Of Asian & Pacific Islander Descent

Press Play At Home: LP

LP

news

Press Play At Home: LP Performs Impassioned Version Of "The One That You Love"

Backed by a classic Motown-ish stomp, the alt-pop singer/songwriter LP performs her pleading, yearning 2020 single "The One That You Love"

GRAMMYs/Mar 18, 2021 - 10:01 pm

After a year of tinny bedroom livestreams, we're all raring to enjoy some concerts again. Let the alternative-pop singer/songwriter LP remind you what those were like. 

In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, LP wails their 2020 single "The One That You Love" with a crisp, full band, driven by reverberating, Motown-sized drums.

LP's influences are appropriately stadium-scaled—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen—and once recorded with Cyndi Lauper on a shelved release. 


Let's hope we can hear that team-up at some point. But in the meantime, check out this terrific performance of "The One That You Love" above and watch more episodes of Press Play At Home here.

Press Play At Home: Francisca Valenzuela Performs Her Courageous Feminist Paean "La Fortaleza"