meta-scriptThe Marías Plunge Into The Depths On 'Submarine': How The Band Found Courage In Collective Pain | GRAMMY.com
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. 
 
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Glass Animals
Glass Animals

Photo: Drewby Perez

interview

Ladies And Gentlemen, Glass Animals Are Floating In Space

For Glass Animals, breaking through with their last album during the pandemic was an isolating experience. They brought those feelings to the fore with 'I Love You So F—ing Much,' where the Englishmen embrace a sort of majestic, celestial loneliness.

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2024 - 05:20 pm

Remember the atmospheric river of 2024? Glass Animals' Dave Bayley thought he'd drown in it. He'd holed up in a cheap Airbnb to write his band's latest album, I Love You So F—ing Much — and soon realized why it was so cheap.

"When I got there, I realized why. It was one of those stilt houses, hanging off the edge of a cliff," Bayley tells GRAMMY.com. "There was s— flying down and trees coming out of the ground, flying down the mountain. I was like, I'm dead. This is it. This is the end."

Late at night, observing the bedlam of the natural world, Bayley didn't feel planted on terra firma at all; he felt as if he was floating in space. Which turned out to be the impetus for the English indie-psych-poppers' latest statement — space being a metaphor for disconnection and unmooring. (The album arrived July 19 via Republic; Bayley remains the sole producer.)

"I think I had a lot of imposter syndrome, and felt very disconnected from reality as well," Bayley says of the Covid era — which unfortunately dovetailed with the breakout success of their last album, Dreamland. But by some strange alchemy, Glass Animals spun that feeling into emotional warmth.

As you absorb songs like "Creatures in Heaven," "A Tear in Space (Airlock)" and "Lost in the Ocean," read on for an interview with Bailey about how this celestial, lonesome, yet oddly swaddling and comforting album came to be.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How would you describe the four-year gap between Dreamland and I Love You So F—ing Much?

Like lifetimes, honestly. And at the same time, it sort of feels like yesterday as well.

It's very, very confusing — because we finished Dreamland, and then Covid hit. We were about to release it, and then we postponed, and postponed, and realized the pandemic is not going away. We promised people the album; we needed to release it to, like, survive. So, we released it thinking it would probably tank. And it did something absolutely amazing, unexpected.

Most people, when something like that happens, get to be out and experience it, and see it happening in the real world — playing live shows, and they feel part of it, and it's part of them. Whereas I was trapped in my bedroom in my underpants watching it all happen through social media and email updates.

You needed to make it to survive? Say more about that.

I mean, that was our livelihood. Somehow, this has become a profession — I have to pinch myself when I say that, it's the best thing ever.

But you can't just not release music. You have to keep writing and releasing music to maintain it as a profession. We were four years out from the record before that, at that point.

Odd question: if a music career was inaccessible to you, what would be your professional destiny, as it were?

I was trying to be a doctor before all of this happened. I was four years deep into medical school, actually. Then, a series of strange and terrible things happened in my life that made me like, I want to take a break from med school.

I was using music as a therapy, almost, to get over some of the things that had happened. I was making music to feel better, really, and connected somehow. Someone, somewhere, maybe, put it on SoundCloud.

**What was the thematic seed of I Love You So F—ing Much?**

I guess that sense of detachment was a big thing — because it not only went for the duration of the pandemic, but even after the pandemic, we were touring. And because there was no insurance for people touring against Covid, we still had to isolate and bubble within ourselves. It was going to extend us another year and a half, just being in this metal tube.

It was like, the biggest shows we ever had — they were amazing. We'd walk on stage, and for an hour and a half, be slammed in the face with emotion and energy. And then we'd walk offstage back to the bus, and we couldn't interact and be part of what was happening afterwards.

It just made us all feel even more surreal — it felt like a dream.

Talk about the sound you wanted to capture.

This one, I wanted to sound a specific way; I knew the equipment to get. I got about six synths and 20 pedals that fit the sound — a couple of guitars and a drum kit that fit the sound — and I just went for it. You could turn anywhere, and the sound would fit into the context of the record.

**If you think of Glass Animals' discography as stops on a journey via train, which stop is I Love You So F—ing Much?**

We've reached this retro-futuristic stuff, and I think it's definitely a progression from the last album.

I definitely set my own kind of '90s, '80s production — and now there's a bit of a vaporwave thing going on, but it was still pretty analog and nostalgic. It seems to be almost like the train went backwards.

Then, on the songwriting side, I was trying to really make sure the core of the sounds had [integrity]; they could basically be played with guitar and voice alone. I wanted the chords to tell the story of the song as well; we'd kind of done that in the past, but I'd never really focused on it like I did this time.

I wanted the chords to keep evolving through each section of the song — just twist the atmosphere of the song in each section.

Give me a line on I Love You So F—ing Much that you feel sums up what we're talking about.

"Show Pony" is the first song; everyone creates this idea of love, and what love should be, based on what they've seen and experienced growing up. Seeing their family, seeing their friends — you're walking down the street, and you see a couple arguing, and you form these [impressions of] love.

"Show Pony" is kind of the blueprint; it gives context for the rest of it. And then, the line that comes right after it: "What the hell is happening? What is this?" I like that as the real beginning of the record, after the table of contents — the first song.

Where do you think Glass Animals will go from here?

It's a good question, because I don't really think I'm there yet. I have a few ideas — but to be honest with you, I never end up going with any of the first ideas that I have.

Before this iteration of the album, I wrote a whole other space album that just felt really cold and hollow and empty — like a vacuum. It wasn't cool; it didn't have enough emotion, and it didn't feel soulful enough. I just binned it, and sacked off; it's in the trash.

It wasn't until I stumbled on this concept of juxtaposing these kinds of small, intimate moments with the size of space, that I put two and two together — and worked out how I could do a space album without it being f—ing s—.

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Cigarettes After Sex press photo
Cigarettes After Sex

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

interview

X's Mark The Spot: How Cigarettes After Sex Turn Difficult Memories Into Dreamy Nostalgia

"We’re all in the same boat," Greg Gonzalez says of the band’s new album, ‘X’s.' The frontman speaks with GRAMMY.com about how channeling Madonna and Marvin Gaye helped him turn his memories of a relationship into sublime dream pop.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:23 pm

When Greg Gonzalez sat down to start writing the next Cigarettes After Sex album, the dream pop frontman relied equally on memories of heartbreak and the ballads of the Material Girl. "‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record," he tells GRAMMY.com with a soft smile. 

Though the end result won’t be mistaken for anything off of Ray of Light, that timeless, almost mystic cloud of emotionally resonant pop carries a distinct familiarity on Cigarettes After Sex's new album, X’s.

Cigarettes After Sex has championed that sweet and sour dreaminess since their 2017 debut. Two years after that self-titled record earned rave reviews and was certified gold, the El Paso, Texas-based outfit reached even deeper for Cry. And while those records cataloged Gonzalez's heartbreaks and intimacies in sensual detail, Gonzalez knew he could reach deeper on the band’s third LP: "These songs are just exactly as memory happened." 

Arriving July 12, X’s fuses Cigarettes After Sex's dream pop strengths with ‘90s pop warmth and ‘70s dance floor glow. Always one to bring listeners into the moment, Gonzalez imbues the record with a lyrical specificity that gives the taste of pink lemonade and the tension of a deteriorating relationship equal weight. On X’s, the listener can feel the immediate joy and lingering pain in equal measure.

"This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, 'Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing,'" Gonzalez says.

Leading up to the release of X’s, Gonzalez spoke with GRAMMY.com about the appeal of ‘90s Madonna, finding a way to dance through tears, and his potential future in film scoring.

Tell me about the production process for this record. You've always been able to build nostalgic landscapes, but this record feels smoother than before. Were there any new touchpoints you were working with?

That was the thing: trying to make the grooves tighter. It was coming from more of a ‘70s Marvin Gaye kind of place, trying to make it groove like a ‘70s dance floor.

Which is an especially interesting place to be writing from when dealing with that line between love and lust.

Yeah. The stuff we've done before was really based on the late ‘50s, early ‘60s slow dance music. But it was always supposed to be dance music; I always wanted Cigarettes to be music you could dance to, even if it was a slow dance. 

When I think of pop music and I think of songs that really feel powerful, they usually make you want to groove in some way. I love a lot of music that doesn't do that: ambient music or classical or some jazz. But there's so much power to music that makes you want to move. And I found throughout the years that I could just never get enough of the music that makes you want to dance. So I thought, Okay, the music that I make should be really emotional. It should feel like music you could actually cry to, but in the end it should make you want to also move in that way.

It’s the physical necessity of the music, some forward motion to match the emotional journey. I’d imagine that is related in some sense to the fact that you’re writing in a somewhat autobiographical way. Is that a way of not getting stuck in the stories, in the feelings?

I'm writing it for myself. Of course, I can't help but picture the audience in some way. But it's never like I'm writing it for them.

There is an audience that I can visualize that would like the music. [Laughs]. There have been times where we’re recording and I close my eyes to visualize an arena or a stadium to picture the music in that setting. It’s a nice feeling. And that's just based on the music that I love that I thought had similarities. 

Is there any particular music that you love that fills that feeling?

There's so much music that I was obsessed with, but with Cigarettes I narrowed it down. Since I was a kid, I did every kind of style I could do. I was in power pop bands, new wave, electro, metal, really experimental bands. 

But when I finally sat down and said, "Let me make an identity for Cigarettes and make it special," I had to think about what my favorite music was and what music affected me the deepest. And it was stuff like "Blue Light" by Mazzy Star or "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young or "I Love How You Love Me" by the Paris Sisters. And I kind of put all that together and that became the sound of Cigarettes. And now I do that every time I make a record: I'll make a playlist of what I want it to feel like. I mentioned Marvin Gaye. I feel like ‘90s Madonna was a big influence on this record.

Madonna in the ‘90s? No one could touch that era. I don't know when the last time you listened to that music was, but… 

No, I grew up with Madonna and I used to watch the "Like A Prayer" video on repeat. It blew me away. But then I came back and I got into the ‘90s stuff, like "Take A Bow" and that record Something To Remember. It's all of the slower tunes. And that was a big influence, especially songs like "Rain."

You clearly have a diverse musical appetite, but you’ve also highlighted people with such identifiable voices — something that I think is true for Cigarettes as well. Your vocals are so front and center in the identity of the project.

That's great. The singer pretty much makes the song for me, whatever I’m listening to. The entire spirit comes down to the vocals. I'll hear a song like "Take A Bow" and be like, This feels so special. What if I made something that felt like this? If I told someone this [record] was based on Marvin Gaye and ‘90s Madonna, I don’t know if they would think it really sounded like that. It's more just trying to capture the spirit of what those records feel like.

That's what's cool about it too: You can remember those songs that were filling the air back in the ‘90s and what those feelings were, what you were up to, and draw a line between that and whatever's happening now that I wrote about. 

You don’t seem like the type of person to avoid negative feelings when you come up against them in that process either. The songs feel like you just embrace it, even if it's really painful.

I've always felt that's the best way for me to go through things, to face it head on. It's supposed to be painful. You have all these really great moments with somebody and all these great memories, and then when it ends, honestly, that's the way it goes, right? That's the trade off. 

Yeah, but not everybody goes through a breakup and then makes an album about it. Isn’t that like returning to the scene of the crime? How does it feel to deal with it in that way?

That's funny. The thing was, I was writing a lot of this stuff while I was still in a relationship. It took so long to finish it. 

Finish the album or finish the relationship? [Laughs.]

Actually both. But yeah, the record is mostly about that one relationship, but there are little diversions with some of the songs. A lot of the key images and songs are based on that romance and little memories that I took from it.

I like that I have all those moments kind of set in stone. It’s hard to listen to this record too because I'll just really see these moments, all these memories, and it can be a bit much to flash back to all that stuff and see it so vividly. But I love that I have it. Those memories meant so much and I’m glad that they're collected and displayed in this way.

And you were able to collect them when it was happening as opposed to having some time between, which could warp those memories. Writing and recording when you’re as raw as possible makes sense, so what you capture is really honest.

That's why I like to write these songs that are as honest as possible or as autobiographical as possible, with a lot of details. If I'm writing a song and someone heard it, they would know it was about them just based on all the imagery that's in that song. It's like a little letter to them. It could be like a secret little letter to someone. 

That makes me think of "Holding You, Holding Me," which is so lovely and feels as immediate as anything you’ve done. 

It was the pandemic, and then the other girlfriend I had at that time, we were living in downtown L.A. and just wanted to get out of the house and stay somewhere nicer for a while. And we went to this AirBnb that was in Beverly Hills with this beautiful backyard. The song was meant to be kind of Fleetwood Mac-ish, like "Gypsy" or "Sara", that nice ‘70s country pop feel.

Over the years I’ve noticed you frequently use taste as a sensory link in your songs, which really creates an evocative moment — I’m thinking about references to candy bars and lemonade on this album. What is it about that sense that sticks out to you?

If I'm going back to memory, then that's just what really happened. We went to the store to go buy wine and candy because that was the vibe that night. "Let’s watch movies and get red wine and some candy bars." And it was just a big memory that we walked outside and it started raining. I think too, what's nice about using objects is that it gives you so much mood in a song. You can tell what the feeling is of that moment when you put those things together.

And it can have an almost universal understanding. People will understand what it means to have a "candy bar night."

That's the craziest thing. It's almost like you're trained to write universally, meaning generically. Like, "Oh, this is a song that everyone can like and the lyrics can be really simple." But I’ve found that the songs that are really detailed and were more personal stories, a song like "K." from Cigarettes After Sex, those are the songs that everyone really loves, the ones that take up being really specific.

I suppose that's pop's way of being a doorway. When you're talking about your personal experiences, somebody is going to enter into it and feel like you're singing about theirs. 

You realize that we're all in the same boat. This is specific to me and what I'm going through, but then I go out and talk to people on tour, and they’re like, "Oh, yeah, I went through the exact same thing." I feel very lucky that most people I talk to that love [our] music are always saying that. It’s so special.

It makes me trust my instincts. That's the hard thing when you're writing. You're wondering, Is this too much to disclose? Is this too much information? [Laughs.] That instinct is really important to know, to trust it. That's the tough one. That's what's also therapeutic about it too. You want to share things that feel really personal because then you can process them. You can really start to unpack what those moments meant and what they can mean going forward. It gives me more confidence when I hear that kind of stuff from people.

What then is it like when you sing it for a crowd? You’re performing, but you can’t fully separate the emotion that inspired that song. 

That's tough because, ideally, if I did my job well enough writing the song, then it should be hard to sing live — especially if I really see those moments when I'm singing it. It could bring me to tears, honestly, because it should feel that intense. And it's even worse if I look in the crowd and someone's crying. I can't even look at them. And that happens very often. If I started crying, my voice will stop.

That brings a real cinematic feeling to your music too, which makes me think you’d be good at scoring a film. Is that something you’d tackle?

I'm definitely obsessed with film and have been since I was a kid. The idea that I keep saying — and I almost feel like I'm going to jinx it because I keep saying it too much — is that I really want to direct and write something. And I've written some ideas down for screenplays and things. It seems like it's hard to transition from musician to filmmaker and really make it stick. But that would be something I want to do in the next 10 years. I'm giving myself 10 years. [Laughs.]

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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

Maneskin

Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Contributor

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Watch Red Carpet Interviews With Nile Rodgers, Jacob Collier, First-Time Nominee Bonobo & More at the 2023 GRAMMYs

See and hear what the GRAMMY-winning and nominated stars were up to when they stopped by to talk with the Recording Academy ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs telecast.

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2023 - 02:38 am

On Music’s Biggest Night, stars stopped to talk with the Recording Academy ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs telecast. Watch interviews with Lifetime Achievement Awards recipient Nile Rodgers, first time nominees Bonobo and The Marias, industry legends like LL Cool J and so many more.

Head to live.GRAMMY.com all year long to watch all the GRAMMY performances, acceptance speeches, the GRAMMY Live From The Red Carpet livestream special, the full Premiere Ceremony livestream, and even more exclusive, never-before-seen content from the 2023 GRAMMYs.

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Carly Pearce & Bill Anderson

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The Marias, GRAMMY-nominated for Album of the Year for Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti”.

Nelly

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Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O'Donovan, GRAMMY-nominated with Allison Russell for Best American Roots Performance for “Prodigal Daughter”.

Fridayy

Fridayy, GRAMMY-nominated for Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song , and Song Of The Year for “God Did”.

Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier, GRAMMY-nominated for Album of the Year for work on Coldplay’s ‘Music of The Spheres’.

LL Cool J

GRAMMY-winner LL Cool J

Machine Gun Kelly

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Tiara Thomas

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