Carly Rae Jepsen on 80s Pop, Broadway and Tom Hanks
Daniel DiMaggio of Home Blitz catches up with the Canadian pop performer to talk about her new album ‘Emotion.'
Though the chances of Carly Rae Jepsen repeating the success of 2012’s “Call Me Maybe” were considered unlikely by all but her most most ardent fans, few would have anticipated the statement of purpose that is her new album Emotion.
The album transmits the same sugar-rush pop thrill as 2012’s Kiss, but rendered in subtler cotton-candied pastels, with a synth-pop sheen and a more present sense of emotional vulnerability that has made it a critical favorite.
I talked with the effervescent Canadian a few days after seeing her perform a sold out acoustic set and meet and greet at Rough Trade records in Brooklyn.
NOISEY: You’ve talked about 80s pop being an influence on this record. Was that a conscious decision or something that manifested during the writing and recording?
Carly Rae Jepsen: Seeing Cyndi Lauper play in Osaka was a big moment of inspiration for me. I was blown away by her performance and how lasting her songs were. There’s so much emotion to that sort of pop music, and I love pop music but I love it when it’s got heart to it. Not that I didn’t know 80s music was amazing, but it kind of spurred this sort of new obsession with it, and I got kind of excited about writing something that had a bit of that 80s heart.
Carly Rae Jepsen & Daniel DiMaggio
Not that the songs on Kiss weren’t emotional but it seems there’s a heightened sense of vulnerability to these songs.
With Kiss there was the happy challenge of working with producers like Max Martin, who in my mind is like the Wizard of Oz of pop writing. It was incredible, but there were time constraints that we all felt. I didn’t want there to be that rush or that feeling with Emotion, because I wanted to make something that did go a little deeper and had a bit more of a mature flair to it, and a sexual side to the whole thing too.
You had 200 songs written. Did they all get to the demoing/recording stage?
A lot of them didn’t actually come to like a fully produced state, and I mean that’s a big part of the song right there, sort of sonically where it lands - there’s so many places you can take a song. There’s a few songs on the album where I tried lots of different production strategies and it wasn’t really working. And there’s some songs that I loved so much that I could never get them sounding the way that I envisioned so for that reason they were sort of scratched off the list.
Was it hard getting the album sounding so cohesive given how many co-writers and producers you worked with?
In a weird way that was really helpful to narrow down the album. When you have 200 songs and you want 17… I mean I wanted a cohesive album that at the same time wasn’t the same song eight times over. That’s where collaborations with different people really helped. It just adds a new kind of color. I have to thank Rostam [Batmanglij] and Dev Hynes and these other amazing writers for allowing me to experiment in a way that I’ve not given myself permission to do before. And it was really fun to still have those 80s type pop songs like “I Really Like You” on there too.
What made you decide to do the Broadway Cinderella Rodgers & Hammerstein thing?
I wanted to do it. I wasn’t thinking about if it was the smartest career move or if it timed out well. I just really wanted to. I grew up a bit of a theatre bunny and to have an opportunity that I might not otherwise have had was just so surreal and exciting to me. And scary too because it was a new challenge and a new world, and I think, if I’m being really candid too, I was craving a little bit of a new world after being in that pop artist bubble for so long. It was a very intense ride with Kiss and with “Call Me Maybe” and I was just excited to go live in a different reality for a while. I think it was good for my head actually.
It must have been comforting to do something like that, especially having done a lot of musical theatre when you were younger.
To people who knew me it was an obvious step, because it had been such a part of my childhood. I even went to a college that’s based around training in Broadway, and was very much: singing, dance, acting, stage fighting, and dialect. It was a shock to me that in the same year I went to this college I picked up the guitar and couldn’t stop writing. I think I shocked my family and everyone by saying “hold the phone, I actually I think I’m going to move back to Vancouver and push through a career as a solo artist”. It was just like “what? OK.”
Did the Broadway experience bleed over into the making of Emotion? You were in the show and working on the album sort of concurrently at times, right?
I don’t know if they correlated in any real way other than that it was a nice change to be in New York City. In LA the desire of wanting to put out this album and have it be strong was so dominating in my life that my only solution for not going insane was to become a bit of a workaholic. The move to New York set this schedule where I wasn’t allowed to think about it, and I was throwing myself into the role of a completely different character.
I love how the lyrics to “Making The Most Of The Night”, could be interpreted as relating to a platonic friendship or a romantic relationship.
I’m guilty of making almost all of the songs about love. Even with “LA Hallucinations”, it was like “It’s not gonna be about love. It’s not gonna be about love”. And then at the end it’s like (sings) “take me into your arms again”. Sometimes it’s just, I think, a bit of a fascination with love that I’ve had as an ongoing thing. And also it just feels good in music to go there, and I think it’s the most passionate feeling in the world. It’s harder not to get lost in (laughs).
Did you consider using a song that’s not as overtly poppy as “I Really Like You”, for the first single?
It was just the song that was raising its hand as the one that would be stuck in our head the most. I mean it is a lighter (laughs) song and -
I don’t mean to trivialise it in any way. I really love it.
It felt transitional in the right way. And I think if we hadn’t had Tom [Hanks] for the video I would’ve been stranded with sweetness on top of too much sweetness. Some of the video treatments were like “and then there’ll be two young kids in the sandbox and they’ll end up in an old folks home”. It was basically re-writing The Notebook into a music video, and I was just like “guys, that’s too much! we’ve made a flirtatious song, we have to add some comedy and shyness to it”. Tom gave it that.
Is there any inspiration or influence on this album that you haven’t talked about or that people wouldn’t expect?
There’s an artist named K.Flay, I’m not saying our music sounds alike but I was listening to her a lot. I loved her lyrics and the way she gets ballsier with the things she talks about. She takes on a very powerful role as a woman, and isn’t afraid to speak about her sexuality either. She has been a muse to me in some ways and we’ve actually become friends. She’s just so great live and I think she’s still unsigned. So if anyone’s looking, sign that girl up.
OK, great, that’s a good place to end it I guess. Thanks so much for doing this.
Thank you so much, it was my pleasure.
‘Emotion’ is available now through 604/Interscope.
Daniel DiMaggio is a Brooklyn musician who plays in Home Blitz.