Published Aug 20, 2015Carly Rae Jepsen could have been a one-hit wonder.
When the British Columbian singer/songwriter released a single titled "Call Me Maybe" in 2011 and Justin Bieber tweeted about it a few months later, it catapulted her into instant superstardom: the song went viral, topped charts worldwide and shortly became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Kiss, Jepsen's second album, was a good pop album, but it was crushed under the weight of the massive single, and Jepsen has claimed lately that making it felt "rushed" to meet consumer demand. For a lesser talent, that could have been it.
But after a short break from the overwhelming cycle of the music industry, Jepsen returned feeling refreshed, ready to record an album a little closer to her heart and a lot longer in the making. "I wasn't going to live by the rules of 'This is when we need the product by,' because it's not a product," Jepsen says of EMOTION's long gestation period. "It's art, and it happens when it happens, and I'll let you know when it's done!"
Jepsen teamed with producers-du-jour Ariel Rechtshaid (HAIM, Sky Ferreira) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) to create a sharp, '80s-indebted batch of earworms that sparkle with the same effervescence and hooks as "Call Me Maybe," but with a pervasive darkness and sense of maturity. It's a strong statement from an artist set on proving that in terms of pop songwriting, she's simply a wonder — full stop.
What are you up to?
Travel is the main thing right now. It seems like I'm not in the same place for more than two days, ever. It's a pace that I remember, and can become used to, but it's hectic. We finished the album, and now I'm releasing "Run Away With Me" and getting excited about other creative projects right now. How to make a wicked video was the passion project of the month, and now we're picking up the live show. And after these interviews, I get to go and have a drink with two of my new backup singers that I've been excited to meet.
What are your current fixations?
Right now, I've got two music fixations. One is an artist named Rhye that I discovered when I was thrift shopping in Japan. I Shazam'd him, then found his whole catalogue. The song "Open" is the song I'm listening to obsessively right now. And Christine and the Queens is a French artist that I'm really into. She has a song called "Tilted" that I love. Other than that, working on the video for "Run Away With Me" really opened my eyes a lot to film and different cinematography, different strategies. I've been watching a lot of documentaries, these Jack Antonoff documentaries that he did that are comedies and interviews all in one.
Why do you live where you do?
Probably because it's convenient for work. Los Angeles is an interesting place. It took a little while to adjust to life here — probably longer than most people. I came to L.A. not sure what to expect, very Alice in Wonderland. It timed with "Call Me Maybe" and felt like fate, so I arrived in a place where I was suddenly very famous, and I'd never experienced that before. It was like, "What is this place? I can't walk anywhere!" It was a lot all at once. But now I've found my safe havens here, and found a friend group and a little apartment. I enjoy it because there's a good writing community here, and that's what really switched my mind about it. I love being able to have a day off and reach out to friends, like, "Hey, I have a little melody idea!" or "Hey, I'm writing for this person, want to come out with me?" That community was a big part of deciding to stay.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. I know I'm late to the game of getting into him and his writing, but when I was in Japan and learning more about the artists, culture and writers there, a friend recommended I dig into one of his books. That novel was very melancholy, but in a very beautiful way.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I saw James Taylor play right after 9/11. In the middle of the show, all the musicians stopped, and he has lots of backup singers, and they all came around in a semi-circle to the front of the stage and they sang that song — [sings "Shed a Little Light"]. It wasn't necessarily about 9/11, but it was dedicated to those who suffered and this situation, which we were all processing in our own way. It felt like everyone in the crowd was in tears, and there was a little memorial just outside the theatre — I think it was in Seattle — and we all kind of, after the show, stayed around and talked to each other, strangers. It was such a bonding experience. One of my favourite things about music is how it lets you share an emotion, so I think that was the one that stayed with me the most.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I think probably the highs for me are always the couple of weeks before I release an album and it's just mine for a little bit longer. That's the time to make my peace, and know that I love what I'm making, regardless of the outcome. That's a really important step for me, because you never know what's going to happen.
I think, lows… Sometimes there are interviews that are really interesting, and you're really engaged, but there can be some interviews, especially with Kiss being a little bit younger in nature, it was treated like bubble-gum in some people's eyes. The interviews that I'd get around that were very much like "What's your favourite colour?" You sort of check out. If you have 25 of those in one day, it's hard to stay engaged and excited about it. That would be the hard part.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
My grandma, actually, is adorable, but she will, in the sweetest way, be my toughest critic, and I love it. She'll be like, "Car, I don't think you should've worn those shorts! Those shorts — not a good decision!" It's like, "Okay, thanks Grandma!" It's love, so you just chuckle at it.
What should everyone shut up about?
I think we should all kind of veer towards less superficial things. Sometimes you find yourself with these reality TV shows that can be entertaining, but getting invested in that kind of drama… There's so much more in life, sometimes I want to shake people and be like, "Let's focus our media elsewhere, on something that's more important!"
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like that I'm a hard worker. I'm proud of that, actually. And I like my creativity. The moments when I feel the best about myself are always those when I feel very purposeful, and writing is that for me. Things I don't like about myself? I think I can fixate too much on a flaw, on something I'd like to improve, and instead of just looking at it like a lesson, I can get down on myself pretty hard. I don't like that I have insomnia quite often. That also is when I'm very prolific with writing, though, so I guess one thing goes with the other. I'll take it. I also don't like that I'm completely disorganized with everything in my personal life. I started a project with my mom and my grandma, and they laugh at me for this, called "Project Self-Sufficient." There's just regular, everyday stuff that I missed the boat on, like putting gas in your car. I'm late to the game on that because I never had a car. All these different excuses come to mind, but there just isn't a good one for all these things — I'm just trying to catch up on real life!
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A beach day, especially since I'm in L.A. Getting out of the city, getting out to nature is always really exciting for me. My Canadian roots kind of come out in that I crave it when we're on the road, just a little break so I can go for a walk somewhere outdoors. Anywhere we can find green is awesome. So, a beach day, kicking it with people who are real true, weird individuals who have something to offer, who are capable of conversation, so you're not just talking about the weather. That's my favourite way to spend time.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Hindsight makes it so easy to say, "I should have done this or that," and I have a million of those, but it's hard because in anybody's life, half of the mistakes also lead to little victories in their own way. I can't say I have a huge, looming regret, because it might've led to other wonderful things that happened.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I've never kicked anyone out of my band. My bassist quit — I think the touring pace was too much for him, and it is a lot. It's your whole life! In his situation, I think he was missing routine in his life. It would take a lot for me to kick anyone out. We're pretty in love with each other, all of us.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
My family, I think. Musically, I think of artists like Joni Mitchell. I also think of Vancouver, and my summers there, and a lot of the evolution of me becoming a writer and artist. We used to play a lot of open mic nights, my friends and I, and it was just such a fun time, a time to be brave. You'd almost write a song a week, so that you could show it on Thursday night at the ANZA Club, and see if you could make the crowd shut up and listen to the song. You knew you really had them if you could.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight-track you ever bought with your own money?
What was your most memorable day job?
I worked as a coffee barista and pastry chef assistant at Trees Organic Coffee in Vancouver. I took over for Sabine when she went to chase her Internet lover in Norway.
How do you spoil yourself?
Bubble baths. Really expensive wine; I like good wine. I can't always get home to Canada to see my family, so I fly them out to see me. It's nice, because it's like a vacation for them, and I still get to connect with them and have time, so that spoils me, too.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
Probably writing… something? Novels! I don't know what, but I love stories, and I love trying to evoke something in people, so probably that.
What do you fear most?
I fear letting myself ever make decisions based on what I think people would want, versus what I truly am. I think you battle that almost every day as an artist, trying to remain true to yourself. With EMOTION, I finally feel like I'm really winning that battle.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Ooooh! Someone who can make me laugh.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I've had a couple of strange ones, actually. I met Colin Firth in a movie rental shop in Canada one time.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Billie Holiday, and I would serve her anything she wanted to eat! I don't know. I'm a horrible cook. We'd probably order out.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
My mom's quite happy with what I'm doing. I think she just wishes I could do it all the time, in Canada, in the next-door neighbour's yard so that she could be there for it all.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
Ooooh, good heavy question! Songs that have changed my life, even if they aren't fitting for a funeral: "Poses" by Rufus Wainwright would be one of them. Actually, yeah, let's go with that.