Reaching the Depths of Emotion: A Conversation with Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen © Vanessa Heins
Emotion - Carly Rae Jepsen

Emotion – Carly Rae Jepsen

There’s no pressure quite like that of coming back from a number one pop single, but “Call Me Maybe” artist Carly Rae Jepsen has accomplished the feat with her head held high and her integrity intact. Emotion, Jepsen’s long-awaited 2015 followup to her 2012 sophomore album Kiss, finds a seasoned Jepsen exploring the musical and emotional depths of pop music, applying her young and in love charisma to bouncy, ‘80s-inspired dance-pop music with modern electronic, indie and pop production styles.

Intoxicatingly catchy and mesmerizingly vibrant, this is pop music at its finest: Emotion (released 8/21/2015 via 604 Records/School Boy Records/Interscope) reminds us of the genre’s rich past, while forging ahead into its future with inspired beats, melodies, lyrics and rhythms that fall perfectly in line with one another. Most importantly, Emotion carries with it a sense of purpose: There is a laudable and incredibly conscious cohesion across both the music and lyrics, leading Emotion to come off as far more than the sum of its parts.

Here is a modern-day pop record made to be listened to from beginning to end. The last time we had something so magically innovative was likely Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. Jepsen covers topics of love and lust, speaking best to the world of teenagers and twenty-somethings while keeping her songs seductive enough to connect to most (if not all) generations.

You make me feel like
I could be driving you all night
And I found your lips in the street lights
I wanna be there with you

Oh baby, take me to the feeling
I’ll be your sinner, in secret
When the lights go out
Run away with me

“Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen

With its irresistible saxophone introduction and a constantly forward-pounding beat, “Run Away With Me” immediately draws the listener into Emotion. It is in that instant that, for all intents and purposes, Carly Rae Jepsen ceases to be the “Call Me Maybe” artist and forever establishes herself as a brand. She is a lover, a temptress, a friend; a lonely soul, a dreaming romantic; a sucker for the dance floor, with a diary full of universal themes and relatable stories.

One disruptively viral song is enough for a lifetime: Emotion is full of respectable hit songs in the waiting, each with its own take on human relationships and the internal vs. external experience. Songs like “Run Away With Me,” “Warm Blood,” “Your Type,” “All That” and “I Really Like You” stand out amongst the impressive seventeen-track count as presentations of different musical and songwriting styles: It’s hard to imagine that one album can offer so many flavors, while maintaining a core identity.

Jepsen ultimately presents herself on all sides of the coin, and it is truly her accessible, self-empowered songwriting that shines brightest throughout. Considering the fact that she considers herself a “writer first and a singer next,” this should come as no surprise.

At twenty-nine years old, Carly Rae Jepsen has just given the world her most expansive, personal, and vibrant work yet. Atwood Magazine spoke to her about the creative process, the challenge of following “Call Me Maybe,” her goals for the future, and much more!

Watch: “Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen

A CONVERSATION WITH CARLY RAE JEPSEN

Atwood Magazine: Hey Carly, great to meet you and congratulations on your album release!

Carly: Thank you so much, nice to meet you too over the phone!

Ha, exactly! Now, getting right into it... You titled your album 'Emotion,' which has the odd duality of coming off as intimate and personal, but also universal.

Carly: Yeah. There were a few deciding factors with picking that album title. I think the first time that I considered it – for a while, I actually had a couple other running titles in the mix; there’s a song called “Eternal Summer” that actually didn’t make the album, and I was thinking about how LA is this eternal summer in sunshine, and you kind of lose track of time and perspective. It’s interesting to me, that title, but then someone mentioned “Emotion” as a song – actually it was my A&R guy! – and I just thought, I love the strength of it! It’s one word, and it is this universal thing that we all share, but it’s so complex because it’s never exactly the same. I felt like one of the first songs on the album that really struck a chord for me, and for the direction of how everything was going to go in this ’80s emotional pop kind of way, was something I did with some friends in New York. It just was like, “Whoa! That’s really fitting,” because that was the first time I felt like I had my understanding of what I wanted to do. So all in all, I liked it, and then someone sent me the actual different meanings of “emotion,” and I saw the phonetic spelling and was like, “Sold! I love the look of it, I love the simplicity of it; I’m going for it!”

And yet there's complexity in that simplicity. Even the cover offers that: You're sitting in a reserved position, wearing bright colors.

Carly: Yeah, I like the darkness and the colorfulness of that shot. There were a few different pictures that had more of a decided facial expression, but I kind of liked the fact that I can’t totally read what I was thinking in that picture. It could be many things, and this album, to me, was sort of a collection of many different emotions, I guess. There was a big key for me of really trying to bring it back to a place where it unlocks something for all of us, and it wasn’t just about, like, my journal – although many of those lyrics are little fragments of that – but it was also kind of getting to something grander, where it was things that we all feel so it could kind of become hopefully everyone’s album, instead of just mine.

Well that's pretty appropriate, considering the fact that you worked with so many different people on the record, too. For you, at the end of the day, where do you find you have been able to shine through as an artist?

Carly: In the writing; I have been very lucky to be able work with some people who are not just talents and not just amazing in their own right, but who have also become really close personal friends of mine. I think them getting to know me and me getting to know them, and us writing together more than just once, but a week at times – and sometimes months at times – together, they really got the vision, and – I don’t know, I’ve been nicknamed ‘the cookie jar’ for having way too many ideas – I was able to get in there and have people challenge modes and talk about structure. They’re really teaching me things, too, and I think we all learned a lot from each other. The true fact of the matter is there were probably over two hundred songs in the making of these seventeen that landed on the album, and in that, I think that I experimented in a lot of different ways, but I think the songs that you hear are the strongest identity of what I wanted to do artistically.

There were probably over two hundred songs in the making of these seventeen…

The pop music world is often a very hard one in which to maintain your individuality.

Carly: I think it can be a different experience for everybody. I think I lucked out being 26 and entering into this new world outside of Canada. I felt like I had, in my own right, made it in Canada, but I was able to quit my waitressing job and have a bit of a living off of this, but the whole new world of Los Angeles and then getting to travel and be other places – yeah, I think it can definitely rock you. But for me, I had the same band boys with me, and a lot of the same friends, and anytime it would get too far away from me, I would find my balance in them. I think that’s helped a lot.

Everybody knows who Carly Rae Jepsen is, but do they know Carly Rae Jepsen?

Carly: I feel like that would be for them to guess, but I don’t think I’m hiding anything. I definitely think that in my music alone, you can kind of get to know the heart of who I am – and that is a woman who is very fascinated by the subject of love, who loves nothing more than creating music about it. But I think at the same time, there are probably parts of my life that are personal, that I’m not as gunning to share every last secret, but that’s been part of my idea of sanity.

I respect that a lot, and I think it's such a difficult thing to do, especially in your position; you're basically thrown into the spotlight.

Carly: [laughs] Yeah, it’s a crazy thing to have people who you’ve never met before form opinion about you, but I think if your focus is maintained and true – and that, for me, has always been the art and music – then people will hopefully, sooner or later get that.

Hopefully! And is Emotion an accurate representation of you at this moment?

Carly: Absolutely! Yeah, it’s been my passion project for the last two and a half years. A lot of blood and tears went into this thing, and the countless nights of relistening and reworking and challenging even my own ideas, as well as collaborating with people… It’s been a real growth. I think I’ve both learned a lot about what I love, which is pop music, but also pop music that isn’t so down-the-middle. I kind of like the fact that with this album, we were able to add different sorts of production that you might not normally pair with pop. For me, that was an exciting combination.

With this album, we were able to add different sorts of production that you might not normally pair with pop.

People have hailed this record as the 'Best Pop Album of the Year' so far; how do you respond to that?

Carly: I don’t even know what to say to a statement like that; it’s unbelievable that people have been responding in such a positive way! In the making of this thing, I kept checking in with myself to make sure that my motivations and reasons for making any decision, especially artistically, was because it’s what I really wanted to do. I think what I guess like “Call Me Maybe” enhances me from that level of radio and everything, I wanted to be brave and make sure that the next step was done not for any kind of commercial sales, but for something that really came from the heart and from the artist that I was before any of this happened! It’s a challenge with pressure – every way you turn, people are asking if there’s another “Call Me Maybe” in your pocket – and I knew that I didn’t really want to make that; I wanted to make something a little different. The fact that people are responding to something that’s from the heart just means more to me, then.

Watch: “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen


What does the term 'pop sensation' mean to you?

Carly: I don’t know, I think that I definitely have a love of pop… I think it was funny growing up, for me, because my influences from my family life were very much like, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen – very folk inspired artists, and even on my first album you can hear the acoustic guitar and the journal entry vibe of it. Something changed for me [laughs] when The Spice Girls came out, and something in that joy and in the simplicity, it’s somewhat like a – to me, it’s almost like a more challenging song for me to write is a pop song that has melodies that satisfy, and that at the same time has some heart to it, too. I think that’s why the eighties got exciting for me, because there was so much emotion in that type of pop that I wanted to dip in that pool, if I could.

Is this your way of reliving a decade that you weren't around for?

Carly: [laughs] I know! I’m a baby of the eighties, but it wasn’t my music growing up. I don’t know, I think that there was something about that era that… I did not want to make a period piece, or something that just felt like it was old; I wanted to take elements of what it was that I loved from that era and mix n’ match it in my own way. So yeah – it was a little bit of a tasting – an attraction – and I heard Cyndi Lauper play at a couple festivals, and there was something timeless in not only her performance, but also in the songs and the writing, and I got excited – came home inspired!

It's been five years now since you wrote 'Call Me Maybe' with Tavish (Crowe) and Josh (Ramsay). Does it feel like that long?

Carly: That feels about right – I mean, at first my initial reaction was like, it feels longer because it’s such a world away from me, when I was living in Canada and what my realities were like. They were just different things, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem that crazy; Tavish Crowe is my guitarist still, and we write together – he’s one of my main writing partners – and every time that we’re home, we see Josh, too. Actually, I think the last time was at an awards show where we got three years late honored for “Call Me Maybe.” We were all laughing at how crazy that was… Yeah, it’s strange when you think of time and how much has happened between now and then, but I think at the core of it, we’re still the same people.

What was your head-space from then to now - do you feel like a different person?

Carly: I think that I’m always a changing, hoping-to-improve-myself person. If I look at even where I was two months ago versus where I was now, there’s a constant sort of changing, progression like I want to work on this, and I want to get better at that, and that’s been how I always think about life: Trying to make yourself better, and to offer more to other people. I’ve learned a lot from the business in the last five years; I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I think that the album is a bit of a representation of some of that confidence gained, and some of that empowered feeling of realizing that even in the pop world, it can still be a true bit of art! You need to hold onto that and protect that.

So you mentioned two hundred songs were written. I'm a songwriter too, and I know that sometimes songs come to me in isolated spurts, and sometimes I'm writing a song every day. How did it happen for you with this new record?

Carly: Well, it was such a great length of time that I probably experienced both of those things that you were just talking about. There were some really prolific weeks where it felt like every morning, I was waking up with something I needed to put into my voice memos, and then there was the run where I was doing Cinderella on Broadway, where it was a little bit more sparse – I was still working on it, but it would be more like scheduled sessions with people, where I’d be like, “Hey! I’m free Friday morning, but then I have to go do Cinderella at 7 o’ clock.” I think that I found different things to help inspire. Moving to New York City was one of those things that really triggered a lot of song ideas, and traveling to Sweden and meeting some other writers who were very like-minded in the way that they attack a song, which is not about trying to make one every second day, but it’s about really honing in on a good idea, and reworking it and challenging yourself almost daily until you get it to that final place. That’s how I like to write – I start with an initial place of just heart and spark, and whatever feels and sounds good to you, and then I go in and I start to pick it apart, and really chip away at the diamond.

Who's the first person you call when you have a new song?

Carly: Probably Tavish Crowe; like I said, he’s been my writing partner for many, many years. I think there are some people who there’s just a comfort with, where they know your track record and they know what you’re capable of, and they know what your weaknesses are. They love all of it, and I can call them with what would be a pretty ludicrous idea and I would be probably needing to be a couple weeks into people before I would be brave enough to say it, but with him, I’ll record a really tchachy, like  voice memo thing that’s just a mess, and it’ll be garbled because the shower’s in the background. I’ll send it to him and he’ll add a little track and send it back, and we’ll kind of play it like that a bit. On the road, he’s the guy who, if I have a couple hours and we’re not doing press until 4 and it’s 12, we’ll get together in the hotel room and make a little camp and studio. That is still, to me, the most joyful thing in the world.

A little icebreaker: If you had to choose three words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Carly: Umm… [laughs] I feel like we’re on a dating service. I would say I’m passionate, and… I don’t know, adventurous. I do love traveling to places and trying everything new that I can find… And I would say that I’m also – this isn’t an explanation word, but I’m also a Scorpio in every sense of the word, I’ve realized. I was talking to somebody about this the other day; it was just one of those things where I’m like, “Yup. That sounds like me. You’re a little bit competitive and a little bit all those things.” I’m all that wrapped into one, too.

Carly Rae Jepsen © Hazel & Pine

Carly Rae Jepsen: Passionate, Adventurous, Scorpio // © Hazel & Pine

I understand you have a birthday coming up - I'm a Scorpio too - so a happy advanced birthday to you!

Carly: Hey, happy birthday to us!

This is a big one coming up. Do you have any plans for it so far?

Carly: Yeah! Actually, my plans are changing – before this, we had been at this horse jumping competition in Barcelona and we had talked about how fun and different it would be if, instead of doing a party, we get a couple of our favorite couples together and drive from LA down to Santa Barbara, where there’s a horse riding show that we’d want to check out, and maybe go to a winery and have a chiller night with dinner and drinks, that sort of thing. But recently, as of this week, I’ve been looking at buying – this is crazy – my first house, which would be pretty crazy. It sounds like, as of yesterday, the day that I can move in is the week of my birthday! So our plans have changed and my family’s going to fly out and help me move in, and stay with me for the week!

Congratulations!

Carly: Thanks!

Watch: “Your Type” – Carly Rae Jepsen


Your lyrics, while capturing some universal experiences, are also pretty clever and cheeky. Do you have any favorite lines from this new batch of songs?

Carly: One of my favorite lyric moments on the album came from a song, “Warm Blood,” that I did with Rostam (Batmanglij). The beginning of that melody for the verse was almost… Sometimes – I don’t know if you find this, too – but sometimes, it’s almost like your subconscious has these better ideas than you do, and I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought I had been dreaming a song. I started singing it around, and I realized that it was just mine – my bedtime head had come up with it – and I feel like the lyrics are personal, to me:

I’ve got a cavern of secrets
None of them are for you
Even if you wanted to keep them
Where would you find the room?

And it’s really about, I think, that intimacy with a partner, where you get to that phase where you both are very in love, but then you’re ready to show all your monsters and your demons, and your ugly truths to each other. I think it’s a scary, but really necessary and brave part of it, and that’s sort of what that song’s about.

If you had to choose one song for people to listen to on the record, which would it be?

Carly: One of my favorite songs on the album is a song called “Gimmie Love.” It’s a simple and… Just really crazy map to someone. It’s one of the third to last songs to come together, but it was just really easy to write – I did it with Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson, two Swedes that I’m huge friends with and a huge fan of. At the end of the day, when listening back or even performing, it’s always one of my favorite songs to perform.

Watch: “Gimmie Love” – Carly Rae Jepsen


Do you identify most as a singer/songwriter?

Carly: I feel even more strongly that I’m a writer first and a singer next, actually.

You're playing much more intimate venues coming up. Was there a conscious effort for that?

Carly: I think that it feels exciting – there’s a different feeling you get from both: Stadiums are an incredible rush, and it feels a little almost out-of-body when you’re onstage performing. But that connect – that actual feeling like the room is a shared thing and you’re in it together – is something I get off on with more intimate shows. We want to create a vibe and a night – something that is an experience worth remembering. I’m fairly lucky, too, because we just found out that one of my really good friends and someone I’m a huge fangirl of, K.Flay, is going to be coming and opening for those shows. Anyone who’s coming is going to get a real treat with seeing her, too.

So what are your goals as an artist, moving forward? Where do you go from here?

Carly: I think that’s part of the discovery of the next few years. I’ve made a real conscious choice to only ever be making the music that I love the most. What happens with it afterwards is always really exciting – it’s a part of the mystery; you never really know! I think we’re looking forward to getting a couple shows in before this brief adventure, and then in the new year I’d like to start traveling more with this album and finding new ways to make it a night that you can’t forget!

From acoustic to pop and 80s-inspired music right now, are there any other genres that you're thinking you might want to tap into?

Carly: Some of the songs that turned out to be my favorites, like “Warm Blood” or “All That,” were done with this mix of a little bit more indie production, while still being pop songs. It was a really exciting mix of ingredients, I felt, and I would be interested to explore further down that road with this next album. I can’t say for sure what I’ll make, because I had so many mission statements at the beginning of making Emotion, and sometimes the songs find you and you fall into something out of attraction versus all the nice, clever descriptions you can give. Who knows what I’ll make next?! I even like that freedom of not feeling boxed in – that I have to make this, I have to make that – I feel like I can go anywhere now!

Watch: “Warm Blood” – Carly Rae Jepsen


With so many songs, does a part of you, like want to release music under a pseudonym just to get it out there?

Carly: Yeah, I got teased a lot at the label for being like, Would it be weird if I put out a 40-song album after being away for like, two and a half years? That’s not appropriate… But I do have a handful of songs – I mean, in writing a few hundred, it’s not every song that I’m in love with; there were a lot of weird ones in there. But there’s a few – a couple – that I am really close to, that just didn’t end up being totally right, cohesively, with this album, but it would be exciting to let them see the light of day somewhere or another.

well, thank you so much! And Carly?

Carly: Yes –

I really, really, really, really, really, really like you.

Carly: [laughs] Thank you, I like you too! Thank you so much – it was great talking to you.

Any last words to fans?

Carly: I would say, if you can make it to these shows, get there on time: You don’t want to miss K.Flay. she is one of the treasures of LA, and one of the first artists that I saw live here. The fact that she’s going to be a part of this is just blowing my mind, so come! If you don’t already know her, then you’re going to be lucky when you get to discover her for the first time.

I really respect that answer... Do you feel like, as an artist, you have a social responsibility to be helping others and going beyond yourself?

Carly: To artists and people out there who’ve got something that moves you: If you know about it, share it with the world. The best gift is a new artist to find and love and discover, and new music to make you feel something. It’s not often that I get really attached to somebody immediately, but the first time that I heard K.Flay’s stuff, it was like lightning. I had to know everything, and then I was lucky enough to meet her. A month or so later, she was over at my house, and we were all wining and dining. I begged her and requested her to sing a song for me acoustically, and again everyone in the room was just silent at the end of her performance because it was one of those things where you feel like you’re experiencing something profound.

Well congratulations again - this album is definitely proof that you have a nice, long career ahead of you!

Carly: Thank you so much, that’s so kind of you to say. Have a really good day!

Watch: “I Really Like You” – Carly Rae Jepsen

Atwood Magazine wishes Carly the best for her music career.

Follow Carly Rae Jepsen on FacebookTwitter, & Instagram

Carly Rae Jepsen Fall 2015 US Tour

11/09 – Washington DC – The Fillmore
11/10 – Boston, MA – The Paradise
11/11 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza
11/13 – Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero
11/30 – Hidalgo, TX – State Farm Arena
12/2 – Tucson, AX – Fox Tucson
12/30 – Las Vegas, NV – Venetian Theatre

Emotion – Carly Rae Jepsen

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com