Q&A: Carly Rae Jepsen On Her All-Star Indie Collaborators And Really, Really, Really Anticipated New Album
Following up a juggernaut like “Call Me Maybe” has got to be intimidating. There hasn’t been a song like that since, one that was so immediately pervasive and so utterly inescapable. The second that track hit, through a series of almost chance circumstances, it was swept up into the zeitgeist and spit out into ubiquity. It’s one of the best pop songs of the decade so far. But how do you create a worthy follow-up? Well, here’s the thing: Carly Rae Jepsen kind of already did. Kiss — the album that “Call Me Maybe” would eventually be included on — is a laundry list of jams, from the dizzying highs of “Tonight I’m Getting Over You” to the candy-coated wallop that’s “Turn Me Up.” It was lauded by pop critics and propped up by the ATRL crowd, but was bound to be overshadowed. “Call Me Maybe” was that massive. I don’t blame you for not checking it out — for a long while, I didn’t either. But there are songs on Kiss that are just as massive as “Call Me Maybe,” ones that maybe could have taken the world by storm, too. The album showed a deep appreciation for all things pop, and a versatility that would make it foolish to ignore what comes next.
Fast forward three years, and Jepsen’s third studio album is finally on the way. Earlier this week she dropped “I Really Like You,” a single that’s relentless in its ear worminess, an onslaught of “really really really”s, and enough power chords to fill a stadium. It keeps enough of the goofy personality that made “Call Me Maybe” so charming — look at the breakdown, where Jepsen blurts out, “Who gave you eyes like that? Said you could keep them?” — but it does so with a confidence that ensures the singer won’t end up as a footnote on VH1’s I Love The ’10s. The album that it’s coming from looks to be even more promising. She worked with traditional hit makers like Max Martin and Benny Blanco, but she’s also courting the indie crowd with the inimitable trio of Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Rostam Batmanglij, plus Tegan And Sara to boot. And, above all, there’s Jepsen, an affable talent and songwriter who brings her own voice to the table. Even if the whole venture falls flat on its face — and I don’t get the feeling that it will — it’s going to be a must-listen for pop fans, one that hopefully will end with redemption.
STEREOGUM: How goes the album? Are you still working on it or are you pretty much done?
CARLY RAE JEPSEN: I’m in the hardest part, I think, which is picking songs. It’s really, really difficult for me.
STEREOGUM: Are you looking for some kind of cohesive vibe on the album? Or don’t you know yet?
JEPSEN: I mean, I do, but I also love when an album surprises me, and there’s just that song that, “Well, that came out of nowhere…” But even — and this is a weird reference — but listening to Blur albums, their singles versus the rest of the album are so different. I think it’s just the best songs.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about collaborating with Ariel Rechtshaid, Dev Hynes, and Rostam Batmanglij for the new album.
JEPSEN: Oh my gosh… Well, with Rostam, we made what’s maybe one of my favorite songs. It’s really strange… It’s one of my top favorites of all of them. I think the luxury that I had with the two years of taking this break and doing the New York and Broadway thing gave me time to experiment. I wrote with some of the biggest pop writers, and then I wrote with people who I just admired myself with my taste, which is a little bit more left of center.
STEREOGUM: What’s different about the vibe in the studio when you’re working with someone like Max Martin versus someone like Rostam?
JEPSEN: It’s not necessarily indie versus pop, it’s just that every single person comes at writing a song differently. I think I take away something from each session. I’ve learned a lot from writing with some of the Swedes, and I’ve learned a lot writing with Tegan And Sara.
STEREOGUM: What did you do with Tegan And Sara?
JEPSEN: We did a few tracks together, actually. I haven’t picked the tracklisting for the album, so it’s hard to name titles, but I’ve been a fan of them since childhood, and yeah… This Business Of Art, I’ve been with them since their first album. They are two of my favorite writers, I think.
STEREOGUM: For this album, what kind of songs inspired you? What were the songs that you heard and made you go, “I really wanna make something like that“?
JEPSEN: I think Tegan and me and Sara had a day where we were like, “God, we ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper is the best pop song of all time. How did they do it?” And we spent like three days trying to emulate it… It was a swing and a miss, so we just kind of gave up on that. But yeah, I think every once in a while you kind of get hooked onto an idea. But I still find that, from all the different ways of going at songwriting, it’s best to come from something that you’re naturally inspired by. For me, a lot of time that happens late at night or at weird moments when I’m not in a session. So I generally collect a lot of ideas that are voice memos where I have a verse or I have a hook idea, and then I’ll show up to a session with my little library of ideas. And sometimes we’ll work off one of those, and we’ll start from there and chip away at the thing until it’s done.
STEREOGUM: With “I Really Like You,” how did you decide that this was going to be it. Especially with “Call Me Maybe” being so huge, it’s the quasi-followup to this massive song. It must be intimidating.
JEPSEN: I didn’t decide on my own. To be totally honest with you, I didn’t pick “Call Me Maybe” as the first single. I don’t pretend to know what works at radio — it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me. With this song, it was no different. I had a little Spidey sense when it was done that this could be the one that they pick, but when it came to playing it for family and friends and at listening parties and then label mates and label heads on top of that, it was just an immediate hand-raiser. I was getting calls at midnight from the head of publishing saying like, “Where have you been hiding this song? Why haven’t you showed it to us earlier?” That sort of thing. And I was like, okay, here goes…
STEREOGUM: In the indie world, there’s not as much deliberation over what becomes a lead single or whatever… As a pop star, how do you make sure that your voice is being heard among all these other opinions?
JEPSEN: Well, I think I’ve always actually found the most success by listening to other people a little bit. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have a voice or that I don’t have an opinion or if I absolutely loathe something that I’m gonna let it go out anyways. It’s not like that. It’s more … “Call Me Maybe” wouldn’t have been the first single had I not gone through a big span of votes through family, friends… Once I saw my aunt get off the couch and start to dance, and she doesn’t ever dance, it was really like … OK, there’s something to this and I should pay attention to that. And I’ve tried to do the same thing here. My friends will very patiently come over for many listening parties, and they are all passionately opinionated about what they love and they’ll never forgive me if that song doesn’t make it. And whenever “I Really Like You” came on, even my friends with more indie tastes — or at least the stuff that you’re more attracted to, like the Dev Hyneses and Ariel Rechtshaids of the world — would be like, “That sounded really good,” and so it seemed like we should do it, it seemed right.
STEREOGUM: So what kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?
JEPSEN: I’ve been rocking [Blood Orange’s] Cupid Deluxe for a long time. I’m obsessed. I’m really into the band Cherub — we made “Doses & Mimosas” our bus song for the longest time. And I loved Sky’s record, I loved Solange… And then for more references, digging into the ’80s, which my album really is at the heart of it. I dug back to old-school Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince albums — I remember running to those when I kind of first getting into Dev and where he was going with his stuff. And Jack Antonoff, I love the Bleachers album as well.
STEREOGUM: The dichotomy of indie versus pop has been lessening over the past few years. Big artists like Haim, who kind of grew up in an indie environment, are not making that much different-sounding music from someone like Taylor Swift. Where do you see yourself on that spectrum?
JEPSEN: It’s easier for me to just see myself as an individual. I consider myself a writer above anything else. I love writing pop music, and I think it’s so challenging and so exciting when you feel like you get it right. I can’t say that I’ve found a high that matches that for me. But I don’t really know necessarily where I land on the scale of it. I appreciate good music whether it’s jazz or pop or folk or whatever. I don’t really definite anything as one or the other, but I do know that when you get that hook or something that you can really sing along to, I bite into that and I love that.
STEREOGUM: Pop music seems like a science: what will make people feel good and have a reaction?
JEPSEN: I agree. I mean, if you listen to my first album, Tug Of War, it was before I really knew much about songwriting. It was very journal entry… There’s things I love about the innocent me who was writing that second verse that didn’t really go into a bridge, or didn’t understand structure or how things were going to happen. There’s an innocence to that… Sometimes, I allow myself to break rules if it feels better still. And I think maybe I’m not so Swedish in that way, where everything’s mapped out, and I’m just like, “But it feels good,” and that’s enough. I think you have to fight both sides of that. There are rules and there is structure, but there’s nothing more enjoyable than breaking all of the rules when it feels right to do that. I think that’s something I don’t want to ever lose sight of in that world.
STEREOGUM: So what are your expectations for this album? You’re in a weird position coming off of this album that was critically acclaimed in certain pop circles that were a little more underground, but that was really defined by this one song.
JEPSEN: Being really honest, it’s scary. I think it would like to not fall into the trap of having one song that defines me. We’ll see. The dream has always been longevity and to keep doing what I love doing.
STEREOGUM: What did you parents listen to while you were growing up?
JEPSEN: Very folky taste… James Taylor. I’ve probably seen James Taylor live more than anyone else. I can’t see him without bawling my eyes out. Because it is so nostalgic to me, and it does feel like my childhood in so many ways. I think his voice is just milk and honey. Van Morrison, of course. I actually feel like a little-known fact about my musical taste is that a lot of it is inspired by my grandmother’s taste. [Sirius station] 40s On The 4 is always on in my car. Every jazz song from that era… I know all the words. And it’s really similar to pop music.
STEREOGUM: How do you interpret all of these influences into a pop song?
JEPSEN: Well, I think from folk music there’s the key to the story of a song, which I think can sometimes get lost in a pop song if you don’t actually have a thread of where it’s going. I love Bob Dylan for that reason… I love story songs. I love Hank Williams for that reason — you get transported to this person’s head for a second. I think, from jazz music, it’s the most pop in the way that you have to condense and really make every word that you’re saying valuable and potent. There’s something about a Billie Holiday song that can be so simple, yet it hits you so profoundly. Like, she sings something like, “oh my man, I love him so, he’ll never know” — it’s heart-wrenching, the way she says that.
STEREOGUM: How many songs are you down to for the album?
STEREOGUM: How many are you looking for?
JEPSEN: 11… It was a heartbreaking day to go to my A&R guys’ office and have them say that I can only pick 11 songs. I was like, “I thought I got 16! What do you mean?!” But yeah, 11 for the main album and then I think 16 for the deluxe, and I’m trying to sneak a secret track in there.
STEREOGUM: Do you think Dev and Ariel and Rostam tracks will make it?
JEPSEN: I’m gonna say something that I probably shouldn’t say, but the Dev and Ariel songs are definitely going to make it. I don’t see it not. It’s always been in my top 5.
STEREOGUM: I’m very curious… They’re responsible for “Everything Is Embarrassing…” Is it like that vibe or something new?
JEPSEN: It hints at Prince a bit. And it’s emotional. It was really fun to see them combine and see us combine. It was three people who have never really worked together in that capacity, and it was a fun, new sort of something that I don’t think any of us could have made without the other person. That’s when it’s the best.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album is expected this summer on Schoolboy Records/Interscope.
[Photo by Rob Hoffman.]