Stall Me Maybe: How Carly Rae Jepsen's New Album Took Time
The talented pop artist talks about going indie and really, really, really loving Broadway musicals.
Photo by Matthew Welch
There was a moment there in late 2012, after “Call Me Maybe” had finished its run dominating the airwaves, that naysaying media outlets were writing Carly Rae Jepsen off as a one-hit wonder. Less than a year after her breakthrough, people were ready to banish Jepsen and the year’s most ubiquitous song to lists alongside the likes of Crazy Town, Skee-Lo and Jimmy Ray, all because she failed to produce a second hit single. At a time when single downloads have ruled music sales, some slack should have been cut—but Jepsen had the last laugh. This past March, Jepsen dropped “I Really Like You,” a long-awaited new single with the same kind of effervescence and sing-along hook as the song that made her a star. Next came a video starring Tom Hanks and a cameo by her cheerleader Justin Bieber, a Saturday Night Live performance that turned heads, and three excellent follow-up tracks that all of a sudden made her new album, Emotion, into one of the most anticipated of the year.
On her third full-length album, Jepsen took the time she wasn’t afforded with her second album, Kiss, which was made in zero time to help capitalize on the overnight phenomenon of “Call Me Maybe.” In the three years since, Jepsen met with a handful of collaborators to work on music that better represented both her personal taste and how she wanted to be perceived as an artist. Among the top-notch songwriters and producers she worked with were Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Ariel Rechtshaid, Sia, Tegan & Sara, Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend), Jack Antonoff (Fun., Bleachers), Greg Kurstin (The Bird & The Bee), and Peter Svensson (The Cardigans). Some of the sessions made Emotion, and some didn’t, though may emerge at some point down the line. But what Jepsen and her crew have pulled off isn’t just an album of all killer and no filler, it’s the best pop album of 2015 (no that isn’t hyperbole).
Emotion is my favourite pop album of the year. Do you have a favourite pop album of the year?
Wow! Thank you so much! But to be honest, I think I go into these little bubbles where I make an album and listen to almost nothing other than the music I am making and picking apart. Other than that I seem to not be able to listen to other music because I need space away from it. And then if I do listen to music, I put on old school, 40s stuff like Billie Holiday. So I can’t say I’m in the loop with what’s going on right now, especially in Top 40 radio.
I’ve actually found myself in awkward situations during radio interviews where they ask, “What do you think of this artist? Have you heard this new song?” And I’ll have no idea who or what it is. So I have work to do, to get back in there. I guess I can’t answer your question, but I can say that an artist not really known here but is doing well in France, Christine and the Queens, has one of my favourite albums out right now. I don’t know how pop it is—it’s a little more left of centre pop—but it’s so rad.
The collaborators on this album are pretty amazing: Dev Hynes, Rostam Batmanglij, Ariel Rechtshaid, Sia, and Peter Svensson, among others. How did you decide on who to work with?
It was a collaborative effort. One sort of mission statement in my head for making this album was “try everything: write with this guy, work with that guy.” But I did kind of hone in quickly on what I was attracted to and what was really working with one-off day sessions. My A&R guy John Ehmann is a bit of my hero. He’s not your classic A&R guy who tries to point you in a direction that doesn’t feel natural. He really listens and gets impressions of people that are helpful and understand what my vision is. Peter Svensson, I knew from the Cardigans, but I had nothing to do with setting up that session. But it was a wonderful week with him. But finding Dev Hynes, that came from me sitting down with my guitarist and writing a two-page list of music we liked and were evoked by. So we did some research to see who worked on those songs and saw that Solange’s “Losing You” was done by Dev. So then I got into his catalogue and reached out to John to see if he could set up a session. And through some of my New York buddies I just reached out to and asked to get together.
Were there any other songs with Dev that came out of the sessions you did?
Yeah, we did. It’s funny, one of our favourite songs that nobody else seemed to like, probably because it had no chorus, we’re gonna put it out in some way later on. We worked on quite a few songs together, and I think we were both naturally inspired off each other’s energy. You get in a room for five minutes and you can almost tell if you’ll have something by the end of the day or not. It’s very rare that I get into a session and don’t jive with people. For me it often has to become a friendship, and it felt that way with Dev. I’d say I’m up there as one of his massive fans. That guy is a genius.
I like how contrasting some of the production is on Emotion. How important was it to make this album more reflective of your tastes?
The big significant difference between making Kiss and Emotion is just the time constraints. And I’m actually glad that I got that experience. There is something helpful about having a deadline and pressure to write because there isn’t that second guessing I was allowed to do with Emotion. With Kiss I just had to make songs work and I had a bunch of ideas and voice memos, but there was just no way to do it all. Whereas with Emotion I’d kind of write and write and write, and if I didn’t feel something I could just let it go and move on to the other six versions that I had. I think after experiencing both I’d probably never go back to rushing something. I love having my time. Inspiration just hits me naturally. And I like even going back and challenging what I’ve written. The metamorphosis of the tracklists I’ve made for Emotion have probably changed six times. I have a little easel board with it painted on and I’d come home from a session and then I’d write down a song I liked better than having to decide which song to take out. I had to rebuild it and give it a facelift almost every week.
I’ve heard you use the word “experiment” a lot in describing how you made this album. How weird did some of those experiments get?
Pretty weird. Pretty weird [laughs]. I’ve got a weird side to me. I love all sorts of music, not just pop. I’ve played with all sorts of different genres and mixed and matched them together. I’ve made an entirely different “indie” album that I don’t know what we’ll do with. But it was something I needed to get out of my system. And then it felt not right to release that either. It wasn’t what I wanted. But I think with Emotion I found a happy balance of colouring a little outside the lines of pop and filling in a bit of alternative tastes here and there. I got a lot of help from the artists that you mentioned. So yeah, that’s the best way to explain it.
It’s interesting that you made an “indie” sounding album because you veered away from the mainstream by working with producers like Dev Hynes and Ariel Reichshadt. At the same time I’d say you make mainstream music better. Thank you! I don’t know if it’s just about radio versus non-radio. For me, I think the albums I’ve grown up with and the albums that have become the soundtracks of my life are albums that I can say where I like the B-side to the single as much or even more. I think that’s partially why it took me forever. I wanted every song to have a place and a home and a reason for being there. I put as much work in those as I did the other tracks. Sometimes you just write and you don’t know how that song will turn out until you take a step back and see if it sticks with you.
I was a huge fan of “This Kiss” from your last album and I thought that should have been your next hit after “Call Me Maybe.” Obviously “I Really Like You” became that next hit for you. But was there ever any concern in 2012 or 2013 about having one song define your career?
Oh, I think that question was definitely real and talked about. Sweet therapy sessions with my guitarist Tavish [Crowe] walking around New York saying, “I just have this desire to make more than that.” And it wasn’t even just to prove it to everyone else, but because I knew it in myself. He would say, “Well, you can look at this song as a big thorn in your side or you can look at it as an opportunity to have a stage and an audience to hear more of what you want to do.” And I just kinda wanted to kiss him! That’s a great way of looking at it. Anytime I had to go back to that thought, I had to just realize how lucky and grateful I am, and I would steer myself back to that talk we had and remember how true it was. That would give me the bravery to write new songs and try weird things.
I remember there was a moment when you took the Cinderella role on Broadway where people seemed to think your music career was pretty much over. What made you decide to try musical theatre instead of going right back into making another album?
It’s as simple as: I wanted to. Any sort of big decision in my life, like a career move or a “where am I going to live?” move, is based off of what will I regret not doing most? Even choosing “Call Me Maybe” as the first single was debated heavily. It was down to “Curiosity” and “Call Me Maybe.” At the end of the day the votes were so strong for “Call Me Maybe” it became clear: “I will always wonder if I don’t put this song out first.” And it was the same deal with Cinderella. Broadway, whether people notice or not, has been a life-long dream of mine that I actually think “Call Me Maybe” opened a door for and gave me the opportunity that I might not have had otherwise. I was so aware of how lucky I was to have this dream become a reality I couldn’t say no to it. That would have only been making a decision for business and not from my heart.
Justin Bieber appeared in the video for “I Really Like You” and did a lip-sync video to the song. Tell me a little about the support you get from him.
It’s very ongoing. He’s been a champion for me from the start. I owe a lot to him. Having my career break out of Canada is truly indebted to him tweeting the song out and giving it some attention. He brought me out on a world tour with him. I was playing stadiums with him, whereas before I was opening for Hanson in clubs across Canada. It was an interesting transition and a crazy adventure and to this day I feel very indebted to him. And it’s nice for him to still be a part of things. When I found out he was in town last minute for the New York shoot, which was originally supposed to be in L.A., but Tom’s schedule had him on SNL the night before, so it just worked out for everyone. So I moved shop over to New York and Justin was in town, so it was a last minute move. We just said, “There’s a dance off at the end, so if you just wanna come and dance that would be cool!” And he said, “I’m in!” It was so fun.
How often do you get people overusing the word “REALLY” when they meet you?
Depends on the outlet. If it’s just fans and friends using hashtags it’s endearing. But in certain interviews when they say, “So, tell us some things you really, really, really, really, really, really like.” And it’s like, “Oh god, how many of these interviews do I have to do today.” However, I find that now people are listening to the new album they’re getting a better grip on what we’re doing. I’m much more engaged and challenged by the questions that are being asked. So I find myself way more excited for that to be a part of the day. It’s fun to feel engaged in conversation as opposed to “What’s your favourite colour? Do you like ice cream?”
Off the top of your head, do you know how many times you sing the word really in “I Really Like You”?
Yes, because I’ve been told it’s 67 times.
You currently have three contenders for song of the summer: “I Really Like You,” “Emotion” and “Run Away With Me.” Is there a song that you feel deserves that honour?
I really like the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” Obviously Max [Martin] is a part of that and I’ve been hanging out with their camp, so I was privy to the first listen of that song months before it came out. So I was bopping around town singing that, and folks would ask, “What song is that?” And I’d answer, “Oh, you’ll know. Don’t worry.”
You turn 30 later this year. At first I was nervous, but then I was totally cool with turning 30. How are you feeling about it? Any plans to celebrate?
I understand it’s a thing that people get nervous about and maybe that will kick in. But I feel like I’ve had a pretty full life, and I’m excited for my 30s. My friends that are in their 30s say it’s the best time of your life, you know yourself better, you have a better grip on what you’re doing. So I’m looking forward to that era. And I have dream plans on how to celebrate it. I’ve been to Italy for shows and for promo, but I’ve never been there for a significant holiday or time to go explore. And both of my step parents are Italian, so I’ve grown up with Italian Christmases and a lot of that cult is ingrained into who I am so it’d be fun to go there.
Cam Lindsay was really, really, really—you know what we're better than that. Follow him on Twitter