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Ohmygosh, We Talked To Carly Rae Jepsen

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 8, 2016 8:48PM

Photo by Hazel & Pine

A lesser artist than Carly Rae Jepsen would have coasted into old age on the success of 2012’s “Call Me Maybe.” It was a smash hit, with almost 800 million YouTube views and a Justin Bieber fan video. It was so ubiquitous that even my dad has heard of it (though he thinks it’s called “Call Me Lately”).

Jepsen doesn't coast, though. She took three years off from releasing music after “Call Me Maybe” and her 2012 album, Kiss, but in that time, she starred in Cinderella on Broadway and played Frenchie in FOX’s Grease: Live. Most importantly, she put together a killer pop album: 2015’s Emotion. It made almost every “Best of 2015” music list, including ours.

Jepsen worked with an unprecedentedly Pitchfork-y array of collaborators on Emotion: Dev Hynes co-wrote the album’s second single, “All That,” and Sia wrote the bulk of “Making The Most Of The Night.” (“It was mostly [Sia’s] baby,” Jepsen told Chicagoist.)

But Jepsen also stuck with her most enduring, mystical talent on Emotion: capturing the fizz and anxiety of crushes. Carly Rae Jepsen is a crush savant, on a level no other pop star can approach. Whether you’re listening to “Call Me Maybe” or “I Really Like You” or the vampiric “Warm Blood,” you feel like you’re on the verge of kissing someone so cute. Even if you’re in fact doing laundry in your basement, alone.

So, before the Chicago stop on Jepsen’s Gimmie Love Tour—a sold-out Saturday show at the Metro—Chicagoist talked with Jepsen about her live show, her songwriting process, and obviously, crushes.

What can people expect from your live show? What inspired you when you were putting it together?

On the live show, I think the musicians I grew up seeing and loving were very much based off of the musicians my parents took me to. So it’s like, Melissa Etheridge and Elton John. My favorite pop artist was SinĂ©ad O'Connor growing up, and she’s not even totally pop. So my show is just the band and me, and we just jam it out. It’s been three years in the making of this album, and it’s just a lovefest celebration for us with each song.

How do you think your experience performing live on Broadway, or in Grease: Live, comes through in your live show?

I want to joke and be like, “I wear a ball gown for one of the songs.” But I mean, in general, I think that every live show you do, especially if it’s a little out of your comfort zone and challenging and exciting, just adds to your live performance. All of the band boys commented to me when I came off of Grease that there was something different added to the show, but I don’t know how I would define it. I think just a new kind of buzz and confidence.

How have fans been responding to the Gimmie Love Tour so far? Have you had any noteworthy moments with your fans?

There’s been a couple magical moments. When we played in New York, it was really cool. There’s a song called “When I Needed You,” and I think it’s one of my favorite moments to date—we finished the song, and someone kind of kept singing one of the choruses,even though we had stopped. Everyone kind of took it up, and there was a moment where the entire crowd sang back and forth “When I Needed You” to us, and we just sat there and watched them. I was beautiful. It was a cool little rush.

Your tour is named after “Gimmie Love,” which is my favorite song on Emotion. Can you talk a little about how that song came about?

It was one of the last songs. It came together with Mattias & Robin, which is a writing partnership in Sweden, but they actually came to Los Angeles to work with me because the partnership felt really right. I think we’re all really like-minded writers. We had one last session together, and I showed up, and I was pining for somebody who I was too scared to say it to. And I showed up with this idea of “Give me love, give me everything that I want,” and we began writing it. The song came out in just one day, and it was here in one of the LA studios.

I’ve read that you recorded Kiss, your first album, in two months. What did you do when you were making Emotion you didn’t have time to do on Kiss?

I had time to experiment, which is a luxury that adds to the writing process for me in a big way. You go to places you might not realize is a really important place to go. When I was done with Kiss I was really happy about it, but I also felt like, “Wow, that was such a rush! It would be so fun to do something next time where I really just take a pregnant pause there and I just go into the studio and try things and explore.” At the end of it I found myself working with people who come from different worlds of music than I do, and sometimes making collaborations that turned out to be some of my favorites.

Speaking of experimentation: What do you think of as the most experimental song on Emotion?

Well, a song that I had begun with two Canadian writers in Canada way back in the day was a song called “Warm Love.” I brought the chorus of that song over to Rostam [Batmangli, of Vampire Weekend] when we first met. I said, “There’s something to this, what do you think?” and he kind of misheard me and thought I said “Warm blood.” In a weird way, we got off on how creepy and kind of real that felt. I would say that “Warm Blood” ended up being one of the weirder tracks but one of my favorite tracks as well on the album.

What’s your songwriting process like?

It’s different with every song. I’ll usually have a line or two that has a cadence, and a melody in mind to it. When I went to Sweden though, I found that they did it a very different way, where they almost started with the bare bones of melody, and then plugged in lyrics later on. I found that to be a really useful tool for getting the rhythms just right, and not feeling restricted by what you had to say. But coming back to LA afterwards, I found that I still like the way that I generally do things.

A lot of people tell me Emotion evokes high school crushes from them (because I make people talk about Emotion all the time). I’m curious if that’s purposeful. Do you pull from your younger years when you’re writing?

I’d like to say that I was just trying to rehash the old-school high school days, but I think the truth of the career that I’ve chosen, it doesn’t allow for very long-term, six-year-long relationships. It’s been one where you get these long-distance romances that are very passionate, and they’re very intense, but they’re not really [the type where you] get up every day and brush your teeth and do the dirty laundry and really kind of get into each other. If I’m being really honest, I think that a lot of my writing comes from the fact that it is about kind of first-time romance for me, and really quick flashes of heartbreak. That’s sort of the world that I’ve been living in.

Your style has changed a lot since, say, the “Call Me Maybe” video. What inspired that? Were there any particular designers or artists that catalyzed that change?

In the past I never tried to put too much weight or stress on how I dressed or my personal life or my public persona. I kept on trying to steer back to what was most important to me, which was the music. But speaking really candidly, I was driving home from a Grease rehearsal, actually, and I heard Elton John give this amazing interview on the importance of fashion in performance. It just sort of like, something clicked in me where I was like, “I’ve never really embraced that as a fun and powerful tool, and looked at it as art.” It kind of changed my thinking.

A week after Grease, I decided to just cut my hair randomly because I wanted to. I saw a couple of photos online… and it just felt like a really powerful look. Less pretty, but kind of cool and confident. I’m not really doing it for any purpose but the art of it.

One last question: In your live show, do you still perform “Call Me Maybe”?

Yeah. I feel like there was definitely a moment in time, I think probably half a year back, where I was like, “I’m exhausted by this song! I’ve played it so many times! Maybe I just won’t do it anymore.” But I think that might be a really selfish decision. Because if I go see Van Morrison and he didn’t do like, “Moondance,” it would really bug me. So whenever I get tired of it, I just think about the fact that it’s not just a performance for me, it’s for everyone. I actually really do enjoy it when I get to sing it. It doesn’t ever feel like a song that I have to sing on my own. It becomes like this group singalong, and a nice moment just to celebrate a big reason why I’m here. It goes by in a flash.

This conversation was condensed and edited for clarity.