Carly Rae Jepsen's third album, Emotion, begins with a titanic blast of synth that might as well be a war call. This isn't your typical pop record. In a decade where so many pop stars have had every last ounce of authenticity and emotional sincerity sucked out of them by the corporate pop machine, Carly Rae Jepsen has become a beacon of a defiantly old-school pop sensibility. Not old school in the sense that the record sounds like it was ripped from the past -- though it has its share of sonic touchstones that call to mind the best of 1980s pop -- but in the sense that craft and delivering a sound that makes you feel something in the core of your being comes ahead of flashy production and hooks -- not that the album is lacking in that department either.
I'm the Rock Geek. I can be kind of a music snob. It's not my most endearing trait, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't there. But the best pop song will always bounce around my brain more than the greatest rock song or "art" song ever will. "God Only Knows" is the best piece of music of the 20th century. And do you know why? Brian Wilson combined orchestral lushness with the most honest depiction of love in popular music as well as the most basic fundamentals of "how do you write a pop song." And while Emotion isn't Pet Sounds, I've also listened to it more than any other record that came out this year, and it's not even close. Not the new Tame Impala, not Kendrick Lamar, not My Morning Jacket. Carly Rae Jepsen. Her record is that good.
And of course that meant we were beyond excited to have Carly Rae Jepsen as the latest guest of The Rock Geek. "Call Me Maybe" is the highest grossing digital single of all time. Emotion was released to rave reviews. A conversation has been sparked about how you pay homage to the sounds that inspire you without just replicating classic music. And we talked about all of this and more with Carly Rae Jepsen. Tom Hanks even comes up. I'm going to stop rambling now about how much Carly Rae Jepsen has revitalized radio pop in 2015 and just let you get straight to the interview. You won't want to miss this.
Records to interview Carly Rae Jepsen. I've got 20 minutes to ask Carly Rae about 80s nostalgia and music, and coming of age as an artist on TV. I just hope there's enough time for Carly Rae to help me find some answers. Today, the Rock Geek goes pop. - Carly Rae Jepsen isn't your typical pop star. Starting out as a top contender on Canadian Idol, she still had to claw her way to the top of the charts, getting her first hit five years after she appeared on the show. Carly Rae's new record, "Emotion," transcends the nostalgia of its own 80s inspired sound. She redefines herself and the possibilities of radio pop with sophisticated arangements and mature, empowered lyrics. This sort of career curve and artistry aren't what I've come to expect from pop mega stars, and so I had to know, can you be an idol and still pay your dues? And if so, is Carly Rae's journey a new strand in the web of the modern music business? Baby, take me to the feelin' I'll be your sinner in secret When the lights go out Run away with me, run away with me Baby ... - "Emotion" is your first LP since "Kiss" was released in 2012, and your first since "Call Me Maybe" became the highest selling digital single of all time. What was it like preparing for this new album after the mega-success of your second record? think as soon as we handed in the album for "Kiss," I had this really annoying prolific month where I was like, why am I writing right now? I don't need to. But I think that's the trick with it is you just write when the inspiration hits you and since the turning in of that album, I've been going non-stop. The only real mission statement that I had is that I did want to take time with it and allow myself to experiment and I knew when I found the right song, I'd know it. And I think "Emotion" was one of the first songs that I really felt that about. - One of the most striking elements of "Emotion" to me is the fact that you worked with a host of producers on the album who are definitely more associated with the indie and the alternative space than what we would call radio pop today. You know, Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. - You can say his last name. That is a gift in itself. I can never pronounce it properly. - I studied before we talked. - I can tell. - Rostam Batmanglij. Rostam Batmanglij. Those decisions show on the album because "Emotion" doesn't sound like anything else I'm hearing in contemporary pop music right now. And so, what was your thought process about taking that album in that sort of that more unconventional direction? - There was really no rules. It was just, in all honesty, what I was naturally attracted to, I was trying all different routes and experiments with writing and collaborating. And these are the songs that worked out the best. I was attracted to Dev from Blood Orange by listening to some Solange records and that led me to him just by checking the credits on that. And I think same goes for Ariel with Sky and Hime, and it's been one of those long searches. I made lists of people that I love and I myself was emailing people on the fly, being like, hey this new album, I want to try something completely different. Do you want to get together Friday and we can write and see? And some of the stranger collaborations ended up turning out to be my favorites. Yeah. - Was there a particular track on Emotion that you think is most representative of what you were trying to accomplish with the album? - I think "All That" was really satisfying in a lot of ways because I think even after "Call Me Maybe" and "Kiss" I really craved to show this other side of what I love musically, and I thank Dev and Ariel for that. It was shocking to send that in to them and be like I wonder how they're going to take this? It's totally different than anything we presented before. And to my delight, everyone was like this is not what we expected but we love it. And that's how I felt too. I wanna play this for you all the time I wanna play this for you when you're feelin' used and tired - On "Emotion, " Carly seems to have solved the mystery of using retro influenced sounds to create something modern and fresh. But I want to dig a little deeper and see if I can understand the secret behind using 80s inspired sounds without sinking into the realm of empty nostalgia. "Emotion" deals in a lot of warm synths and electronic dance pop rhythms and melodies, and for most folks, when they hear those sounds, the first thing that they think of is the 80s. But "Emotion" isn't beholden to just replicating the sounds of the 80s. It definitely positions them in a decidedly modern context. And so for you, how did you go about ensuring that "Emotion" didn't consist of empty nostalgia and that it repurposed these older inspirational sounds in a new light? - First of all, thank you for saying that. I think it was a challenge. I didn't want to make an album that was just a period piece that was like this 80s throwback thing. I wanted to definitely incorporate what I love from the 80s, which was songs that weren't just hooky, but also had this emotional thread to them. They had stories. I think even growing up on a folk appetite, you learn to appreciate the story in the song. And that can translate into pop just as much as jazz or anything. So it was exciting to just take from this era that emotion and somehow spin it in my own way and I have to thank the collaborators that I worked with. In large part to that, they helped me be braver than I probably would have been just on my own. - Were there any particular acts from that era whose sort of unguarded emotions you think influenced you the most when you were working on this record? - Well when I was in New York here during the little Cinderella stint which was life changing in its own way, it was funny because I had this exercise routine every morning where I was listening to some old school Prince records and running and getting ready for the show so, Cinderella had a very Prince-ish appetite. And I think a lot of his songs, I think probably my favorite pop song of all time is him writing "Nothing Compares To You. " By Sinead O'Connor ended up covering and making so iconic, but there is something to his songs too that offers so much desire and longing. And just that feeling, and I wanted to capture that uh. - Right. - I don't how else to explain it. - Carly Rae is redefining what it means to reposition classic sounds in a modern forward thinking context. You need look no further than the record's lead single "I Really Like You. " And as a movie lover, I couldn't wait to hear about Carly's experience working with the legendary actor, Tom Hanks. I really wanna stop, but I just got the taste for it I feel like I can fly but fall on the moon - You got to work with Tom Hanks in the video. - I did. - Yeah. In the video for "I Really Like You. " So what was it like having a two time Academy Award winning actor be in the video for the lead single on your third album? - It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, if I'm being honest. There was a pretty magical moment when he was unsure of the lyrics at the beginning of the first verse, and he called out, does someone have a lyrics page? And I was over in the corner and I was like, well I know the lyrics if you want. And I found myself for one very beautiful moment getting to direct Tom Hanks. Or so I called it. They're like, you didn't do anything. You just told him some words, but. My cousin was actually in town and we just got to both pinch ourselves watching this person who we'd grown up seeing in all these movies just lip-synching to my song. It was nuts. I really, really, really, really really, really, really like you And I want you, do you want me? Do you want me too? It's like everything you say is a sweet revelation ... - In reference to reality competition shows like "Idol" and "The Voice, " Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, famously pontificated, kids think, "Oh okay, that's how you become a musician. You stand in line for eight people at a convention center and then you sing your heart out for someone and then enough. It's destroying the next generation of musicians. " But with all due respect to Mr. Grohl, there's more to this story than that, and Carly Rae Jepsen had perspective he could never provide. In 2007, you competed on "Canadian Idol. " And then, it by you didn't have you didn't have your breakthrough moment until 2012 when "Call Me Maybe" became smash global hit. And so someone who has experienced both the highs and lows of the music industry, what lessons do you think the many roads you've traveled as a musician have taught you? - I think that it's tricky. I think with a reality television show, it's not for everybody. You have to be aware if you sign up for something like that, that it's a little bit of a gamble. But I think it's also a really great stepping stone if you can look at it that way. I saw "Canadian Idol" as just this beginning of something maybe and that the real competition would happen afterwards. Landing third on that was a gift because I had a lot of exposure from that show, but none of the ties. None of the contracts. And it really helped bridge the next step which was management in Canada, and a label in Canada, and that's where I put "Call Me Maybe" out for the first time, which is how, you look at it all and it's like, well if that hadn't happened, none of the rest of this would have. So I guess for advice, I would just say to try everything. Knock on every door. You don't know what going to open for you and what that leads to. And usually I find that it leads to something. - Do you think you would be as satisfied with your career and your music if you had had the kind of success you had in 2012 immediately after that show ended in 2007? Or maybe do you think that gestation period of five years helped you grow as an artist? - The best way I can answer that is I can remember being Little Orphan Annie in my high school drama production. And at the end of this seven day run, going home and crying to my parents, and I said, I was from Mission, BC, which is a very small town in Canada, and I said, what if I'm just this child star? They were like no one knows who you are first of all. But I can remember thinking, God, it would be really hard to have everything blow up when you were too young to handle it and have it die down so fast. And I'm really grateful to the journey of my life. It's been ups and downs and constant roller coasters, but very exciting to see that it can still keep going up in different ways too. - Carly Rae Jepsen has left me feeling a little like Marty McFly. We have traveled to the past with a new take on some classic 80s sounds, back to the present with her challenge of outdated notions about how artists pay their dues, and on into the future with an album that defines where pop music is headed tomorrow. The world of music is in constant turmoil. It's not easy to make sense out of the chaos. But I need to try and figure it out. And that's what makes me the Rock Geek.
Carly Rae Jepsen (born November 21, 1985) is a Canadian singer and songwriter from Mission, British Columbia currently based in Vancouver. In 2007, she placed third in Canadian Idol season five's competition. Jepsen independently released her debut album, Tug of War, in 2008. In 2011, she released the single "Call Me Maybe", which was followed in 2012 by her debut EP, Curiosity, and her second album, Kiss. "Call Me Maybe" reached number one in 18 countries during 2012 and was the year's best-selling single worldwide. Jepsen's third album, Emotion, was released in 2015 and is influenced by songs from the 1980s. It produced the hit single "I Really Like You".