Ten Minutes with A Pop Icon: Carly Rae Jepsen Interviewed

Defining ‘eras’, finding right time for a ‘Dedicated’ Side B, and discovering Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’...

If schools offered seminars on pop music, Carly Rae Jepsen wouldn’t only author the textbook; she’d be her own chapter.

Jepsen has achieved what few in her position could with four studio albums: She’s propelled her genre closer to its future, while simultaneously reviving its past. The ‘80s-infused synth in 2015’s 'Emotion', the ‘70s and ‘90s stylings she says are scattered throughout her last full-length album 'Dedicated' and whatever Kate Bush-inspired sound she hopes to piece together for (likely) her next LP, are proud products of a pop lover who, despite her clear adoration of vocoders, manages to make it all still feel brand new.

As she touches down at new venues on her Dedicated Tour and closes off each concert with the dazzling 'Cut To The Feeling,' as she will for her shows in Manchester and London, she makes sure her crowds feel like they’re on a journey –– to the past, future or wherever they want to be –– along with her.

“We get an hour and a half in a room and all of a sudden it’s just no inhibitions, let’s just all go there together,” Jepsen tells us of her live shows.

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On the phone, Jepsen sounds excited for her trip to the UK, and even more so for a possible new song she hopes to tease on stage. She admits jokingly, while the shows were moved to larger venues, she won’t be anticipating any mosh pits.

That was only a one-time thing. Before she lands in Manchester Friday, pop music’s cult superhero spoke to us about inspiring a new class of pop stars, her newfound admiration for Kate Bush and her hopes for a Dedicated Side B, a project she’s still saving in her “back pocket” for when the time is right.

It's incredible that these shows have been moved to larger venues in the UK. Honestly, nothing shows how massive this era is for you quite better than the relocation of these gigs. What do bigger crowds usually mean at Carly Rae Jepsen concerts?

I don’t know. I always feel so surprised by exactly what you just said. If literally anyone shows up, I’m always amazed. The energy of the room kind of always takes over these shows and that’s what I love so much about it. It gives me confidence back and, at the same time, doesn’t just become about me but becomes about the feeling in the room. It feels pretty magical.

So no mosh pits still?

No mosh pits? Oh, gosh. I think I had one show where there was a moshpit. It was a festival show and I feel like that was the most hilarious thing I ever saw. 

So I used the word “era” earlier without hesitation when describing this tour, but I’d like to know if you see these moments surrounding your albums as just that: eras?

Maybe, yeah. I guess when I’m creating something it feels like this is all for this world. That’s sort of why B-sides for Emotion existed. I just felt like I couldn’t transfer those songs into the next thing that I was doing. It had to exist on its own, in line with 'Emotion' before I could know what 'Dedicated' was supposed to be.

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Of course, of course. Bigger venues are only the result of touring off a record as widely adored as 'Dedicated'. How have you learned to take praise as you’ve solidified yourself as this cult-pop superhero, in a sense, over the years? 

I try to focus mostly on the creative side of stuff more than what the names are or the sword thing. I kind of laugh at all that but I don’t take it too, too seriously. It’s more just for fun.

But how does it feel to watch this album grow up in real time and evolve since its release in May?

It’s been a joyful, crazy seven months. I’ve been on the road for most of it. I got to see some pretty cool places. I was surprised by which songs transferred live in a different way than they did in the room.

'Want You In My Room' became my favourite point of the night and it was a song that almost didn’t make the album. It’s been an interesting lesson that, even with that song, you can just kind of go there and people will get it, hopefully.

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'Dedicated' carried me through the summer and beyond just as 'Emotion' shaped some of my formative high school years. But seemingly, you left the biggest impact on Maggie Rogers who called it a transformative record for her career. What does it mean to see yourself as an inspiration to this new class of pop stars?

I love Maggie. I went to dinner with her when she was getting ready to put her album out. She was nervous and thrilled and excited. That’s exactly what I want to put into every project that I make. And the impression [I want to] leave is that there’s not just one way to do pop music or be a pop artist. The most important thing is just figuring out who you are and sharing that with confidence.

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Now, it’s tough to listen to this record and not feel like you’re transported somewhere in pop-music history. Let’s say we see time travel finally come together for your next LP, which era would the next CRJ album derive from?

A lot of my influences are just music that I’ve loved over the years and some of that is more retro, as you can hear in the 'Emotion' album, I really embraced the ‘80s and I think I can do that wherever I go. But it was fun to do something different as well, like a little ‘70s and a little ‘90s with 'Dedicated'. I had fun exploring that.

Future me, I don’t know. All I can say is I really like Kate Bush lately. I’ve been investigating her work and I’m late to the party, but I’ve been realizing what an incredible writer she is, even visually. I think that would be someone I’d want to bring into influence the next project if I could.

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What are you listening to from her right now?

'Wuthering Heights' has been my favourite song. I bonded with my makeup and hair stylist Aga [Dondzik] over that song. She keeps doing the leg kick theatrically, the one she does in the video. I just like how emo she gets. She really goes there and that’s something that I’d like to do as well.

As we discussed earlier, 'Emotion' saw you carry over extra material into a Side B. I know you mentioned it once before, but do the 'Dedicated' demos have any untapped potential for a B-Sides-infused follow up?

I really hope so. It would be a waste not to share more. There’s some songs I love equally as much [that I’m keeping] in my back pocket here. I’m looking for the right time and want to make sure I have them polished but yeah, I really hope to share some more.

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I do want to discuss your live show a bit and forming the Dedicated Tour. Who would you look to as your inspiration behind performing, stage production or costume design for this one?

I’m really lucky. Tony Marino is my tour manager and him and I sit down and we have a bit of a board with our lighting guy Charles to go over what our focus is.

To me, the main focus is always the music so we do purposefully keep it rather stripped back. And I have a couple musicians with me and we want to focus on them as well. Everyone’s just kind of sharing the stage with me in equal measure.

Of course, and while this is the Dedicated Tour, you tend to sprinkle bits of each era of CRJ into the setlist. Do you feel like you’re using the shows to tell your full story?

I’ve written a great deal of material by now and I think it’s fun to just pick up some of my favorites and make it a celebration versus having any strict rules; a formula that doesn’t feel right. We went through what would be the right, sort of, mix and match and landed where we did with equal footing on Emotion and Dedicated.

Do you have anything special planned for the Manchester and London shows as they approach next week?

I have one little secret new tune that I might be ready to share by then. We’re going to see how it goes. I have hopes for that.

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But you tend to close off these live shows with 'Cut To The Feeling'. What about this track makes it the last you want fans to hear before going home?

I think it might be the main message in what I’d summarize all the songs are about. It’s like, not being afraid of your emotions and just going there. And I think a lot of people hold back and we get an hour and a half in a room and all of a sudden it’s just no inhibitions, let’s just all go there together.

I like closing out with that statement.

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Carly Rae Jepson plays the 02 Victoria Warehouse Manchester (February 7th) and 02 Academy Brixton London (February 8th). Click here for more info: https://www.carlyraemusic.com/tour

Words: Brenton Blanchet

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