It’s been approximately 26 months since we’ve gotten a full-length Carly Rae Jepsen album, and her musical output in 2017 has been, despairingly, minimal: Jepsen contributed vocals to the song “Hate That You Know Me” on the new Bleachers album, Gone Now, but the only new solo sound we’ve heard from her since 2016’s Emotion Side B is “Cut to the Feeling.” Jepsen decided to release the single — left over from more than 200 that she recorded for Emotion — in May to accompany her latest nonmusical endeavor, a voice-acting role in the new animated movie Leap!
“It’s such a theatrical piece,” Jepsen told Vulture about her decision to lend “Cut to the Feeling” to Leap!, which tells the story of a young orphan (Elle Fanning) who trains with Jepsen’s character to become a prima ballerina. “I kind of had dreams of it being in a musical, so when this opportunity came up, it just felt like the perfect home.” In advance of Leap!’s August 25 premiere (and while we wait for her tour with Katy Perry), Vulture spoke to Jepsen about the Carly Slay army, working with Jack Antonoff, the phenomenon of being a mainstream artist with cult appeal, and when you can expect that new album. (Yes, she’s working on it.)
When “Cut to the Feeling” came out, I saw this incredible tweet that said, “if you play cut to the feeling at zero volume, gays within a 0.5-mile radius will still be able to hear it. science is fascinating.” As someone who maintains a pretty private life most of the time, when did you become aware of this intense, cult Carly Slay fandom?
I don’t know if it’s me versus just having a night of celebration and losing ourselves in the music together. What I love so much about the performances lately — for the last round of things — is that it didn’t really feel like all eyes [were] on me. It felt like we were just at a group sing-along together, and I was one little part of it. That’s much more of a comfortable place for me to be. But you’re right. Every night we go on stage, and the band boys and me look at each other and we’re like, “How did we get so lucky to have such kind, excited, exuberant people here, who have learned the words to some of the songs that are more like B sides?” It’s crazy, but I love it, and it’s my favorite part of the whole thing.
Another thing I’ve heard around the internet and from a few friends is, “The calendar doesn’t tell you when summer starts. Carly Rae Jepsen tells you when summer starts.”
That’s almost too much pressure!
It really could be. So if that’s a calling card you’ve developed, do you feel a nudge to create in a direction that aligns with that summer aesthetic, or to maybe create against it? To intentionally do something different?
It’s a really good point. I am in the middle, right now, of working on things for my next album, and my process is a crazy one. I wish that I could have a different one, but I just can’t seem to. I write and I write and I overwrite, and part of the reason of doing that is to flesh out the fear-based songs that are like, “Here’s what’s expected. Here’s what I want to do.” The more I listen to that, it leads to, “Here is the obvious decision,” and the obvious decision is always to make something that you’re proud of, that you love, that you feel is the best work you can do. I want to know that I’m going to feel the same way about Emotion whether people kind of change their minds and hate it, and it’s the same for this next one. You can’t base so much off of the positive or the negative, or you start to believe that as your own opinion of your work. It’s a sacred thing to hold onto, that strength, and the rest is just, like, bonus!
I was listening to an NPR interview you did in 2015, where you talked about the process of writing your last album in a way that was reactive to, but also independent of, “Call Me Maybe” and the beginnings of your career. With a couple of years to digest that experience, do you feel like the new work is its own thing, or is it answering to previous work you’ve done?
I’m not worried about that, because I don’t think I want to make the same thing twice. In terms of how will people react to it: That type of thinking is very unhealthy. I think if you’re looking to just have your ego boxes checked and [hear] people saying all the right things, it’s a really dangerous energy to bring into the studio. However, one of the things I love most about music is connection. When I’m writing a song that feels like a journal entry, and I’m being like, “Oh, this is like everything about what’s going on in my life, and I’ve explained it so well!” — that song might not [have] the same importance to me as a song where, when I play it for you, you’re like, “Oh my God, this explains everything that’s going on in my life, and it means so much to me!” I find real joy in that — in being able to connect with mutually felt experiences, not just my own.
You do elicit a very high empathic response to your songwriting — fans feel like they know you and you’re writing to their personal experiences. Do you feel like your fans are actually getting the “real” you?
I feel like every year, I’m painfully stripping closer and closer. Also, I’ve made some changes in the way I look at the business and my place in it. I don’t care that much about maybe some of the things that I should care about, but the ultimate thing for me is caring about leaving something good after I die. So I’m not really worried about how well it sells or how well it does. The game is fun, yes. I understand the game. But I’m never going to sacrifice what I think is the quality of something to win. I think the only way to really win at the game — and by the game, I mean the business — is to win it authentically, almost by accident, because it just was a true version of yourself. I’m not going to be satisfied if something works and felt like it wasn’t me, you know?
What was behind the decision to voice-act in a project like Leap! versus acting live? Did it have anything to do with your desire to stay — at least relatively, compared to other pop stars — out of the public eye?
Going into it, I was just like, “Oh, I haven’t really tried anything like this before!” And ever since watching My Little Pony and realizing that wasn’t actually a pony, I was like, “I want to have the job that does that.” But when the opportunity came, I don’t think I was thinking about it in terms of a chess match: “If I do this, it will look good over here, later on.” I just wanted to do it because it seems fun, and that’s generally how I make most of my decisions. But it’s strange, because I think you did tap into something there.
I think with Grease [Live!], I had this childhood theatrical side of me that thought I would love the experience. And don’t get me wrong. It was fun, but it was so nerve-wracking and so anxiety-provoking that I had to actually have a talk with myself. Like, “You say that you like this, because you think that you should, but maybe this isn’t actually what you like and you’re just kind of pushing yourself to do something that’s really uncomfortable.” So when I did get to do this voice-over work — my safest, favorite place is in the studio — I love that! I still love to go onstage when it’s our songs and we understand them, but my favorite thing about getting to do the behind-the-scenes work is you’re out there, but you don’t have too many eyes on you. It’s a great combination for me, you know?
It did strike me during Grease that I was seeing you in a way that I hadn’t before. There are music videos and tour performances, but seeing you on TV live was a noticeable departure.
Yeah. I was sick the night before having to do it. I was just so scared, but it was good! I think I hid myself under the hair. I was like, “There’s a lot of wig going on! No one will be able to tell!” I think my nerves really came out during the song. I had, like, no breath at all.
As far as studio work goes, when you and Jack Antonoff go into the room together, what’s the wavelength that you guys get on? Is there a creative destination in mind, or are you guys just bouncing ideas around?
I feel like we have pretty similar taste, and there’s a great friendship there that’s developed over the years. There’s also sort of an understanding and an insight into the journey of this crazy music business: You have to keep evolving in it to not kill your soul. We’ve bonded in a lot of different ways, and I can’t really explain. That’s probably why I love writing with Jack so much. It’s so not formulaic. You get in there and he’ll kind of start buzzing around and start shouting things, and we’ll look back at each other at the end of it and be like, “Why did we write this song?” And that’s always the thing. Working with someone like that, who has such a personality to his music, is such a gift, because you get to then throw in yours and spice it up and hopefully make something unique together. Some of them turn out to be weird little experiments, and then some of them turn out to be some of my favorite tunes.
I want to talk about your song “L.A. Hallucinations,” where you also refer to the industry as a game. I’m curious how your outlook on that part of the business has changed with time.
You know, I had a really interesting conversation with a girlfriend just last week about this, and she changed my thinking on it. Because I think it’s really easy to get into that tunnel effect of “Oh, L.A. is so superficial,” and “that’s so L.A.” becomes this really negative connotation. I think, coming from Canada, it was a very different experience. When you’re in a very tight, little knit bubble of working and writing songs every day, you’re kind of living these Peter Pan lifestyles that don’t offer a lot of reality. You’re not socializing with a dentist and a teacher at night; everyone is in the same game and they’re fighting and strategizing. It’s a lovely community to visit. You just need to get space outside of it. One of the things my friend said to me was, “Let’s just stop saying we don’t like L.A. Let’s just change it to ‘We love L.A.,’ and find things that we love about it.”
You do have to create community in your space. I travel so much, when I was coming home and having time off, I would just pour myself into work, rather than really establishing a life here like I had in Canada. So that’s what I’ve been working to do. I’m, like, five years into living in this town. I’m like, “Maybe I should change my attitude!” But I really am trying. Sometimes, I just want to cocoon up like a potato in my house and then fly out when I need to, but I do feel like whenever I make the decision to be brave, I always get more out of it.
I have to ask: When will you have new music? When is that next album coming?
I’ll say this: I have my own little game plan, but life’s a mystery, and you never know what could happen. I’m open to a little flexibility in that, obviously. I don’t run the show in terms of what happens [when], but I definitely feel like I’m starting to have a game plan, yes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.