Carly Rae Jepsen On New Single “I Really Like You,” Making Her New Album & The Influence Of Old-School Madonna: Interview

Carly Rae Jepsen's "I Really Like You"
Listen to the Carly Rae's feel-good lead single from her upcoming album.

This past Sunday, on the eve of its official single release, Carly Rae Jepsen’s insanely catchy new single “I Really Like You” made its way online. (The music video, featuring Tom Hanks, is set to debut tonight on Bravo.) And given that the singer was in the Big Apple for a performance on Good Morning America, we grabbed some time with her to have a talk about all things pop.

Make no mistake, Carly Rae knows her way around an addictive hook. She ruled the airwaves in Summer 2012 with her Grammy-nominated, chart-topping smash “Call Me Maybe,” and also cracked the Top 10 with her feel-good Owl City pair-up “Good Time.” The parent album of both, Kiss, is what the bulk of the Internet now refer to as being highly underrated, and it turns out that the success of “Call Me Maybe” created a huge amount of pressure for Jepsen.

For her follow-up album, she enlisted the studio expertise of Max Martin, Peter Svensson of The Cardigans, Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, Tegan And Sara and, well, just about everyone.

Talking with the red-headed singer reveals a wide array of pop influences that stretch from the present to way back — from Sky Ferreira, Blood Orange and Solange to Prince, Sinead O’Connor and old-school Madonna. So, let’s just jump into it, shall we?

I should start off by telling you that, three years ago, I bought a friend of mine your Kiss CD. He’s working on his PhD  in Austin, and he was driving one night with his friends, and he popped the CD in, and when “Tiny Little Bows” started playing, one of his friends shouted, “Wait — what is this? This is transcendental! Turn it up!” So you had all of these doctoral students cruising the city, transcending to your music. CRJ: [Laughs]

I think it was taking them to the next level. Wow! I’m pretty flattered. Thank you! Were they on any drugs?

I don’t think so, but then again, I wasn’t there. This is even more amazing!

So, let’s get the important topic out of the way first: You have new hair! I know. Everyone’s like, “What have you done?” It wasn’t a decision that I thought long and hard about. It was sort of a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment chop.

You also premiered  “I Really Like You” this week, and the love for it online seems to be pretty unanimous. Have you read what people are saying about the song? I’m trying not to, but I’m getting a little bit of the bubbling of it from friends and family, and my band’s been in town for the [Good Morning America] show, so they’re knocking on my door like, “We gotta celebrate!” I don’t think I could have asked for a better first day. It was a lovely start.

Peter Svensson of The Cardigans produced “I Really Like You.” How did you come to work with him? Fate and luck. I gave a big, gushy phone call to my A&R, John Ehmann, last night saying, “Man, thanks for setting up that session, because none of this would have happened without you” — and it’s true. I wrote with pretty much every person I could, and J. Kash and Peter, we had a session for about two or three days together. I showed up without knowing who either of them were, without doing my homework — which is really bad; normally I check it out. Once Peter told me he had done “Lovefool,” I was like, “I have confidence in you!” That’s my favorite song from the ‘90s. J. Kash is a fantastic writer, as well. We just chipped away at it together. It was one of those things [where] once it was done, all of us had that feeling that it was probably the next [single].

Tegan And Sara are also a part of this album. I’m guessing that in Canada they have to be a national treasure at this point? The first time I saw them was at a folk festival in Nanaimo, I think, or Comox, BC. So, yeah, I’ve been a fan since they had chopped boy ’dos that were bleach blond. This Business Of Art — was that their first album? I’d been following them for a while, so writing with them the first time was nerve-wracking. I’m usually quite opinionated, but with them I was like, “This might be a stupid idea, I don’t know, but what do you think if we just said this word instead of that word?” They were so cute about being like, “Yeah, it’s a good idea. Let’s do it.”

Can you give the name of the song you worked on with them? We worked on a few together, and I don’t want to say yet because I haven’t decided the album tracklisting yet. It’s a shame, too, because I think the hard part about this is that I’d written about 200 or 250 songs before deciding which ones are making it, and there are so many talented writers and people that I’ve worked with who I think have affected the way that I write and changed my mind about how to attack a song. So maybe a song isn’t on the album, but [these writers] are no less a part of it in some way, if that makes any sense.

Compared to previous album Kiss, you really spent a fair amount of time making this one. Two years as opposed to two months.

Was your approach to making this one different? For instance, did you learn anything three years ago about how to make an album — or perhaps how not to make one — that you applied to this upcoming one? I actually think it was less organized than that. It was much more like, I did feel the pressure from “Call Me Maybe” — I didn’t know that was a real thing — and I did feel like I didn’t have the answers. So I was just going to do the only thing that I could see working, which was try everything and then maybe the answer would come and present itself to me. So that’s why I did personal emails and did research on artists that I wanted to work with in New York, and had my A&R reach out to people who I didn’t know how to get in touch with — not just in L.A., but in Sweden and London. I just tried every kind of door and avenue that I could go down. And eventually, 250 songs later, the cream rose from that and we have an album. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder on anything in my entire life. It’s like this album is my baby, and when I hold it in my hands I’m gonna throw it out the window!

And you’ll exclaim, “This is transcendental!” [Laughs] Totally! There you go. And I’m gonna do a lot of drugs. Just kidding!

I swear, my friends were not high when transcending to your record! What led you to working with Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid on this album? Dev was through Solange. I was really into her, and while being in New York for Cinderella and having time during the day, I would be on the Internet and my guitarist would come into town, and we’d be like, “Well, who did the production on that? Who co-wrote that with her?” Then I got into the Blood Orange Cupid Deluxe album, and I was like, okay, I need to meet this guy. So I ended up meeting him in New York, and we started a few things together. One of the tracks, it kind of had that Prince-y element to it and we loved it, but Ariel got involved with it recently to add his spin to it too. It’s a pretty big slow jam, so we brought the tempo up a little bit. Sorry, this is probably getting too detailed.

No, I’m a music nerd. I love this kind of stuff. Okay! [Laughs] And with Ariel, on the separate train of things, I was a big fan of the Sky [Ferreira] stuff. [Starts singing “You’re Not The One.”] I was obsessed with that. We had a couple coffee dates, just talking in between all the stuff that he’s got going with Brandon Flowers, and we were like, “How are we sneaking in a day to get this done?” We just made it come together. I remember when I got both [Dev and Ariel] in the room together to work on this track, it was probably one of the most magical days ever. It’s nice to really be in a moment like that and feel like, okay, this is why I’m in this business.

Thank you Mr. You Know Who You Are ~for this incredible gift. X

A photo posted by Carly Rae Jepsen (@carlyraejepsen) on

You recently posted the back cover of Richard Corman’s Madonna NYC 83 on Instagram. What was the significance of that book for you? It was a gift, and it was right around the time when I was picking my single cover. I’m obsessed – it’s on my coffee table right now. I still flip through it, even though I’ve seen [all the photos] a couple times. I just love the spattered paint on everything. I think that gave us a little bit of the concept. You should have seen how many versions of the flower we had with splattered paint on it! It was hard to make it look like it wasn’t dripping down. But [the book] was kind of inspiring in a lot of different ways. There’s something about the very old-school Madonna look that just I just get off on in a big way.

Was Madonna influential to you at a young age? I can’t lie and say she was introduced to me at a young age. I was actually listening to what my parents were into — this is gonna shock you — but it was more like James Taylor and Van Morrison and much more folkier artists. The first pop artist that caught my ear was Sinead O’Connor, and, funny enough, it was because of that Prince song, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” That sparked something for me, and then I was sort of off to the races. I think my heart and soul does stick very much in the ’80s, because I feel that was the purest pop at its finest, like the emotional ’80s. I think that’s what you’ll find with my album, it all goes there — in a new way, of course, but it definitely tips its hat to that whole era.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s new single “I Really Like You” is available on iTunes now. Her upcoming album will be released later this year.