Music News & Reviews

Carly Rae Jepsen on life after ‘Call Me Maybe’: letting 'joy of music' inspire her

Carly Rae Jepsen will play Tuesday, March 8, at the Granada in Lawrence.
Carly Rae Jepsen will play Tuesday, March 8, at the Granada in Lawrence. USA TODAY

There is no way to approach doing a phone interview with Carly Rae Jepsen without wondering if she will call me, maybe.

When her publicist does indeed ring to connect the numbers, I’m left listening to hold music. Taylor Swift plays, but it just as easily could be Jepsen. In fact, it’s mathematically more likely. After all, Jepsen has the distinction of being the artist responsible for recording the best-selling digital single of all time. Her 2012 pop smash “Call Me Maybe” racked up an astonishing 18 million paid downloads. And she hasn’t stopped there.

Bolstered by the strength of her endearing debut single “I Really Like You,” Jepsen’s latest effort, “E-Mo-Tion,” earned raves as the pop album of the year from publications such as Time, People and Entertainment Weekly. In addition to numerous appearances on talk shows in support of the record, Jepsen portrayed the coveted role of Frenchy in Fox’s megahit “Grease: Live!”

That’s why it’s all the more bewildering that local audiences can witness the buoyant Canadian perform on Tuesday in the cozy confines of Lawrence’s Granada theater.

Jepsen tells The Star she isn’t sure whether she has played (or even visited) Kansas before.

“That’s embarrassing to admit, but we did a whirlwind run (opening for) Justin Bieber. There’s a possibility that he came to town. If he came there, I was with him,” she says.

Phoning from Seattle while on her lengthy “E-Mo-Tion” tour, the 30-year-old Grammy nominee discusses the challenges of following up one of the biggest tracks of the millennium.

Q: What’s an activity you like to do while on the road that might surprise people?

A: The road is a really prolific place for me. You don’t have all the commitments of home or even the same people in your circle of friends you need to keep in contact with. Family and everything comes a little more at a distance through emails and texts.

You have a lot of alone time to be with your buddies, who are all musicians and are all generally creating something. So I’ve actually turned the back of my tour bus into a mini studio. When I have off-time, I go explore the city and then spend the nights working with my guitarist and co-writer, Tavish Crowe, on any new ideas.

Q: “Call Me Maybe” went from being an almost universally liked single to one that bordered on overexposure. Would you be upset if you never had to sing it again?

A: It’s definitely the moment of the show where I’m like, “All right, guys. If you don’t sing it with me, I’m going to stop!”

Q: What’s your favorite cover version of the song?

A: When the Cookie Monster did a cover, that was pretty interesting.

Q: Having made the best-selling digital single of all time, how did you escape from the prison of expectations?

A: When it comes to pressure, I found myself being asked that question a lot. I never really took that on as something that I felt until my move to New York. I was actually able to address it and be like, “What am I going to make next?”

I don’t want to feel like because I made “Call Me Maybe” that that’s what I have to continue doing the rest of my life. I started talking with people who were on my side and understood what I was gunning for, and just saying it out loud a few times helped: “I want to make an album of maturity that’s still pop but has everything I love in it. I don’t want to feel like I’m making it for any other reason than the joy of music, rather than trying to prove something.”

Q: Is there any song on “E-Mo-Tion” that is emblematic of your overall style?

A: What does that word mean, exactly?

Q: Representative.

A: Ah, sorry. I don’t think I’ve heard that before. My new word of the day.

I think the album itself is hopefully the spectrum of what I’m loving so far in music and what I want to create. Song-wise, “Run Away With Me” felt special to us. I remember the night we finished it in Sweden, just not being able to sleep that night because I was so excited to finally share this song.

Q: What gets you really emotional?

A: Probably lack of sleep. When I become an insomniac, everything makes me laugh hysterically or want to burst into tears.

In general, my emotions come out in music more than anything else. It’s a way for me to live out fantasies and dramatize everything in a way that isn’t so real-life. It’s one of the beauties of music that you can go to that fantasy land.

Q: “Grease: Live!” looked like an overwhelmingly challenging production to pull off. For you, what was the trickiest part?

A: It probably looked how it felt. It was a high-pressure, high-stakes thing to sign up for. We all felt it.

Challenge-wise for me, it was getting over those nerves and trying to be really present. Realizing that we had one shot only. This is opening night and closing night. There were so many moving pieces and parts to that, you absolutely had to be on your A-game.

It was a lot of pressure, but it’s something I’m glad I did. It was stressful but more exciting than stressful.

Q: You’ve recorded “Everywhere You Look” for the new “Fuller House” show. Are there any other TV theme songs from your childhood you would love to cover?

A: I never guessed in a million years I’d get to cover that song. And that was truly my childhood. “Full House” was a lot of people’s childhood. I never thought about doing another (theme). This is already blowing my mind to be part of this one.

Q: What’s the best description you’ve heard about your own singing voice?

A: When I was in Japan there was an interviewer who said they were getting a lot of comments that there’s a vulnerable quality to even the most powerful ballads that they found very relatable. I’m happy with that.

Q: Are most people surprised to learn you’re not a teenager?

A: It’s never been something that I’ve hidden. I’m 30 years old, and I’m quite proud of it. But I do sometimes get called out for looking younger than I am. Along with every woman of the world, that’s always taken as a huge compliment.

Q: Do you have any projects in the works that have nothing to do with singing or acting?

A: Not exciting ones. I’m decorating my house. I’m also writing a lot lately, and it’s not necessarily for anything other than for myself.

This trip I’ve been journaling a lot. I did that when I was younger to collect song ideas. The final process of that is to clear your head of every thought you had and analyze it later. Sometimes that turns into songs, sometimes into poetry and sometimes that just turns into journal entries that will be tossed away later.

▪ Carly Rae Jepsen performs Tuesday at the Granada in Lawrence. Tickets start at $25 through TheGranada.com.

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

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