Carly Rae Jepsen seems worried about me. At the moment, she doesn't seem to care about the 13 million copies sold of her omnipresent "Call Me Maybe," her meteoric ascent, nor even the slightest mention of the stadium show she's about to play in Cape Cod, a stop on her Summer Kiss stadium tour. Jepsen is more concerned with what I'm doing, which is conducting our interview 53 miles west of Yuma, en route to a surf trip, on some godforsaken off-ramp in 110-degree heat. She wants to talk about that before anything else.
Jepsen is far unlike most artists of her stature. Exemplified by our after-school phone call rapport, she's characteristically unguarded, talking a million miles a minute and peppering her storytelling with the occasional giggle. Even from some 2,800 miles away, she's a charmer, and maybe that's because we're not talking about her outfits or nail color -- we're talking about her artistry, something that the public can easily forget when everyone from the Biebs himself to Colin Powell have sung her ubiquitous, Billboard-topping single.
"The thing about success in this career is that there isn't just one short path and there's a lot of knocking on different doors and you hope to God that one of them opens," she says. "I think once you're through that door, when it comes to actual art, you need to stand by what you do and not compromise."
Though she does come from a singer-songwriter background, cutting her teeth and pulling out all the intimate stops on 2008's Tug of War, Jepsen is an unabashed fan of pop music. Her Canadian upbringing was shaped by the sounds of James Taylor and Van Morrison, artists whose classic pop structures pushed her down the path of the troubadour.
She made her initial rounds in Vancouver's coffee shop scene, playing venues like the Corduroy Lounge and opening for touring acts. When big-time recognition came calling in the form of Justin Bieber's Twitter endorsement of "Call Me Maybe" last January, Jepsen soon found herself opening for Bieber, shifting from 3,000-capacity rooms in Canada to recalling a particular Mexico City crowd of 300,000. Such a drastic change helped to prepare her for her first headlining tour.
"My security blanket in that was that it was an opening set -- I would sing the top five and then run off-stage, so it was kind of like a teaser taste and not much worry about having to do anything but run out, jump up and down a couple times, and get out of there," she says. "With the headlining tour, I get to bring people into my world."
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That in itself is a process for Jepsen. It's a world seen through a slightly different scope, one that she found "later in the game," as she puts it, starting her songwriting at 17 years old. Ten years later, those songwriting sensibilities paid off in full, having worked with legends such as Max Martin, who contributed to Kiss' latest single, "Tonight I'm Getting Over You."
While her biggest moments were captured in Bieber's typo-laden tweet and a third-runner-up spot on Canadian Idol, Jepsen has never been immune to the struggle of being a singer-songwriter first. It did equip her with the tools to build the framework of hit songs on her own and hone an appreciation for both co-writing and the simplicity of pop music, but it ultimately developed Jepsen's stage presence -- an intimate act that's the product of trying to capture the attention of coffee shop patrons years before.
"I'd been working all week on a song in my head and go to this little singer-songwriter night. No one would be paying any attention and it would be my own personal moment and everybody would shut up, and I really wanted to win over the crowd," she says. "Pop music is a lot more jumping around and really getting people enthused versus trying to get them to evoke some emotion, like the person in the coffee shop."
"[But] there's still a common thread to it -- you're just trying to affect people with either happiness or realness."
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With her tour well under way, Kiss making rounds and selling well, and a behemoth of a career milestone under her belt, the girl who once spent her efforts trying to get the attention pointed her way in a Vancouver lounge is now content with her placement, calling her own shots instead of waiting for someone to look her way.
"I really naturally have my own peace with things, and it just sort of developed naturally," she says. "Now we're starting to get more creative, but I definitely have asked the world what I am doing, and taking the reins was the biggest challenge. Now that I'm holding onto them, I feel really excited to kind of giddy up and go."
Carly Rae Jepsen is scheduled to perform Thursday, September 12, at Comerica Theatre.
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