Melanie Martinez has been in character for a long time. Maybe even a little too long, which is why it was finally time for the pop artist to reveal a more introspective side even her most dedicated fans—her beloved Crybabies—have never seen before.

On After School, Martinez puts her Crybaby persona to bed (just for a nap though, don't worry) and reintroduces herself without the character. Her world is still a twisted fairy tale, of course, filled with the adorably macabre, but this time the sickly sweet, pastel-frosted stories are more intimate. More personal. More Melanie.

The fantasy is grounded in a very much lived reality on her raw, yet darkly whimsical new EP. Lead single "The Bakery" unwraps the eccentric yet reflective spirit of the EP tout de suite, chronicling the short, not-so-sweet period of time Martinez spent toiling in an actual bakery in her youth in order to save up money to pursue her artistic endeavors. While the music video for the song looks like a surreal Wes Anderson Easter bonanza, the backstory is quite real, capturing Martinez's frustration and determination during a formative phase of her life.

Like a teddy bear pulling its own stuffing out, the diaristic After School finds Martinez baring other intimate stories and vulnerable perspectives, from her struggles in an unforgiving music industry to smashing the boxes so many have tried to put her in.

Below, Melanie Martinez dishes on playing a character, sampling JLo and why After School is her most personal music offering to date.

You put your "Crybaby" persona aside a bit on this EP. Is this the most personal Melanie Martinez music we've heard yet?

Yes, definitely! Usually I’m confined to Crybaby’s story line, but with After School it was an opportunity to get more vulnerable and express my own experiences/lessons I’ve learned.

Did quarantine and/or the state of the world have any influence on you digging a little deeper/going more personal for this collection of songs? Have you been feeling more reflective and introspective lately?

Naturally, I think over the course of these three years I’ve just been expressing myself freely without the limitations of a specific overarching story line. Any EP I put out in the future will most likely be a collection of personal songs. But all of my albums in the future will be a full and concise story line through the character's lens, accompanied by a film.

Can you share a little about the job you had in high school that inspired "The Bakery"? How long did you work there and were you able to save up the money you needed to kick start your music aspirations?

I didn’t work there for even a month. But I got paid some money to be able to invest into camera equipment that made me able to focus on my photography, which then led to making more money from doing what I loved, which was taking photos of people. That then led me to have enough experience with shooting where I then focused in on music and later came back to the visual aspect of my art when making music videos.

I think the track is also quite relatable for young adults and teens who are stuck in similar circumstances—working a joyless job to save money to pursue their dream, or just escape their hometown. What message would you like to share with those kids?

Hone in on your crafts. Focus in on your creative goals. What do you want to say with your creation? Who do you want to say it to? Don’t focus on receiving attention/fame/validation from other people. Put your energy toward practicing your talents and gaining experience in whatever field makes you feel most fulfilled. If you have to work at a job you hate for a little while so you can make enough money to invest into your purpose, know that it is perfectly okay, and you will get where you need to get with patience and persistence.

What did your mood board for "The Bakery" music video look like?

I didn’t have a mood board for it, I started with drawing out every shot on my iPad in a storyboard.

What inspired the genius JLo interpolation on "Brain & Heart"?

I just kept hearing that melody in my head over the track and thought it sounded really pretty next to the other melodies I wrote.

"Numbers" offers an intimate look into your experience in the music industry, which is of course going through some major challenges and changes currently. What do you think the music industry will look like post-pandemic? And what is your ideal vision for the music industry, if you could reshape it?

I’m unsure. Generally speaking there are two different paths artists can take in pop music: one where they allow other people to create their art and music for them, then put all of their energy into doing tons of promo, which is fair and balanced; but then there’s path two, where artists pour their blood sweat and tears into their music/art and then ask for labels to do their half of the job and promote the work.

Artists on the second path aren’t always given the same opportunities because the corporate interests feel less invested in something they had no part in creating. It would help if labels could focus on what each individual artist needs, instead of expecting artists on the second path to do 100 percent of the creation plus 100 percent of promotion. My vision for the music industry would involve balancing the scales.

"Field Trip" seems to address the various boxes people try to put you in, and how we're all just energy that can't really be contained by each other's assumptions, stigmas and stereotypes. What's the most frustrating misconception people may have about you?

Well, I think when creating a character or alter ego people will always assume you are that character, when the character is really just a creative outlet for you to express the highest extremes of your emotions. It is not you. No one will ever know me fully. Everyone is just putting their own projection of who they think I am onto me. Once you understand that about human nature, you learn to not take any of those projections personally.

On Instagram, you referenced specific tarot cards in your descriptions for each track off the EP. How do you utilize tarot in your everyday life, or to inform your music creation process?

I read tarot for close friends and family members when they need help making decisions or need some extra clarity/different perspective on situations in life. And for myself, I study tarot as a way to understand different energies spanning from current energies to long term energies. It has helped me make more balanced decisions and helped me gain a bigger picture perspective on my life.

In what way, if any, will After School bridge the gap between K-12 and your third studio album?

After School is the transitional puzzle piece between the two albums. Without it, [the space] between K-12 and album No. 3 would feel like such a drastic difference.