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Best of What's Next: Christina Perri

May 9, 2011  |  10:28am
Best of What's Next: Christina Perri

Hometown: Los Angeles
Album: lovestrong
For Fans Of: Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor, Grey’s Anatomy

In the summer of 2010, a heart-wrenching ballad of love and loss found its way, of all places, onto Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance?. The song, “Jar of Hearts,” was an instant hit, catapulting the unsigned young singer-songwriter Christina Perri from relative obscurity onto the Billboard Top 25.

The whirlwind that followed included a live performance on the show, a record deal with Atlantic and recording sessions at several of Los Angeles’ most venerable studios. The songs are powerful for sure, charged with emotion and feelings from the past. Now poised to release her debut album, lovestrong, Perri took the time to speak to Paste about her many loves: her band, her fans, and the inspirations for it all.

Paste: You’ve been pretty busy lately. What has been occupying your time?
Christina Perri: Since July of last year I kind of feel like I haven’t stopped running. Right now I’m rehearsing, which is cool because I’m in L.A. for seven days in a row, even though my day is pretty packed, I get to sleep in my own bed. So I’m rehearsing right now for some shows, I’m playing 11 shows with James Blunt and then I’ve got a little headlining tour for the rest of the summer. So we’re hashing out a show right now, me and my band, and figuring out what to do for 40 or 50 minutes, that sort of thing. And then there’s a lot of radio and promo visits that I do. I recorded an album in 33 days. That happened in January. It was the best 33 days of my life and the worst 33 days of my life, hands down. We had two studios going at Sunset Sounds in L.A., which is like uber-famous and really epic. I recorded there, so we had the two studios going, and I was literally running back and forth playing the guitar, the piano, singing the vocals, the backgrounds, the harmonies. It was so challenging, and so awesome at the same time.

Paste: For your live shows, how did you go about picking a band to play with you?
Perri: It’s really kind of magical. I’ve got a bunch of musician friends, I’m a little bit in the L.A. Scene, and so before the label sent me random people, I was like “let me Facebook around L.A.” or e-mail some of my favorite people and see if they have any suggestions ‘cause I’m still kind of family-oriented. I wanted someone who came recommended and who would just vibe with me. It’s so important to me that my band becomes like my best friends. So I had like three different people, this is no lie, I had three different dudes who didn’t know each other at all, all told me about this guy named John Anderson and this guy named Elmo. I’m like “okay already, if the universe is gonna be like this, I get it, I’ll go meet these people.” It was so bizarre to have three random people say that. So I met with them and instantly fell in love with both of them. They happen to be roommates and are in the L.A. scene too and have a bunch of bands that they play in. They’re just such talented musicians, and we all just kind of fell in love. And then Jenni my bass player was recommended by another friend of mine and she’s this Finnish chick who kind of learned English by living with surfers in Venice, California, so she speaks surfer dialect, it’s unbelievable. If you ever meet her, you need to just ask her to talk and say stuff, like we do, and make her say everything out loud, ‘cause she’s like “oh oh, my bass is like, totally out of tune.” It’s so entertaining. So yeah, its the four of us right now. I plan on maybe growing to five, eventually, but right now we just do our own thing. The album is not too far off from what we do, because I made a very clear point to make every instrument on the record something that can be played by real human beings. It’s credited, every instrument and sound you hear is played by an live person, and is a real instrument. So I don’t have crazy, fancy tracks, and all that stuff. It’s a pretty cool live show—it’s just the four of us. It’s rad.

Paste: Were they with you on the album?
Perri: Yeah, this was last summer when I met them. We fell in love in like August of last year. They didn’t come out that much when I was doing radio promos, it would just be me and John Anderson who plays guitar when I play piano and he plays piano when I play guitar, and he sings with me. So we’re a good little duo, but that’s why I’m stoked to go on tour, on a bus and bring my bass player and my drummer and have them all like a band.

Paste: Tell me a little bit more about the album, the recording process and some of the inspiration behind it.
Perri: It was really cool picking the songs. I’m 24, and I started writing songs when I was 15 when I fell in love. I wrote a beautiful song about a guy I loved, and then the second song I wrote after he cheated on me was called “Tragedy.” So I’ve been writing songs for a really long time and I just have an arsenal of tunes to pick from. Fortunately my label has been so supportive and tell me to just keep doing what I’m doing and keep being me, which I can’t even tell you how lucky I feel. So I just went through this huge collection and tried to find the songs that I wanted to put out into the world or that I wanted to personally get through because it was very kind of cathartic for me in many ways to record these songs. I feel as though, sometimes, that I might get the final closure on some of the shit that I’ve been through, just by putting the album out. So I kind of have to wait until May 10 for some of these wounds to close. So that’s kind of what I do, and in 33 days, I did it really fast, but really passionately. I mean, there were definitely days when I said, “Okay, I’m going to have to come back and do this tomorrow. I can’t get back into December 2007,” cause that’s where I needed to be for that song. Sometimes I would do two songs in one day, and I would cry the whole way home to my house or I’d have to stop and get a chocolate milkshake because I was so vulnerable and raw. But I couldn’t be happier with the way the album came out. I couldn’t be happier with my producer and everybody who played. I’m just so happy with it. I think now that its done, we’ll put it out in the world, and I just want to go and meet every single person who listens to the music. I want to go to every little town in the country and outside the country and just hang out and talk to people and, it’s crazy, it’s just like it’s the next level you know?

Paste: So there’s a fairly big difference in the style between the upbeat songs like “Bang Bang Bang” and then the ballads like “Jar of Heart.” Do you prefer singing one over the other?
Perri: I feel like there’s a good—aaahh, I don’t have a favorite. I feel like, especially when I’m playing a show, if I played too many of like “Jar of Hearts,”—lonely, sad song—if I play that too much in a row, like, I need a break, my heart needs a break, just because of the way I perform. I feel like its just a good group of—like a little rollercoaster and it’s like a breather when I’m singing. But then at the same time my lyrics are kind of twisted, even in the upbeat ones. So, I think my answer would be that I don’t think about it. When I sing them I go on this little journey myself and try to take people with me.

Paste: You have this big collection of songs from over the years. Are you still writing music now?
Perri: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s really great or really awful, but I’ve got so many ideas for album two. I feel like I just need to never stop. I’ve heard from so many friends of mine and people that when you stop the train stops. So, for me, even if its like a poem on the plane or a voice memo in my iPhone or practicing an instrument, whatever it be, I try to keep creating; that’s what I do.

Paste: Obviously “love and loss” are the themes from these songs. What are some themes or topics that you want to touch on in the future?
Perri: Well, I don’t know. I’ve got a lot more in me. Love is my main inspiration. I don’t know if it’s fortunately or unfortunately that I keep falling in and out of love. Definitely good for my writing, but I have no idea where this road is going to take me. I’d like to think that I’m maturing, and every day I experience something new, whether it be fear or falling in love or anything—I don’t even know. I have no idea what’s ahead of me. I feel like it will come out as I go along. I mean, I have a song called “Gluten-Free Killing Spree” from when I quit gluten, so there’s a lot of new stuff coming out, and it’s just all over the place.

Paste: You’re going to have to tell me what’s that about, more than just “when I quit gluten.”
Perri: Dude, well apparently when you quit gluten, your brain goes really haywire, and instead of being suicidal I felt really homicidal and it was awful and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and I realized it was because I quit gluten and the carbs go right to your brain. So, it didn’t freak me out until I wrote a song about murder and then I was like “Oh my god, something’s wrong with me!” So I jokingly have called it “Gluten-Free Killing Spree.” I’m pretty sure the name will change by the time it hits album two, but now you’ll know, you’ll have the secret info that that was the original name.

Paste: How was recording this album different from what you have done musically in the past be it the Ocean Way Sessions or just recording at home before everything all happened.
Perri: It’s funny. I’ve never had such an official album-making process before. Ocean Way Sessions happened in one day—we did it live at Ocean Way studios in L.A. So that was pretty awful, and at the same time we were being filmed, so we still had to look okay and we were all dressed up and then recording at the same time. Whereas I was only really concerned about the music, cause that was what would be printed. It was just a mess, and we did it in five hours and I had no voice the next day. So that was not the best experience, but it was what it was, and it was really fun, and I think it came out great. So I was really excited about getting into an actual real studio—two actually—and having the guidance of a producer, which was really cool and had never been my experience before, something so official. Joe Chicarelli, he blew my mind every single day. I called him favorite gut instinct, because I have this thing about making decisions, and I don’t care what it says on paper and I don’t care what everybody thinks or is afraid of. I just care about how I feel or you feel when we’re talking about it or creating it. So with Joe there was a lot of that. I would just bring in skeletons of songs, cause I only write piano or guitar, so I would bring them in and we would have to just build them, and there wasn’t this pressure to make them sound a certain way. So we just went song by song and just followed our gut. That for me was definitely the coolest experience I’ve had so far, and again very vulnerable and scary for the end result. But I feel like anybody building something, that’s good enough. It doesn’t have to be successful, or whatever, as long as you believe in it. So I believe in the album and I believe in everyone’s choices and I believe in everyone’s performances and I’m just so freakin’ excited to put it out on May 10. It’s driving me crazy that it’s not sooner.

Paste: Going back to the beginning of everything, what was it like breaking the Billboard Top 25 without having an album or label behind you yet?
Perri: It was so awesome. I guess we sold like 220,000 singles before I signed to Atlantic. For that whole month I sat up every night, and I still do, I have this email address where people can write to me and I’ll write back because people seem inclined to write to me about how their hearts feel better. So I stayed up, I really feel like I stayed up that whole month and wrote everybody back and just thanking them. I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude. I was a waitress on June 30, and July 1 I didn’t waitress ever again. It was such a Cinderella boom, you know? That shit just doesn’t happen. I felt very lucky. I rolled in to the record label with this plan ready. I am the way I am, I dress the way I dress, I have 40 tattoos, I talk the way I talk and I play music the way I play music, and nobody fucked with me, because it was like “whatever you’re doing, it’s working.” It was a very cool way to come in to the scene and this world of music. I felt very lucky, and still do every day to just be me.

Paste: What’s next for you?
Perri: Touring. I just want to meet everybody. I want to go to every town and meet every human being.

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