Photo: Tamzin Brown
Standing on a stage surrounded by her band in the packed tracking room of Hollywood’s EastWest Studios, LP looks like she’s just stepped out of a scene in Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan fantasia, I’m Not There, as one of the film’s multiple Dylans. A mop of Dionysian curls, a la the inscrutable figure on the cover of Blonde on Blonde, nearly hides her face, and her slender frame is encased in a snug black jacket and pants. She strums a riff on a ukulele, of all things, and launches into the opening number of her mini-set, which, like the four songs that will follow, erupts into a monumental chorus that recalls Bruce Springsteen in his mid-’70s glory days, her voice rising to hit impossibly high notes with jaw-dropping power. Even her moniker (it’s short for Laura Pergolizzi) connotes a bygone era. But if LP’s signifiers vividly evoke the past, her creative process does not.
That remarkable voice is already familiar from Citibank’s use of the “Somebody left the gate open” line from her song “Into the Wild” in a ubiquitous TV spot. But LP gets her first widespread exposure under her own moniker on April 25, when Warner Bros. Records releases the performance as the CD+DVD Into the Wild: Live From EastWest Studios. The idea for the EP came from label chairman and house producer Rob Cavallo, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle before turning his attention to the recording of her full-length album.
Cavallo and Doug McKean, the producer’s regular engineer for the past 10 years, considered several studios before choosing EastWest Studio A for its combination of roominess, excellent lighting and top-end gear. McKean recorded the performance from the other side of the glass using the control room’s 80-channel Neve 8078 running Pro Tools 10. Afterward, he prepared a Pro Tools session for the Warner Bros. in-house video crew, and staff engineer Adam Hawkins later mixed the five tracks to picture. LP, who favors Neumann and Blue Kiwi mics for studio recording, decided to go with a Shure PGX2/PG58 wireless because it allowed her to move freely around the stage. “It was a pretty flat microphone and she’s a powerhouse singer, so it sounded pretty good,” says McKean.
Like other so-called overnight sensations, LP put in years of hard work before being hailed by many as one of 2012’s most intriguing new artists. “My perspective is somewhat unique because of what I’ve gone through,” she says. The New York native was fronting an indie-rock band and playing 200 shows a year when her breakout performance at South by Southwest in 2006 led to a deal with Island Def Jam, whose then-head L.A. Reid proceeded to put the youngster through songwriting boot camp. During the next year, LP focused solely and intensively on collaborating—or “bulk writing,” as she puts it—with an assortment of pros before IDJ dropped her. She spent the next year on indie label, SoBe.
“Everything leads to something,” she explains. “Through these label deals I met a lot of writers, and I kept writing with them. Then I got a publishing deal with Primary Wave, and they were hooking me up, and so was my manager at the time. I really hustled. I wanted to make a living as a songwriter; I loved the anonymity of it.”
Photo: Luke Dickley
It was during this period that she began writing on the ukulele. “At the time I was writing a lot of urban stuff, and I’d take my ukulele to sessions, which threw a lot of people,” she recalls with a laugh. “But I just fell in love with the ukulele; it gave me a completely different perspective from the guitar. The fact that it’s a little bit ‘off’ makes you think differently.”
In late 2009, LP’s manager encouraged her to become a performing artist again. “I said, ‘Okay, man, but I’m not changing shit. I’m playing the ukulele—this is it,’” she says. “Then, in mid-2010, RedOne signed me to a production deal, and I figured, okay, I’ll be an artist, but he’s one of the biggest producers in the world—I’ll also start writing with his people. At the same time, I decided I wanted to play out again, but I was having trouble finding musicians.”
That changed one fateful night in early 2011 when she stepped on the stage of Bardot in Hollywood during one of the club’s Thursday night events in which moonlighting session musicians and visiting vocalists tackle cover songs. “That was the night my band was born,” she says, “because, after I sang a song, every musician on the stage and in the house gave me their card. I became a fixture, and A&R people started coming down to see me, which was totally unexpected. The first time I did one of my own songs, everybody flipped out. I realized I was onto something, so I ended the production deal. I said, ‘Red, I found out what I want to do.’”
LP made the decision just as her writing career was taking off. Her co-writes included Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful People” from the soundtrack to the 2010 film Burlesque and Rihanna’s 2011 hit single “Cheers.”
“So I had this band,” she continues, “but I didn’t have material, and I wasn’t interested in doing the artist thing without having songs I cared about. When I was writing songs for other people, I was editing me out of them, which is good—I was writing for them. But when I started writing songs for me, I decided to do whatever I felt like. I can sing really high and I enjoy it—I’m a belter—so I didn’t hold back. And then the songs started coming, one after the other. I was writing because these songs went somewhere, and I started to get very in tune with what was working.”
Since signing with Warner Bros. last September, LP has skewed the writer/artist formula in a radical way, penning her intensely personal songs in collaboration with the writer/producers she’d been working with as a hired gun—primarily the versatile PJ Bianco, Isa Summers of Florence + the Machine, and the team of Carl Ryden and Marc Nelkin. “I really enjoy bouncing stuff off someone else and tapping into their energy,” she explains. “The way we write for other people’s sessions carries over to my own thing,” she says.
LP has come up with a new model for the writer/artist, discarding the traditional romantic notion of what is considered authentic self-expression in favor of a pragmatic attitude fueled primarily by her work ethic.
“I think of it as a job, but a cool job,” she says. “Some people would say that takes the soul out of it. I don’t find that. I feel very inspired by having to be there in the room. I’m just interested in the work. I feel like I have to do what I love. Songwriting is hard enough; if I didn’t love it, it would be a bitch. But you have to go through it—it’s the process. I didn’t get into this because I wanted to be massively famous. To me, fame is a by-product of writing songs you love and doing great work. It’d be nice to be a pop star and a career artist. Why not be both?”