Welcome to Kind of a Big Deal, a series dedicated to introducing powerful women who are breaking boundaries in their fields. You’ll meet the rising stars and get the inside scoop on how they made it, what they’re working on now, and what’s up next.
Meet LP, otherwise known as Laura Pergolizzi. She’s the singer/songwriter behind Rihanna’s “Cheer (Drink to That)” and Rita Ora’s “Shin Ya Light.” Her insanely high and haunting vocals have been compared to Janice Joplin and Florence Welch (whom Pergolizzi considers a good friend) of Florence and the Machine. Her new album has been gathering steam abroad—its titular single "Lost on You" has reached No. 1 in more than 10 European countries—but LP’s sound has been historically hard to pin down, a reason why, she thinks, several labels have picked her up over the years only to drop her from their rosters.
Now, LP’s officially found her groove, or rather she’s finally got control over her sound with a production team that lets her stunning vocals shine. On the heels of her latest music video release for “When We’re High” last week (which has already amassed nearly 600,000 views on YouTube), we caught up on the phone with the artist to talk “pop music,” sexuality, and pushing for your own success in the industry.
You’ve been labeled as a rocker and as an indie artist, but you like to write pop music. What connects all those genres for you?
Well when I started songwriting, I felt like it was safer to write as many songs as possible because producing, like today, didn’t yield the same amount of money for every market. But I think any confusion about my music says more about how we decide to separate genres. People don’t always necessarily understand the melding of them. But the point of all music is to be catchy. So, any type of music that I like, even if it’s classical, has a pop element to it. I want to keep listening if it’s stuck in my head, you know? I just think “pop” is an oddly meaningless word …
“Pop” just means “popular.”
Yeah, exactly. The Beatles were pop. The [Rolling] Stones were pop. When I’m singing my songs on stage, I feel like I’m doing a rock show, even though I don’t think all my music is particularly straight up rock. It makes me feel better when somebody asks, “What kind of music is this?” and fans are saying, “Ah, I don’t know, it’s like pop, with some funk, with some alternative.”
You’ve said in the past that being a “female rocker” is limiting. Can you explain that?
I think being a “female rocker” conjures up a thing of the past. The quintessential female rocker hasn’t been around in a long time. The closest thing we have to what Stevie Nicks was, for me, would be Florence Welch—well we have Joan Jett. Joan Jett is still Joan Jett—but we don’t really have a woman that’s holding the rock torch, per se. I definitely try to when I’m on stage, but I don’t know if anyone would acknowledge that.
You’re also a proud member of the LGBTQ community. How does your sexuality play into your work?
I think that a person’s sexuality should be beside the point. For me, when I first came out as a lesbian, it freaked me out how suddenly my sex life was on parade. Like when your extended family finds out that you’re gay, it can feel like they’re just thinking about who you’re having sex with. But when your heterosexual cousin brings her boyfriend or his girlfriend around to a family thing, I don’t think everyone’s picturing the couple getting down. For me, that’s always felt a little uncomfortable. But they’re so many people that are out now. I mean I just got engaged to my girlfriend and it’s been incredible.
I saw that. Congratulations!
Thank you. It’s been about a week and with all the stages I’ve been on in Italy, in France, in Athens, it’s been nothing but, “Congratulations! Ah!” It’s so beautiful to see that. I feel like I watched the world change in front of my eyes, and I’m proud to be such a small part in shaping how people see this. I also feel like being low-key about it helps to—I wouldn’t use the word normalize—but it helps to keep it like, yeah, they’re gay! And that means nothing. I remember when I put my first video out, someone said, “Oh, so you’re kissing girls in the playground.” And I said, “No, I’m kissing my girlfriend, like a peck on the lips.” That’s the most G-rated video you could possibly see out there. There’s nothing racy about it. I’m kissing a woman because that’s my girlfriend. I guess I just feel very comfortable with being myself. The world is shifting and I don’t feel any stress about it.
Your most recent video release for “When We’re High,” which features your fiancé, seems to be a low-key celebration. What was the idea there?
To be honest, I was home for one day off of work when we shot that. We might have gone deeper with the storyline with a little bit more time. But the lyrics are about being in a romance that feels almost like a fantasy in the beginning. So this video is honestly about having some fun and evoking somewhat of that party atmosphere.
WATCH: LP's Latest Music Video for "When We're High"
You’ve been in the game for a while now, going through several labels that just didn’t seem to click. Why does this record Lost On You feel different?
My last record got beyond my control, way out of control. And it was a letdown, especially on the production end because I didn’t need all of that production pushed upon me. This time, I got to do the songs with my personal pick of production—Mike Del Rio and PJ Bianco—and we got to really do it the way we wanted. I think one of the hard things as an artist is to get yourself moving the way you imagined, and many people do that. I just found it a bit of a challenge. But I’m glad I finally got to show that when I do it my way, it just makes sense.
The goal here is to connect with people. What do you want fans to take away from your music and your videos?
I think I have a different view of what pop is and what can be acceptable in that realm. I feel good about that. I want fans to see that not everything’s so black and white with genres. I have a retro feel to my work, to my person, but I also have a futuristic view of what’s possible. We can have people in pop that have more diverse looks and attitudes.
How would you describe your look or personal style?
Anybody who looks comfortable in their own skin, even if it’s outlandish style, if they look good in it and comfortable, I’m like, f---yeah. I would say my style is androgynous. I always really felt like I gravitate toward that trend. I like being my rock ’n roll comfortable self. I pretty much dress the same onstage and offstage. I don’t wear sweatpants on a plane. I look like I could get on a stage at any moment.
And the ship tattoo, that references change and the journey of being an artist, is that right?
After years of me thinking about tattooing this ship on my arm, I decided in three days in New York, you know what? I’m going to tattoo it on my chest. I guess I’m thoughtful and impulsive at the same time when it comes to tattoos. And yeah, the ship is about accepting the journey. Through all my ups and downs pursuing a music career, I really used to hate when people would say, “Oh, it’s about the journey.” I was like, you need to shut the f--- up. I don’t want to hear about the journey. And then in the last couple of years, I’m like, nah, it is about that. Exactly what happened in life and in my career has made me who I am. So I get it now.
You also have an earring in your left ear that’s a cross. Does that mean anything special to you?
It was an earring that a friend of mine gave me, that was part of a Madonna shoot. When I was a kid, I didn’t know I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I wasn’t brought up in a family like that or anything. But in the same year that I said to myself, hey, I might pursue this, he gave me this earring. I just found it really beautiful and simple.
Did you ever think about quitting?
Yeah, of course, but very mildly so. There were a couple times after my third major label deal dropped I might’ve been like, glad I got halfway decent doing something I’m not going to be doing. But I think the enemy of any young artist is to be in “feeling sorry for yourself” mode thinking if no one wants me here, then I’m just going to stop. We can all get into that but it’s a worthless place to be. You can lose yourself if you go down that road. I think songwriting really put the gas in the tank for me when I felt like there was nothing left.
How do you know when you write a song that's meant for you to sing as opposed to somebody else? Is there a defining characteristic?
It’s weird. It’s almost like picking out clothes or something like that. When it’s for you, you’re like, yeah, that’s my shit right there! I don’t always know. It’s difficult to see what ultimately makes it mine. But usually, there’s a dialed in element to the music and the lyrical content that’s specific to me. Sometimes it’s signature vocals that I do or just that it’s too f---ing high for anybody else to sing.
You’ve written for with a lot of different artists from Cher to Christina Aguilera to Rihanna—who has been your favorite person to work with?
The first song I’d ever had cut by anybody was cut by the Backstreet Boys. I couldn’t believe it. Like, oh shit, really? F--- yeah, Backstreet Boys are going to sing a song I wrote? That’s great. And one of the biggest thrills was Rihanna, of course. I love her. She’s been able to take a song and put it on the charts through pretty much her entire career. And also hearing Joe Walsh singing my song, was pretty amazing. Anybody who sings my songs I’m like, “Ay, thanks, man!”
Would you like to continue writing for other people?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like it’s really good for me as a writer, to take a little bit of vacation from myself. I don’t have anybody specific in mind, but someone like Bruno Mars would be cool. I think he’s an incredible artist and an incredible singer. Or someone crazy like Peter Gabriel.
How has the writing experience changed for you over the years?
At my first major label deal in 2006, I was terrified. It was daunting to go in a room with people you don’t know and write a song—that’s such an intimate thing. Now, I feel like I don’t even think about it—I can conjure up the muse much easier. And again, some days, it’s just not really there but on the days that it is, it’s a really cool experience. When we wrote “When We’re High,” it was December in Paris and two of my co-writer/producers, Mike Del Rio and Nate Campany, came out for the two days that I had time off from tour. People write on tour all the time, obviously, but it’s a shot in the dark. It was cool after the fact to be like, we wrote that just on a stopover in Paris. And we actually got two really good songs that day—another one might come out next year.
You’re from New York, but you’ve said you’re a big supporter of the LA music scene. What makes LA so attractive for artists right now?
I don’t know whether it’s the weather or the water or what, but there’s a lot of opportunities out there so as an artist, I feel a lot closer to the muse. And change in any way is good for an artist. When you make your passion your job, you can get in a rut pretty easily. It’s not uncommon to feel super overwhelmed with the task of becoming something you love.
“Lost on You” has gone platinum in Greece and double platinum in Russia so far. Did you expect to blow up like you have abroad?
Not at all. You know, I played “Lost on You” and “Muddy Waters” and “Strange”—a few songs that have done very well for me—for my last label, Warner Bros. then I got dropped two weeks later. You just don’t know sometimes and it can be funny. Like the first country to really go for this was Greece and then Italy. And I remember randomly, people would be like, Yeah, I could see how that could do well in Greece ‘cause of the ukulele or whatever. And I was like, oh yeah, could you? There’s no ukulele in that song but OK, boo boo. No problem. Like way to talk out of your ass [laughs]. You just never know.
What would you say to young artists who are in that “feeling sorry for yourself” mode?
So many times in my career, people didn’t believe in my music. Then watch next they’re like “Hey, I got and idea! Lesbians are in. Little lesbians with curly hair. Sign one.” It just goes to show you that you never know. And if there’s anything I can help with as far as inspiration for other artists I’d say just do your thing, man. If you want to do this just keep doing it and don’t let the subjective element of this business get too into your head. Just strive to write the best songs you can and play the best music you can.