When arriving to meet LP for lunch in New York City, I'm self-conscious about my extroversion.
The singer and hired gun for artists ranging from transcendent Rihanna to would-be pop ingenues like Heidi Montag has been described over the years as a little bit Feist and a little bit Joan Jett. What if she's feeling like a quieter Feist today? Would my playfulness be off-putting?
When I plop down in the low seats of our low-lit table at Soho's Mercer Kitchen, I can't help but think of every scene on The Hills, where Lauren and her comrades barely touched their expensive plates of food in favor of exchanging long-held, mascara-filled gazes — with very little talking, and a whole lot of texting.
But then, from beneath her artfully tousled coif of curls, LP (initials for Laura Pergolizzi), peers up at me from the menu, and flashes a boyish grin. "Let's eat, I'm fuckin' hungry," she says, and I'm immediately put at ease by her charm. There is only laughing and talking, and no texting at LP's table.
The artist is in town from Los Angeles, after being on tour for the past few years, to promote her fifth studio full-length album, Heart to Mouth, out today. The album's big-ticket selling point is that, more than ever before in her two-decades-long career, she's telling it like is, from her heart to her mouth. Not that this hasn't always been the case. LP's edgy style — from her gender-fluid, Parisian-chic presentation to attitude-driven jams like "Lost On You," "When We're High," and "Into the Wild" — has continually revealed an artist freely connected to her truth.
But in the case of her newest offering, LP's "honesty on display" certainly feels true in a multitude of ways: Heart to Mouth marks LP's first album since ending her relationship with Warner Bros., and she's not afraid to talk about how that's affected her. She's singing like she's got nothing left to lose, as exemplified on emotional lead single "Recovery," which finds LP adopting a chilling, belted quiver that is truly the stuff rock folklore is made of.
"I'm definitely addicted to love, and I feel like I low-key hate myself for that, even though I do feel like I just ultimately was truly in love and ruined by it," she says. But LP wrote the song from an ex's perspective. "I'd never had my heart broken like that by a woman, to be broken up with how that went down. I knew I needed to leave her alone, and I just fucking couldn't. I wanted to sing from the place of where she might've been coming from."
Elsewhere on the record, LP ponders the sacredness of dreaming big on "Dreamcatcher," and tragic loss and resilience on "Special." And LP is also in love, as messy as that can be, out of one "dark, sad relationship, into a euphoric, brand new one," on songs like "Die For Your Love."
On the whole, the album is a stylistic blend of past folk and rock influences, plus a reverence for pop songcraft, and zero need to play it safe. LP talks candidly with PAPER over fries and salad about writing for Montag and other rising artists, maintaining her artistic integrity, tour life, social responsibility, and dating apps.
Your new album is beautiful and stylistically diverse. When that happens, people sometimes make a lot of fuss about artists' work being scattered. But then, sometimes being all over the place is kind of the point. What do you think?
Yeah. I'm eclectic, I think. I like a landscape, I don't like when it's too pat down by standards.
The first song "Dreamcatcher" accomplishes this by incorporating some serious Stevie Nicks vibes.
Especially on "Dreamcatcher," yeah. Love that you picked up on the fact that I'm totally giving my best Stevie Nicks drag. I had the Fleetwood Mac song "Dreams" in my mind somewhat when I wrote this.
Another thing that I didn't know about you until recently is that you wrote one of my all-time favorite albums.
Oh jeez, which was it? Should I be scared?
Not at all! It's Heidi Montag's Superficial.
Oh my god, really? Wow. I always feel like people would bring that up just to fuck with me.
No, believe it or not, I think there's something strangely powerful and genius about it. A relevant commentary on celebrity and modern technology.
[Laughs] Well, I wrote all those songs. And they came to me like they love all these songs — her and Spencer — they were like "we love this album." And so we spent some time in the studio, and Heidi is a really sweet girl, such a sweet person. I enjoyed their company, they were so nice. That's very interesting, that was the beginning of my publishing deal when I was coming off worrying about being an artist and just being a writer, and I was just free — I didn't give a fuck. I still, honestly, don't give a fuck. I try to keep that in my writing.
Not giving a fuck seems to be a hallmark of your career, one could say.
Yeah, totally. I have to, because it's so painful otherwise. I feel like I took years off my life trying to go down these paths that people who gave me opportunities or money were trying to lead me down, and trying to be cooperative, per se, and then getting nowhere in the process while feeling diminished and robbed of my spark. Somehow, I just kept going and kept wrapping myself up in people who did give a shit, more on the side of management, and realized that I thrive, like most artists do, when I can feel that people believe in me, not just trying to "see" if something will happen. Because that bullshit... "oh, we'll see if something happens" is basically the major-label playbook. I think that it's so defeating for an artist to go through. I really saw that every time I got several deals, and not just small deals — I've gotten seven major deals in the states, four major label deals, and two that were like bidding wars, completely.
Are there artists now that you would love to work with or write for? Are you interested in that right now?
I am, I'm going to be working with this woman when I get back from this promo tour named Sasha Sloan...
We love her!
She's really cool! I don't know, I did that song with Noah Cyrus, I didn't write it, but I was really happy to get into her world just to see it. She's so cool, and she's such an artist! She's a great songwriter, and she really works at it... She goes hard. I just let it flow with collaborations, because I think it's a little bit of a holiday from myself, I feel like I get to see how other people do it, get inspired by someone else's dramas, that's nice.
What do you love most about where you're at now?
I'm finally in this place where I'm not giving a shit about the direction my career takes me in, and allowing myself to make only what I want to make, and it's been very freeing. I really don't try to write anything, because I think I'm most — I wouldn't say "proud of" — but when you listen to this record, it doesn't sound like I'm trying to write another Lost On You or something. I feel like, arguably for me, my personal best, my biggest, most recognized song before "Lost On You" was "Into the Wild." I remember consciously not trying to write another "Into the Wild," which led me to "Lost On You," and then that album. If you're trying hard to write your biggest songs, or doing what you think will get you the most recognition, I think that's just faking it as an artist. By all means, try to write what you want, but I'm not going to try and write another song for "The Man," you know? When I look back on artists that I adore — you look at Queen and periods where you might not recognize any of their songs because they weren't all "hits." Regardless, were they struttin' around like they owned the place? Of course they were.
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With that in mind, how challenging has it been for you to maintain your integrity while navigating the industry? I think on some level there's always compromise, but on what things?
I feel like my entire records through Warner Bros. was a giant compromise, and it happened slowly. It was like being in a marriage where you really start off with complete integrity and are really balanced, and then you just — somebody cheated a little, or you made too much money too fast, and people grew less and less idealistic. It felt like that a little bit, and I really tried to play the game, because at the time I thought they were on my side, and I've seen this happen to so many people. For me, I was lucky with how this ended up eventually, but because I've worked with other artists and have become privy to their actual careers, like having a window in. I've seen the most idealistic and the most confident, sure, young, and beautiful artists get fucking hoodwinked. You can hear a lot of stuff, like, no, don't keep putting out singles even though you're succeeding, let's buckle down and do a whole record, or let's keep all the songs more upbeat and more pop, or let's bring in this slick-ass producer instead of who you want to work with. And if you don't know what's happening, and don't feel empowered to speak up, suddenly, you get nowhere fast. I've been through that, and have had countless friends and contemporaries go through that red tape. It'll wear you down. It's can be crap shoot of a business, you know. Life is!
The title of your new album, Heart to Mouth, seems to be about you just telling it like it is. Where you do feel that truth factors into the role of artists today?
Heart to Mouth is my closest possible version of the truth. If you were in here witnessing exactly what I'm witnessing, you'd be like "oh, that's a shit-ton of lies." It's a bunch of the lies I tell myself and then spew out as my truth. I don't fucking know, I also feel like I'm trying to shoot this truth through a kaleidoscope of poetry and things that I want to say over and over again as a poet, if I could be a poet. It's got all these personalities in there. I'm moody, I think that's why my songwriting is all over the place. And when I say "moody," I don't mean that I'm a bitch every other five minutes. I mean that I can really go there in my head, like when a dog's all happy, then you leave the house and they think you're never coming home and they just get so sad. I could go there in five seconds, all the time. The more experiences I get to have, the more I can conjure them up. I feel very able to go dismal in two seconds.
"I'm finally in this place where I'm just not giving a shit about the direction my career takes me in, and allowing myself to make only what I want to make, and it's been very freeing."
Does tour life affect your mood, too? Did it play into what you were writing on this album?
This one, I did have a lot of issues that were going on in my world. I've been on tour for two and a half years straight. So yeah, it gets dark sometimes. As bright and as wonderful as it is, out of the 24 hours in a day, the one's I'm sleeping and the one's I'm on stage, is all this time when I'm like "ugh." Can we just do hands on this shit? I've written so many songs, I'm ready to put another record out. I think this record, right now, is perfect for me. I'm still exploring. I've gone from relationship to relationship, it was very difficult. I went from that really dark, sad relationship into this euphoric, brand new one literally overnight. Then I had this beautiful year, and then was on the road for two years, which is very difficult, a lot of distance, a lot of strain and misunderstanding. We're a little bit in our own world of an Internet couple, like my fans, her fans, our fans are all about this. It's like this other mini reality show on the side, and we're great, but it's been really hard. And like I said, I get really moody, and sad and upset when I have to live for days in this muck of misunderstanding.
"I'm ready to sing for you, Seattle."
"Thank you so much!" like a love fest, but then I go back to...yeah. It's just really hard. I've been in that place, and still processing what happened before. A very good friend of mine was murdered last year, the end of 2016. There's a song on there called "Special," yeah. That was really [hard]. He was just starting to do movies, he was an E! Television host Renato López, he was really loved and really cool.
Wow, I'm so sorry.
It was kind of a sad thing even just being out in the world and people knowing who you are. I've never had a friend murdered. It's a pretty young man too, you know? I was having this incredible experience, and when that happened I really had to go, Oh shit, there's really still so much awfulness in the world. And, just blowing around the world, even just being in one of those beautiful little Christmas villages in Germany one day, or having a sweet show in Switzerland and all of a sudden one gets run through with a truck. Just crazy awareness that you could be having this beautiful life experience, but you're still in this dangerous world that we live in, so that tone colors the record, too. It's like when you're in a dream and you wake up and you don't remember what happened but specifically the tone of it felt a little bit dark, so there's a bunch of this record that feels like that to me.
Did any of the songs bring you relief?
Yeah, for sure. The ones that were the biggest relief are the euphoric ones, like "Die For Your Love," because those just feel like letting loose, and people will understand if you cry your eyes out or scream because of sadness, but when you can run around going "I'm so fucking happy!"...I most want to sing when I'm happy; it's really hard for me to sing when I'm totally bummed.
"The biggest successes in my life have involved getting here, where I am now, without bitterness, and holding onto my perspective."
How do you get to that place where you are happy enough to sing?
There's a few things. I feel very responsible to fans, to people who are trying to see you. That was an unexpected shift for me over the past few years of touring: being on stage and thinking, Holy shit, I feel like I have a responsibility to make fans feel better and to make them believe in the good that is possible. I think I get that kind of strength. But I'm surprised I can do it sometimes, even just the sheer physicality of singing and performing. My memoir will be called 90 Minutes of Belting. [Laughs] Also, I make sure to get a lot of sleep.
What do you think would happen if you were a normal person?
It's funny you ask that. I remember having a brief moment when I got really into Grey's Anatomy. This is such a banal story, please forgive me. But I remember watching it, and being like, Yo, how cool would it be if I looked exactly like I look and acted exactly as I look but was a heart surgeon, wouldn't that be so hot? I would get so many chicks. [Laughs]
That would be hot.
Next life, that's what I'm going to do. But yeah, that was the one time in my life where I was like, Man, I hope I didn't do all this just to get bitter and twisted. It's such a blessing to do what you love.
While maintaining your perspective, I'd imagine.
The biggest successes in my life have involved getting here, where I am now, without bitterness, and holding onto my perspective. My perspective is everything, I would never trade it — even through disappointments and the indignities that an artist struggles through, or just being a gay person. It's a lot, and when you can get through it with your happiness and your appreciation intact, that's so fucking cool.
I think that means the world to gay and queer people who don't always have role models to look up to.
I guess everyone has a "first person" that resonates with them, but I feel like for some of my fans, for some people in some countries that haven't seen the likes of me ever, I feel like I'm resonating with these people. There's people writing me every day, that are like, I now live truthfully because I saw you or I saw you and listened to your music. Just the fact that a person that exists that resonates with you makes you think "oh, that's possible?"
In the name of keeping it real in life and online, how do you deal with what's happening in the world?
I have to watch that for myself. Even when I think I'm right about something, and I want to just get mad about it, what if some fucking kid is like, Yeah, I hate on whoever!, because they saw someone else hating on someone online? You've got to be really careful, it's a very slippery slope where your words go. God, I'm scared for myself. I want to say things without dumbing my soul down, I don't want to be the happy face emoji online only, I've gotta speak up when it feels right. But where does it veer down the wrong path of steering people towards hate and discrimination? That's something that we're all dealing with — we've never been this social before, and we're just drowning in it right now, and it's fucked up. God, save us.
So what do you think of dating apps? I'm trying to fuck around with Grindr again, which is a horrible idea.
I've never been on any of those!
You're not missing anything. You're often reduced to whatever your avatar is.
It's so sex-based! Especially for men, I'm talking completely out of my ass. No pun intended. [Laughs] I couldn't imagine how much worse it is for the men's one, than the women's one.
I could be wrong, but people have told me that the OKCupid is the lesbian version of Grindr.
Could you imagine my stupid ass on OKCupid? You know, just in case. Not like everyone would know me but then if they didn't know me and they showed up, and they got to know me, they'd be like, "What are you doing on here?"
You could just be looking around, for all anyone knows.
Honestly, if I was engaging, I'd just want to know intimate details first. I want to know what kind of latte you like. Is that so wrong?
Photography: Darren Craig