Catapulting In

You can look at Lauren “LP” Pergolizzi’s career in one of two lights. First, there’s the standard story: the frustrated artist unceremoniously dumped by record labels, pushed around by producers, and sapped of her greatest emotional strength by a pop songwriting machine concerned only with verse, chorus, bridge and beat. The alternate version, however, goes like this: LP spent more than a decade taking her music industry lumps while quietly figuring out exactly what kind of artist she wanted to be.

The familiar narratives pepper LP’s timeline. There’s the forgotten solo debut, Heart-Shaped Scar, released in 2001 to very little pre-internet acclaim. There were unending disputes over her appearance—part New York punk, part British fashionista—and how her feminine voice clashed with her androgynous look. Finally, here’s a woman who’s written hits for Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and Cher, but whose biggest solo number was flat-out rejected by a high-ranking Warner Music exec.

Eventually, a tune called “Lost on You” was picked up by an enthusiastic A&R guy in Greece, and LP’s solo career launched into the stratosphere. The 2016 single topped the charts in 13 (mostly European) countries, racked up 237 million YouTube views, and became the fourth-most Shazamed song on the planet.

The rest of Lost on You, the single’s eponymous full-length, heightened the mystique surrounding Pergolizzi, now 37 years old. Possessed of an impeccable fashion taste punctuated by incredibly unruly brown hair and a rapid-fire New York accent (still blazing even though she’s lived in LA for years), LP talked circles around me during the course of a 15-minute telephone interview filled with profanity-laced but inspirational observations about her career.

Discussing her new album, Heart to Mouth, which came out in December, LP says she’s proud of the artistic strides she made. “I was a bit nervous,” she says. “Because there was such a frenzy over that last record, especially in Europe, I wanted to make sure this new album didn’t even sound like that old one.”

Last year, after touring for three months, she booked a writing trip to Joshua Tree National Park, where she was able to focus on herself and her songs for the first time in years. “I’m so used to working constantly that when I finally got to Joshua Tree after three months of not writing, I was, like, ‘F*ck yeah!’” she remembers. “‘Girls Go Wild’ and ‘The Power’ came out in the first three days. I was chock full to the gills with ideas and ready to go.”

According to LP, her years spent writing for other artists helped her develop a pathway into the emotion of every song. “It’s a free-form thing,” she says. “I’m always collecting words and chords, but the melodies I save for the studio. I do this weird thing that I don’t think I can describe properly that involves waiting to get on the microphone to let these slingshots go.” She pauses, searching for a stronger word. “What are those massive slingshots from olden times that have a rock that gets thrown over a wall?” She finally lands on catapult. “I go catapult-style into the emotion of the song,” she laughs. “To me, it feels really good. It’s all stored up—and then I let you have it.”

From there, she riffs on the long arc of her career. “The tough part, or the easy part once you finally f*cking find it,” she says, “is to keep it sounding like you. You can’t get precious. If I’m writing a song and midway through I’m, like, ‘Eh, I don’t think this is for me,’ I’ll just let it go. Or if I’m writing a song for somebody else and midway through I’m, like, ‘Holy f*ck, this is mine!’ then I go with that, too. That’s what you work so hard to do: build your own audience, then decide when you’re going to let them see a new side of you.”

Recalling the countless detractors who tried to talk her out of showing different sides of herself, LP laughs. Some cringed when she whistled or wrote songs on a ukulele (still her favorite instrument). Some suggested she cover up the 10-inch sailboat she has tattooed on her chest. Some urged her to pick a gender role and stick with it, either playing things straight or playing up her queer identity. Falsetto or basso profundo, she can do it all. “I’m shooting for vocal androgyny,” she says. “I’ve learned to push deeper and get better at singing low—the swagger vocal, as I call it—along with the high feminine vocals.”

Would she endure the two-decade struggle all over again? To land on a career so singular and so meaningful, she says, she would: “I’m super-grateful for everything that has ever happened to lead me to this perspective and appreciation. I’ve seen people who could have carelessly, completely ruined my career, but I’ve just tried to learn from it and move on. Very big female producers have been, like, ‘Hey, maybe don’t sing so high.’ Bitch, I don’t give a f*ck! I’ll sing as high as I want. If you can’t handle all sides of me, that’s an instant indication that we should not be hanging out.”

So is it, as a recent feature in the New Statesman asked, “Finally time for LP?” Her songs drip with pop sophistication. Her R&B emotion will drive tiny daggers into your heart. And, yes, she looks and sounds damn good while doing it, too. Chances are we’ll be seeing a lot more of LP before things are all over.

“I aspire to be like Leonard Cohen,” she says, “Eighty-something years old, leaving behind a record that’s so amazing people go, ‘Holy sh*t! This person’s a songwriter, and they’re going to write songs until they go into the f*cking hole.’ That to me is the goal.”