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Music |

Getting to Know: LP

Friday 08 December 2017
Words Alice Bell

Singer-songwriter LP is a rare breed. New York-born, she has spent much of her career writing hit songs for other people, from Cher to the Backstreet Boys, and even penned the massive hit ‘Cheers (Drink to That)’ for Rihanna on her album Loud. It wasn’t until 2015 that LP blew up definitively in her own right, as her single ‘Lost On You’ charted spectacularly across Europe and was, at one time, the seventh most-Shazamed song in the world. Now, she’s bringing out a new single, ‘When We’re High’, and I met with her last week in Piccadilly to discuss the record. In person, she looks like old-school rock and roll: wiry, but with a warm presence, and an explosive head of black curls that she peers brightly through as we sit down to discuss the meandering road she’s journeyed to this point.

What’s your earliest memory of music?

I think my mom singing. Yeah – my mom sang really beautifully, and had studied opera in her life, so I just remember her singing to me a lot, and singing a lot of Julie Andrews. I grew up with opera on and a lot of musical theatre, so I just remember endless Sound of Music-kinda vibes coming out, you know? And I find Julie Andrews’s voice to be one of the purest I’ve ever heard, so…

Yeah, I think that’s a really good word to describe it.

Yeah, so unbelievable. It’s like [whistles].

Definitely. Do you think that that’s where [the] strong storytelling element in your songs comes from? D’you think it comes from those early [memories]?

Maybe, yeah, you know… My favourite thing about a song… [Chuckles] I do this comparison. This is my own analogy, which I think is ok because people [are] like ‘Can I use it?’ [Laughs] I compare a song to a beautiful woman (or a beautiful man!) – I think the melody of a song is like what that person looks like, when they walk into the room and you’re like ‘Wow!’ And then the lyric is their personality, you know, and I need both. Because in my profession I have to sing a song every fuckin’ night, you know? [Laughs] Not only do people have to wanna hear it again and again but I have to sing it every night, and I can tell what are the ones that I’m like ‘Oh man, every time I sing this song, I feel great’, you know?

And I think that’s also worked its way uniquely into my songwriting, as well. I’ve attuned my sixth sense about that a little bit… And it’s almost like I can immediately tell. I can trim the really horrible fat off right away, like ‘I don’t even wanna sing that once!’ [Laughs] Like, no thank you!

Yeah! Is there a lyric that you’ve written that when you wrote it, it’s like it just came out of this other place and you were like ‘Oh my God!’?

Oh! Let me think… In ‘Lost On You’, I remember when I threw out the line ‘I wish that I could see the machinations.’ [The producers] turned around and were like ‘What?!’ [Laughs] I was like ‘I know! Who would put ‘machinations’ in a song? I will!’ I was really like ‘Get it in there, yes…’

But you know, one thing I really fucking hated when I was just songwriting for other people for a while: I couldn’t use certain words. [They’d say] ‘A sixteen-year-old’s not gonna know that word!’ I said ‘Guess what? Fuckin’ look it up!’ You know? Their faces are glued to computer screens all day – type in the word and learn something! And then I was like ‘Oh God, I sound like a parent!’ But it’s true, you know – we have all this knowledge at our disposal, have we gotta curtail our vocabulary to fit? Fuck that! I’d rather curse than use a stupid word.

As you say, you spent so long just doing songwriting for other artists. You must have worked with so many different people in that time.

Oh my God, endless! Yeah.

Yeah – working with other people, there must be moments where you’re songwriting [and] it feels like everyone’s trying to take [the song] in a different direction. Are there a lot of those? How do you overcome them if that’s happening?

You know, it’s interesting – when I’m writing for somebody else I will go with the flow. I’ve been writing for myself, for my next record, a lot, and I’ve noticed that when I get in the room sometimes with a songwriter, sometimes it’s great, and then sometimes I feel them kinda pulling me or pushing me to do something their way and I’m like ‘Nah – get the fuck outta here.’ Because it feels good to put my foot down and be like ‘Nope! Sorry!’

But then it also feels good to learn something, because sometimes they say something and then my inner ‘No’ is rising up in my throat and I’m like ‘Don’t do that’ [to myself]. Like, you know, maybe see it their way for a second, because I can tell when it’s coming from a pure place. I have enough experience and enough life in me to understand when someone’s just truly sharing their point of view, rather than pushing their point of view, you know? And I know the difference. I’m learning to get even better at seeing the difference, so sometimes I’ll listen – and that’s me at my best. [Laughs]

Sometimes I feel [other songwriters] kinda pushing me to do something their way, and I’m like ‘Nah – get the fuck outta here.’ Because it feels good to put my foot down.

Did songwriting in that period where you were just writing – ‘cause it sounds like you were writing so many songs at one point – did it ever become automatic? Or was it always this responsive [process]?

It can – you can get ‘burnt out’, as they say. I’ve gotten better at that, because you know what I realised? That sometimes you [only] think you’re burnt out – I call it ‘writing myself out of the room’. I can’t wait to fucking get out of that room. You know, just like [grumbles and mimes twitching, then laughs]. Literally.

‘Tightrope’, a song from my record, is a song I wrote [when] I had to get out of that room. I liked the word, I’d thought of the concept a few days before, but we were in this terribly drab writing room. Like, literally four walls and this guy’s computer, and I was just not in the mood. I just wanted to go out – and California’s bad because you just wanna go out and walk around in the sun or something. So yeah, two times, two three- or four-hour sessions I was just like [mimes frantic typing on the table] ‘Get me the fuck outta here!’ [Laughs] You know? And I just did it and then I got I back and I was like [Looks around] ‘Is it me or is this awesome?’ And that’s the fun part. And I secretly hope that’ll happen sometimes when I leave a session, I’ll be like ‘I wonder if I’m gonna get this back and it’s gonna be great!’

Yeah, I think sometimes when the pressure’s on, you just kind of release yourself from turning over everything and then you often come back to it much later [thinking] ‘Actually, it just came from this place where it wasn’t super scrutinised.’

Yeah! Yeah, yeah. And I get worried when I labour over a song too long. But I know when it’s worth it. I’m trying to learn those ones that you’re like, as they say, ‘polishing a turd’ [Laughs and mimes polishing].

Yeah! So what’s the story behind your song ‘When We’re High’?

That’s just me trying to get back to that, that love spot, you know? I’m kind of fascinated by the point of impact, when you’re suddenly [realising] ‘Oh, shit, I’m in love with this person!’ And then I’m morosely fascinated with when it ends. That moment that the molecule… [mimes breaking apart with her hands] detaches from the other molecule and you’re like ‘Oh… It’s going…’ It like, it breaks my heart to even think about. It breaks my heart when – I don’t know if you yourself have been in this experience – but [I’ve] now been on both sides of the coin, the one where it sucks falling out of love with someone and telling them that and dealing with it, and [the one where] it sucks when you see it happening. It’s the worst.

I’m fascinated by that point of impact, when you’re suddenly [realising] ‘Oh, shit, I’m in love with this person!’

I think ‘Lost On You’ for me was one of those songs – I wrote that song a year before I broke up with my ex. But that whole year where I was in it, I knew that something was up but there was so much else going on in my life and career at the time. My career and my love life were both doing the same thing to me at the same time. Like, I couldn’t find them – I was like, ‘Where did it go? It was great! [Mock-wailing, throws up hands] It was great! Where is it?!

I think a lot of people can relate to that. It’s one of those things that no one wants to face or deal with, the ending of something great. You know? And you never know! You just don’t know.

Definitely. ‘Cause things can be going so well and [then] for no reason, or it seems like no reason at the time…

Yeah! And I think – you know when you’re super young, like when you’re in school and stuff and you have these romantic relationships or whatever, and you see it right away, you see the day it happens when that person’s not interested in you anymore, ‘cause kids are more transparent like that… As adults, you’ve got these careers and these jobs and all this freedom from each other, so you don’t feel it and see it as much. And also we don’t wanna deal with, like, the splitting up of the stuff and the dog and the this and the that… You know? And it’s like an endless myriad of things to worry about. And I think everyone deals with that, whether it’s in a regular relationship, a job relationship, or a romantic relationship.

Yeah. So ‘Lost On You’ just kind of blew up, it sounds like out of nowhere. When you wrote the song did you feel like it had that kind of potential? Or was it the sort of thing where you felt like you let it out into the universe and it came back with all this other stuff?

[Laughs] You know, it’s funny – when you’re doing interviews, you have to say the same thing over and over again. And I say this in every interview because really, one of the biggest things I would like anybody – even if they don’t like music, anyone who comes in contact with me and my story – I would like to come away with is the story that I played ‘Lost On You’ for my label at the time, Warner Bros., and I was dropped three weeks later. I played them that, ‘Muddy Waters’, and ‘Strange’, which has also been synced a lot and done well for me.

And I tell it just because I want people to know that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You know? [Or] one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It was made so obvious to me in that sense that it was almost like a metaphor for my whole life, you know – just keep doing what you do, because you obviously just didn’t get it in front of the right people. […] I really just want people to take away that if you feel like you’re onto something, you probably are, if you truly feel you are. If you’re not like blowing smoke up your own ass or pretendingWho is qualified to tell you [that you’re not]?

That’s why fans are the most important thing in my life. I feel they should be in any artist’s life because they are the people that go [Sits up and points ahead] ‘Hey! I see you. I hear you.’ You know? And that’s all there is! That’s why I’m sitting here doing an interview with you, because a bunch of other people brought me to your attention.

Yeah, I guess it’s like having a key and only trying it in one door, right?

Yeah! You know, you’ve got to! [Mock-pondering] Maybe that’s why men sleep with a lot of women… [Both laugh] You said it! Not me…

I think – yeah, I think it’s just what it is and any artist that may be out there right now struggling, it’s like, you know, if that gives them any peace, so they can do the work, you know… [Shrugs].

That’s a very good thing. Thanks so much for talking to me, LP!

Watch the video for LP’s new single, ‘When We’re High’, below.

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