Christina Perri Previews Second Album: 'Naked' and 'Cinematic' (Q&A)
"I decided this big scary sophomore album bullshit that everybody talks about is totally avoidable," the singer-songwriter says of "Head or Heart," out April 1.
"I'm so excited -- I don't know if I'm gonna scream or throw up," said Christina Perri when she took the candlelit stage at Bar Nana in New York City on Tuesday for her intimate album listening party. "This is gonna be great."
Dressed in a deep-cut halter top, matching black skirt and leather jacket, the "super chatty" Perri opened with "A Thousand Years" from the Twilight franchise."It started out as a song about vampires and now it's a song about people getting married. It's the coolest thing ever."
Perri then performed two songs from her upcoming sophomore effort, head or heart, out April 1. The upbeat "Be My Forever," she revealed, is "the happiest song I've ever written," thanks to a dare from Jamie Scott: she told him last January that she can't write because she's madly in love. "Do you not know me? I don't write like, 'la, la la!' [sings chirpy melody] It's like, no way! F--- no!...I was like, oh crap, I hate being dared -- that's why I have so many tattoos.
"I realized that the only way that this song might possibly work is if it was a duet with one of my favorite people on the planet, who also does not sing happy songs, and his name is Ed Sheeran. He came to the studio, it was magic, he was on tour, we didn't tell the label, we just did it."
Before closing her set with the epic ballad "Human," she noted that head or heart -- "half the album would be head songs, and half of them would be heart songs" -- took a year and 78 days to complete, whereas her debut, lovestrong., only took 33 days. "I decided this big scary sophomore album bullshit that everybody talks about is totally avoidable, I think, if you just tell the truth ... and my journey of not knowing which one to trust and the truth is, I still don't f---ng know. Maybe album three, I'll call it Gut."
Perri then changed into a polka-dot MINKPINK outfit (the singer-songwriter is the new face of the Australian clothing brand) to mingle with guests, who indulged in sliders, fries, dual-colored candies and customized Belvedere cocktails (the "Head" had grapefruit juice, lemon juice and almond syrup tonic, while the "Heart" had grenadine, peach juice and lemon zest). Meanwhile, she previewed head or heart in its entirety, complete with the Bee Gees-esque verses of "Burning Gold," the haunting "run" and the bittersweet and rhythmic "I Don't Wanna Break," also featured on the Girls Volume 2: All Adventurous Women Do… soundtrack.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Perri backstage about taking the reigns on her second album, co-writing way too many tracks (once again, listed in lower-case) and embracing her cinematic style:
Why opt for a dual-themed album?
I knew instantly -- it came to me. I want to tell the truth; this is where I'm at in my life, I've tried trusting both. I gotta write a whole album, so what am I gonna write it about? I just decided to just sing about what I was going through. I didn't mean to do [dual themes] on purpose, it was just literally exactly what I was going for.
When writing a song, did you already know which side it would appeal to?
I would be writing a song and then think, "Okay, this is a 'head' song." I wouldn't know when I was done, but I would know about halfway through it, and then just keep going. It's all fresh [material] -- the first song was written on Oct. 23, 2012.
You said onstage that your first album took 33 days to write, and your second took a year and 78 days?
Yeah, and it allowed to take my time and be a little picky -- sometimes too picky, so that's why you have a time to finally stop you and be like, it's done -- but it allowed me to really be part of every single part. there's not one thing that happened -- whether it be a lyric, a melody, a mix, a tone, an instrument, anything -- that I didn't have something to do with, and that's massive for any artist. I thought the whole album was done when we finished recording it, and then you mix it and it all changes, and then you master it and it all changes a little, if you don't stay completely attached to it. Meaning more and more cooks come into the kitchen, so I had to be so present for every part to keep my authenticity, which I did. That took a while.
Which was the most difficult?
Mixing. You record it with the producer, who is basically an artist too, and then you bring it to a kitchen full of businesspeople. Everybody's valid and kind of right, but you all have to come to an agreement where you kind of like it. Ultimately, I didn't get into any major fights. I was waiting for the big fight -- there were some very heated discussions, but no fights. I think the biggest thing was that we had the time to go back and forth. We did 18 versions of "Be My Forever" and went back to the original. But if we didn't do that, if we didn't have the time to do that, we might have made a wrong decision.
How do you approach co-writing?
You basically show up and you're like naked. It's like a first date and you're already naked, is what I think of a writing session. So you have to be really in the right mindset to just share your truth. If you're gonna be closed off and reserved, you're not gonna write a song, in my opinion. Writing sessions can be really awkward, but I'm just such not an awkward person, I'd end up pulling stuff out of them, and they'd end up pulling stuff out of me. I did about 33, maybe 38 writing sessions, and only one of them didn't end in a song. I write a song no matter what, except one time I left but it had nothing to do with anything bad, and so I literally love it. It's working a muscle. You need to write some shitty songs to write some good songs too.
With Twilight and now Girls, you've had a bit of soundtrack success. Did that affect your sophomore-album strategy?
Definitely. Twilight changed my life in a lot of ways, it took my career globally really quickly, so I just felt like I had more people to say things to. But I'm a very visual person too, and I also write in a cinematic way anyway. I'm obsessed with old school songs like Dean Martin and Connie Francis, and they're cinematic, or what would be considered cinematic today, but it's just very melodic. I think I just write that way; people have described my music as cinematic of songs that aren't "A Thousand Years." If anything, I just feel more comfortable doing that. I feel like almost every song on this album could be in a movie, so I'd be honored if any of these got placed.
Most satisfying song to record?
"Trust" -- It was the first song I wrote for the album, it inspired the whole thing, and it sounds exactly like the demo I made.
Most difficult track to perform?
Technically, I would say "Sea of Lovers" and "Burning Gold" because they're the highest I've ever sung.
Most risky to include?
Hm, that's hard. Probably "Butterfly," because it's really honest.
Which do you hope is your next big crowd-pleaser?
[Smiles] "Be My Forever."