Laura Pergolizzi has been making music as LP for over 15 years, but the New York-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has also been living a bit of a double life. There is the LP who, with her wild, Dylan-at-his-most-electric hair, razor-skinny suits, and crooning, careening vocals, has attracted a devoted following for her rock-inflected indie pop (the video for her gritty, guitar-led breakup track “Lost on You” has over 100 million views on YouTube). But there is also another LP, who, off the mic in the studio, has co-written songs, many of them hits, for Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys, Cher, Rihanna, and even Heidi Montag.
Success as a solo artist did not come to LP overnight. Songwriting was a diversion—and a necessary source of income—as she passed through the major label system, logging stints at Island Def Jam and Warner Bros. before landing in 2015 at Vagrant Records, also home to PJ Harvey and the Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. With the release of her five-song EP Death Valley last spring—which included the tracks “Lost on You,” the soulful “Muddy Waters,” and “Other People,” a slinky “fuck you” anthem—she finally emerged fully formed and in control.
This month, in support of her latest album, Lost on You, LP is set to play a string of shows across North America. Samantha Ronson, a member of the band Ocean Park Standoff and a multi-hyphenate musician herself, recently called LP to discuss the complex relationship between songs and sales.
SAMANTHA RONSON: You’re in Rome right now? What are you doing there?
LP: I sang a couple songs on a TV show called Amici. It’s their answer to America’s Got Talent, in a way. They had two teams, a blue team and a white team, competing in all kinds of things like singing and dancing. Miming? [laughs] It’s really wild. Matt Dillon was a judge.
RONSON: When you’re there, do you get to enjoy the city at all? Or is it just in and out?
LP: In and out, although I’ve gotten to stay here for a day or two before, when I’ve done promo. I’ve been in a lot of countries in the last eight months or so. I’ve been in Paris, I think, maybe eight times.
RONSON: Yeah, I know the vibe. What’s the best place you’ve been to on this trip?
LP: Greece was insane. That’s also where everything started for me. It’s a funny story. I’d released an EP that got some love on Hype Machine, or whatever, but it wasn’t really getting pushed to radio. Around that time, I checked my direct messages—something I hadn’t been doing very often—and this guy from Greece named Panagiotis [Loulourgas] had written, “Hey, I’ve been trying to get in touch with your label, but they haven’t answered me back. I feel like your music would really work here in Greece. I run international at a label called Cobalt.” I responded to him, and the next thing I knew, my song was hardcore charting in Greece. Then Italy followed suit, then Poland. Moral of the story is, check your fucking DMs! [laughs] It could change your life.
RONSON: I’ve been cramming your music today. I’ve been on a radio promo tour. It’s been fun, but then you start running around doing 9,000 things.
LP: Promoting an album is like being a ’50s vacuum salesman, where you knock on the lady’s door and throw a bunch of fucking dirt on her carpet. Then you’re like, “But wait, I’m going to vacuum it up right now!” You prove you’ve got this great product. That’s how I feel on radio promos. It’s like you’re selling encyclopedias door to door.
RONSON: It’s really brutal. I noticed there was a huge gap between music you released. You had a record in 2001, 2004, and then 2014.
LP: Well, there was an EP in 2012. But, yeah, that was eight years of me toiling away at writing and being in the major label system and getting spit out the other side. It took a minute. I was kind of cool about the writing thing for a while. I think I might not have been if it had gone on longer. I would have missed being an artist.
RONSON: Well, there are some people who are successful songwriters who then try to be artists. It’s an ego thing. You’re like, “Bro, you’re a good writer. Stay home. Get that money.” Then there are certain people who you’re like, “No, you’re supposed to be an artist.” I love your voice. Your songs sound like you. They don’t sound like songs Rihanna didn’t take.
LP: Aw, shit. Thanks!
RONSON: There are a lot of artists where you’re like, “Yeah, I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s fucking boring!” With you, I know a lot of people compare you to Janis Joplin, but I would say it’s more like Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks had a baby.
LP: I don’t get the Janis Joplin thing, but I’m flattered because she’s cool as fuck and her emotion was so palpable and raw.
RONSON: Listen, I’m not saying you don’t sound like her. You definitely have it.
LP: No, no, no! She’s like the dirty channel on an amp and I’m like the clean channel, you know?
RONSON: You’re the overdrive channel. You’ve got that grit and you’ve got that husky, sexy thing that Stevie Nicks has, with the cool-lyrical-troubadour thing of Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. I’ve always been your fan, but I hadn’t really dug in and watched the videos. Now, though, I’ve done my fucking research. You grew up on Long Island. Where?
LP: A little bit in Huntington, and my mom was in Syosset, and my dad moved to upstate New York and then to Brooklyn. I was all over the place. Eventually, I moved to Manhattan in my late teens, and that was my school. I’m very surprised I’m a West Coaster now.
RONSON: I know, right?
LP: It just took hold of me. I remember the day that I was just like, “Holy shit, I love it here.” My thing with New York was that it felt so insular. When I went to L.A., everybody I knew was a cool, amazing musician. In New York, they’d be hunkered down trying to form a band. But in L.A., guys in bands were also playing with other artists, touring with other artists, and collaborating with other artists. It just felt like way more of a community to me.
RONSON: Everyone here is like, “Sure, yeah.” There are lots of home studios, so why not?
LP: Your band is the perfect example.
RONSON: I’m in a band with two young kids!
LP: They’re open and cool as fuck.
RONSON: You’ve written for Rihanna. Your “Lost on You” video has, like, four billion views on YouTube. You’re singing on shows with Matt Dillon. It doesn’t get bigger than that. [LP laughs] Where do you go from here?
LP: I have a working-class approach to music. It may sound boring, but it’s just more of the same. I’m a songwriter-singer. I’m very vocal oriented, of course, but songwriting—no matter whether it’s for myself or another artist—is of paramount importance to it all. I’m just looking to grow in my songwriting. I don’t want to repeat myself. I think my work has, not a sameness, but a style. I just want to keep surprising myself and also have consistency in touring. That’s a major thing for me.
RONSON: Do you love touring?
LP: I do, but it’s hard emotionally, to be honest. It doesn’t do wonders for your relationship, as I’m sure you know.
RONSON: Is there anyone you’d kill to work with?
LP: That’s always a tough question for me since I’m one of the ones in the dog park where I’ll play with you if you play with me. If you sniff my ass, I’ll sniff your ass. But if you don’t sniff my ass, I’m going to take that as a sign that you maybe don’t want to sniff my ass, so I won’t sniff yours.
RONSON: So you wait to be asked?
LP: Yeah, I’m open. I feel like the guys I’m working with right now—a producer-writer named Mike Del Rio and a writer named Nate Campany—are my band. I yearn to be back in the studio with them.
RONSON: Are there any new kids who inspire you?
LP: Oh, gosh. I have an eclectic taste. I’ve been listening to Drake and the Weeknd lately. I appreciate good work no matter where it’s coming from.
RONSON: Do you like Chance the Rapper, then?
LP: Oh my god, of course. That record is sick. I like very classic stuff, too. I’m a real Frank Sinatra head. Christine and the Queens—I’ve been listening to that. I’ve been delving into Leonard Cohen lately. I love his last record.
RONSON: Did you hear the album before this one?
LP: No. Is it dope?
RONSON: I’m a huge Leonard Cohen fan. The studio album before You Want It Darker is so good! There’s a song called—fuck, I’m going to have to find it. I saw it for the first time as the lines of a poem in The New Yorker: “Almost Like the Blues.”
LP: That’s what the song is called? I’ll have to look it up. It’s interesting to me, as a dynamic singer who uses a lot of range to express myself, when people who have a limited range evoke so much. I’m fascinated by that.
SAMAMTHA RONSON IS A LOS ANGELES-BASED DJ AND MUSICIAN. THIS SUMMER SHE WILL BE TOURING WITH HER BAND OCEAN PARK.