LP

by Greg Prato

On "Lost On You," co-writing a Rihanna hit, and a big piece of songwriting advice.

Let's raise a glass or two to LP, whose 2015 track "Lost On You" has well over a billion views on YouTube. It's a captivating song written when LP was still with their1 girlfriend but could feel her drifting away. And as LP explains, it also had to do with their record company, which had big plans for them but turned cold.

New York-born/Los Angeles-based LP (Laura Pergolizzi) released two independent albums before landing a deal with Island/Def Jam in 2006. The label couldn't figure out what to do with them (was LP rock? folk?), but one of the songs they wrote, "Love Will Keep You Up All Night," was recorded by the Backstreet Boys for their 2007 album, Unbreakable, launching their parallel career as a songwriter to the stars. LP worked on Rihanna's hit "Cheers (Drink To That)" in 2011, and earned credits on tracks by Rita Ora, Cher, and Leona Lewis. As an artist, LP released their major-label debut album in 2014 on Warner Records, which teamed them with producer Rob Cavallo, the guy who guided Green Day to stardom. They started work in 2011; that year, the first single appeared: "Into The Wild," which landed in a very popular Citibank commercial - the one where a mountain climber stands atop a precarious rock formation while LP wails, "Somebody left the gate open!"

So far, so good, but then... nothing. Until 2014, when the album was finally issued. Leading up to its release, LP got that sinking feeling artists intuit when their label loses interest in them, and they were right: Warners didn't promote it well, and it stiffed.

LP channeled that energy into "Lost On You," released the next year on a new label. It became a huge international hit and continues to be a streaming monster, racking up Swiftian counts in the hundreds of millions on most services. LP still writes for other artists (with a credit on the latest Celine Dion album) but the focus now is their own music. Their next album, Churches, is due on December 3, 2021, but five of the tracks are already out, including the uplifting "Angels" and their "spring cleaning" song, "Goodbye." Here, LP takes us through these tracks and explains how the often-cutthroat world of pop songwriting helped them find their voice.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): On the new album, Churches, you worked with a variety of producers.

LP: I think it all went through the filter of Mike Del Rio, really. I always like to work with people on the writing tip – it's what inspires different vibes for me. I still feel like it was largely Mike and I through it.

But Lars Stalfors is an amazing producer – we wrote "Yes" together and some other songs that aren't on this record. And Isabella Summers is an amazing producer and songwriter I have worked with before. And Nate Campany and Kyle Shearer, I wrote "Conversation" and "Angels" with them, and then we went through Mike Del Rio – he did a bunch of production on it. It kind of felt all in the same camp still, to an extent. It didn't feel like multiple producers, really. It felt like Mike Del Rio really put his stamp on it.2

Songfacts: And you've also written songs for other artists.

LP: I kind of do it the same now. And truth be told, a lot of times, now people will just take songs out of my catalog – songs that I've written for myself and I don't use or haven't used. That's how it goes down the most now.

I try to always keep it like something that I would do – something that's universal or that hits home. I think people relate to songs when they feel something in them and they feel emotion in them. It doesn't necessarily have to start out being felt then, but that's what songs do. You make it about you, and it feels like it's exactly what you're thinking.

If you ask the writer what they were thinking when they wrote it, many times, it was not about that at all. "Lost On You," people would make it that it was romantic, like, I'm lost on you. Like it's about being lost being in love with you. And that's not really what "Lost On You" is about. That's the beauty of songs.

Songfacts: A songwriting question. On a song such as Rihanna's "Cheers (Drink To That)," it lists you as well as nine other songwriters. How does one song receive so many songwriting credits?

LP: For that song, I did the same amount of shit that I do on many songs. I wrote the vocal melody and the lyrics along with Stacy Barthe. But that was my vocal melody, for the most part. I don't really know where all those other people came from.3

When I look at that song, [producer] The Runners, yes. Me, Stacy Barthe and The Runners – which is four people – that's who wrote that song. All those other people? I don't know. I'm not going to say they didn't do anything, but I've written a lot of songs, and I don't remember them being any more than what was there, to be honest. [sarcastic] And that's what happens in music, people... it's great!

Songfacts: That doesn't seem very fair for you. You are doing the majority of the work, and then you have to give up a cut of what you will be earning.

LP: That is life, my friend. That's what you deal with when you're trying to make it. I try to just honor the situation and try to get through. You have to take it on the chin sometimes.

Songfacts: Do you prefer collaboration or writing on your own?

LP: I prefer collaboration. It's almost like there's an element of performance in there - you're showing people what you can do and what's on your mind. That draws the best out of me.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind "Angels"?

LP: I had that title, and I just knew it was going to be an uplifting song about feeling like how I was watched over by angels. I'm a very lucky person in the scheme of things. I feel like I have actual angels around me – insert "roll your eyes" or "big groan" - but I don't really give a fuck.

That song is very self-explanatory. I'm not going to make it seem like it's some mystical thing. It's just very like, "Yep. Here comes the song."

Songfacts: Let's discuss the song's video.

LP: [Director] Stephen Schofield, we were doing a bunch of lyric videos one day, and it was about my outfit, it was about bows and arrows. And then he had this Raphaelites angel concept. It just felt very natural and fun, and simple. With that song, when people ask me to explain it, I feel almost silly explaining it because it's so simple. And I think the video fits that perfectly.

Songfacts: "Goodbye."

LP: A lot of my songs are often me telling myself not to worry so much. It's my kind of therapy. I just felt like there were a lot of things that I didn't need anymore, whether it was in my mind, or lying next to me! [Laughs] I was just trying to do some "spring cleaning" in my life.

Songfacts: "One Last Time."

LP: That one was a message to the people that have died in my life – my parents, the relationships that have died – and thinking how precious they were. I loved all those people, even the people who are still alive that I am not with. You can't go back.

The way the pandemic was going, I was seeing all this horrible stuff with people saying goodbye to loved ones via FaceTime. It really had an effect on me emotionally, thinking about that and trying to tell myself and to tell people to realize how beautiful these moments are, because I would do anything to bring all these people back for one last hug, one last hang, one last drink. Anything.

Songfacts: "How Low Can You Go."

LP: "How Low Can You Go" was interesting because it's been around. I wanted to put it on my last record, but it wasn't done. We wanted a slinky beat. We wanted something that felt really sexy. We were talking about this artist that we liked, and then I said the first line of the song: "Last time I saw you, we did coke in a closet." And Nate was like, "We've got to put that in a song!" And I was like, "Yeah, we should, I would, I will."

Mike started playing this riff that he had. He was like, "I've had this riff since high school" – and I loved it. And then I had the title, "How Low Can You Go." I'm always obsessed with this. It's a bunch of stories about me moving from New York to Hollywood and always wondering if I'm getting out of control. I'm always like that. I always think about where your life can go if you let it... if you're not careful. Or, if you are careful.

Along with an extravagant voice, LP has two musical tools in their kit that help set them apart: ukulele and whistling. Both are generally regarded as novelties used to make the air a little lighter, but LP pulls them off with a certain gravitas. The ukulele came after they learned guitar; they started writing on the instrument and found it put them in another creative place. In LP's hands, it doesn't sound like Hawaiian hula music, but something more visceral.

As for the whistle, LP has always been a natural, but didn't think to use it in a song until folks in the control room heard them whistling along to playback of their song "Into The Wild." Now, whistling is often a part of LP's soundscapes, used to create tension and emotion not unlike an Ennio Morricone theme.
Songfacts: "Girls Go Wild."

LP: "Girls Go Wild" is about my ex, and about all the people that come to California and decide to explore their wild side... not even their wild side, but go to make it and find themselves. All the women I've dated who wanted to be actresses or rock stars – including myself – and going and becoming somebody else.

Songfacts: "Lost On You."

LP: "Lost On You" was my "ex" ex. It was 2014 and my record deal with Warner Bros. was disappearing in front of my eyes. Everybody that worked there changed and everybody that was so into me and a fan of mine was quickly becoming some robot drone who worked in an office and didn't give a shit... and didn't see. And I could feel it. I really spent some time on that label and they had spent a lot of money on my project.

It was just sad to see. As I was finishing this record [Forever For Now, 2014] that was taking too long, I could feel that it wasn't going to be given its due. It wasn't going to be pushed. And at the same time, I felt like my lover was also drifting away – slowly leaving the building – and there was nothing that I could do.

It's a breakup song, but it happened almost a year before we broke up, and it was kind of like, "Hey, do you see what's happening? Is it lost on you that this is going to die?" And then it did.

Songfacts: Who are some musical artists you admire?

LP: Roy Orbison, Jeff Buckley, Freddie Mercury, The Beatles, The Stones, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan, Kurt Cobain. Classic shit.

Songfacts: For those who are trying to get into songwriting for other artists, what advice would you give?

LP: I would say be as prolific as you can. I feel I wrote myself to this place. When I was writing for other people it seemed like a demotion of sorts at the time because I had two major label deals that went nowhere, but I had written all these songs. And then, one got picked up by the Backstreet Boys, and then that kickstarted my career as a songwriter.

But then when I was a songwriter, I was just hustling. Even in the "Cheers" days, when I was writing that song, like you said, "Did you care that nine people got songwriting credit?" I was so "on to the next one," and that's what happens. You just hustle. There's no one really fighting for you in that room, so you've got to really take care of yourself.

In those years, I didn't even think there was a chance... never in a million years would I have seen what's happened to me in the last five or six years coming. I was just hustling and writing as many songs as I could.

And in that interim, I couldn't believe what happened to my songwriting. It changed my whole thing. It made me the songwriter I am. It actually gave me license to write in any style I felt like, because I had to. That was what was going to keep me afloat as a songwriter.

I think I was always that person anyway, and that was one of the hardest parts of when I was on these major labels and they couldn't figure out what do with me because I was kind of all over the place. And that became, to me, a strength.

And I would have never known that if I hadn't embarked on writing as many songs as possible and trying to expose myself to as many genres as possible. So I would recommend that. Even write with people you don't think you'll have any chemistry with. I have songs that have done great for me that I wrote with someone who I was just like, God, I can't wait to get out of this session. And then people that I wanted to have lunch or dinner with, it's crickets – nothing. So you don't know. Write with as many people as possible, write as many songs as possible.

November 29, 2021

Get tour dates and more LP at iamlp.com.

More songwriter interviews:
Linda Perry
Agnes Obel
Macy Gray
Holly Knight

photos: Darren Craig (1), Talayeh Nasirzadeh (3)

Footnotes:

  • 1] LP uses they/them pronouns. (back)
  • 2] Mike Del Rio and Nate Campany started working with LP on their first Warners album. The pair also produced and co-wrote "Lost On You." (back)
  • 3] The songwriting credits on "Cheers" are bloated because it heavily samples the Avril Lavigne song "I'm With You," earning Lavigne and her three co-writers on the song writing credits. And by this point, Rihanna had achieved the kind of superstar status that earned her the right to put her name on the credits for her stylistic contributions. One tenth of a Rihanna hit is much better than a full share of nothing. (back)

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