Christina Perri: the Beatweek Magazine cover story interview

“It’s definitely new for me,” says Christina Perri, “but that’s the point.” The singer most widely known for ballads like Jar Of Hearts and A Thousand Years has offered up a second album and new tour which sees her venturing into new musical territory while also attempting to remain true to who she is as an artist. The new record is titled Head Or Heart and poses a question to which she admits she still isn’t quite sure of the answer.

“All the songs are my confession that I don’t know which one I should choose,” she says of Head Or Heart. “I’m looking for the moment where I can trust both. So honestly I’ve done it equally almost in my personal life. I trust with my heart, I jump right in, I don’t even think about it, I just fall head over heels, and then it doesn’t work out. Next time I’m like,to I’m gonna go slow, nice and reserved and safe and all that stuff, and that doesn’t work out. Finally I just gave up and realized I kind of don’t trust me at the moment, so why don’t I just write a whole album about that. The sophomore album is so scary, what if I just tell the truth?”

That truth includes the soaring ballad Human which falls right into her wheelhouse. But it’s contrasted by an up-tempo song called Burning Gold which, while still built on her signature piano playing, comes complete with a driving percussion and the urge to dance. The song came along at a pivotal time in the album’s creation, after one too many consecutive writing sessions left her tempted to skip one – only to be goaded into it by her manager.

“I showed up in my PJs and I sat there with this guy I never met before,” she says of songwriter Kid Harpoon, “and I’m like hey man, if I even hear the word ‘single’ I’m out of here. I am just so spent. I don’t even want to do this, to be quite honest. And he’s like sweet, let’s go get pizza. So we left the studio, we talked and ate food for three hours, went back to the studio, and he gave me a bass guitar. I was like, I don’t play bass. He was like, figure it out. And then all the sudden we wrote Burning Gold in like an hour, and then we only had I guess like four hours til I was hopping on an airplane, so we stayed up the whole night for the song. I was so excited I didn’t sleep. And then in the morning when my manager came down to the hotel to leave for the airport, I just stuck the headphones on and I was like, this is it.”

“I was looking for my next level the whole time. A lot of writers were just wanting to replicate Jar Of Hearts, replicate A Thousand Years, and nobody took a risk with me until Kid Harpoon. It was like, why don’t we get your next level sound? I knew I didn’t want to stay the same. I feel like that’s the curse for artists, if they just won’t evolve at all. I knew that I wanted it, just didn’t know how to get it, and then when I wrote Burning Gold, I found it.”

Head Or Heart contains one duet, with fellow singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, and it just happens to be the happiest sounding song on the record. “It’s not a coincidence,” she says. “Honestly, I didn’t even think I was going to keep the song because I remember showing up for that writing session having just fallen madly in love, the really nice part before it gets all messed up. So I was definitely happy. I went into this session with Jamie Scott and I said yeah, we’re just not gonna write a song today. These are the only two songs, by the way, that I was resistant against. Which is so funny because they’re my two favorites. I love how that happens when you push through fear. But I was like yeah, this is not how I roll, I’m not doing it. And he was like, I dare you. And I was like eh, because I hate being dared. So I wrote it, and halfway through the day with Jamie, I was like okay, this is so ridiculously happy but I’m really liking it. So what if I just don’t do this by myself? What if I ask my little British red haired friend to sing with me, and if the two of us sing a happy song, it might be less awful.”

With music sales in the millions and fans turning out for her concerts worldwide over the past few years, one might think Christina Perri’s professional success would boost her confidence in her personal life. “Oh man I wish,” she says with a laugh. “No way. I am exactly the same. I’m a girl, I’m a Leo, I’m Italian. I’m so emotional it’s ridiculous. I’m a songwriter. I’m waiting for that moment where I feel really cool. It hasn’t happened yet. But I don’t know any other way to write. I never think when I’m writing something, this is too personal. I’ve never felt that once.”

“But what I did do, when I was writing this album, at least when I was writing by myself, I just pretended no one was listening. Because when I wrote Jar Of Hearts, I was in my PJs at my parents’ house. No one was listening. Literally nobody knew who I was. Then when I wrote A Thousand Years with David Hodges, we didn’t even know if it was going to get chosen for the movie. So again, I didn’t know if anyone was going to hear it, so I wasn’t writing it for the masses.”

“Everyone starts thinking, will people like this? Does this sound like me? Will this represent my brand? All that stuff that an artist shouldn’t think about. And I was like well, I’m gonna play a little game where I just trick myself. So for a really long time, I’d say all of it, I was just pretending that absolutely zero people were going to hear it. Did I love it? Did I tell a story? Did I paint the picture that I want to paint for this album? I knew it was going to be called Head Or Heart the whole time, so I was telling a story. Honestly, I just don’t know any other way to write. Vulnerable and honest and emotional and personal.”

That helps explain why the particularly vulnerable song Trust is the first track on Head Or Heart. “I wrote Trust on October 23rd of 2012. It was the first day of album two cycle. That was the first song I wrote, and that inspired everything. So without Trust, and without having that realization that I don’t trust my head or my heart, I wouldn’t have written this album.”

Now out on tour, Christina Perri is mixing the old and new tunes into her set lists, which gives her some new opportunities each night. “I wanted to keep moving, keep growing. I also wanted to have more fun on stage. I’m gonna tour if I’m lucky for the next twenty-seven months, and I would like to do some running around and dancing.”

Bill Palmer
Bill Palmer is Editor in Chief of Beatweek Magazine. His editorial contributions include interviews with musicians and iPhone industry coverage.

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