Singer-songwriter Christina Perri on creating music from the heart, hitting St. Louis with Jason Mraz and living out her fantasy, thanks to reality TV.
Her music is as relatable as it is refreshing, full of emotion-fueled lyrics that—depending on your relationship status, and the song—can ring like a letter to your lover, serve to remind you of a heartwrenching breakup or indescribably hit you in the gut. Far from the many over-produced tunes that are currently plaguing the airways, it’s surprisingly simple—just a girl and her guitar, as she popularly presents herself on YouTube. Or, an unknown artist on her piano, which is how much of the world first saw her on a reality show that aired just two years ago.
But, unlike many stars who experience their big breaks on TV, Christina Perri didn’t receive the famous, “You’re going to Hollywood!” response. She was already in LA, working as a full-time waitress to support steps toward her dream of singing for her supper. Instead, her “lucky” opportunity to perform “Jar of Hearts” was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and it resulted in near-immediate success as a multi-platinum-selling artist. One might argue that her second soundtrack appearance—”A Thousand Years” in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1″—was even more monumental.
Now, amidst the follow-up to her premier charttopping album, “Lovestrong,” and on the road with Jason Mraz—their “Tour is A Four Letter Word” bus will stop in St. Louis on Sept. 11—Perri’s momentum suggests she’s on the brink of a series of life-changing moments. In other words, if history is any indication, her tattoo artist is going to be busy.
ALIVE: You just wrapped the second of five scheduled tours. How are you spending your days until you hit Europe?
Christina Perri: Well, I have seven days home, and lots to do while I’m there. The most important thing for me is to see my friends and family. I’ll spend every single meal with someone I love every day. Family is the thing that matters the most to me. I’ll also eat at my favorite restaurant, the 101 Café once a day. I’ll go to the beach at least once, and I’ll definitely play my piano a bunch since I always miss it on the road. And, oh yeah, sleep! I never get enough rest on tour, so I have to catch up on sleep and rest my vocal cords, too. If I do all of these things, I will be absolutely ready to hit the road again!
ALIVE: Describe a typical day on tour.
CP: I sleep in as late as I can, wake up, drink my tea and probably eat a banana with some peanut butter. I do my morning vocal warm-ups before I start talking. Depending on the town we’re in, I may walk around with the band, shop, run or just hang on the bus. We all try to eat a meal together (I’m so Italian…I love everything “family style”,) then we sound check. Every night, I eat grilled chicken, sweet potatoes and spinach for dinner; then, I go into hair and makeup. Each night, I do a meet and greet, and an hour before the show, I do some more vocal warm-ups, drink my throat coat tea and get really quiet. Fifteen minutes before show time, the band and I get together and start getting hypedl sometimes we start a little drum circle or do a little dance part; then we stretch, hold hands, say a little prayer and do a silly “hands in.” It changes every single show, but its goes something like, “Christina Perri and the smushed bananas” or “Christina Perri and the see you theres”…whatever it is, we scream it at the top of our lungs and run out on stage. Bam—show day!
ALIVE: There has been much mention about the fact that it’s hard to categorize your music by genre. How would you describe it?
CP: Ha! I’m the worst person to ask. I say it sounds like me. Sometimes I say it’s “pretty music;” sometimes I say it’s “death metal.” I don’t like genres. My inspirations are so all over the place that so is my music. I guess if I had to answer this question, I would say “singer-songwriter, pop, rock, blues, grit and tears.”
ALIVE: You’ve mentioned that your parents are not “musical,” yet you and your brother have found such success in the music industry. What first stirred your interests?
CP: I was born singing. It’s my first memory…singing Christmas carols, actually. So, I don’t remember even choosing music—I think it chose me. Same with my big brother Nick—he wanted to play guitar since he was 3. Even though our parents weren’t necessarily musicians, our house was very musical. Between my Dad’s Italian music, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, my Mom’s favorites, James Taylor and Elton John, and my brother’s, AC/DC and Guns n Roses, I had lots of music everywhere, and a pretty awesome foundation. It wasn’t though until I was 13 that I found my salvation in doing musical theater and listening to The Beatles. I was obsessed. I studied them, and by the time I taught myself three chords on the guitar, I had at least 100 love songs waiting to be written. I guess I’m just still getting them out.
ALIVE: Walk me through your tattoos.
CP: Um, impossible. I just counted the other day, and I have 46. They all mean something extremely special to me. I got my first one on my 15th birthday of the Egyptian Ankh on the back of my neck. It means “life”—I had just fallen in love for the first time and written my first song. It was an epic moment for me. I felt alive for the first time. Now, I’m 25, and I get them all of the time…whenever I go through something, if I want to remember something, or just for no occasion at all. The last tattoo I got was two weeks ago. It’s a portrait of my dog Lexi of 16 years who just went to doggie heaven. We’ll see what comes next.
ALIVE: One reads, “To thine own self be true.” What is the significance?
CP: I got this tattoo the week after I signed my record deal with Atlantic Records in July 2010. This was a reminder to myself to stay authentic. I felt like at any moment, they were going to politely ask me to change my sound, looks, words, ambitions, intentions…I didn’t know. But, I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t “me” and everything that means—and I never ever have still.
ALIVE: Other than those tattooed on your arms (Johnny Cash, John, Paul, George, Ringo), who inspires you musically?
CP: In no particular order: Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, Elton John, Coldplay, Billy Joel, Sam Cooke, Jeff Buckley, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Bright Eyes, Adele, Nina Simone, Iron and Wine, Jason Mraz, David Grey, Richard Swift, City and Colour, Counting Crows, Jimmy Gnecco, Norah Jones, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison… I could go on.
ALIVE: “Jar of Hearts” first made waves on “So You Think You Can Dance” two years ago. How instrumental were you in getting your song on the show, and—in a nutshell—how has your life changed since?
CP: It blows my mind to think that it’s been two years because some days it feels like it’s been 10 years, and some days it feels like just yesterday. All I actually did to get my song on that show was email my best friend a demo of it. My best friend, Keltie, was the one who sent it to Stacey Tookey (the choreographer on the show), and then the song took on a life of its own. It was approved by the whole team at SYTYCD, and within two weeks, it was being danced to on the show. All I did was write and perform the song…pretty magical stuff. Since then, that exact moment, my whole life changed. K didn’t change—I’m still the same girl that poured you coffee at the café—but my life changed. I just have the best job in the world now. Everything got better, way more challenging, but better. Some days, all I can think about is how happy I am not to wake up and wait tables or cover my tattoos. Other days, I’m practically passing out because I’m singing a duet with Jason Mraz onstage. I feel extremely lucky, and have endless amounts of gratitude.
ALIVE: When we first heard “A Thousand Years,” we listened to it about 20 times in a row. What inspired the song, and why do you think it resonates so strongly with so many people?
CP: Aw, thank you! I wrote “A Thousand Years” for the movie “Breaking Dawn,” part of the Twilight saga. I was asked to come in, screen the movie and then write a song for Edward and Bella. I had zero difficulty doing this because I am, and will always be, a giant “Twihard.” I had loved this love story for so many years that by the time I actually sat down at the piano and wrote my song for them, it came out in one evening. It was simple…true love is simple. It’s resonating with so many people because it’s about eternal love. It’s about the love we all dream of. It’s for those who have found it or who are still looking; it’s really for anyone who just believes in love—and I’m pretty sure, we all do.
ALIVE: Describe your songwriting process.
CP: I have to be extremely overwhelmed emotionally every time. Either extremely happy, extremely heartbroken, extremely lonelyÛÓanythingÛÓbut it has to be extremely. I then have to run to an instrument or pen, or both at the same time. I always write words, melodies and music together. The only time I don’t is if I can’t, like on an airplane or in the middle of the night. But, it normally happens at the same time, and then a song comes through me. I don’t personally believe it comes from me, just through me from some greater place. I would write songs every day if no one was listening; it is absolutely what I do to get through life. Everyone has something to help them cope. I have songwritingÛÓI’ll never stop.
ALIVE: What advice would you give someone struggling to make it in the music biz?
CP: Do everything you’re afraid of, and don’t give up when it’s the hardest. Fear kept me from publicly playing music in front of people for 23 years, and then I almost gave up when it didn’t seem like it would ever happen for me. I can’t believe what I would have missed out on if I had cowered. Don’t give upÛÓever.
ALIVE: You’ve referenced checking goals off of your list. What goals are you currently “working on?”
CP: I will always have a list. I do it every year on December 31. My lists for 2010 and 2011 completely came true, and this year, I’m already crossing it off left and right. Each year, my dreams became bigger, but less just for me. Right now, I’m working on some forgiveness, some peace of mind, getting a French bulldog named Pistachio, calling my grandmother more, being sick less, touring with Jason Mraz and finishing writing album No. 2.
ALIVE: Why was one goal to “meet Jason Mraz”?
CP: Because he is my favorite singer/songwriter of all time. I have loved Jason and all of his songs for 10 whole years now. I’ve been dreaming of meeting him since I was 16. And the fact that I have met, connected with, performed with and recorded with him is way beyond my original dream. Most days, I think having him in my life can only possibly be a fantasy.
ALIVE: You’ll be in St. Louis On Sept. 11 with Jason Mraz. What can we expect from your performance?
CP: You can expect a simple, but powerful, emotional show. My band and I are madly in love and super tight at the moment. We’ve been touring all year, so we’re ready to have a great time with you. We have a lot more rockers that the “Jar” and “Aty” listeners usually expect. I think my show will blend beautifully into Jason’s, and you just might see me more than once during the night.
ALIVE: You have so many followers on Twitter & InstagramÛÓyou’re on Tumblr, etc. Why do you feel it’s important to have such a presence on social networking sites?
CP: For connecting with you. It’s my favorite part about this dream life. Not the performing or recording or traveling or cool clothesÛÓit’s the connecting with you so often that when I walk out onstage and see you, I feel like I know you, and you feel the same way about me. Not to mention, I’m obsessed with those thingsÛÓyou don’t have to ask me twice to tweetÛÓso it’s really me, just being me.
ALIVE: What can we expect from your next album? Will love and strength be central themes once again?
CP: I cannot wait for album No. 2. I already have 49 songs written, and I still have six months before we begin, so I should have a lot more to choose from. I have grown, I have loved and lost a lot in the past two years. So, you can expect the same girl, with the same heart, just new stories.