Christina Perri takes her time with ‘Head or Heart’
It’s said that musicians have their entire life to write their first album and six months to make their second one. To bear that out, rock history books are littered with second albums that paled in comparison to the first, and rushing to capitalize on a hit debut album is often the culprit.
Christina Perri had the exact opposite experience with her first two albums. Her 2011 debut, “Lovestrong,” was done in a frenzy –33 days with recording in two studios at the same time. Perri’s follow-up album from 2014, “Head Or Heart,” wasn’t so rushed.
“It was one year and 78 days, from the first song I wrote, called ‘Trust,’ which is No. 1 on the album, to the day we got the master,” said Perri in a recent phone interview.
The reversal of the usual story for Perri’s first two albums was a product of her distinctive breakthrough onto the music scene. She’ll perform with fellow pop-rock singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat on Aug. 22 at Grand Sierra Resort.
Her meteoric arrival happened in 2010 after a friend e-mailed a copy of Perri’s song, “Jar Of Hearts,” to a choreographer for “So You Think You Can Dance.” At the time Perri was unsigned and her own recording of “Jar Of Hearts” had not been released.
Against all odds, Perri’s song was chosen to be played on the show, and after getting a huge response, Perri was invited a week later to perform on the show. It was the first time the soon-to-be-ex-waitress from Los Angeles had ever performed in public.
“I was on television in front of 60 million people that day,” Perri said. “Yeah, I grew six grey hairs on that first performance.”
Whether she was green as a performer or not, the world was ready for Perri. Posted on iTunes, “Jar of Hearts” sold 220,000 downloads in the first few days after Perri performed it on the show. Perri quickly got a deal with Atlantic Records, and that’s how Perri’s first album put her on the fastest of tracks to get recorded and released.
“Album one was insane,” Perri said of “Lovestrong.” “(There were) songs that I didn’t even have the proper time to arrange or work on. We were chasing the single. And it was just so backwards.”
Despite the highly accelerated timetable to make “Lovestrong,” Perri’s talent as a songwriter and singer came through with a collection of melodic songs that ranged from the gently orchestrated strains of “Arms” to the sweet pop of “Bluebird” to the punchy rock-pop of “Bang Bang Bang.”
Perri then went on tour, where she got her first experience performing concerts. “Growing up in front of everyone is the best way to describe it,” Perri said. “I learned how to do that in front of people. I had only ever played in front of my family or whatever (before). So I really had a pretty gnarly learning curve.”
Finally, after 27 months of touring – with a break part-way through to undergo vocal cord surgery – Perri finished her touring cycle for Lovestrong” in October 2012. She said he decided to not only take her time with album No. 2, but she also make an album that satisfied her creativity.
One trade-off came in songwriting. Atlantic Records wanted Perri to work with outside songwriters. She agreed, but also wanted to write on her own.
“Look, I’m on a major label. I’m not going to fight against what they want because I want them on my side,” Perri said. ”I compromised with them. I said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you two months (of co-writing) if you give me three months. And I did. I got what I wanted.”
Three solo Perri songs made “Head or Heart,” while the co-writes ended up being with established artists such as Kevin Griffin (of the band Better Than Ezra) and pop hit-makers David Hodges and Jamie Scott.
“As soon I started co-writing, I wasn’t like resentful, or I didn’t feel like I had a lot more to say by myself,” Perri said. “I felt like, ‘Great, OK, clean slate. Let me start over with all of these people and let me really challenge my craft.’”
More challenges continued, as Perri opened the door on “Head or Heart” for more programmed drums and synths. It’s a change from her more organic debut, a format she insisted on for “Lovestrong.”
“I’m realizing in my life, if I don’t say yes to things I will never, ever know and I won’t have that growth spurt that I really wanted,” Perri said.
The finished album bridges the gap between the singer-songwriter feel of the first album and the more danceable, beat-driven pop in commercial radio’s sweet spot. There are ballads such as “Trust” and “Human,” but there are also uptempo tunes (“Burning Gold” and “Shot Me in the Heart”) with big, danceable choruses. “Be My Forever” (one of the songs written with Scott) is a bouncy pop confection with guest vocals from Ed Sheeran.
Perri is performing some of her new material on the co-headlining tour with Caillat, and she believes the touring for “Lovestrong” helped her be considerably more present and comfortable on stage. The biggest improvement, though, is a result of her vocal surgery. She described her post-surgery voice as “seriously unstoppable.”
“That’s where the most confidence came (in),” she said. “I remember my band clearly saying to me ,‘Who are you?’ It was the first time I didn’t have to worry about whether or not it would even show up. That gave me so much freedom, so much growing room, and to like literally enjoy myself for the first time. So this tour pretty much embodies all of that. I’m having a blast. I’m not thinking too much. And I think the audience is going to see how happy I am.”