LP Rides Her Own Wave of Pop-Rock On Her New Album, 'Heart to Mouth'

A Vessel and a Voice

If life can feel like steering a wayward ship through uncertain tides, then LP’s genre-spanning guitar music peels off the barnacles underneath. With even-keeled honesty and a singing voice as potent as aged bourbon, the rakish New York-born songwriter has created soaring indie-rock out of mental strife, the pain and pathos of relationships, and hot-blooded queer intimacy. The gospel-driven “Muddy Waters,” released in 2015, exemplified those sensibilities and amplified the heart-pounding claustrophobia of the climactic scene in season 4 of Orange Is the New Black, in which an inmate brandishes a gun at a corrections officer.

“The past two years have been incredible on a professional level,” LP says, speaking in low, easygoing tones that bring to mind the drawl of a Woodstock rocker. “But just because things are going good in your career doesn’t mean that you’re, like, shitting out rainbows.”

On her eclectic fifth album, LP’s close-to-the-bone songwriting is emboldened by lusty explorations into dance-pop and arena-size rock. Its title, Heart to Mouth, she says, is a rubric for the emotional transparency of her music. Her voice glides and growls on its lead single, “Recovery,” a very 21st-century twist on a breakup ballad. “I feel that I am, for the lack of a better term, a fucking love addict,” LP says, with a short laugh. “I’ve gone from one relationship to the next, and I’m analyzing myself a bit.” The song was partly inspired by the navigations of social media that a breakup now calls for. You know, when you’re trying to get over an ex that still watches all your Instagram Stories.

It seems like the open outlook of her songwriting has bled into her personal life, too. Her dog, an adorable Brussels Griffon named Orson Johnny Valentine, boasts an Instagram with a cool 13.8k followers (@everythingisorson). LP runs the account with her fiancée, the indie-rock artist Lauren Ruth Ward. “He had a long, majestic beard, but it got knotted so he had to get it cut,” LP says, as Orson yaps, as if on cue. “He’s so frigging cute, it’s hilarious.”

Born Laura Pergolizzi in the sleepy Long Island hamlet of Huntington Station, LP studied opera from a young age. But upon hearing the raw, dramatic voices of artists like Janis Joplin and Freddie Mercury, she decided to ignore her mother’s pleas not to “popularize” her voice and ventured into the pop world. In 2006, she signed with Def Jam, which put her in “songwriting school” with a smorgasbord of A-list composers, and she co-wrote hit songs like Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” and less successful ones like Heidi Montag’s critically savaged 2009 single “More
Is More.”

LP’s swaggering personal style, which falls somewhere between Joan Jett, Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, and the 1975’s Matty Healy, gives her a look that would make a fantastic poster on some queer kid’s bedroom wall (and likely already does). But Def Jam was unsure how to market an artist who is, as she puts it, “the fucking gayest.”

“I think my image has probably worked against me,” she says. “The vastly male, heterosexual-populated music business is not necessarily looking for my type of person.” She currently releases music on Vagrant Records, a subsidiary of BMG.

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She’s also never bent to the whims of those fat cats in the boardroom, recognizing the power of being wholly and unapologetically herself. “I’ve been consistently open and a part of the community,” she says. “I think there’s still a lack of very high profile [LGBTQ artists]. You have Sam Smith, Adam Lambert, and Troye Sivan. But for lesbian women, [a lack of representation] is still a thing in the music world. You have Melissa Etheridge, you have Tegan and Sara, but, like, who else you got? I just think: Keep going. Things are meant to be incremental, you know. Sometimes you gain more ground by just winning
the battles.”

Early on in this interview, LP describes her striking, black-ink chest tattoo — which depicts a clipper ship with billowing sails — as being inspired by her turbulent artistic path. “One of the biggest things that I’m really thankful for, as a person and in my career, is my perspective,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve seen so many fucking brilliant artists that I’ve worked with as a writer and never heard about them again.” She gives a low, throaty laugh. “I can really go, ‘Holy shit, I’m a lucky bastard!’” Given LP’s tooth-and-nail determination, you suspect that luck has little to do with it.

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