‘Cheers (Drink To That)’ by Rihanna, Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful People’, ‘Shine Ya Light’ by Rita Ora and even Heidi Montag’s ‘More is More’ all have something in common. A piece of the heart of online sensation Laura Pergolizzi, better known as LP.
The American musician seems to be everywhere these days
There’s not a single restaurant or bar that I’ve been to in the last year or so where I haven’t heard ‘Muddy Waters’ or her ubiquitous hit ‘Lost on You’. LP has taken the world overnight with an unlikely recipe for pop-stardom; she’s a fully-fledged musician that writes her own material, performs instruments on her albums and on stage, and features no dance choreographies in her act. No risqué Instagram posts either.
But although she seems to have come out of nowhere, it’s a success story that has been slowly cooking in the shadows of paparazzi flashes and shiny platinum records for more than a decade. In many ways, her career kind of reads as an abbreviated version of The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell.
Our heroine starts out in a fairly ordinary setting, and one good day receives a call to action, an inciting event that pushes her to embark on her quest. After a series of trials and tribulations, our poor heroine is defeated under the weight of circumstance, but just when we think she’s done, against all odds she rises stronger than before and conquers her nemesis.
Yup, LP’s life could make a hell of a movie. And it’s a rise to the top that’s still ongoing, and it looks like it isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Watch: LP – ‘Lost On You’
Act I: Origins
“I grew up in a family that values academics over everything else, and being a doctor or a lawyer was the version of success that I was fed.”
Laura Pergolizzi was born in Long Island, daughter of an Italian lawyer and an Irish opera singer who gave up her performing career to have a family. She grew up in New York, listening to opera and musical theatre, discovering staples of classic rock like Elvis, Led Zeppelin, and Queen only when she was in her mid-teens.
When she was a child, the author of ‘Girls go Wild’ didn’t really have a musical career in mind, “I recognised that I had a vibrato which was kind of embarrassing so I didn’t really sing out too much when I was little”. LP confided to the series Artbound Presents Studio A, “until my mom said, well, I was in the back of a car singing along to a song and she turned it down and was like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like, ‘Really? You like that?’ So then I started singing out a little more and then just kept going.”
Pergolizzi’s inciting moment came in 1997 at just 16-years-old, when her mom perished from cancer, a tragic event that made her decide to move to New York City and pursue becoming a singer. “I just felt very lost as far as this provincial life was concerned,” LP told The New Statesman. “I was drawn to music because it was the thing that scared me most.”
Her first professional project came in the late ‘90s when along with her friend Alicia Godsberg she formed the band Lionfish, an alt-rock act that sounded a bit like a rougher, more violent version of Aimee Mann. “I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any connections,” LP told CNN in 2012.
David Lowery, singer of indie-rock band Cracker saw her performing in 1998 and impressed with her vocal range invited her to co-write and sing on ‘Cinderella’, a hidden track on Cracker’s album ‘Gentleman’s Blues’. Their collaboration didn’t stop there, with Lowery producing LP’s debut album, Heart-Shaped Scar, released in 2001 by Koch Records.
“These days kids don’t need validation, they just throw their stuff on fucking YouTube and a bunch of people hit it and they go like, ‘yeah I rule!’ You get instant feedback, I didn’t have that back then, you were like a fart in the wind basically.”
Fast forward to the mid-aughts, and LP had two albums already, positive critical reviews, but her career wasn’t exactly on fire. It was until 2006 when her performance at South by Southwest blew everybody away and major music labels entered in a frenzied bidding war to sign her.
She ended up at Island Def Jam, but what seemed like a dream move to propel her career to the stratosphere, turned out to be quite a different experience. Pergolizzi would not release another album in ten years.
Act II: Life as an anonymous hit-maker
“It’s a very difficult business, so you just gotta like keep going. There’s no use in holding to regret and bitterness and all that stuff because it really just fucks you up in the end.”
Her contract with Island was the start of a pilgrimage through three different labels (Island, RedOne, SoBe Entertainment) in Universal’s music group where she wrote around 130 songs, yet nothing happened.
“[Those were] three years where I was basically banging around in the major label system and I wrote like in the area of 130-140 songs,” LP said in a 2019 interview with Tom Power. “They were pushing me in all different directions, I didn’t have a strong management at the time and I was as a bit rudderless.
“They were like, ‘oh let’s go in this rock direction, let’s go in this pop direction, let’s go in this folk direction’. It was frustrating at the time but also, you know, convoluted. I didn’t know where I was going, I was just following what they said because I didn’t know any better. So after three years, it bore no fruit, there was no actual record.”
Curiously, while her performing career seemed to be frozen by the label system, her material became a hit for other artists. The Backstreet Boys recorded her song ‘Love Will Keep You Up All Night’ for their album Unbreakable, and that led to other performers like Heidi Montag, Erik Hassle, and Rihanna recording her compositions.
Watch: Rihanna – ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’
“Coming up as an indie artist one of the walls that I always hit was that like ‘you don’t have the songs to get through’ so when I became a songwriter the irony was not lost on me. It’s like never getting a date and then being a porn star.”
LP hit the harsh reality that she had to keep writing as many songs as possible, and in as many genres as she could in order to make a living. Her songwriting breakthroughs continued, involved in hits like Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful People’ and the single ‘Afraid to Sleep’, performed by The Voice finalist Vicci Martinez which reached the tenth spot on iTunes Top Singles chart in 2011.
Stream: Backstreet Boys – ‘Love Will Keep You Up All Night’
Two seemingly inconspicuous events ended up being the turning point for Pergolizzi. One was discovering the ukulele, and the other, getting an invitation to sing at a bar.
LP relocated from New York to Los Angeles in 2010, and started to write songs with a $60 dollar ukulele she learned to play with tutorials on YouTube: “You know, it was weird I was starting to play the ukulele just from myself just for fun, but it made me fall in love with music again.”
She got invited to play a couple of covers at club Bardot, and what started as an unexpected temporal gig became a weekly residency.
“A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to play this club after someone got sick. It actually turned into a whole thing and I started getting fans. That’s when I began playing the ukulele and enjoying music again, and when I set on my little tear of writing for myself.” she told Vogue in 2012.
Later in 2014, it was announced that LP would release her first album in a decade with Warner Bros. At last, the wheels seemed to be turning again, and she was finally finding her mojo. She had found a label that understood her personality and wanted her to express how she pleased, without the need to adapt her voice to what other artists needed.
Just a few months later, she was dropped.
Act III: No Retreat, No Surrender
“It was really at that moment I said to myself. ‘All right. Well, it might be time to hang it up.’”
Forever for Now managed to insert itself in the Billboard 200 chart at 132, but that didn’t seem enough for the corporate heads at Warner; she was called into the offices of the entertainment giant to meet their new chairman and the recently appointed label president.
LP played to them what she thought were the best three songs for her follow up album, ‘Muddy Waters’, ‘Strange’ and finally, ‘Lost On You.’
“I literally could tell the second they looked at me; they just didn’t get it. I could just see the vacancy in their eyes. They were like, ‘Yeah… um, that’s great. But we’re going to move on.’” She recalls the experience that almost ended with her career to Forbes.
How many deceptions had she gone through at that point? She had given them their best shot, and it was not enough. Maybe it was time to hang the gloves after all.
But of course, this is a movie with a happy ending
How does the saying go? “When one door closes, a window opens”? We now cut to Vagrant Records, home of acts like The 1975, PJ Harvey, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
“We were just blown away. We believed in it from day one, from top to bottom. Here she was, finally making the record that she wanted to make with no compromises.” explains the label’s general manager Dan Gill to Forbes.
The label persuaded LP to join their catalogue and moved with her when BMG acquired them in late 2014. And here comes a strange curveball from fate that completely turned the tables around.
Watch: LP – ‘Girls Go Wild’
Her first release with Vagrant, the six-song EP Death Valley had sold just 3,000 units in its initial run the U.S. failing to make the cut for all Billboard charts. At first, it looked like a cruel déjà vu, until an unexpected lifeline dropped on her lap.
“I don’t check my direct messages on Instagram that much, and suddenly I did, and I find this guy from Greece was like, ‘hey man I run a label out in Greece and I really think your music would work here and I’d love to license it. So can I have your people’s information because I can’t get in touch with your label for some reason’.” LP remembers the moment that changed her life in a conversation with BUILD.
“I was like okay, but I thought he meant like he wanted to put it in a movie or a TV show. What he meant was that he wanted to license it, like sell over there.”
That guy was Panagiotis Loulourgas, head of international and A&R manager at the Greek record label Cobalt Music. After securing the foreign licensing deal for the track, he took it to radio to test the waters. And the rest is history.
‘Lost on You’ has become a sort of international anthem for unrequited love, number one in 17 countries and streamed over a billion times on Spotify. The southern-infused, ukulele-blues, whistling cry from a broken heart has resonated with millions of people all over the world.
“Our focus from Greece was to pull it west through Europe,” she said to Forbes‘ Ian McEvily from LP’s current management company, Rebel One. “We brought on someone from Poland, someone from Italy and eventually France, and we just kept getting the same reaction with the song. Then we got another spark in Mexico.”
The song has not only become a global radio hit, with single sales reaching triple-Platinum status and the album making it to Diamond, but all of a sudden LP has turned into one of the hottest performers of the live circuit. From Italy to Colombia, her presence has become something of a phenomenon.
“It’s the feeling of the track, it’s everything. It touches you…” says Loulourgas.
The bonfire that Loulourgas ignited was cleverly followed up by a new album Heart to Mouth, released in December 2018 preceded by the singles ‘Girls Go Wild’ and ‘Recovery’. The album was certified Gold in Poland, hit a spot in the top 100 in ten countries and peaked at number two on Billboard’s US Heatseekers chart.
“Each person has to discover what makes you, you. How you’re going to get through, what you’re going to hold on to, what you’re going to strip away and uncover in yourself,” she told The New Statesman. “Would you rather hit it right away but with a song that you weren’t behind, with an image you didn’t really like? Or would you rather wait a little bit longer and have the song that defines you, have a look that speaks to you?”
Stream: LP – ‘Perfect’
Intrigued to know what’s the next chapter in this heroine’s story? LP is going to make her Australian live debut at none other than the Bluesfest Byron Bay this April and will accompany her gig with two sideshows in the country.
Pergolizzi joins Lenny Kravitz, Patti Smith, Dave Matthews Band, Crowded House, Eagles of Death Metal, The Cat Empire and many others in what seems will be the most star-packed version of Bluesfest we’ve seen so far.
2020 Australian Tour Dates
Also appearing at Bluesfest
Saturday, 11th April 2020
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Monday, 13th April 2020
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets and more information at LP’s official site.