By Poppy Tohill
To be honest, I have to admit to having a bit of a fan girl moment when I was joined on the phone by the incredibly chatty, humourous and exceptionally talented songstress Christina Perri.
Having recovered from losing her voice the previous day, Christina joined me on the phone from backstage one of her shows for her current Head Or Heart Tour around the States, to talk tattoos, her new album and the difficulties of writing happy songs...
After a great deal of excitement, and small talk, we eventually knuckled into it, beginning with Perri admitting if she had to sum up ‘Head or Heart' (her latest album released last month) in three words she would have to say: "Big, honest and emotional."
"I feel like ‘Head Or Heart' and ‘Lovestrong' are different in many ways, but then also similar because it's still me," she admitted when asked if she believes album two (Head Or Heart) is quite different from her debut album (Lovestrong) released back in 2011. "With ‘Lovestrong,' I recorded the whole album in 33 days, with one band, in one room with one guy and I was definitely not thinking about touring because I'd never been on tour before. Then with this album, I recorded it in one year and 78 days with six different guys, and thirteen songs that I knew I wanted to play live because by then I had toured nine times in between albums one and two, so everything kind of felt a little bit different," she went on to explain. "I think my voice also, because I had vocal chord surgery, I just seemed better as a singer. So I wrote bigger songs and grander vocal parts. I sung all the background vocals on this album too where as I didn't sing any on album one. So, I feel like it really is a lot different, but its still me singing all these love songs about my real life, so its sort of the same, if you get what I mean."
With the mention of her vocal chord surgery, Perri went on to explain the struggles on dealing with and overcoming that experience, and the way she believes it affected her career. "That was really challenging. I'm not gonna lie," she began. "It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life. Because if you haven't figured out by now, I'm really chatty," she laughed. "I was just sad all the time and so introverted in my little cell because I couldn't talk to my family, my friends or anyone. So when I finally got the surgery, it was actually the best thing ever. I wasn't even scared. I was just like, ‘please just fix me so I can do what I love, which is singing and talking and existing and participating in life.' So as soon as I got the surgery, it was a lot easier than I ever imagined and I recovered like a boss," she chuckled once more. "Because I was so diligent. I took care of myself and just made sure I did everything the doctor said and I healed up so quickly, I was singing within six weeks. Now it's been a couple of years, and I'm just a regular person. I never ever lose my voice anymore, apart from when I'm sick. Getting the surgery was the best decision I ever made, but it was definitely the most challenging thing I've ever been through in my whole life. It was very dark" she honestly admitted. "In terms of my career, it changed it big time, yeah! I wouldn't be doing this anymore if I didn't get the surgery. I probably would have given up singing. It was right around the time when ‘Arms' came out too, so before ‘A Thousand Years.' So if I didn't get the surgery, I don't think ‘A Thousand Years' would have ever happened and I can't even imagine what that would have been like. That's my best selling song, so my whole career would look very different if I didn't get fixed."
When asked about how she decided upon a name for the album, Perri filled us in on her epiphany, which literally gave her all the answers. "I wrote the very first song for the album, which was ‘Trust,' on October 23rd of 2012," she began, "and while I was sitting at the piano, I literally had an epiphany and was like, Oh my god... I know exactly what I want to say! The album's going to be called ‘Head or Heart' and it's going to be proposing this question about, in matters of love, which do you trust? Because at 27 years old, I am still so confused when it comes to love, that I've just taken a full break and am pausing and I'm waiting until I trust myself more. I think I've realised, after all the relationships I've been in, I kind of come to the same place where I just lose faith in myself. So with this album I'm just really throwing it out there, posing this question to anybody whose listening and bringing them along with me as I learn to try trust myself," she explained.
With songs so full of emotion and meaning I asked Perri if there was a specific song on the album that was particularly hard or maybe easier to write than the others. After a long pause down the phone line, followed by a loud sigh, she gave me a heck of a fright, loudly and excitedly erupting with a response of, "Wow, that is a great question!" Before continuing on by adding, "I would say, ‘Trust,' ‘Run,' and ‘Butterfly,' which are the three songs that I wrote by myself were really easy to write because they all came out in one sitting and just fell out of me really. But... the other songs like, ‘Burning Gold, ‘The Words,' ‘I Don't Wanna Break,' and ‘Human,' which were co-writes, were really really really emotional for me when I was writing them. I'd say the hardest song though was ‘Be My Forever,' just because it's so happy and I was so resistant," she laughed. Followed by breaking out into song, "You know- la,la,la,la,la," she happily chimed. Stopping abruptly midway remarking "No Way, I was so against it. But halfway through the day, I realised that for it to be okay it needed to be a duet and it needed to be with Ed Sheeran, and I'm so glad I made it happen," she declared. "I'd say the happy songs are much harder to write than the super emotional songs though. Sometimes I don't even remember writing the emotional songs. They just have to come out of me no matter what. Even if no one ever hears them. I mean, I write songs all the time that no one will ever hear, but they're just songs I write to get though little moments in my life," she exclaimed. "So there's a lot of that on this album, I feel. I was definitely going through a lot of stuff when I wrote it."
On the topic of ‘Be My Forever' we then launched into conversation about her friendship with Ed Sheeran and how they came to workingtogether. "I feel like happy songs can either be, awful and super cheesy or genuine, and I feel like we kind of nailed it!" She confidently admitted. "Ed Sheeran and I have never worked together before, but we've been friends for a long time, and we always bump into each other at work shows and parties because we have the same label. I did this album with his producer too, so we would be skyping and talking with Ed and it was kind of like I was a part of their family. So when I wrote ‘Be My Forever,' I knew I had to have Ed on the song. When I called him up and played him the song he loved it but said, ‘good luck getting me in the studio, I'm on tour with Taylor Swift all year.' "So literally nine months after I wrote the song, we were both in LA at the same time, He showed up at the studio and we recorded it in one take, it was pure magic!" Perri happily professed.
Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with someday, I then went on to ask. Followed by a brisk and enthusiastic reply, "Oh my god... So many people!!! Perri laughed. "Okay," she sighed before launching into a list. "Probably Chris Martin from Coldplay. I love Hayley Williams from Paramore. I love Justin Timberlake. I love Lady Gaga. I love Paul McCartney. I don't even know. There are just so many good people!"
With ‘Human' being released as the first official single off the album in November 2013, early January of this year saw the release of the exceptionally powerful yet simplistic video behind the empowering track. Perri explains the creative input she had into the video and the fun behind the disappearing tattoo trick. "I've definitely been very involved with a lot of the stuff for this album," she clarified. "I designed the album cover, all the artwork, the merchandise and came up with the idea of covering all my tattoos in the video, seemingly being the opposite of myself, to kind of play on the words of being non-human versus human. It took four and a half hours to cover my tattoos," she laughed, "It was so gnarly! It was so crazy to look at myself like that too, but it was a lot of fun and I thought the video turned out exactly what I hoped it would be."
Admitting that it actually took me two goes of watching the video to realise it was her tattoos that were missing, Perri began laughing before confessing, "Yeah, you along with everyone else! Everybody has to watch it twice, it's so funny" she snickered. "Because when people are watching it, they're thinking 'wait a minute, there's something different here' ... and yeah, I tricked a lot of people" she proudly admitted.
On the topic of tattoos, the track ‘I Believe' from the album was meant only for a charity performance, but once Christina heard people were getting the lyrics from the song tattooed on their bodies she realised she couldn't not put the song on the album. So Perri filled us in on what it's like when fans get her lyrics tattooed onto them. "It's so cool! I've been signing a lot of people's arms on tour, and then they're going and getting it tattooed on their arm. At first I'm like, ‘reeeallly, are you sure?' Because it's forever, you know. but at the same time, I have 70 tattoos, so I completely understand... I have Johnny Cash's signature on my arm, I love him. I've got the Beatles and just all my favourite stuff from, favourite lyrics, to books and movies, my favourite dog and even my favourite emoji, I've literally just got all that special stuff to me tattooed. So I can understand, that and I just think it's so sweet and awesome. It's totally weird when it's you because you're kind of like, ‘what, why?' You know, I just can't really comprehend it. But I enjoy it and I'm definitely honoured when I see that," she explained.
Currently on tour around the States, we finished having a chat about how the tour had been going, her favourite venue she's performed at and if the ‘Head or Heart' tour will be making its way to New Zealand shores. "Oh my god, it's definitely the most fun tour I've ever done. It's my tenth tour, but it's my favourite," she excitedly exclaimed. "My favourite place would have to be my home town. You know the venue you go to your whole life growing up where you see all your favourite people. Well for me, it was a venue called the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, and I played a sold out show there on this tour recently. I literally had 80 family members there, including my grandmother, my mum and dad and all my friends. Everybody I love came along and the whole place was just unbelievable, I can't even describe it. It was the most wonderful I've ever felt on stage so far." As for coming to New Zealand, Perri said, "I really hope so! I'm coming over to that part of the world in the fall." Informing us that she's coming to Australia and South East Asia, our interview time came to an end as she remarked, "I really hope New Zealand is on the list."