American singer-songwriter and overnight sensation Christina Perri speaks to Aoife Valentine about Twilight fairytales, staying true to herself and when it’s best not to think too much
Less than two years ago Christina Perri was working in a coffee shop in Los Angeles and was completely unknown to the music world. Overnight, after her song ‘Jar of Hearts’ was used as the backdrop on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, the American dance competition and reality show, Perri was catapulted into the spotlight. Within two weeks, ‘Jar of Hearts’ had sold over 100,000 copies and less than a month later, it had landed her a record deal with Atlantic Records – quite a leap from her humble beginnings in the coffee shop.
“The song really took off and I’m just one little human and I needed to be in fifty places at once. I eventually got to all those places, but it was eleven months straight with no days off, flying all over the world. It was amazing, but at the same time it was really challenging to jump into a brand new life. I had gone from a waitress to a professional musician overnight. I had been writing and playing music forever, but to have that shift happen overnight was just bananas,” explained Perri.
Her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno further cemented her position as one to watch but it was a very last-minute affair, as she was drafted in as a replacement the day of the show. “They told me that morning. I remember because it was my first day off for about four months. I have two day-to-day managers who work under a bigger guy; the big head honcho called me and he asked ‘Can you do Jay Leno right now?’ I was like ‘What am I gonna wear?’ I was just a waitress at this point, I didn’t have any cool clothes.”
With such hype surrounding the release of her debut album, Lovestrong, there was an obvious added pressure for the album to live up to ‘Jar of Hearts’ and her extremely well-received second single, ‘Arms’. “I definitely think there could have been a lot of pressure, but I personally remember making a pact with myself to not feel it. I needed to make this album as if no one knew who I was yet. I tried not to trip out or think too hard; I think thinking is one of the worst things to do when you’re doing something so epic in your life.”
Only four of the tracks on the album were written after Perri signed her record deal; the remaining songs were written from when she was just fifteen and onwards. Perri regards the record as cohesive for something which was written across roughly a decade. “I think it makes for a well-rounded story as far as the journey of my little heart. Unfortunately, I keep falling in and out of love, but as long as each song is genuine, whether it came from me when I was seventeen or me at twenty-four, I feel like I’m just telling the truth.”
Every year, Perri makes a list of dreams and ambitions to be fulfilled, and top of last year’s list was getting a track on the Twilight: Breaking Dawn soundtrack, a dream which she didn’t exactly keep a secret. “I mentioned it subliminally many times to my label and I would drop hints all the time that I wanted to be on the soundtrack, but the fact that it happened is magical. It felt like a fairy-tale in so many ways. I’m still a giant Twi-fan and I hope to be involved in the second one. I’m still in awe of my experience. I’m like this geeky Twi-hard whose dream came true.”
However, did dealing with such a large franchise mean some compromise on her creative freedom? “It was challenging to stay authentic and to stay me. A lot of people wanted to get involved and I kept complete creative control, which is why I think it was chosen because it is so genuinely the artist. The song you hear is exactly the way I wrote it.”
Work is already underway on her second album and Perri recently tweeted that she had just finished writing her thirty-second song, with a goal of fifty tracks before October. Perri however, isn’t convinced that even that will be enough. “I can only hope that in fifty songs that I have a great twelve. Do I hope I am inspired to write twenty more songs? Totally! I believe in the theory of the musical genius as being like a little fairy. She isn’t in me, but it comes through me sometimes. I’m just hoping my second album is as genuine as my debut album. I hope to have some really cool collaborations” When Otwo asks Perri for a hint as to who she may be working with in future, she carefully reveals just one collaboration. “I will say that Jason Mraz and I have been working together…”
Before she can get back in the studio however, she has a UK and Ireland tour lined up. Touring is still an experience which holds a degree of novelty for Perri, with her first ever tour being less than a year ago, as a support act for James Blunt. “That was pretty crazy. I was so green and scared. I cried almost every day on that tour. He was wonderful and the audiences were wonderful, but I was just on such a learning curve that I was terrified. I learned so, so much that I knew exactly what I wanted when I did my first headline tour in the summer and that tour was pretty epic for me.”
Perri is looking to better that again when she reaches European shores, as she has changed her live act somewhat. “I’ve got my whole band, which is awesome. We rehearsed for a week in LA and we’re bringing out all the songs from Lovestrong, as well as a new one and a cover. We’re trying to make sure that it’s fresh, new and different to what we did in the States. I’m really excited.”
Christina Perri plays the Olympia Theatre on 22nd January. Tickets are priced from €19.