Ed. Note – Bay Area high school student Julian Ring is an alumnus of the Grammy Camp program who attended the Grammy Awards and several other Grammy week events this year. During that time, he had a chance to meet and chat with Dave Grohl, Smokey Robinson, Derek Trucks, Mumford & Sons, Steve Martin and many more. He also checked out emerging singer-songwriter L.P. (Laura Pergolizzi) at the Music Preservation Event. Pergolizzi, who became one of the stars at L.A. hotspot Sayers Club, has a hit song in "Into The Wild" and is currently at work on her debut studio album with producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day’s American Idiot). Ring sat down with Pergolizzi to talk about her live CD/DVD package, her love of the ukulele and her covers of Radiohead and Beyoncé.
I saw you perform at the Grammy Music Preservation Event in February. You have a very different sound from a lot of other people out there. How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
I almost want to call it "arena folk-rock." I’ve sort of married these two things as a songwriter. I want an indie feel with big hooks. When I started writing all this stuff, I didn’t go, "All right, I want to write pop songs for radio." I was just enjoying myself. I’ve always wanted to make a catchy song that people want to sing. If people want to hear your song over and over again, to me, that’s a great thing. I think I’ve got a sound that is very me, but I also like these big hooks.
A lot of people have been talking about your live performances in particular, and how electrifying they are. So it’s fitting that your first release is a live in-the-studio CD/DVD package. Why do you think this is a good introduction for new fans to your music?
When you have an artist, you don’t really know. Are they autotuned? Well, not so much in the indie world. But when you see someone do it live, it’s more alluring because you’re like, "Wow, this is some real stuff." When I see someone great live, what I think is, "I can’t wait to hear the record." There have been some great bands in history that never matched how great they are on record. If you like it live, you know that you’re probably going to like the record, usually.
And you’ve also been working on a full-length album that’s going to be coming out sometime this year. What has that experience been like for you?
It’s been amazing. I’ve never worked with someone as massive and legendary as Rob Cavallo. I think the songs are coming out very lush and beautiful, and they’ve got all these layers. It’s like a collaboration almost, because Rob’s putting on these massive touches that only he can do. It’s really cool, and I like the vibe we’ve got going.
The ukulele has slowly been gaining popularity in a lot of pop music recently. What inspired you to choose it as an instrument?
I figured it out a couple years ago in 2009. That’s when I was doing my own thing, writing songs for other people. I don’t want to tote around a guitar, and I was always fascinated by the ukulele. It’s such a joyful kind of instrument. I took it everywhere, it was my go-to instrument. When you have a guitar, you’re always that person that has to open up your guitar case, you know? It’s tiny and you can have it with you all the time. I feel like the ukulele really helped me eat and breathe music the way I wanted to. I always just have my instrument when I’m hanging out, and that’s where I like to write. Shit comes to me very randomly, and when I have the ukulele with me, I’m always messing around with it. Rob Cavallo is like that with guitars. He’s always noodling on guitar, it’s awesome. And I’ve got so many songs where I’m trying to do the whistling thing with my ukulele, and it turns into a lot of shit.
Yeah, you whistle a lot on "Into the Wild." What was the inspiration for writing that?
I was having a conversation with someone a day or two before, and we were talking about how it scared me that we’re kind of in the wild wild west of technology. We’ve got all this shit and we always want more. We don’t know what we’re going to be like in 10 or 20 years. I feel like there are going to be more homeless people, there are going to be more people dropping out of society because we are on this runaway train of technology. As much as it's expanded socially, we’re in a very isolating time, a lonely time. It’s like that apocalyptic stuff, going back to basics where there’s nothing again.
You talked earlier about how you used to write songs for other artists. How was doing that different from the process of writing for yourself?
First of all, it was just the sheer bulk of writing. When I wrote for myself before as an artist, I probably wrote about 15, 20 songs a year. I thought that was a lot. Then when I first started writing for the people, I wrote like 65 songs in a year for two years in a row. But I did it, and I didn’t feel like I was out of ideas. And I started to get more eclectic. I did that single, "Cheers," with Rihanna, and I just found out I wrote one of the songs for Vicki Martinez. And I just got a song on Joe Walsh’s album. So I’m kind of eclectic in my writing. But when I write something for me, I immediately know. I know what’s for me.
You’ve cited as some of your influences a lot of 90’s-era singers like Jeff Buckley, Chris Cornell, and Kurt Cobain. Do you try to incorporate some of their sounds into your own music as well?
They all have very distinct voices. What I love about all those artists, especially Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley, is that they have their own rules. They weren’t writing songs for radio, and yet their songs are radio-friendly. Jeff Buckley songs are kind of random, but so catchy. That album Grace, I think people were listening to it over and over again. And those are not pop songs, but they’re songs you want to hear again and again. And Kurt Cobain, I couldn’t believe the melodies he came up with. I look for hooks in a song, and when I listen to a Kurt Cobain songs, I hear tons of them.
Is there any song that you wish you could have written?
There are so many. I would say maybe "So Real" by Jeff Buckley. I would write "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen! I would be like, "I can die now, I wrote ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ goodbye." [Laughs] That song blows my mind, and has blown my mind my entire life, and continues to blow my mind every time I hear it.
Do you have a favorite song to cover live?
I just did a cover of [Radiohead’s] "Creep," which I love. And I really like covering "Halo" by Beyonce. I do a rock version of it. And I love covering "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" by Nirvana. I think it’s funny to cover that on ukulele.
You have your first TV appearance on Jimmy Kimmel coming up at the end of next month. Are you looking forward to it? Do you think that will help get your name out there more as a performer?
That’s the "Oh shit, there’s no going back" kinda place. [Laughs] I was like, "I want to be a big songwriter, yeah, man!" Then I just started writing all these songs I love and it happened. I’m looking forward to it. I love playing live, it’s going to be fun.
Julian Ring is an alumnus of GRAMMY Camp and a music journalist living in the Bay Area. He also served on the GRAMMY eTeam. Julian has written for GRAMMY.com, The Wall Street Journal, and The Oakland Tribune.
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