What was your life like right before you became a pop star?
I was going to go to Barnard, so I came up to New York and studied comparative religion and psychology and stuff for three months, but that all went out the window. I loved math and I was way into studying the Cold War, so after high school, I would sneak in the college classes and listen, but then one day [hitmakers] Max Martin and Dr. Luke called me, and they were like, "Hey, be a pop star." "Yeah, OK, let's do this."
You had a demo floating around?
Yeah, it was like trip-hop, it was so bad. At the end of one track I was just jacking off, making an ass of myself, and they were like, "Oh my God, she's borderline retarded," so they thought it was funny.
Why did you go to L.A.?
Luke and Max were there. At the same time, I don't know who my birth father is, so this guy called me and was like, "Hey, I think I'm your birth father, I'll buy you a plane ticket." So I get off the plane and meet this guy. Have you ever seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin? You know that video game chair? He had one, and he played it all the time. I was like, "There's no way that half of my DNA is made up of someone who has a video game chair."
But you stayed out west.
Well, I fell in love with this dude, he saved me from the father who is not my father, and I stayed for a few years. I just recently moved back to Nashville, finally. I think John Lennon said his stay in L.A. was the "lost weekend," and I absolutely agree with that.
Were you in Hollywood?
All over the place. There were times I'd live in my car and just crash with friends, because I was really broke for periods of time, then I'd live with the ex-boyfriend, then an apartment in Echo Park, then I was living in Laurel Canyon in this house with anywhere from seven to 10 roommates at any given point — musicians and artists, but mostly just douchebags.
You're anti-douchebag, but you lived in L.A. for four years.
I got the fuck out of there — you know what it is? I went there to accomplish something and live a part of my life out. I made it through, I made a record about it, but I'm so done. It's so gross. Then there was a morning when I woke up and said, "All right, I need to get out of here, the soul-sucking has begun."
Tell me about the best tracks on Animal.
The song "Stephen" is one of my favorites on the record — it's this guy I've been stalking since I was 15. I wrote the song when I was 16 with my mom, and I was like, "This song's so dope, I know it is," so I found this guy named David Gamson who was in Scritti Politti. He does all the keyboard stuff, he's amazing, a crazy cynical genius guy, and he liked my voice and my thing, and I really liked his thing, so we decided to work together.
What's the point of reference when you start writing songs? Do you want to write like Madonna, do you want to write party songs?
People ask me that, and I don't know, I just write about what I live — literally, my entire record is totally autobiographical, because I think there's a great pop song in anything and everything, any situation. There's a song called "Dinosaur" about this old guy who was hitting on me, and his toupee was kind of falling off, and I was like, "Oh my God, you're so old, you're prehistoric, you're like a dinosaur. D-I-N-O-S-A-you are a dinosaur." Then there's "TiK ToK," which is about waking up and feeling like Diddy.
You've said the dollar sign in your name is ironic because you don't have any money, and you don't care about money, but it is kind of fascinating as a voyeur to enter that world.
It's so weird, I hate champagne, so there's a song called "Party at a Rich Dude's House" where I went and peed in the champagne bottles and thought it was hilarious. Just kind of being an asshole, really, is what that song's about.
So you're living back in Nashville now.
I'm kind of living nowhere right now, I just had my gold Trans Am that's in my video shipped back home, so I guess that's where I live now — wherever he goes, I go. I don't have a house, but I'm looking for one. I just want to make sure it's not haunted. I'm not just saying this to try to sound crazy, like, "Oh, I'm such a crazy pop star, I'm haunted," but actually, almost every night I have some psycho dream of the same ghost, either in my face, strangling me, smacking me, shoving me, or just hanging out. Sometimes he's just there, scaring me, being an asshole.
I recently drove across the country, staying only in haunted hotels, and I stayed in a haunted whorehouse in San Antonio, and that was the first time I actually got haunted on. One of the reasons I moved out of my house in the Canyon was I knew it was haunted. I was right next door to the Jim Morrison house, and I was kind of drawn to the energy there.
Is there an energy in all of Laurel Canyon?
There is a scene, but it's a bunch of fipsters, fake hipsters hippies, fake hippies. I have a song called "Fuck Fake Hippies." It's not on the record. It's hiding in cyberspace somewhere, all the hippies are really trust fund kids.
2010 is going to be a big year for you.
I hope so. Let's just pretend the world ends in 2012, I want people to live as if it's 2011 in December. I try not to think too far ahead, because I also feel like I'm trying to do as much as I can to set myself up properly. I put on the best live show, the absolute best live show I can possibly can. I was reading this book on the Damned, and the lead singer was talking about how if you don't put 100 percent of yourself into the show you don't deserve to be onstage, and I totally agree with that.
At the risk of appearing like an asshole.
Yes, absolutely. That is my gift to the world, I probably look like an asshole. I'm not saying I look cool, but every single time I go onstage, it is a fail if I don't feel like I'm going to pass out at least twice.
That's what people connect to.
I hope so. People that do like my record are going to because they can tell 100 percent of this is honest. I think some people are scared to be honest or some people just sing other people's songs and don't really make them personal, but my record's so personal and so is my live show, and so is the way I fucking look. Whether you like it or not, it's honest.
Why did you name the album Animal?
Animal, the name of the record, it's kind of my steez, I have to say. I named it that because I want people to lose it when they listen to my record and go to the animal part of themselves that they suppress. Society has taught us to suppress certain things and not do certain things.
Like urinating in people's champagne bottles.
Whatever, I wanted to do it. I think the main thing is that it doesn't take being fucked up. You're an animal, you live, maybe this one time is your lifetime — go there. Who cares what somebody else thinks? They shit, too. Whatever.
When did you write "Animal"? That seems to be the turning point for you.
That's why it's at the end of the record, that's where I believe, sonically, the next record might be going. Me and my brother had a silly punk band before, and I loved pop music and I liked catchy music, but I think I also am possessed to be what some critics might deem as silly pop music. I think I have more shit to offer, so I think that "Animal" is a nice segue into the next record, hopefully. I wanted to be very — who were we trying to emulate? — like Flaming Lips-y, Arcade Fire-y.
Not to say I won't still kick it, but I write about what I do, and now I'm over it, so back to Nashville. I got a Dobro, I want to learn to play that really well, and I want to buy a house so I can get an organ. I want to go there.