In July, 2016, LP visited Studio A of WFUV and gave a beautiful interview to Carmel Holt. This was already after “Lost On You” had become a huge hit in Greece, but in the summer of 2016 it had really been just the very beginning of LP’s growing success in Europe. So many amazing things were about to happen. She was yet to play her very first show in Greece, to be followed by her first and second European tours. Exactly one year later, she will play around 35 festivals in Europe, performing as headline for some.
Still frame from “Lost On You” performance for WFUV
The interview is kind of a freeze frame capturing a very interesting moment in LP’s career. And also, it’s one of the first interviews where LP shares her thoughts about how (any why) she wrote her EP, Death Valley. She tells the story in a stirring way, opening up a little bit and explaining the background of each song. She talks of loneliness and of feeling estranged, and of why the title “Death Valley” felt (and still feels) right. In a subtle way, she explains the difference between the songs’ production process in Warner Bros. and in Vagrant. There’s also a bit on the music business, songwriting, vocal training in Carnegie Hall, whistling, “Lost On You,” and Orange Is The New Black.
LP also sang two songs, “Into The Wild” and “Lost On You,” accompanied by Trevor Menear. Luckily, there are videos of these performances, and you can find additional links in the side bar. The full audio recording is 25-minutes long, so make yourself comfortable and take your headphones. The quality of sound is so good here!
Carmel Holt: LP has a vocal range that is both astounding and moving, and her songwriting range is equally impressive. Hi, I’m Carmel Holt, once a singer-songwriter based here in NYC. LP made her way to LA, finding success both as a recording artist, as well as a hit writer for big names in pop such as Christina Aguilera and Rihanna. LP’s talent for writing pop songs meant that she had to work hard to record an album that defines a style of her own, and now she’s back with an independent release, an EP called Death Valley. And she joins us now in Studio A to share a couple of songs and tell us about the journey that lead her here. Welcome back to WFUV!
LP: Oh, thank you.
CH: Let’s start off with the title to the album Death Valley, I looked it up because I wanted to make…
CH: It’s a very uplifting title, right? I mean, it’s literally the lowest, driest, hottest place…
LP: Yeah! [laughs] See, bang on, again, yeah? [laughs]
CH: Yeah, bang on…
LP: We just started writing a setlist the other night, and the first three songs were “Muddy Waters,” and then “Strange” and then “Lost On You,” I was laughing cause I just put: “Muddy,” “Strange” and “Lost,” and it sounded so sad and lonely. But yeah, that title… I was in a place, both professionally and personally, that was very dry, indeed. I was kind of trying desperately to gather some moisture at that point. I felt very estranged, far away from both places. I was putting together a record that I felt was two years too late, I put out a live EP, in the beginning or middle-ish of 2012. And I was ready, in my opinion, to put out the full length, three to six months after, but I was kind of moved around. And I don’t think it was in the fairest at the time, which is one of those things that transpired because there was something there, something was going on, and we just… we maneuvered too much to get the “perfect” produced recordings of some songs that had a life that has sprung from a demo. “Into the Wild,” when we got it recorded on the commercial, was just the demo version, and one thing lead to another, and we just found ourselves embroidered in a massive produced record, really done the way things were done in old days, you know, 24-piece orchestras, which was beautiful to see, and sheet music and the like, and musicians standing by, hours on, and doing nothing, but being paid. I digress… but, it’s just one of those things that you find yourself in, in a major label situation, sometimes. And a lot of good things had come out, but I think I had hoped to divert some of those problems through experience. I had a lot of good music come out of it, anyway, but as I was recording that record as of 2014, my personal life was also… I didn’t realize I was in the beginning of the end of something, so I was writing on material out of that. So, sorry I do go on, but Death Valley, it felt very right at the time. It still feels right.
CH: You were in it, I mean it was really… you were in that very low point, and everything was dying off.
LP: Right, I think that it’s like when you’re in the desert… You know, people die in the desert because they don’t realize the magnitude of where they are at the time, it’s almost like the frog in a boiling water thing that everyone’s heard of, you’re suddenly like: “Oh-oh, there’s no water!” [laughs]
CH: How did you find water?
LP: Ehm, through creating… My thing is, even if you write a hit song, you have to write another hit song. You still have to keep going, so, regardless of success or failure, I think that the continuance of creation is just what it is. So, I try to keep that in my head and just keep right now in my head, and be present in both aspects of my life. So, I felt like that would be the only way to remedy the situation, and I think I got some really good stuff out of that part, and it brought me to another echelon, I think, of my personal growth and experience in creating music.
CH: So, what did you take, I mean this major, major, Forever For Now I think you were referring to before, with the orchestra and all, going off and having long break so they stood around doing nothing… Then what happened when you got around to recording the songs for Death Valley, what was that production like?
LP: Oh, I was doing that, and I could see it in the people at the label that were behind me that they knew that things were kind of getting away from what was great about everything, and my team and I, my management, we were like: let’s stick to the producers that are in house, that we have with us. Mike Del Rio, who’s produced Death Valley, most of it, he had done a lot of stuff along with PJ Bianco who’d produced “Into The Wild” and “Tokyo Sunrise,” and I just was like: I wanna stick with…
CH: My two favorite songs, by the way!
LP: Really? Yeah, I was just like: I wanna stick with the guys that we created with, and we do it, and not conformers. It was funny, ‘cause everybody was out of power by the time. I played it for the major label, and they… I played all these songs that are now out there, that are doing really good things, I played them all for Warner Bros., and they were like: “Yeah, they are great! But, see you!” And I was like: “Okay!” But I get why, it’s what this business is, it’s not for the weak at heart. Any kind of art, you have to deal with the people that are gonna tell you yes and no. This was a wonderful experience and I didn’t care, I just was doing it, and we kept to what we thought was great, and then Vagrant came into my life, the label, and they didn’t interfere, it was very organic and good.
CH: Oh, since you just mentioned “Into The Wild,” you could play it for us now?
LP: Of course! Yeah! My pleasure!
[Into the Wild]
CH: Going back to Forever For Now, the last full length album for that song called “Into The Wild,” which I guess was really… That song did a lot for you.
LP: Oh my gosh, yeah! I did like a CNN piece on that commercial, basically. It was a beautiful commercial, it was well shot and uplifting and interesting.
CH: That was the Citibank commercial with the woman, rock climber?
LP: Yeah, and it was a very eye-catching experience, and I felt lucky enough to be a part of it, so it did do a lot, and I’m proud of that little piece, it was cool.
CH: It’s amazing to also consider how… you’re so unique in that you have this, almost like it’s a split life, right? ‘Cause… well, I don’t know how much of that pop-writing stuff you are doing currently. I mean you can tell us…
LP: I still do it. I just, I’ve been really busy with my own thing, but yeah, I still do it. I enjoy it, it opens it up, you know.
CH: Yeah, I mean, but it’s crazy, ‘cause you’re on… We just spoke about being at the machine and your experiences on major labels, and kind of the struggle to kind of maintain integrity and do what suits your music artistically. At the same time, you’re writing music for the pinnacle of that…
LP: Yeah! That’s why I have a very unique window into the business, because I get to see many different levels of artists, and I get to see the journey of the song. I’ve seen all levels of artists and levels of beauty come and go, and their struggles within the business, as well, just through my songs. That has, in itself, helped me to temper my own emotional ups and downs. It’s a business like any other business, one of the biggest businesses in the world, one of the most lucrative, and you are not out of control, but you are not in control, there’s a lot of factors. So it’s made me just be more mellow about it.
CH: I was listening to “Into The Wild,” and your whistling… Has anybody ever suggested that you do Whistle Off with Andrew Bird?
LP: People have! I have to say, I was a bit jealous of his Muppet movie, I was like… I didn’t know about him. People told me about him and I checked him out and I thought he was dope, and then, when I saw this Muppet movie, I was like, “Who did that? I did not get a phone call for that. What the heck?!” And then I was like, “Andrew…!!!” You know, whatever. But, yeah, they have suggested that, and… Andrew, come and get at me!
CH: We are happy to stage that here, at WFUV, any time, any time! But the other thing I wanted to talk about, and I mentioned it going into our session today, is – your vocal range is amazing! And I know you had some classical training, right? You did some opera singing?
LP: I studied opera at Carnegie Hall, with a teacher. I didn’t sing any operas really, I just did aria-based scales, and then I moved on to another teacher that also did exercises based on opera arias and scales. And honestly, it’s like anything else, I just really did the scales a lot. When I was doing DIY touring, before I got into the major label system, I was touring in a van, like 200 or so dates a year, with my guys, and just rolling up in every town and basically, from scratch, from nothing, got a like 50-100 person following, in about 30 towns, something like that, but we were playing every night, and I was really screaming over a bunch of blaring guitars and drums and everything, and it was very difficult to keep my voice. I was doing the scales, I’d warm up and cool down every night, for three and a half years I did this, and I remember being like, “Oh, wow, my range is getting higher,” and then I’d write songs. When I was writing it did translate into writing songs that went higher, and so, just kept going higher and higher. And then I almost feel like I’ve got those opera notes stronger, just on my own from doing that, from experimentation and doing those kinds of things. It’s just like a guitar player does scales, almost like shredding, in a way.
CH: Yeah, I mean, it’s like physical fitness for your vocal chords.
LP: Yes, it’s like going in a gym.
CH: Totally! I mean, and it’s crazy to watch you do that, because you’re tiny! I mean, that big voice and that range coming out of this teeny teeny-tiny person!
LP: I’m like a catapult of sound!
CH: You are! [both laugh]
LP: Yeah! I’m hardcore, man!
CH: You are! You’re hardcore! I’ve read this, and I think that this is accurate because I just saw you do this before and even heard it on this video… Although, the video doesn’t really do the spaghetti western thing, but there’s like an intentional spaghetti western thing happening here. What’s that about?
LP: Oh, you mean on the record or…?
LP: Oh! To me, whistling… I use it a lot, and honestly, I don’t care, it’s like an instrument to me. Two things that I feel are not gimmicks for me, personally, are the ukulele and the whistling. I will play ukulele on every song, if I want to, or not. And I’ll whistle in every song if I want to, I just feel like it’s part of my arsenal, and my whistle is an extension of my voice, to me, it’s got vibrato and all that, and I really love manipulating it, and it’s a mood for me.
CH: I think this song really epitomizes everything that you just said. Let’s get into this next song of today’s. Anything you want to tell us about “Lost On You”?
LP: It’s one of the more articulate of my songs, it is exactly what was going on. I think it really paints the picture of my ex and what I felt about her, and how I came into the realization that this was going south [laughs]. I’m happy with how it comes across… I’ve got a lot of feedback. This song did very well in Europe, and I feel like a lot of people writing me, it just felt right, and I came from a very deep dark place, I felt like my inner eight-year-old was very upset at the time, and… I can hear the pleading in my voice, still. I did that the day of demo vocal, it’s not the vocal I wanted to do again at the time. I remember I went back to do ad-libs, and I, I was still in the trenches of this problem, and I couldn’t even sing. That was like a new meaning of the word “choked up”, I was incapable of singing. That’s a deep song. And I’ve never used that whistle in a song before, the cab whistle. So, you know…
CH: It’s a good one! Let’s get into it now. In Studio A, it’s LP on WFUV.
[Lost On You]
CH: Lost On You live in Studio A, 90.7FM at wfuv.org, a really cool version of that you can also hear on the EP Death Valley. And that’s also that song used in the season finale of Orange Is The New Black?
LP: Oh no no, that’s “Muddy Waters.”
CH: Oh, “Muddy Waters”? Okay! All right! That’s amazing that you’ve got a song in that series!
LP: I had no idea, they told me I had a song, but I didn’t realize it would be the last song in the season! And it’s kinda like a time release capsule of awesomeness, because people see that at their own pace. I have people constantly hitting me, I’m really close to [that episode], and they’re like: “Dude! Really?!” I’m like, wow, yeah. So, I’m excited to see it, I’m gonna catch up on tour.
CH: Oh that’s why I didn’t know which song was it, ‘cause I haven’t caught up either. I’m so excited! That’s gonna be even more exciting, to get to hear it.
LP: Yeah, from what I can gather from what has been spoiled for me – I won’t spoil it for you… it’s pretty deep.
CH: It always is!
LP: Yeah. Yeah. I’m excited.
CH: It’s been so awesome to have you here!
LP: Thank you! It was really fun.
CH: And congratulations on this newfound freedom that you have.
LP: Oh, thank you! Yeah, it’s really nice. Like they always say, and you don’t wanna hear it when you’re like: “Yeeeeeah! I hate life!” When you’re at that stage you don’t wanna hear no “when a door closed a window opens always! It will get better!” Really, having been through the Death Valley stage of two major parts of my life, I feel like I can always say that I know: it always goes up.
CH: It always gets better!
LP: Yeah. When you go through zinger of one, it’s nice to look back and be like: okay, I came out of it, nice.
CH: Well said. Thank you so much. Before you run off today, and I should have given you some warning about that, we always ask our guests to play DJ and spin a tune to take us out, really, anything at all, as long as it’s FCC-friendly.
LP: You know what I’d like to do? I wanna do “Tilted,” by Christine and the Queens.
CH: Perfect! That’s great! But thanks to LP.
LP: You’re welcome!