Singer-songwriter LP credits the ukulele with her return to the performance spotlight
For the incomparable singer known as LP, redemption comes with four strings.
After disappointing record sales sent her into a decade-long hiatus, during which she penned hit songs for Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, and Backstreet Boys, LP (born Laura Pergolizzi) has returned with her first full-length album since 2004’s Suburban Sprawl & Alcohol. This time around, however, LP, is packing a ukulele and a more upbeat attitude.
Produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, My Chemical Romance), Forever for Now (Warner Bros.) is, at its essence, a ukulele record unlike any you’ve likely ever heard. While songs such as the title track and “Leviator” start out simply, with ukulele and LP’s soaring vocals, a lush symphony of sound quickly joins the fun, elevating the compositions to an almost operatic, triumphal level.
“I don’t really consider this record pop, to be honest with you,” LP says. “But, yes, if pop means, ‘catchy,’ then I’m down with it.”
With a national tour on the horizon and media buzz steadily building on the new record, I reached LP by phone in Colorado, where she’d gone for “a few days to decompress before there won’t be time to do that for a while.”
Did you write the songs on Forever for Now on ukulele?
Eight of the 12 songs. Even if I didn’t start a song on ukulele, we’d find ways to start putting it on there.
I often hear people say it’s impossible to write sad songs on a ukulele, but you do that on the record’s title track.
It’s just how you play the instrument, the chords you choose. Ukulele kind of gets a bad rap. When people tell me, “Oh, I just think of Hawaii when hear the ukulele,” I say, well, it depends. You can play it like that, or not. The challenge is finding those places where you can do something else, and that’s kind of what I look for.
Are you a self-taught player?
I went to a Beatles website and learned about seven songs, and there were all sorts of different chords. Your brain hurts at first, but now my brain hurts when I go back to guitar. If you play guitar, or even if you don’t, the ukulele is easier to be self-taught. But when you see someone play who is amazing, like Jake Shimabukuro, you have new respect for the instrument. In a way, it seems like it might be harder to become a virtuoso on ukulele than on other things.
When did you start playing uke?
2009. I took it up with no intention of becoming a ukulele artist, but just to write. I had just signed a new publishing deal and was committed to writing for other people. But I didn’t use it in a lot of my other sessions. I didn’t go in thinking “Oh, I’m going to make a Rihanna song for ukulele,” but I did bring it with me, and used it. When I got to the lyric part of the song, instead of listening to the track, I’d just go in a room with the uke and just play it.
You used it as a songwriting tool.
Exactly. Then I started making up these whistle melodies for it and they started turning into songs. A lot of things were in flux. I got new management and people were encouraging me to do the artist thing again. I was a little reluctant because I’d been through it, you know? I feel like the ukulele helped me rediscover the enjoyment of writing for myself. Now, it’s my instrument of choice. I still play guitar but I just take the uke everywhere. It’s sitting next to me right now, in fact.
How did writing on ukulele change the character of your songs?
The uke has an uplifting quality. It got me into that place. I know we said you can use it for finding dark chords, too, but it is somewhat of a happy instrument, and I think that the joy of playing it works its way into the new songs.
You’re the first female ambassador for Martin Guitars, and, ironically, you’re a uke player. How does one get that gig?
They came to me. It was right about the time that my song “Into the Wild” was used in a commercial, and Martin’s vice president of brand marketing [Amani Duncan] saw a picture of me and liked it, and followed up. I was surprised, and I’m honored.
Were you playing a Martin uke at the time?
I had an antique Martin from the 1940s. I loved it. And then I helped design a new one, giving them the specs. I made the neck fatter, added friction tuners that came out the back, and they put a lightning bolt [LP’s signature symbol] on the fret board. I have three ukuleles that they’ve made for me so far, and they sound amazing. They’ve put Fishman pickups in them, and people are always amazed in the studio at how good they sound. Eventually, they’ll be made available to buy.
The ukulele isn’t well known as a studio instrument. Do you find that recording engineers take it seriously?
There aren’t many people who have lots of experience recording ukulele, especially in rock or pop settings. I hope that the instrument is working its way out of the gimmicky area, because I think enough people are starting to use them.
It’s interesting to hear the uke in such a richly produced, big-sounding context. Was that something you had to pay attention to in the studio?
Rob [Cavallo] and I talked about how we wanted the ukulele running through the whole record. That was part of the thing, but he also wanted the recordings to sound massive, so we tried to balance that. It’s not a stripped down album. We went full on.