Warner Bros. chairman Rob Cavallo devised a unique solution to L.P.'s lack of demo recordings when he signed the hit songwriter to a recording deal in fall 2011. He put her and her band in a studio for a week to rehearse the songs she'd been performing in Los Angeles clubs, followed by a day of recording -- and decided to film the entire process.
"People were saying, 'Rob, you're making very expensive demos.' I'd say, 'I think we have to document [this],'" he recalls in his studio in Hidden Hills, Calif., where he and L.P. (real name Laura Pergolizzi) gave Billboard a preview of partially recorded tracks from her upcoming, as-yet-untitled major-label debut, which Cavallo is producing. "It became the ["Into the Wild (Live at EastWest Studios)"] EP and DVD, which fueled a worldwide promo tour that has everyone salivating over her new album."
In this day and age, when audiences come to embrace a song in myriad ways, the move proved prescient. The title track of "Into the Wild" was soaring on a Citi commercial in 2011 before the EP and DVD even hit stores last April. Those searching the Web for the song found a video from the sessions that Cavallo had shot, showcasing one of L.P.'s biggest strengths: her powerful live performances, which feature the petite singer, her face buried beneath untamed brunette curls, attacking high-flying melodies with operatic force. (The "Into the Wild" live clip has been watched 1.1 million times on YouTube.)
Since that commercial hit the air, L.P. has toured the world, promoting "Into the Wild" and coming to new realizations about who she is as an artist. "The two years I spent solely writing for other people kind of took me away from myself," says L.P., who's written for Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and, most notably, Rihanna (2010's "Cheers" peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100). "It was exciting to write in my mind again -- I could say things about myself."
L.P., a New York native who's now based in L.A., released "Heart-Shaped Scar" (Koch) and "Suburban Sprawl & Alcohol" (Light Switch) in 2001 and 2004, respectively, selling just 7,000 copies altogether, according to Nielsen SoundScan, despite critical acclaim. She later signed ill-fated contracts with Island Def Jam, SoBe Entertainment and Redone. After she inked a songwriting deal with Primary Wave a few years ago, she thought she'd remain behind the scenes. But whenever she came to L.A., she'd wind up playing shows with friends, and eventually returned to performing solo. Enter Warner Bros.
In the studio, a small room crowded with gear, Cavallo gives L.P. space to tell her story, chiming in when she comes off as too modest. Meanwhile, he plucks notes on the guitar, at one point attempting to figure out which is higher -- the last B on the high E string or a note she hits on "Tokyo Sunrise." (Impressively, L.P. won.) Told that the cellos on "All This Time" are similar to those on "Eleanor Rigby," he immediately starts picking the Beatles tune and agrees.
L.P. and Cavallo only began recording her new full-length in early February; as of March 1, 10 tracks were in various states of completion. Cavallo says they need five or six more to finish, hopefully by late spring. "The majority of the time, in my experience, artists are looking at their record like a sculpture," says Cavallo, who made his name signing and producing Green Day. "Lots of times records are done, but the artist says, 'I have this last thought.' I would always say, 'Let's do it.'"
That take-your-time philosophy has had L.P. writing with such collaborators as Billy Steinberg, Josh Alexander and P.J. Bianco while the record comes together at Ocean Way and EastWest studios, where she and Cavallo recorded large, lively drum sounds that dominate the four songs they played for Billboard. "One Last Mistake," a newer track, features L.P. on ukulele. (Martin Guitars gave her one after signing her to an endorsement deal.) Lindsey Buckingham is expected to add some lead guitar work to the track, which already has a Fleetwood Mac element.
With the song, L.P. says, the album's finally coming into focus. "It's interesting what a new song can do to the other songs," she says. "A new song can be the grout of the record, tie the songs together and define a new room in the house, helping the other rooms make sense. I have never experienced that before."