The Church of LP
How the ‘Lost on You’ singer saved herself and survived music industry hell
Written By Sarah Grant｜July 29 2021, 12:00 PM ET
LP has been promised all the right things by all the right people.
Her voice, a glorious warble that spans three octaves, has incited bidding wars between major labels. She’s been signed as an artist six different times, all while fine-tuning her craft as a songwriter ? writing hit songs for the likes of Rihanna, Cher, and the Backstreet Boys.
“My life has been an exercise in waiting,” LP says with a deflated sort of laugh. “You wouldn’t believe the things people have whispered in my ear. And then nothing happens.”
But in the summer of 2016, LP had a wild change of fate. An older song of hers went viral in Greece before spreading around the world. Five years and a pandemic later, LP is a global superstar with streaming figures in the billions. Her largest U.S. headlining tour yet is booked through 2022, and her sixth studio album, Churches, arrives October 8 on SOTA Records.
With Churches, LP releases all the systems, relationships, and institutions ? real and imagined ? that have failed her. It’s the sound of a divine exhale. Many of the songs are emotionally raw, and the lyrics don’t cower from thoughts of sexual desire, self-sabotage, and addiction. None of this is surprising, considering it was made with LP’s now-steady creative partners, producer Mike Del Rio (Kylie Minogue, X Ambassadors) and songwriter Nate Campany (Tove Lo, Christina Aguilera), both of whom refer to LP as a sister — and a survivor.
“The one thing some fucking douche behind a desk does not care enough to do is come to your house and rip the guitar out of your hands, say you’re a fucking hack, and tell you to stop,” LP says, “So you just keep going.”
At her home in Los Angeles, LP is sitting with Orson, her Brussels Griffon, on her lap. Morning light is pouring in through the window. Her thick brown curls hang down her narrow face, partially obscuring the intensity of her eyes. When she smiles, you forget she’s looking at you at all.
LP says she’s six months into a breakup. Sometimes ? especially when talking about her songs ? it can feel like all of her past heartaches are folding in on each other like a long depressing accordion. “Does that mean I have something to work on?” she says with a smile.
“I’m clearly a dangerous person to date. Even women I’ve dated have been like, ‘Do you just do this to have shit to write about?’ And it’s like, ‘No… But if I want to seduce you, I’m gonna fuckin’ seduce you.’
” For instance, the song “How Low Can You Go,” is about temptation, beginning with the line “Last time I saw you, we did coke in the closet at the Chateau Marmont.” It’s intoxicating in its restraint and based on various interactions LP had with women, wondering where, if provoked, things could have led.
“It’s like, how deep into the fucking sludge can I go with love with, with substances, with everything,” LP says. “If I go down this path, how far fucking down could I go?”
As a songwriter, LP has been trained to look for patterns. “Duality is the crux of what I’m after,” she says. The same could be said for her personhood. She’s gentle and charming, but she’s also tough ? the Lou Reed shades, the sailor tattoos, and she even cocks her chin up like the Fonz when she’s telling a joke. Maybe the real LP exists somewhere in between these dimensions, drifting in the space between genders and genres.
These mysterious dimensions of LP’s identity lend themselves to being a rock star. But for LP, living a kind of double life was also a defense mechanism that stems, in part, from her Catholic upbringing.
“I can hide from anybody,” she says, pausing. “And I did for a long time.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, LP grew up with her parents and older brother on Long Island. She describes her late father as a “classic Brooklyn tough guy,” the son of Italian immigrants who became an attorney. When LP was growing up, she remembers he drank coffee out of a mug that said “Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down.” Years later, she snuck the saying into a Rihanna song.
When LP was older, her father suffered from alcoholism and became destructive. “I knew what kind of night it was when he’d walk in the door. Is it the fun, two-to-three-drinks night, or the other kind ? the run-for-your-life kind?”
“We had to constantly deal with where he was going to take the evening or what it was going to end in ? him throwing my mother against the fucking wall, or him saying he was going to kill himself,” she says, trailing off. “The last thing I was gonna fuckin’ tell him was that I’m having these feelings that I’m gay.”
Those feelings of being exposed and abandoned came up for LP when she was writing one of her new songs, “Rainbow.” It’s a delicate song about the pain of deciding to leave her ex-fiancee. More broadly, it’s about the battles we choose to fight and how long we’re willing to fight them. For LP, it conjured memories of living with her father and coming out. “I would wonder ? when I was younger ? whether it was worth coming out at all?” she said.
“Somehow, the melody Mike played was like, all my childhood fears ? which I hesitate to say because it just sounds so lofty ? but it was emotional, I cried,” she said. “And I don’t get like that very often. I’m usually able to stay austere.”
LP moved to New York City when the Strokes were just taking over.
It was at a time when the music industry was making way for the pop-punk explosion that would dominate the early aughts. So when LP secured her first record deal with Koch Records, it was to put out a rock record. In 2004, she moved to Lightswitch, all while working in bars and playing gigs the whole time.
In 2005, Marvin Howell, a manager in the dance music scene who knew LP, walked into her bar imploring, “When are you going to let me help you?” She was skeptical, but also desperate to get out of slinging drinks. Howell gave her a publishing deal, and suddenly it felt like her career began taking shape.
Howell would bring her to meet his friends ? major songwriters like Billy Steinberg, (Madonna, Cyndi Lauper), Desmond Child (KISS, Bon Jovi) and Andreas Carlsson, one of the hit mavens behind NSYNC.
“I was the kid in the room in these sessions, sitting at the feet of the biggest songwriters in the world,” LP said. During this time in her life, she went from writing around 20 songs a year to 100 or more. She learned how to approach a pop song like a Rubik’s Cube. “It was a great day when I realized it was about volume. Because that means there’s no end. Even if you write a hit song, you just have to move on and write more songs.”
But LP’s new teachers heard something else in her.
“Her voice is God’s trumpet,” Child says. “The first time I heard her sing, I was blown away. There’s no one like her. Her voice is this unique instrument that just goes higher and higher.”
“I remember she played a song for me on the guitar of one of her early recordings called ‘Cadillac Life,’” Steinberg says. “It had an exquisite, melancholy melody, and I was just floored by her insane vocal range.”
Island Def Jam chief executive L.A. Reid also heard the power of her voice and it led to a bidding war with Jive. LP signed her first major label deal, which coincided with the first song she cut: a plaintive ballad called “Love Will Keep You Up All Night” that went to the Backstreet Boys.
It was an exciting time, but LP’s schedule was relentless. Ping-ponging between her girlfriend’s residence in New York City and songwriting sessions in Los Angeles. She was booking as many as two songwriting sessions per day, six days a week, and it just didn’t feel sustainable. Meanwhile, the Island deal fell apart after a year and a half. A SoBe Entertainment deal came next, and then another with RedOne that lasted about a year. But something had to give. In 2010, it did.
LP left New York and, for the most part, her dream of being an artist. “I’d already had two indie deals and two major label deals that didn’t work,” she says. “I don’t know anyone that gets that many more bites at the apple.”
She decided to focus solely on songwriting and her big, new publishing deal with Primary Wave, all while rekindling her love of the craft by bringing a ukulele into her sessions. In this period, while being managed by Gerardo Mejia ? the singer best known for his run of hits in 1991, including “Rico Suave” ? LP cut songs for Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Cher, Rita Ora, Leona Lewis, and Cher. “I felt free,” LP says. “I was finally having fun.”
But for all the talk of “settling down” as a working songwriter, LP found herself slipping away a few times a week to sing covers at places like Bardot and The Sayers Club. Her newer L.A. friends had no idea she could perform.
“Are you in front of a computer right now?” Steinberg says, directing to a YouTube page. “Play it now so we’re on the same page.” Steinberg and his neighbor, record producer Tony Berg, put together a special session for LP to cover the chilling Roy Orbison ballad “It’s Over.”
“Of course, Tony’s thinking this is nearly impossible for most human beings to sing because [Roy] had a voice like no other,” Steinberg says. They gathered some of L.A.’s finest session musicians in the studio, no one knew who LP was when she arrived. She just got in the vocal booth and started singing.
It was a staggering performance. Her voice sounded as though it was suspended in the air as she sang the melancholic verses:
All the rainbows in the sky
Start to weep, then say goodbye
You won’t be seeing rainbows anymore
Setting suns before they fall
Echo to you that’s all that’s all
But you’ll see lonely sunsets after all
Later that year, Warner Bros. signed LP to a massive deal. It would produce her first major label live EP, Into The Wild, and later, her major-label studio debut, 2014’s Forever for Now. The recording process for the album was needlessly extravagant and butchered the songs. But through it, LP began seriously working with Del Rio, whom she met two years earlier and also happens to be an Italian from Long Island. “We joke that he’s the Tony Visconti to my Bowie,” LP says.
The duo agreed that Forever for Now was over-produced and thought they could do something better and way cheaper. In the summer of 2014, Del Rio brought LP and Campany to “a windowless bunker in the shittiest part of Hollywood” that he found on Craigslist and used as his first studio in L.A. It was crawling with cockroaches, the bathroom was up two flights of stairs, and there was always a fresh coat of graffiti on the door.
“I’d been listening to this song called ‘Sugar Me,’ by Lynsey De Paul,” Del Rio said. “ It’s an old French pop song that had this bop to it, so I put a few drums down.” LP already had the title, “Lost On You,” which was inspired by a recent heartbreak that left her feeling adrift. “She was at this place of surrender in her life,” Del Rio said. “I think the truth just permeated out of her.”
As they were leaving their windowless prison cell, the three knew they’d just done something special. “I remember calling my manager after we recorded that song and said, ‘I think this is the best song I’ve ever written,’” Campany recalls.
“I think I had her play it three times ? it’s the strongest melody she ever wrote,” Steinberg says. “There was something so melancholy and beautiful about its melody. I told her, ‘This song is going to break you.’”
Charged up, LP took “Lost On You” to Warner Bros. to play for the newly-instated president and head of A&R, Dan McCarroll. Within three weeks of the meeting, the label dropped her.
In the new year, LP signed with Vagrant, and the plan was to release “Lost on You” on an iTunes-only EP. Campany felt that was like putting the song out to pasture. “It’s like, ‘Put your song out with no money, no support behind it and see how it does,’” he said. “Everyone knows what’s going to happen. The song is just going to disappear.”
Panagiotis Loulourgas grew up in Demonia, a small fishing village in southern Greece, where he mostly listened to traditional Greek music until his family moved to Athens. There, he discovered his calling ? through Haddaway’s “What Is Love” dominating Europe in the summer of 1993. “I started tracking it on the charts, watching it go to No. 1 in France, Germany, all the different countries,” Loulourgas says over the phone.
Loulourgas later became a promotional manager Sony Music in Athens for 13 years, until the financial crisis caused the office to shutter. He pivoted to work at the Greek indie label, Panik, where Loulourgas became professionally involved with Greece’s radio stations. One day, a former Sony colleague Manos Xanthogeorgis, sent Loulourgas a catchy mid-tempo song by an American singer he’d never heard of to see if he thought it would do well on Greek radio. “I had huge goosebumps,” Loulourgas recalls.
On the other side of the planet, LP clicked open a DM on her Instagram. It was Loulourgas asking her if he could license her song “Lost On You” in Greece.
Vagrant locked in the foreign license, but Loulourgas had another problem. Greek radio stations were only playing dance-pop. So he made personal calls to DJs he already knew and introduced LP by leaning on her songwriting credits for artists like Rihanna and Cher. Any airtime “Lost on You” got was amplified by European vacationers pouring into the country, hearing LP’s voice, using Shazam to identify it, and then bringing it back to their own countries.
The more the song got Shazamed, the easier time Loulourgas had pitching it to DJs. Once he saw the fan-generated “Lost on You” dance club remixes, he knew his work was done. The regional remixes drove “Lost On You” to No. 1 on Greece’s radio and Shazam charts for 12 and 22 weeks, respectively. As the song spread even further, “Lost on You” became the fourth-most Shazamed in the world.
In October 2016, LP landed in Greece for the first time to accept a platinum sales plaque celebrating the runaway success of “Lost On You,” then she played it in the center of Athens ? the Acropolis in the distance and her ragtag band swarmed by thousands of fans. “It was an Elvis moment, it was nuts,” Del Rio remembers.
Three years later, in 2019, LP was awarded another plaque. “Lost On You” had woven around Europe and Russia, and then into Mexico and South America. It officially crossed 1 billion streams.
“I just want people to know it can happen,” says LP, “I’m not saying you can hawk around the same fucking song for the rest of your fucking life because you think it’s a hit. But don’t get too down on yourself if someone didn’t see it.”
LP had been here before. Standing outside a church in St. Petersburg, being told to cover her head ? apologize for being a woman ? before she could enter the hallowed chambers.
So she waited. Just like she’s waited for her entire career. She didn’t need to enter any more structures to be blessed.
“I’m not going to be told how to believe in God, by anybody,” LP says.
Waiting around in some cold courtyard in Russia, LP started thinking about what she cherishes. That thought grew into the title track, “Churches,” a gorgeous, hymn-like song that feels earnest and freeing. “I wanted it to be devoid of artifice because I’m asking what you hold sacred. What is dear to you on a higher spiritual level?”
One thing that is dear to LP, after everything she’s been through, is the value of the hours she put in along the way.
“The rewarding thing, really, was to have to work through it,” she says.
“You’ve got to cultivate yourself, your work. You’ve got to garden, motherfucker!”