A Conversation with Katy Perry

by Dan Harpaz

I had the chance to interview LA-based pop singer-songwriter Katy Perry in June 2008 before Capitol Records dropped her debut album One of the Boys, which went on to produce five infectious top-forty singles, sell 5 million copies worldwide, and turn RIAA-certified platinum. Having been signed, dropped, and shelved in the years before her debut album release, the artist formerly known as gospel rocker “Katy Hudson” has proven herself an anomaly, and perhaps a pioneer in the digital music-biz (read: Katy Perry’s sophomore album Teenage Dream made her the first female artist and only second artist in history to score five number-one singles from the same album on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart). Here’s my phone conversation with Katy Perry from the Smoovtunes archive.

DAN: How was your trip to New York?

KATY PERRY: You know what’s funny is I literally just got home. I took a flight at 6:30 this morning. I’m back in LA and about to go miniature golfing… it was really amazing because so much came out of it. We just started doing press for the first single “I Kissed a Girl.” The response is just really overwhelming; radio stations are already playing it before they were really supposed to play it… it was fantastic. I played my first public show. Even though it was only 300 people, it was sold out. And it was awesome, and I wanted to cry because everybody knew the words to the songs it was so weird, like, have you ever had that situation? The record’s not even out yet. I’m sure there’s some downloaders in that audience…

I think I would get hunted down if I leaked anything.

No, you don’t get hunted down— I’ll personally hunt you down and probably write a song about you [laughs].

I’ve been listening to the album a lot and I dig it. And this is coming from a metalhead too (edit: I was interviewing bands like Opeth at the time of this interview).

You’re a metalhead? That’s so cool, like here you are and you don’t mind my record?

I dig it.

That’s cool. It kind of makes me feel like that girl at high school that could [hang out with] all the different groups rather than having to have only one clique.

Your album is pop, but it’s also rock at the same time as jazz and punk. Do you notice that your fans are just a big eclectic group?

I think the sound is very representational of who I am, I mean, California girl— a bit poppy, a bit punky, you know, chill with a little bit of the smoky jazz vocals every once in a while. I think that initially I get a lot of female girls, like my audience, but like you said, lately there’s just so many different people. I have people in their 40s, and moms, or women in their 30s [who] relate to the songs a lot.

And apparently 3 or 4 year old boys jumping on chairs on your MySpace [laughs].

Yeah I get a lot of that too [laughs]. I got a couple of moms say, “Yeah my son loves ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and he doesn’t even know what he’s singing.” It’s all across the board, and I’m lucky to have that, you know? Because it’s not usual.

It’s great when an artist can appeal to a whole spectrum of people.

I think that this record is really all… a lot about songwriting. It’s about the songs and actually having songs, rather than just a good beat or something that will come and go on the radio. I like both a good beat and a purpose for having a song. Like, tell a story you know? That’s how I was inspired growing up when I started music. It was like the Beach Boys, it was Queen. You practically didn’t even have to have eyes to hear the music— you could close your eyes and you could have a picture painted in front of you.

Have you ever recorded anything independently before One Of The Boys?

I recorded an independent gospel record when I was really young, when I was like 15, 16. But it was definitely representational of my age then. I’ve been making [One Of The Boys] for like four years or so. And you have so many different ups and downs. I’ve been signed, I’ve been dropped. I thought every year that I was making this record that this record would come out. When I was 19…20… 21… I thought that it would come out… and [it] never did. At the time it seemed like a disappointment. But I’m so happy I had the chance to develop and grow, and mature even as a person outside of the craziness of what we call “Hollywood.”

A lot of independent artists I talk to seem to share that sentiment.

Dude, you know the days of “pop-tart” overnight stardom [are over]. It’s just not how it used to be, and it’s not overnight, and there’s not really any more room for people that are in the music industry that actually aren’t musical. So you really gotta work hard, and honestly, the one thing that I believe so much is just never give up. Because there have been so many fucking times where I had negative lots of money in my account [laughs]. And I was depressed, or I should have just left Hollywood. I had my parents calling me, asking me, “What are you doing?” And all my friends saying, “Oh yeah sure you’ll have a record out… errr… yeah right, call us when that happens.” You don’t have to be a bitch about it, but you just gotta know deep within yourself that this is what you’re meant to do, and you need to know that you have talent, and you know that your close friends are [there to support] you… Don’t listen to the anonymous commenters or the bystanders because there’s a lot of them. Those people have totally given up.

Negative or positive, you stick to what you love and keep going.

For sure. Because God knows that “cutiepiecaliforniaxx1212” loves to send anonymous comments about how you should stop singing or go die in a river. They would never say that to your face, because they know they’re never gonna get caught. It’s like road rage almost, like you know you’re never gonna see that person again, so you [turn into] the devil. That’s what anonymous commenting on the Internet is.

It must take some serious strength for, say, child stars like Miley Cyrus.

I always say, it really, really takes a superhuman to be a pop star. Unfortunately, as much as I don’t agree with the drugs and the use of whatever the fuck any of these girls like Britney or Amy Winehouse is doing, I understand why they can be led to something that would take them out of the world that they live in, because that world that they live in is so intense and filled with so many people telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, and it’s vicious. They want to snap out of that world and they turn to drugs, unfortunately, which is not the right thing to do. But… it takes a superhuman to be a pop star.

On a lighter note—

Hold on one second sweetheart. [Katy leaves and returns in a moment]. They’re taping me play miniature golf—how hilarious is that?

I have to ask you about this big Madonna comment on your MySpace that Perez Hilton apparently freaked out and called you about.

Yeah, it was amazing. Imagine being blessed by the Pope of Music. What happened was, I slept in late, the phone kept ringing. I thought, “Okay, maybe something’s wrong, maybe someone really needs to get a hold of me… I’ll answer it.” So I answered it and it was Perez and he was screaming. And [I asked], “Well what happened?” [He answered] “I’m crying.” I’m like, “Oh no…”

“Who died?”

“Who diiied?” I said that to him and he goes, “No— no one died, Madonna just said her favorite song is your song!” And then I proceed to black out. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And then he sent me the clip of it, and… you should have seen, my fingers have never typed so fast on my little phone. I just called [everyone] and I was like, “Madonna!” (click, off). “Madonna!” (click, off). Half the people probably didn’t even know what I was talking about.

Was it the radio station that sent a clip over?

Yeah, I guess the radio knew that Perez is a believer in the Katy Pizzle team. So they were like, “Wow, we gotta send this to Perez, that’s pretty amazing.” Because it wasn’t like she was just saying, “Oh yeah, I like that one ‘gay’ song.” She knew about the song like she had done her homework, and I was just like, “Oh my God.”

Has she gotten in touch with you herself or is there any chance you’ll be working with her in the future?

I have no idea. They haven’t contacted us. I think her whole initial plan with that comment was just to reply to what the people asked, you know? So I don’t think there’s conspiracy or anything, I just think that— God, if she invited me over for dinner, I would freak out and have to figure out something fabulous to wear. I hope to meet her in the future, most definitely, because she definitely represents to me persistence and just a true artist that can change with the times and the climate and generations and be relevant at all times… and that’s a lot without looking retarded.

Is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner?

Is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner… I think it is. Marcus? [Referring to a gentleman nearby.] Marcus wears a little bit of guyliner! I think it’s fine. As much as I’m taking the sheer piss out of it with the song “Ur So Gay,” I think honestly it’s fine. So long as you can win a fistfight too. And change a tire. If you can change a tire and wear guyliner, then you’re set for life.

I saw the [“Ur So Gay”] music video and thought it was hilarious. I’ve never another music video featuring Barbie dolls in vegan cafés.

Yeah, there’s this thing you can YouTube actually—it’s the “Story of Karen Carpenter.” It was done either in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and it was done with all Barbie Dolls, and a friend of mine saw it and said, “You should really do something like this.” And I’m just like, “Oh! Yeah.”

That honestly brought the song to a new level for me.

Aw, that’s amazing! It’s really true to life, I mean, what girl hasn’t played with a Ken doll and at the end of the day when she’s changing him and his clothes [are] gone, [and she goes], “What the fuck?”

What are your ultimate goals down the road and with your next album?

Well there’s a couple of things. I think especially with my live show, I want that to change and grow and develop. It’s so fun— it’s like a fun game to me to see all these people come in with the perception of, “Here’s a girl, on a major label, pop tart, bubbly, fun, cheeky. She probably can’t sing. She probably can’t play. I’m probably going to blog about how lame she was.” And then all of a sudden, I speak to them as my own, you know? “I’m not hiding anything— I’m just trying to make music and tell you the story of my life. Just bring it.” Especially to entertain you, because that’s definitely important to me. With all the people that have influenced me, singers, they’ve always been huge, theatrical entertainers, and I definitely want that to be part of my show. So it’s nice to see people’s perceptions of what used to be the norm for a pop act singer to be lame or couldn’t bring it, and hopefully I can turn that perception around and make true musicianship the standard.

Yeah, I noticed you actually sing live, and you’re still spot-on with the heavier, diaphragm rock vocals.

Yeah, there’s bands popping up here and there that can actually still do it. Like Paramore— I really like Paramore, because [Hayley Williams] always sings her fucking heart out and she always brings it. And that’s the thing, is that people like that don’t let anything else besides the music get in the way, I mean, there’s nothing getting in the way. There’s no like, “Okay, who’s she dating,” and that’s gonna make her more of a celebrity. Or, “who’s she fucking?” Or where she shops. Leave all that to the C and D listers, I mean, [Paramore] cares about the music.

It’s all about the music.

I mean I have all that other stuff going on in my life for sure, but if any of that other stuff gets in the way or takes away from [the music], then it won’t be there.

Well I really appreciate your time— have fun at mini golf. I’ll be rooting for you.

Thank you Dan! First, I’m rooting for me…and Marcus.

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