At just 23, Christina Perri has already lived a handful of lives. She's toured the world as an assistant to a rock band, spent a year at a prestigious university, became a wife and then an ex-wife, produced popular music videos, made olive oil in Italy and even served as a fashionista barrista in Beverly Hills. The whole while, music had been tapping her on the shoulder, trying to lead her down a path as a musician. It seems that fate grew tired of this shoulder-tapping approach as well and went for an old fashioned sucker punch.
On June 30th, a raw, defiant break-up song that Perri had written called "Jar of Hearts" aired on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance as a backdrop to a memorable piece choreographed by Stacey Tookey. The song struck a chord with viewers, who began downloading it from iTunes in droves, sending "Jar of Hearts" into the Top 10 on the iTunes Pop chart and into the Top 15 on the Overall chart overnight. Impressed, SYTYCD's producers invited Perri to play the song live on the show two weeks later.
Following Perri's stripped-down piano performance on July 15th, "Jar of Hearts" continued its meteoric rise. After landing at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and at No. 1 on Amazon's digital singles chart, the track sold 200,000 downloads in three weeks. Suddenly a hot property, Perri signed a record deal with Atlantic Records and is in the studio finishing up her debut album, with an eye toward a late fall release. She will also hit the road for a handful of shows in late September to perform with Jason Mraz, one of her all-time favorite artists.
"While all of this was happening, I barely slept," Perri says, "because I was afraid it was just a dream; that I'd wake up and none of it would be real. One minute I didn't exist in the music world and the next minute I did. It has been so unbelievable."
Though she's a newcomer to the pop charts, Perri has actually been preparing for this moment since she was a child. The daughter of hairdressers (whom she describes as "not musical, though my mom can whistle in many octaves and both my parents play the accordion"), Perri first sang in public at her Holy Communion at age six. Piano lessons began at age 8, followed by musical theater from age 11. At 9, her piano teacher "fired" her (as she puts it), because "I would change the endings to all the songs because I didn't like the way they were written. I liked my version better." Perri picked up a guitar and taught herself to play from watching VHS tapes of Blind Melon (whose guitarist, Christopher Thorn, recently sent her a congratulatory email via MySpace).
Perri was in London working as a gofer for her brother's band Silvertide when she got word that she had been accepted to Philadelphia's prestigious University of the Arts with a sizeable scholarship. She attended for a year, but took a leave of absence to visit her father's extensive family in Italy. "I was 19 and I needed to soul search," she says. "I was still writing music, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life." She spent the summer learning how to make olive oil and wine, living with seventeen different family members in seventeen different cities.
Still searching, Perri moved to Los Angeles with a suitcase and a guitar. "I didn't know anyone," she says. "I did a lot of crying and a lot of songwriting." On her fourth day in Los Angeles, Perri met a guy, and, carried away with the romance of it, eloped four months later. The couple launched a production company and Perri worked as its executive producer, creating music videos and commercials. She was 22. "In theory, it all sounds perfect," she admits. "I had the house, the job, the dogs. It was the coolest life ever, but it was somebody else's life."
Perri and her husband split and she decided to recommit herself to being a singer and a songwriter. "I locked myself in the house and wrote music," she says. She also posted YouTube videos of herself performing her own songs, as well as covers, and shared her struggles in her uniquely humorous way. A video of one of her original compositions, "Tragedy," caught the attention of Bill Silva Management (which represents Jason Mraz, James Morrison, and others), who signed on to represent her.
And so began Perri's charmed odyssey.
Perri feels that "Jar of Hearts" has connected because, "on a basic level, everyone has had this experience with a person who broke their heart. I'm just telling my story in a very real and direct way. This kind of slapped the crap out of everyone's hearts," she says with a laugh.
The songs Perri is recording for her debut album are all about love. She excels at setting dark, tumultuous emotions to stunning, pretty melodies, something Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette excelled at back in the day. "I would love to bring that back for a younger generation," Perri says. "I had them to listen to when I was young, but girls today don't really have their Fiona or Alanis. And writing about love and heartbreak is just who I am. I've tried so hard to write about other things, but ultimately this is what comes out of me. I have zero capability to do anything that is inauthentic to who I am."