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Interview:
Katy Perry's Swinging For The Fences
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Katy Perry likes to employ some baseball terminology to describe her music career — and her recent spate of success.

“I always say I was in the dugout for five years, but I knew one day I was going to have the opportunity to step up to the plate,” says the California-born singer, songwriter and performer. “And I was going to try my best, my hardest, to hit a home run.

“I did, and I’m very happy about that, of course.”

Perry has rounded the bases a few times since the release of her album, “One of the Boys.” The former Christian music artist’s secular rock debut has gone platinum in the U.S., selling more than 2 million copies worldwide on the strength of two chart-topping hits — the eyebrow raising “I Kissed a Girl” and its follow-up, “Hot n Cold.” The former was nominated for five MTV Video Music Awards and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, while Perry herself was named Best New Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

In addition to an active MySpace site, “One of the Boys” also has been a go-to album for TV shows such as “The Hills” and “Fight Girls” and films like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Baby Mama.” And Perry’s penchant for brightly-colored fashions, flamboyant accessories and girl-power attire — she calls herself “a glamour ninja” — have courted as much attention as her music.

It’s been a long time coming, after five years and three label deals, but Perry, 24, says she tries to keep a grounded perspective amidst the hoopla.

“The best revenge is always success,” she notes, “but the word ‘revenge’ isn’t necessarily in my vocabulary. There’s no, ‘I told you so!’ There’s just the obvious of, OK, I have two No. 1’s and they’re my first two singles. So...”

Yes?

“Well, I guess there’s a bit of a ‘suck it’ in the long run,” Perry says with a giggle, “but I really do want to be more gracious about it than that.”

Grace, of the religious kind, was a big part of Perry’s upbringing in Santa Barbara, where she was born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson. Her parents, born-again after wild youths — her mother dated Jimi Hendrix, her father made and dealt LSD with Timothy Leary — were pastors and incorporated Perry, the middle of three children, into their ministry. She dutifully attended Christian schools and camps and sang in their Pentecostal-leaning church, but at the same time confesses to being “the black sheep of the family.”

“To this day I still am,” Perry says. “They’re used to my kind of dark sense of humor and my thick layer of sarcasm, which is slapped on everything. Even though I’ve had a strict Christian upbringing, they’ve always known that about me. And I’m sure it became more full-fledged when I left the nest.”

Perry released an album of Christian gospel music, titled “Katy Hudson,” in 2001, but by then the 17-year-old was already beginning to transition away from her religious roots.

“It was a gradual thing, not like a super, ‘OK, done with that. Next!’ kind of thing,” recalls Perry, whose interest in rock was particularly stoked by hearing Queen’s 1974 hit “Killer Queen.”

“I changed a lot from 15 to 23, and the things that I thought when I was 15 and 16 didn’t make sense when I was 21 and 22 just because my perspective had changed. I’d seen more of the world. I’d lived more life and met more different types of people.

“When I started out in my gospel music ... my perspective then was a bit enclosed and very strict and everything I had in my life at that time was very church-related. I didn’t know there was another world that existed beyond that. So when I left home and saw all of that it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I fell down the rabbit hole and there’s this whole Alice in Wonderland right there.

“My motto from then on was to live life to the fullest, ‘cause at the end you’re dead.”

Perry certainly experienced the gamut of the music industry, working on “One of the Boys” for Island Def Jam and Columbia and collaborating with hitmaking producers such as Glen Ballard and The Matrix team before settling in at Capitol Records in 2007 and yet another batch of producers who helped steer “One of the Boys” to a fruition.

“It was super discouraging,” Perry says of the struggle to make the album. “I got so close on records that I would bring a copy of it and the artwork and I would show it to my friends and say, ‘Can you believe it? It’s finally happening!’ And two weeks later I’d get the call that it wasn’t happening.”

An album filled with witty attitude and gleeful man-bashing, “One of the Boys” was preceded by a digital EP led by the track “Ur So Gay.” It caused a stir, but not nearly so much as “I Kissed a Girl,” an unapologetic ode to “curiosity” and celebrating “the beauty of women.” A ubiquitous radio smash during the summer — while Perry was wowing crowds on the Vans Warped Tour — it’s been hammered as both homophobic and gay-promoting, as well as something called “lesbploitational.” Perry’s mother was quoted out-of-context by tabloids as calling her music “disgusting.”

It annoyed singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, who had a more modest hit with the same name in 1995, but it inspired Cobra Starship to cover Perry’s song as “I Kissed a Boy” and was featured on Fall Out Boy’s “Welcome to the New Administration” mixtape.

Perry assures us with a laugh that “I’m not trying to turn the world bisexual.” But she is happy that people care enough to, well, care about what the song says.

“The way my mind works is not the normal, vanilla, bland idea,” explains Perry, who really has kissed a girl but dated Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy before breaking up during the holidays. She’s since been linked to Josh Groban. “I’ve always been kind of unfiltered my whole life — not only in my songwriting but my friendships, my relationships. I think I just kind of say things sometimes that people have thought but never really had the balls to say.

“I think sometimes people are just surprised there is a girl that’s in pop music that’s just saying it like it is because you’re so used to these more kind of controlled pop girls and Disney people. I think that, being a songwriter, you’ve got to tell good stories, and I tell all the colors of the rainbow, not just the pink ones.”

Perry’s future, meanwhile, is more of a red hot prospect. She’s confident that “One of the Boys” has more life in its cycle. She’s also contemplating other singles from the album and particularly hopes the breakup track “Thinking of You” gets a wide release.

“It’s probably the song that means the most on the record to me,” she notes. “I think it’s me at my most vulnerable, I guess. The singles so far have only (shown), like, the middle finger to the boyfriend side of me or the more aggressive sides of me, and, really, I am a woman. I feel a range of emotions.”

Perry plans to give some thought to her next album during the tour (”I never stop writing,” she says), but for the time being she’s concentrating on being “One of the Boys” on the bus and reveling in a profile that’s been a long time coming.

“I remind myself of certain things,” Perry says, “like the fact that it’s all about the people buying the music and requesting it on the radio and stuff like that. So the reason I’m here is because of the general public.

“But I also believe in the old saying that hard work pays off. I DO work really hard, and I’d hope that my hard work would be paying off and I see that it IS paying off, which makes me happy.”



Katy Perry and the Daylights perform at 7 p.m. Friday (March 27) at Clutch Cargo’s, 65 E. Huron St., Pontiac. Tickets are sold out. Call (248) 333-2362 or visit www.clutchcargos.com.

Web Site: www.clutchcargos.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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