When singer Christina Perri set out to record Head or Heart, the follow-up to her 2011 major label debut Lovestrong, she knew she didn't want to make an album that sounded identical to Lovestrong.
"I didn't want to do the same thing — I know a lot of artists who do that," she says via phone. "The live show will show how much I've grown. I'm really excited about the response I've gotten from the album. It's only been out for a week but the response has been crazy and wonderful. I think everyone is really glad that I took a risk and that I leaped and jumped up to the next level. I'm not saying I'm at the top of the next level. It just feels 'next.'"
She says she also realized that singing Lovestrong's songs about bitter breakups didn't exactly make for a dynamic live show.
"I wanted to have fun," she says of the new material. "I wrote and recorded my first album without knowing what touring was like and then I toured for 27 months and realized I needed to have more fun on stage, so I wrote some songs that I thought would be fun to play live. And the crowd has been going crazy. It's like, 'Oh, right. This is what I wanted the shows to be like.'"
Her current tour in support of Head or Heart has just started and Perri, who has put together a new band for the jaunt, says she is "in shock" at the audience's response.
"I designed the whole stage because I wanted it to look and sound and feel a certain way," she says. "I need to settle in a bit and realize that this is my real life."
It's been a long, slow climb to the top for Perri. She taught herself to play guitar when she was only 16 and her brother, Shinedown/Silvertide guitarist Nick Perri, introduced her to hard rock acts such as Guns N' Roses. When she turned 21, she packed up and moved to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding success.
"I made a conscious decision to move completely outside my comfort zone," she says. "I took a huge giant leap and was terrified. I have such a gigantic Italian family in Philadelphia with like 3,000 family members who were telling me not to go and stay there with them."
She was determined to make it in L.A. as a rock star, but things didn't go smoothly, and she moved back to her Philadelphia home in 2009 (she would eventually return to Los Angeles). While she was home, she wrote "Jar of Hearts," a somber piano ballad that became a huge hit even though Perri released it without the support of a record label. She subsequently signed to Atlantic Records and issued her major label debut, Lovestrong, in 2011, recording the album in a mere 33 days with producer Joe Chiccarelli (the White Stripes, Tori Amos, the Shins). It was a big hit, selling nearly half a million copies.
She says the title of her new disc reflects her personal experiences and suggests the songs provoke questions more than they provide answers.
"It's really a question that I'm proposing," she says, "because I wrote the first song on Oct. 23 of 2012. I remember because I had just gotten back from touring with [singer-songwriter] Jason Mraz and thought I would take a break. But I was so emotional when I got back home because my whole life had stopped. The only thing I knew how to do when I feel that way is to write songs because that's what I've been doing since I was 16."
At the same time that the tour ended, her relationship ended. At that moment, she had what she refers to as a revelation.
"I thought maybe I just don't trust me," she says. "I thought maybe it's not just about who I'm picking and who these people are. I keep trying to trust my heart and if that doesn't work out, I try trusting my head. I realized you're supposed to trust both. I knew then that the album would be called Head or Heart and that half of the songs would be head songs and half would be heart songs. The question I pose in that song 'Trust' is which do you trust because I at 27 years old don't know."
Three months later, Perri says she fell "madly in love" and that experience also helped shape many of the songs on the album.
The song "Be My Forever," a ballad she sings with Ed Sheeran, was written while she was in the throes of the new romance. She told her friend Sheeran that she thought it was a mistake to write a song about her newfound love but he insisted she give it a shot.
"I wrote that song the moment I fell in love when it's disgusting and when you're just so happy it's gross," she says. "I told Ed I just wasn't going to write that day because I was just too happy and that's not how I roll. He dared me and I ended up writing it but realized I could never sing it by myself so I asked him to sing it with me."
She recorded the bulk of the album in the U.K. with producer Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, One Direction) and then wrapped production in Los Angeles where Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Fall Out Boy), John Hill (Pink, John Mayer) and other writers and producers helped her tweak the tunes.
"For the six months that I was recording, three of the months I was really stoked and three of them I was really bummed out. It's really funny because you can hear that in the 13 songs I chose for the album. To be honest, four of the songs on the album aren't even about a guy. It's the first time I've written about me and about how I can exist on the planet being me and be okay. It's not a break-up album and it's not a falling in love album. It's everything in between, including those two."
Christina Perri with Birdy 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $23-$30, houseofblues.com.