“EVERY TIME I DREAM SOMETHING up, it’s so small compared to what actually happens,” says singer/songwriter Christina Perri. “Because what actually happens is just amazing.”

As an unsigned artist, Christina once dreamed of making a career out of performing and recording her deeply personal yet pop-friendly songs. Then one day four years ago, one of her recordings was featured on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance, and suddenly she stopped dreaming the dream—and began living it.
“Probably the most important day of my life was June 30, 2010, at 8:00 p.m. exactly, when they played a minute and a half of ‘Jar of Hearts,’” Perri remembers. “Kathryn McCormick was the dancer, with a guy named Billy Bell.”

Those 90 seconds of music resonated with hundreds of thousands of listeners, and led to a recording deal with Atlantic Records. Christina’s song became a worldwide pop hit, selling more than three million copies in the U.S. alone.

“I don’t take it lightly,” she says. “I tell everyone, ‘That’s the moment my life changed.’ It was incredibly special.”

But even as her own life was changing, Perri was changing other people’s lives through her music. Just a year later, her multi-platinum song, “A Thousand Years,” was released as the second single from the soundtrack album to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. It achieved multi-platinum status, with a video that inspired romantic visions among countless Twilight fans.

“I had dreamed of having a song on the Twilight soundtrack,” Christina says, “but I didn’t dream of it being this one song of the whole saga, and millions of people getting married to it! It’s always been a really nice surprise when one of my songs connects with people on such a deep level.”

perri-sideThese days, with four EPs and two studio albums under her belt—including her 2011 Atlantic debut LP Lovestrong and 2014’s Head or Heart—Perri has evolved in a multitude of ways to express herself through song, whether she’s working solo or collaborating with others.

“My music takes shape completely differently most of the time,” she explains. “I normally begin with a skeleton, just piano and vocal or just guitar and vocal, whichever I write it on. Then I take it either to a producer or to my band, depending on whether it’s in the studio or on tour, and create the sounds that I want to go with the song.”

Christina has been fortunate enough to work with—and learn from—top-notch producers like Joe Chiccarelli (Jason Mraz, the Strokes, Morrissey), David Hodges (Evanescence), and Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Lady Gaga). “I study everyone and everything in the studio and on the road,” she says. “Learning how to be a better player, writer, producer, engineer, and performer is one of my favorite things. Every single person I’ve ever worked with has taught me so much.”

Working with other songwriters also helps her discover new creative approaches. “Every songwriter that I’ve written with has helped me bring out something new, for sure,” Christina says. “I think it’s always a good idea to co-write. Some songs come out solo and I know they're finished, but 80% of the time I know I need someone to help me finish it. I love that process very much.”

Perri’s songs reflect the most elemental and universal of emotions: love, loss, and hope. “I’m mostly inspired by love,” she says. “Loving someone, losing someone, loving myself, learning to love myself, things I’ve gone through or want to go through. I write about all the feelings and emotions that go along with love. And it’s always 100% true. The emotions I don’t think I have any control over—I’m always emotional. But the sound creations have always happened on the fly. I never go in wanting something super-specific. I let it happen organically.”

"Writing music is something I know I’ll do for life, because it’s the deepest-rooted thing I do. It’s where I put everything."

Her current album, Head or Heart, perfectly illustrates this organic, spontaneous creative process. “The song ‘Trust’ is my favorite on the album,” Perri states. “For a very specific reason. Honestly, it’s the first song I wrote for album two. I had just come off 27 months’ worth of touring for the first album. Two weeks after I got home, I sat at the piano and I wrote ‘Trust,’ and I had a full-on epiphany. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, the album will be called Head or Heart, and this is the theme: Which one do you trust?’”

Half of the new album, Christina decided, would be “head” songs and half would be “heart” songs. “I remember calling my management and saying, ‘I got it!’” she recalls. “I stuck to that idea for the whole second-album-making process—and it was all because of that song. So basically, I don’t believe that any of the other songs would have happened without ‘Trust.’ I’m the most grateful for that song, and I think I’m the most emotionally connected to it.”

For the past four years, Perri’s life has been dominated by near-ceaseless touring, including this year’s summer and fall tour supporting Demi Lovato across America. “Then I go over to Europe in November,” she says. “And then in December, I’ll be doing a bunch of Christmas radio shows. So I’m touring until the end of the year.”

Fortunately, such perpetual motion seems to invigorate Christina rather than wear her down. “Touring for four years straight, it’s a dream, it really is,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. The 11 people I tour with are my favorite people in the world. We laugh constantly, and it makes traveling super-fun. I also love the audiences. I dislike living out of a suitcase for months at a time and waking up super-early for 4:00 a.m. flights, but I love way more things than I dislike, so I’m very grateful this is my life.”

Perri’s current stage setup has an all-white theme, and features Yamaha’s special-edition white Motif XF keyboard, which marks the company’s 40th year of building great synthesizers.

“Well, it’s perfect,” she says. “Because what we’ve been doing is painting things white, honestly. So the fact that we don’t have to do that is fantastic. We’ve got the white drums, we have a white bass amp, we have white amps, my white setup, even the mic is white. So I just felt like this keyboard fit perfectly in our little family. This is brand-new for me—I’ve never played one before. And all my keyboard friends are really jealous that I have one now. Everybody loves this, so I’m excited to have it!”

One of the biggest challenges for any artist is finding ways to keep performances spontaneous and genuine despite playing the same songs in city after city. But Christina has developed a unique way to infuse each show with new energy.

“I try to give each show a different intention,” she says. “So if someone I know is in the audience, or if we decide the whole show is for my front-of-house engineer, it keeps me fresh. Luckily I really love the new album, so these songs are still really fresh for me. And I just love performing with my band, so they keep me you never know what’s going to happen onstage, so just the littlest difference keeps us all on our toes.”

This summer, Christina found herself coming full-circle when she performed a song from her new album on So You Think You Can Dance. “Here I was, four years later, singing while Katherine was dancing to “Burning Gold,” which is a song about chasing your dreams,” she says. “On the same stage, with the same choreographer, Stacey Tookey. The stars lined up again. Kathryn and I kind of caught eyes, and I almost cried. It’s a happy song, like smiling, but I got so overwhelmed while performing the song, because I just had a realization of exactly what this was and how big it was for me.”

And what does the future hold for Perri and her dreams?

My wildest dreams stopped like three years ago,” she laughs. “This is so far beyond. Writing music is something I know I’ll do for life, because it’s the deepest-rooted thing I do. It’s where I put everything, so I can see that continuing for my lifetime. But what I do with my songs is always up to the universe. I have no idea what will happen, just like I had no idea this would happen! Everything is a surprise to me. I wanna write a movie. I wanna do Broadway. I wanna be a mom, too. I have lots of dreams we'll see!”