Linda Perry has been out from day one of her career as the lead singer of the early 90s rock group 4 Non Blondes — at the 1993 Billboard Awards she performed their one-hit wonder (and current drunken karaoke fave) “What’s Up” with the word “dyke” emblazoned on her guitar. When the group broke up she retreated a bit from the music industry, instead releasing two emotional and creatively fulfilling noncommercial solo records.
Then in 2001, Pink plucked her rockstar idol out of relative obscurity when the Perry-written-and-produced “Get the Party Started” helped make Pink’s second album an international best seller and Pink a household name.
Witnessing Pink‘s career reinvention, Christina Aguilera came calling in 2002 and formed an unlikely but hugely successful pop musical relationship.
Linda is now one of the most in-demand prolific songwriters and record producers in the industry writing and producing songs for Alicia Keys, Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani and Adam Lambert (among countless others).
Inspired by recent love obsession and heartbreak, Linda is writing, recording and performing her own music for the first time in 12 years in the form of a rock duo named Deep Dark Robot. She’s also the producer of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s An Evening With Women, Celebrating Arts, Music and Equality, which raises money for the center’s women-specific services including women’s health and medical, legal assistance, domestic violence prevention & education, cultural programs, self-enrichment courses, social events and discussion groups. I recapped last year’s event where Pink gave a surprise performance, officially reuniting the kindred spirits after a falling out several years ago.
Jess spoke to Linda about her spontaneous performance with Pink at last year’s Evening With Women, the state of the current pop music landscape, her career as an cover artist via iPhone on Twitter, Christina Aguilera’s terrible year in the press and the girl who broke her heart and inspired her new record 8 Songs About A Girl.
What services are specifically benefited from the money raised by An Evening With Women?
First and foremost, the majority of the money goes to the youth center program,which is basically kids that get thrown out on the street by their own parents for being gay. These kids are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old and are turning to drugs and prostitution and the center basically opens up its doors and provides shelter, homes, food, teaches the kids how to clean, how to cook, they help them get jobs… and they have therapy for these kids. There’s also a really good program for seniors that are struggling and don’t have anyone to turn to. There’s an incredible clinic on the facilities that is amazing and it’s “pay what you can.” The center provides legal services… just so, so much! It’s just everything and on top of everything else, The Center is at the forefront fighting for gay rights. So, An Evening With Women is a whole event that focuses on benefiting this part of Los Angeles that we need to open our eyes up to and start supporting because they do so much for the community.
Well, it’s not that we had a broken one, it’s just that she and I stopped talking for a few years because… well, she got mad at me, and for good reason… Someone had asked me about one of her records, I think it was Try This, and I think they took it out of context, but I said, “Well, I know what Alecia is capable of, and it’s crap to me. Because I know what she can really do.” So, you put “Linda Perry Says Pink’s Last Album Was Crappy” as a headline and of course she’s gonna fucking get mad! And I totally understand! But, she and I spoke and we get along great again. Pink and I will always be like falling off a bicycle – we’re gonna get right back on and be fine. She’s stubborn and I’m stubborn. Whatever she’s doing [musically] is totally working. She doesn’t need anybody to fix anything. So, she and Carey came out last year and supported An Evening With Women, they bought a table which was really awesome of her. And, ya know… I saw her there and I was like “well, shit! I’m up here and she’s down there and… let me just go for it! And so, she came up and it was an amazing, spontaneous moment. We don’t plan those kinds of spontaneous moments so don’t ask if I’m gonna try and do that again! Those moments in life are rare and awesome.
Have you discussed possibly collaborating again for her next album?
Nope…. again, if that were to happen it would probably be in a very spontaneous way.
I really feel like the public has been too hard on Christina Aguilera this past year. Do you think it’s a case of society wanting to tare someone down only to build them back up because the public loves a comeback story?
Christina’s always had the bad rap. So, it’s not like this is happening all of a sudden… she’s always had it. That’s something between Christina, her fans, the public, and the energy of the world. That’s something only Christina and the energy can figure out what’s going on there. But, as far as I’ve known her, everybody’s always given her a hard time. She’s a different little bird. You know, she’s not really out a lot and when she does go out, people are gonna grab things. Like, is she running around as much as Britney Spears was a few years ago? No, she’s isn’t. But, when they catch her they catch her in whatever state she is in. I don’t know why the press is so hard on her right now. I think Christina’s awesome and a very talented person. She definitely doesn’t care — and that is a fact. You know how some people say “I don’t care” and they really do? I can tell you that Christina really doesn’t care…. because she learned very early on that critics are critics, people will say whatever they want and it’s up to her to decide what is the truth and what is not. She stands true to what she knows.
Like, she told me “I know this Bionic record is not going to be a big record because I’m gonna try and do some different things and I don’t know what’s gonna happen but this is what I wanna do…” She knew that before she recorded one thing. She knew that about Back to Basics, too. Her record company came to her and said “you’re gonna sell way more many records if you make this a single album. Let’s get rid of the double record.” And she said, “No, this is how I hear it. I hear one record being like this and the other record being like this.” Everybody warned her that it’s not going to sell as much but she didn’t care because she comes up with creative ideas and stands behind them as an artist. It’s not all about selling a bazillion records to her. She just wants to be able to stand behind it. In the end she did say to me, “Maybe I did release the Bionic record too soon. Oh well. Now, I wanna make a rock record!” I was like “Oh, God!” She’s gonna take everybody for a ride. So, ultimately, why she gets put down I don’t know. You’ll never know, I’ll never know, only Christina will ever figure that out and get the answer.
How do you feel about the current pop music landscape?
I think there are too many people trying to analyze it instead of just trying to feel it out and going with what feels natural. When people start putting pop music into a format and want everybody else to follow that format or formula is when the problem starts happening. That’s when the creative process dies and we’re left with an aftermath of just “blah.” I think there are a lot of great people out there, but I’d like the people who are supporting mainstream music to maybe just ask a little bit more of their artists. I feel like maybe the fans need to start raising the bar and maybe that will get the artist and the labels to start raising the bar.
Just this morning I saw a clip of Britney Spears performing on Good Morning America and it really blew my mind what she is getting away with.
Yeah, well, there’s a lot of people getting away with that! That’s why I feel it’s not just the labels and the artists fault. It’s the fans too. The people who are supporting it — they need to start demanding more. But, the problem is that in the world we live in right now, people aren’t really taking the time to raise the bar. You need to start wanting more for yourself. It all starts within us… if you want to get deep about it. To “raise the bar” would mean that you’d have to want more for who YOU are. You’d have to want better for you. Unfortunately, we’re not in that world… people aren’t giving themselves that kind of attention because everything is so fast. Everything that is going on in society today is going faster and faster and nobody even has time to take a breath and even understand what they’re walking into. So, to ask more of your artists means that you’d have to think you DESERVE to get more. So, really think about that… As a society, people aren’t really taking care of themselves.
I agree completely with you. Just how so many young kids live off .99 cent iTunes singles as opposed to buying a complete body of work like they used to.
Are there any up and coming indie artists you love who we should absolutely be supporting who we may not be aware of?
Hmmm… I think everything that Juliette Lewis does is amazing because she is an indie artist to me over an actress. Like, she really goes out there, and is really giving it 100% of her all. That girl toured in a van for 3 years until she worked her way up to where she’s selling out the El Ray Theatre and touring in a bus now. She’s really been paying her dues as an artist and I think everything she does is great because she’s coming from true heart. I like Bat For Lashes. I think it’s really creative and I enjoy her work a lot. I’ve never met her but she seems like a cool chick. Florence + the Machine I will always support. I know she’s not too indie, but she’s amazing. There’s an LA band called Nico Vega that is pretty phenomenal… Aja, the singer of that band, she’s really got a voice that is pretty serious, and her whole vibe is amazing.
I know you wrote and produced for Adam Lambert with “A Loaded Smile” for his album. He’s one of the first mainstream pop singers to be out at the very start of his career. Do you think pop musicians need to worry about staying closeted the way actors do?
Hmmm… I still don’t understand that. That’s a whole other interview! I honestly am still baffled by the closet thing. I don’t get it. There’s nothing you can tell me that would make me understand why people feel the need to hide who they are – under any circumstance. So, I can’t comprehend it therefore I can’t even answer it.
Is there anybody whom you’re dying to work with?
No…. I like who the universe throws in my way. I like the surprise of it. I’d probably pick the wrong person. I like the open surprise – it’s like a grab bag.. it just shows up. Like, I never would’ve picked Pink in a million years to want to work with. I mean, she had pink hair and was a white girl singing bad R&B music…. I mean, I would’ve never chosen her at all! But, I love her and the fact that the universe threw her in my life is amazing and I’m SO thankful for it. So, the universe does a far better job of choosing who I should work with.
I’m a big fan of the “iPhone Sessions” you record and upload Twitter. What inspired you to start those and how do you technically record them?
Basically, I woke up one morning after a long conversation with this producer and an artist and they were yankin’ on about how they used three Pro Tool machines and did some godly, huge production… just bragging about all this stuff they did… and when I heard the song I was like, “are you fuckin’ for real?” You did all this shit for that? It was just very disturbing and the song sucked… Basically, what people do nowadays is they take bad songs (they don’t even put the energy into making a good song), so they take bad songs and put all this fluff of production and arrangements and tricks and gadgets and outfits and blah blah blah, and they go and they sell that to the people and go, “look how great this is!” when really, if you strip it all down, there is no song there. So, I always say to somebody, “can you play your song acoustic?” Can you grab an acoustic guitar or a piano and sit down and play your song? And, 90% of the music out there today you cannot do that. So, that’s a huge start right there.
So, anyway, my whole point was that I can take my stupid iPhone and if I have a good song and a good performer I can just put it up – one take – and look at this. Fuckin’ sounds great! People relate to it. It sounds awesome. I’m just using my iPhone Memo/Audio Recorder app and I put it by my acoustic guitar or my piano and I just choose a song. Like, okay “Mad World” or “Creep.” It takes me like fifteen minutes to learn the song and then I record it in one take. If there’s a mistake I keep it and then I Twitter it and there ya go! So that’s why I started doing them…. it was just to show people that these are great songs. “Angie” is a great song, listen to it on piano.
Have you considered releasing an album of you doing covers acoustically stripped down like that? Or even releasing the iPhone sessions as mp3s?
Yeah, when I get back home after the tour is over I’m actually gonna start maybe doing that. My band Deep Dark Robot actually recorded some covers as well so I wanna release that first. And then I wanna do “Linda Perry iPhone Sessions” where I choose the best ones that I like and maybe add a couple new ones and the release that as well… I mean, I’d just give that away. Just like “here ya go.” Or, maybe put a charity attached to it and go OK, this is $2 that’s going straight to an animal organization or something. ‘Cause I am aware that there’s something kinda cool and special about ’em. I mean, a couple of them I had just woken up in the morning and I just recorded it. “Fever” I recorded in my bathroom at the studio. The Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah” I had just gotten back from Hawaii and I had a piano in my bathroom and just say down and recorded that one. So, they’re fun to do and I really enjoy it. I’m glad you like it!
Let’s talk about Deep Dark Robot and 8 Songs About A Girl. Concept albums focusing on a single relationship are always fascinating. Adele‘s new record is about one relationship and it’s heartbreaking.
I think that I’ve been in several relationships and broken up and been hurt in several but never written a song or entire record about them… This one in particular stayed with me – not that the other ones didn’t – but, this girl ended up being a muse for me. Because, it’s not just really about an album. She’s been a catalyst in a lot of other ways, like, if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have started going on tour, would never have made an album, I would not be talking to you right now… this whole journey of my life would never have begun.
How long ago did the relationship end?
It never actually began. This was a situation where I fell in love and two people were getting together that just couldn’t be together. I kept getting pulled in and out, back and forth, back and forth, to a point where it made me obsessive and starting making me crazy… really effecting me…. so. I never got the girl. It was very sad and also very romantic, but very sad…. and I know she is equally tortured. There was some pursuing that was being done on her end that should have never happened… and I’m not talking about people cheating on each other.
It’s a straight girl.
Yea, it was a straight girl… there was never going to be a happy ending. But I continued playing into it because I fell in love.
Over what time period did this span?
Well, the songs were written as I was experiencing the emotions in these last 7 months. She’s still there… I could still keep going writing more music about her, but I wanted to end that set of 8 songs. She loves the record.
I noticed you have a tattoo of a tear on your face. What’s the story behind that?
The tear is basically my best friend and I of 20 years. After I had been on tour for a long time I saw that he (Aubin) had tattooed a tear on his face because he missed me… A while later I was in the process of moving to Los Angeles and he was moving to New York.So, when we were splitting up and weren’t going to be living across the street from each other I said “tattoo a tear on me” because I’m so sad… it’s a friend thing. We’re best friends. He got a tear, I got a tear…. Meanwhile, I think he was in New York for like two or three weeks and wound up moving to LA. I was like, “I got this fuckin’ tear now on my face!” Anyways, I love it and we remain best friends still and he is definitely my rock in my life.