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MorleyView: Linda Perry

You know how there's that one record that you hear and it just knocks you on your ass but for some reason you're in the minority and nobody else gets it? That's the way it was for me with Linda Perry's "In Flight." It was one of my first assignments when I began reviewing CDs and from the first few notes I was hooked. The vibe of the record was a depressing, dark outlook that always rings well with me. And the voice….! Linda's voice is a rich, riveting low register that just commands your attention. From the first couple of words on the first cut, "In My Dreams", I was just staring at the speakers and couldn't move a muscle until the last few notes of the title cut drifted away. This was just one of THOSE records. The special kind with some kind of indiscernible magic that you just can't put your finger on, making it more than a typical great record. Was it cutting edge on a new musical genre? No. Was it musically superior from a technical standpoint, in the virtuoso category? No? 

What it WAS, however, was a collection of fantastic songs that drew on an energy or feeling from a moment of time oozing out of every crevice of every note. From its agile lineup, the record contained a host of moods that went from the stoner musing of "In My Dreams" to the bleak, empty spiral of "Success", (you could see Alice in Chains covering this if Layne hadn't packed it in) to the playful wryness of "Fruitloop Daydream". 

I talked this record up to everybody I knew and nobody got it. Everybody remembered Linda's voice from her success with 4 Non-Blondes but they just liked the record, whereas I was obsessive over it. I tried to get information on her but there wasn't much at that time. Years passed and then I heard Pink was recording her follow-up disc with Linda. Everybody knows what happened after that.

Today, she is one of the most sought after songwriters/producer. Take a look at her track record to what she's done. From Pink and Gwen Stefani to Jewel and Cheap Trick and many more, she has lent her considerable melodic sensibilities to each, all with critical and commercial acclaim…in a very short time, I might add. There was no greater measure of her abilities, however, than the song that launched Christina Aguilera into the stratosphere of super-stardom, "Beautiful". It was awesome to see Linda playing piano when Christina did the song on the Grammies that year. Looking ahead, greater glories are expected with the next records by Aguilera and Courtney Love.

With this column I get to speak to a lot of cool people. One of the biggest thrills in this gig so far was getting the opportunity to speak with Linda recently. I think I've said this before but as great as it is speaking to people you look up to, finding out that they're awesome people as well is the icing on the cake. Linda spoke to me for almost an hour, answering every question with care, and was thoughtful in taking the time to ask my daughter about her own music career (time that somebody like Linda clearly doesn't have to waste). 

But enough of my slobbering. There was nobody else that would be as appropriate to end off this Rock N Women special, than one of my most special favorites….Linda freaking Perry!!!

antiMUSIC: Man, I almost don't know what to say to you. You have no idea what this means to me. "In Flight" is one of my Top 5 records of all time and I still play it at least once a week. I'm in love with your voice; I think your songwriting is exceptional and along with your production work …without a doubt, I think you're one of the most talented people out there. Thank you so much for doing this!

Linda: Thank you very much.

antiMUSIC: OK, enough sucking up. How have you managed, with only a couple or records worth of co-production on your own stuff, to become one of the most sought after producers in the world? What's your secret?

Linda: The secret is I don't know what I'm doing and I'm waiting to be kicked out of the club when people find out that I really DON'T know what I'm doing. That's my secret. I have no clue. (laughs)

antiMUSIC: I guess to start with, how did you come to hook up with Pink which was the first major artist you worked with?

Linda: Well, uh, I will refer to her as Alicia. I've never called her Pink. So when you hear me say Alicia, I'm not referring to Alicia Keys. She basically, you know, as the story goes, got my number from her make-up artist, which had it, for some reason. So she called me and left this long message about how she wanted to write a song, as simple as that. She just wanted to write a song with me, or have me sing on her new album which she was going to start working on. And she's singing "What's up", and screaming it, and "Dear Mr. President", and basically said if I didn't call her back that she'd found my phone number, and she could find my address and basically camp out in front of my house. I'm thinking Pink? Who? What? Who is a Pink? I had no idea who this person was. So I researched her obviously. Then I see of video of hers and I just see this pink-haired girl, white girl doing R&B, and I was, oh, no, no, no. This is…what is this girl calling me for? I don't do that style of music at all. So I give her a call back and said, are you sure you've got the right Linda Perry because you know I'm not hip, and I don't know anything about R&B music, I don't know about music in general at this point, what's going on and she's like "No, you're the right Linda Perry". So I end up going meeting her and we just end up. We just clicked. She's kinda like, she reminded me of me when I was younger. So the personalities definitely went well together. And mind you, all she wanted me to do was maybe write a song with her, or sing on a song. So I invited her to my house and I had a studio in my house at the time and I had the song, "Get the party started", that I had written already. And I just thought it was funny. Cause I wrote this kinda dance song, and that's definitely not my background of music. And I played it to her and she just fell in love with it. We put the vocal down that night. She gave it to her company. And they're like "OK, we've got our first single. OK, continue working with this girl". And it just turned into one song after the next. So that's how that started. And it was a really wonderful connection and it was effortless. It kinda just rolled along. There was no effort in making Missundaztood at all.

Except for the fact that I did get fired, which is a funny story. I always forget about this. I actually got fired because the management on the label thought I was going too far. So they fired me. I was very upset by this, and going what? You're going to need this kind of music, she needs these songs. No body wants to hear this white girl with R&B music. She's not an R&B girl. So I hired myself back and went and finished all the songs we had started cuz we already had all the vocals and everything. I hired myself back, took my own money, paid for it, to finish it up and then gave it to them. And they were like, "Oh my god, this is brilliant!" And I was just, "You a**holes." That's the funny part. I was fired, and I hired myself back. They never hired me back, I just hired myself back.

antiMUSIC: That's amazing. Are those people still in their jobs?

Linda: Yeah….no, no, no. One of them is gone. But that was a funny story that nobody actually knows. You're the first one.

antiMUSIC: Do you think your superior songwriting skills and previous recording experience gives you a leg up on some of the other producers because you know both sides of the studio?

Linda: I in no way think I'm all. When I say I don't know what I'm doing, I honestly don't know what I'm doing, Morley. And that's the truth. All I'm doing is going on my gut feeling. I'm learning as I go along. My production has gotten better over the years because I experiment all the time. I'm my own engineer. I don't have, I didn't go to tech school. I have no idea what all those…you know, 3k and 15k and all that crap…800 hertz, you know, none of that. Have no idea. All I do is turn knobs until it sounds right to my ear. That's the best I can do. I know what compressors are. I know, you know, what pre amps are, I know all that stuff, but do I know what actually, what's the best way to use them? Absolutely not. Again, I just turn things till it sounds good to my ear. And I go on gut feelings. Like sometimes I'll grab a microphone, that I have no idea what it is, and I'll put it through a chain of events; a channel I normally don't use because I just like to go, ok, I call it mystery mic. I just grab a mic and plug it in and throw it through a compressor I've never used before. Put it in a position I never used before on drums, and go, ok, awesome! It either sounds incredible or horrible. To me I'm very open-minded. I don't have a rule. I think if anything….how do I say this…it's not making me better. I think I'm better to expand a little quicker than some people because I'm not set in stone on what it is that I'm actually doing. So my songwriting, I worked with Ziggy Marley. A reggae song with Ziggy Marley to a country song with the Dixie Chicks to a rock song with Cheap Trick. Because I'm so open minded about music, it's allowed me to jump genres of music, you know, I can go all over the place. Can I write a Carole King classic type of song? Absolutely. Because that's where I come from, that kinda era music. But can I write a silly little dance tune? Absolutely, because you know what? I think it's needed. That kinda style of music is needed. We need cheesy pop music. We do. All the music that's out there, we need. I don't judge music. I think that's maybe what gives me one up on people. I don't have a sound. I don't want to have a sound.

antiMUSIC: No evidently not, going from James Blunt to the Dixie Chicks.

Linda: Right. I'm an element of surprise. And as the years go by, you'll see how surprising and shocking I can be. Again, I'll never give you the same thing twice. You're not going to hear another "Beautiful". Are you going to hear a really great song that has that same quality? That's all I'm trying to do, quality, not quantity.

antiMUSIC: Is there one thing that you look for in an artist before you decide to work with them? Either songwriting-wise or vocally?

Linda: I just look for heart. That's all I look for. I don't care if the critics put your album down. You're the last record. It doesn't matter to me. If an artist comes to me...again I don't judge artists. There are certain people I say, you know, I'm just not interested in. Then there are people, I just say, "Huh, you know what? I'm not going to judge it." I'll meet with them. I meet everyone first, before I take on a project, or song, gig or whatever you want to call it. I have to meet them, I need to spend like an hour with them and we can do whatever, but I need to talk to them, I need to dig deep. I get very personal and I think sometimes it's been a little uncomfortable with some people, but you know, after they realise my intent here. I'm coming from a very good place. I'm not coming from a vindictive place. I'm coming from a very good place because I need to understand the pain first. Because that's where I relate. I relate to pain. So I dig deep to find that, to find if there's depth in this person. Then it's like, I'm happy go lucky. Then I go, okay, great let's dig into that. I don't need to write painful mournful songs all the time. I like, again, having songs that are like, "Let's get the party going". It's kind of an arrogant little song about hey, this party ain't happening until I'm there. To "Beautiful", where, you know, that song I wrote for myself, about the struggles and insecurities I go through. So as far as an artist goes, I just have to believe them. I have to believe that they want to do this. That they're going to die if they can't do this. Like I have to believe them. And I don't care what they're selling as long as they're selling it and I believe it. That's all I look for. It's heart.

antiMUSIC: I interviewed Sierra Swan recently and she couldn't say enough about you. I thought her record was exceptional and you can feel your presence all over it. In fact I thought it was a scam, a new way of re-launching you in fact. She also said however that during the first meeting, she wasn't sure if it was going to work. Is it hard to see if you are a good fit with people if they're intimidated by you or can you tell pretty quickly regardless? Case in point, Gwen Stefani.

Linda: Good scam. Hmmm. That's a good idea. I'll have to keep that in mind. (laughs) Well, you know what? I've been told --- I don't see it personally --- but I have been told that I'm quite intimidating when you meet me. But I really try my hardest to show the person that, hey I'm in the same boat as you. I don't know what I'm doing, I have my own insecurities cause, as well as I dig into their pain, I express mine as well, you know. This is basically what happens: when an artist comes to meet me, they kinda have this… they're very unsure because I think for some reason, they think they're going to walk into my studio and Linda Perry, you know, whatever, big producer/songwriter, and they're going to come in and they're going to have to adapt to me. And I'm going to have this song all ready for them and I'm going to go: "OK, this is what you're going to do and you're going to do it, no matter what cause you're obviously here because the label wants you here." I think sometimes don't even want to me. It's the label making them meet me. So they kinda come in and think, oh great, Linda Perry's going to write me a f***ing song. Whoopdif***ingdo. Whatever. And it's so not like that at all. Within the first half hour, their guard completely drops down, because they're like ok, what are we going to do? And I'm like, I don't f***ing know? I'm not even sure if we're meant to work together. All I want to do is hang out with you. I'm going to go grab a beer, do you want anything? And I light up a cigarette and we just sit there and just start talking like two people talking. And I gotta feel that connection. There have been certain instances where instantly I'm just like, "OK, I've got an idea." And I'll just grab them and we'll go sit in my live room. I'll put up microphones and I'll just have chord structure that just kind of comes to me just based on talking with them and then I'll make them ad-lib. We write the song on the spot. There've been some cases where I'll have the song already written because I wrote it for myself not because I wrote it for them, and they just really like it. Or I thought, "Wow, I just wrote this song, and it's funny that you're here", but I never bring that in until after we've written a few songs together. Then I'll bring in the song, that God, it really reminds me of you, whatever, I'll wait to do that because I don't think bringing in a song right off the top is good. Because it just makes the person think, again, like I said, I don't have a "Hey, Linda, we need a song at 130 beats per minute, and it has to be light-hearted." "Oh, hold on. Let me check my files." I don't do that. I don't have that. Within the first hour or half hour, the artist starts getting comfortable, and everything they thought I was, was exactly that, it was just them assuming that's the kind of person I was. And they realise that I'm not out to get them, I'm not out to control anything. In fact, what I do is put their clothes on. When they walk through my door, I immediately adapt to them because it's not about me. These records and these songs are not about me. It's about them. They're the ones that have to go out there and deliver it. So are they going to sing a song that they don't love?

antiMUSIC: Unquestionably your most impressive success with somebody else was with Christina Aguilera. What was running through your mind when you were on stage with her playing "Beautiful" at the Grammies? Was there a part of you that was going that should be me over there singing that? That's my song.

Linda: No. The hard part about "Beautiful" is that it's so deeply personal. That song, I didn't mean to give it to Christina at all. In fact, the way it actually happened was the first time Christina came to my house for the very first time, because at the time I had a studio in my house. And she was very nervous. She was aware of my band I was in and she happened to like my voice, so she was feeling a little insecure, and nervous and vulnerable, and she asked me: "Could you sing me a song to break the ice, to make me feel a little comfortable?" And I said, sure, okay. I had a couple months prior, written "Beautiful" and so I sat down at the piano. And of course that's the song that's closest to my heart, so that's the song I played for her. And she started from across the room and, as the song kept going, she got closer and closer and closer to me. And it was actually very sweet. So by the end of the song, she was standing right next to me at the piano. Can you write the words out and put it on demo…demo it down. And I'm all "Why?" Got all defensive (laughs). And I'm all WHY? And she says, because I want that song. And I was like, "No,no, no. this is MY song." And she's like, "It's perfect for me." And I was really taken aback by that. And I called up my manager the next day and said, Christina wants "Beautiful". And she's like, "Well, why don't you just hear her sing it. Just sit at the piano, and let her sing it, and you make your decision from there." And I said, "OK." So I demoed the piano down and Christina came down over the next day. I gave her the words. And again we're all in one room, because that's where my studio was, it was not separated. It was like when you sing, I was right there. And she had a friend with her. The music starts. She literally looks at her friend because she's nervous and says "Don't look at me." And she starts the song. Well when I heard that take go down, I got goose bumps all over me. And I knew that was my vocal. And for seven months I fought for that vocal. So that vocal that made it on the record is the scratch vocal, the very, very first time she sang that song. She was fighting me on that so hard because she's saying "It's not perfect, I didn't even know the song." And I said that's what's perfect about it. You were so vulnerable, and I believe you." I said "Christina, you've got trust me on this." This vocal is going to f***ing sell the song because everybody knows you can sing. But nobody knows you can FEEL what you're singing. And that's why this vocal is so perfect. Because this song isn't supposed to be perfect, Christina." And finally after seven months, she said, "Okay, you're right". And I'm like: "Thank you!" So that was a great example of getting into, finding somebody's…sometimes finding people's weaknesses can be such a strain. And I'm not trying to find people's weakness to use it against them. I'm trying to find their weakness FOR them, so they can grow stronger from it.

antiMUSIC: I'm a big fan of Courtney. What is it about her that made you want to work with her?

Linda: It's f***ing Courtney man. She is, to me, the real deal. You know, if you ever had the chance to sit with her, she is by far, and I'm talking top five, one of the smartest persons I've ever met. She's got enormous information crammed into that head. (laughs) And some useless information too, (laughs) but it's like. She is an encyclopedia of information and thought. She's so talented, and lyrically, I just think she's a genius. And she's the perfect example of…does Courtney have the greatest voice in the world? No. Absolutely not. But you know what makes her so great is she's got so much emotion, so much raw emotion behind that voice. You instantly know in the first know, that that's Courtney Love. It's a very distinctive voice. Very powerful presence. And very, very…she's, you know, there's so much about her. She's a typhoon. She can just sweep you up and take you for a ride, whether you like it or not, she's going to take you there. She can sit with an acoustic guitar, at the slowest tempo, and it'll be more rock than Papa Roach with all their big, friggin guitar, and big sounds, you know. She can make…she is rock. And rock doesn't mean it has to be loud and fast. And that's a misconception about rock and roll that people kinda forget about. Rock does not mean loud and fast. Rock means power. And power can come from an acoustic guitar and a voice, at a mid-tempo song. And that's what Courtney brings. She brings a lot of power in her voice. And working on this record has been just a pleasure. It's been a slow process because we've been really horning in on a vibe. Like the thing I wanted to do with Courtney is create a real cool vibe. There's some fast songs on there, but the majority of it are kinda mid-tempo, hypnotic type songs, that, you just kinda get lost in her songs and then here's her voice and all we're doing musically is kinda creating a cool little landscape, an atmosphere for her to showcase her voice. And then there'll be the big punky rock song but personally, I wanted to hear on this record with Courtney, who Courtney is at 42. She's definitely not a stage diver, you know what I mean? She's not going out play a concert and dive into the audience anymore. So I wanted to make a record with her that gave a little bit of Hole and who Courtney is right now, after the s*** she's been through because what people forgot about with Courtney is the music. All they've concentrated on is Courtney's drama and they forgot about why they fell in love with Courtney to begin with. And my job right now is to remind people of why you guys fell in love with Courtney, because she's a great lyricist, she's got incredible character and a very, very strong presence and very powerful. And she writes great songs.

antiMUSIC: Like I mentioned before, I think In Flight is a phenomenal record. What were the sessions like? Was all the material written right before you recorded or was there some older material?

Linda: A few songs were written for…like I wrote it while I was working on the second 4 Non Blondes record, and it's actually some songs I wrote and I brought in and the band looked at me and said "Well?" "Freeway", "In To Deep", "In Flight" and I don't know… another song on there, "Knock Me Out", those were songs that I wrote for the second record and the band just thought I was out of my mind and they were like, "That's not, you know…. we don't like that, that's too different of a direction." And I would just look at them with this blank look, like, you know, okay. Then I would disappear for literally about 10 or 15 minutes and come back with this crap ass, f***ing rock tune that sounded like s*** to me, that had no emotional attachment, and they were like "yeah, that's more like it." And I just finally got to a point where I said, "Listen guys I just think we want to make two different records, cause you guys want to make the first record again, and I want a complete departure because I wasn't happy with that record and I feel that I have a lot more to offer music than just a bunch of crappy little f***ing fast songs. If that's what you guys want to do, you can keep these songs that I wrote. I'll help you find a singer, and you know, I'll help you guys get it together. Other than that I'm out of here." So that's what I did. They obviously declined. Well the label ended up dropping the band, which was unfortunate but kept me, and that was not my intention. I wanted to make a record that wasn't going to be a hit; that was dark; that was expressing my emotions of how I felt, because I needed to do that for myself. Is it a great record? I'm not too sure. But I love it. Do I feel successful from it? Absolutely. So the process of it was once I realised I was out of the band, then I was opened. I was able now to free, and start really going there with all the other songs. Then I think "Fruitloop Daydream", I wrote in the studio with the boys, and there might have been another song I did with them. It was a wonderful experience. One of the things that bugged me about 4 Non Blondes, was that I used my voice 100 per cent, it was always in your face, it was so annoying. When I hear that record I just cringe. To me it's like nails to a chalkboard. It's so annoying I can't take it. I probably listened to that record a total of 10 times, so when I was doing "In Fight". I wanted to sit down. I wanted to smoke my cigarettes. I wanted to have my glass of wine. I wanted you know have the lights down. I wanted candles all over the place, and I just wanted to be mellow. And I wanted to use my low register because I really like my low register. Because it's not often that a woman has such a low register. So I wanted to embrace that. I was felling really mellow, I was feeling really emotional, I was very suicidal. I was really dark and that's the kind of record I wanted to make. Could I have gotten darker? f*** yeah. I absolutely could have. But I didn't feel… my heart didn't want to go there yet. So I did what I was allowed to do in my emotions.

antiMUSIC: "Knock Me Out" was just exceptional. What was it like working with Grace Slick? 

Linda: She's you know…Grace Slick. She's incredible. Again another very strong personality. And when I had written that song I knew I needed her. As fate had it, I had met her daughter China and I was like, "Oh my God. I can't believe I'm meeting you. I need your mom." (laughs) And she's like, "Dude, my mom isn't going to the studio. She hasn't been in the studio in years. She just got burned so many times in the studio she refuses to do that." So some how she got her on the phone with me and I invited her down to the studio. And she agreed. I was shocked, you know, so all I know is that day I didn't tell anyone, I didn't tell Bill Bottrell or anyone until that morning. I said "Oh by the way, Grace Slick is coming into the studio today". And he didn't believe me. I play her "Knock Me Out", and she says, "What do you want me to do?" And I say: "Whatever you want to do." And she just looked at me very surprised and she's like: "Are you sure?" And I said: "Yeah, I'll even turn my vocal off. You just do whatever you want to do. And she said: "No you keep your vocal on". And she did whatever she wanted to do and that is what I kept. She was amazing. I think she did what she wanted to do in three takes. She wrote her own words. And how she related to the song, she thought it was an abusive relationship, so she took the part of the other person, which I didn't even get that. But she just went right in and said: "This is an abusive relationship so I'm going to take this other person. So it actually turns out to be this kinda love song between two women. Which I didn't even get until later, and I'm gay (laughs). And I didn't even catch that! Until someone said: "Oh my god. I can't believe you got Grace Slick to do a love song with you." And I'm like: "I did?" And then I listened to it from that perspective and I'm like "Oh my god! Brilliant!"

antiMUSIC: She's seen the bottom of a few bottles in her day. Did you get to hang out with her and get to know her or was it simply a session and goodbye?

Linda: "Oh, no. Obviously she doesn't party anymore but she invited me over to dinner. I've been over to her house. I haven't talked to her in a very, very long time. But just a wonderful woman. And again, another person like I said, just filled with information; a lot of great stories, I got to hear so many great stories. Definitely one of the highlights in my life was working with her.

Wait there is more! Click here for the 2nd part of this MorleyView!


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