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Linda Perry

Linda PerryPhoto: Kristin Burns

It takes talent, attitude and self‑belief to succeed in the music business, and Linda Perry has plenty of all three...

One of the best‑known and most successful songwriters and producers in the industry, Linda Perry has been responsible for a string of huge international hits by the likes of Pink (‘Get The Party Started’), Christina Aguilera (‘Beautiful’) and Gwen Stefani (‘What You Waiting For?’). Perry has also worked with the likes of Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande, Courtney Love, Adele and Dolly Parton.

Before all of this, Linda Perry was an artist in her own right, most famously as the singer in San Francisco band 4 Non Blondes. She wrote their 1993 hit ‘What’s Up?’, which reached number one in 10 countries. When the band broke up the following year, Perry embarked upon a solo career with her critically acclaimed, if commercially unsuccessful solo album, In Flight (1996), before she decided to instead pursue her current career on the other side of the studio glass.

Make Yourself Heard

Even in her teenage years playing in various bands, Linda Perry always had a formidable attitude. “I kept getting kicked out,” she laughs. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, she spent her teens in San Diego, before moving to San Francisco at the age of 21 where she began performing solo around clubs in the Bay Area. Spotted by 4 Non Blondes’ bassist Christa Hillhouse, she was invited to join the all‑female band, whose ranks also included guitarist Shaunna Hall and drummer Wanda Day.

“At first I didn’t want to bring my songs into the band, because I was doing my own solo stuff,” Perry remembers. “Then once I realised the band was pretty good, I started bringing my songs in, and we started getting more acknowledgement.” Up to this point, Perry had had very little experience of recording. “No, at that time, I wasn’t even understanding that process. I had a tape recorder. That was it, and then I ended up buying one of those four‑track Tascams.”

After bagging a deal with Interscope Records, 4 Non Blondes went into the studio with producer David Tickle (Split Enz, Joe Cocker) to record their debut album. It proved to be a disappointing exercise for Perry, who quickly grew frustrated that the guitar sounds she heard when standing in front of her amp weren’t being accurately represented through the monitors in the control room.

“David Tickle was an interesting character,” she says. “He was a great guy. He put these really great tones in front of me. Like, he introduced me to the Vox and Les Paul and that dry, in‑your‑face gritty sound. And I was in love with it. So, we’d be tracking these songs, and then when I’d come in and listen, I’d be like, ‘What? Where’s that tone? This tone sounds small, really distant, and kind of thin.’ And I didn’t understand at the time that it was compression and EQ’ing all the beauty out of it and putting reverb on it. I feel like David was completely off the mark of who we were as a band. And I started complaining.”

Perry felt she was being railroaded by both the producer and the record company into releasing an album she wasn’t happy with — particularly Tickle’s version of the anthemic ‘What’s Up?’, which she rightly regarded as one of her strongest songs. “We’d recorded ‘What’s Up?’, and it was just terrible. Like, I cried. I went to the label, to [Interscope’s] Tom Whalley. I said, ‘This is f**king shit. This is not the song I wrote. Sounds like crap. I don’t understand why [Tickle] made me change lyrics and put a solo and a marching drum and all this shit in it.’ And Tom Whalley at the time was like, ‘I think it sounds great.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, then, f**k you, too. It doesn’t.’

“The album was about to be mastered. Everybody’s accepting it as the end result. And I panicked. Honestly, I would have scrapped the whole album. But I knew that was going to be an impossibility. And I said, ‘If I’m going to save one song, it’s going to be this one.’”

Saving The Day

The singer took matters into her own hands, booking a day at The Plant in Sausalito, in an attempt to record ‘What’s Up?’ to her satisfaction. “We had one roll of tape,” she recalls. “So we only have three takes. We went in, we had a house engineer there [Mark Hensley], and I just started dialling in sounds with him.

4 Non Blondes’ album Bigger, Better, Faster, More was a huge hit off the back of Perry’s song ‘What’s Up?’.4 Non Blondes’ album Bigger, Better, Faster, More was a huge hit off the back of Perry’s song ‘What’s Up?’.“Now, mind you,’ she adds, “I have no idea what I’m doing. But I hear the kick drum and I’m like, ‘No, can we make it a little more warm and fatter?’ Then I would move microphones, and I just did what instinctively felt like the right thing to do. Then last thing was my guitar. He dialled in my vocal and guitar with me and we recorded the song, we got the take. I knew I’d saved the song because then I heard it, and I’m like, ‘Yes, this sounds like me. This sounds like us.’

“And then David Tickle showed up at something like 11 o’clock at night. He’d found out that I was up there doing that. We had to mix it because the album was being mastered the next day. And that’s the version everybody heard.”

Nonetheless, Perry was disgruntled when she wasn’t given even a co‑production credit on ‘What’s Up?’ “I said, ‘I produced this. I want credit.’ And everybody pretty much laughed at me and said, ‘Well, it doesn’t work that way. David’s deal’s already done.’ But I tell you, it was the greatest lesson that I got early on in my career. Because after that, that never happened again.”

Out On Your Own

It was during the sessions for 4 Non Blondes’ never‑to‑be‑released second album that Linda Perry decided to go solo. Work had begun with producer Dave Jerden (Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones) but the singer was suffering from creative disagreements with the rest of the band.

“Dave is amazing,” she says, “but I was in a different place. The 4 Non Blondes experience for me was a dark experience. So that’s where I was at. I started writing songs, and the band kept on saying, ‘Well, this sounds more like something you would do by yourself.’ They kept saying that to pretty much almost every song. Then I would disappear for like five minutes, come back with a stupid song. And they’d be like, ‘Yes, this is great.’ And then we would record that.”

It was in fact Jerden who emboldened Perry to break out on her own. “One day, I was in the studio, playing piano and Dave walked in. And he was such a kind man to me. He’s like, ‘Listen, you’re one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Don’t let people make you second guess yourself. You know what you want. Stick to it.’

“After he said that, we went on a little break, before we were going to come back and start doing overdubs on the record. And that’s when...

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