Photo: Courtesy of Linda Perry
Linda Perry Talks Craft, Creativity & Her Biggest Hits In Nashville
Finding success as a songwriter, artist or producer/engineer is a one-in-a-million shot at best in today's super-saturated music industry, but to succeed at all three takes a remarkable individual. Linda Perry is just that special talent. For a lucky audience at the Recording Academy Nashville Chapter's Craft Session event on June 14 at The Tracking Room, the GRAMMY nominee took a candid look at her remarkable career, her instinctual creative process and the stories behind some of her biggest hits.
Born to a father who loved Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, old time country, and jazz, a Brazilian mother with a penchant for Sergio Mendes, and growing up around siblings who loved pop and rock music, Perry's first love was musicals. She cites listening to "The Jungle Book" as the magical moment for her when storytelling and music collided. Later, she discovered the encompassing power of her own voice, the beginning of a career full of music coming naturally to her.
"One day, literally, in San Francisco, I was playing guitar … and then I just started singing," said Perry. "And this huge voice came out of me. … It just took over my whole body and I started crying and my roommate came running down. She was like, 'What was that?' And I'm like, 'It was me!' … Then that's when I said, 'I'm gonna be a rockstar.'"
From there, Perry stumbled into playing music, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist picking up guitar and piano by ear without any trouble at all. These instincts as a musician still guide her in the studio, where Perry let's her ears take over.
"I'm different because I don't know what I'm doing, I just feel it," said Perry. "I pride myself on my drum sounds, and when I get drum sounds they're fat, they're awesome, they're gorgeous, but I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just turning things, moving microphones until it sounds good to my ear. I don't need to know that I'm boosting 2K or bringing down 15K. Who cares about that? I just want to know I'm getting a good sound. … I don't look at meters, I just move microphones."
Every way Perry interacts with music seems to carry this natural, instinctual movement. As a songwriter, there may be ways of forcing ideas to come out, but she admitted that's not how she works. In fact, the question she gets asked most often by songwriters is about dealing with writer's block. Her answer is an enlightening one.
"I don't get songwriter's block because I'm not thinking," said Perry. "Only people who are thinking about writing music get songwriter's block, I just do it. And if it's not there to do, I don't do it."
During the conversation, Perry walked the audience through her journey in the San Francisco music scene in the '90s where she earned a write-up in SF Weekly for her brief but memorable first performance after playing just two songs then breaking a string. and formed her band 4 Non Blondes, whose original name was Lesbian Snake Charmers. She kept her solo career pursuits going while joining the band before combining the two and finding a record deal post haste.
Perry talked about writing "What's Up," the band's 1992 smash hit, and the subsequent struggle to maintain her artistic vision for the song. The album's producer suggested lyric rewrites and production choices that forced Perry to decide between being a team player and standing up for her artistry.
Thankfully, she was able to cut the tune on her last reel of tape and rush it to mastering just in time. Shockingly, it was Perry's first time touching a microphone and crafting sounds in a studio. The raw brilliance of the recording came together in a hurry and created something lasting.
"That recording was my first actual recording, and it's flawed all over the place. I can't stand my voice on that," Perry said. "Everything about it when I hear it sounds amateurish. All those flaws and all those mistakes are what made that song what it was. So the moral of the story is just trust your instincts because we're not here to be perfect. We're here to create an emotion and to create a moment."
Ever since, Perry has tapped into this magic throughout her career in her own music and collaborating with other artists. During the Craft Session, she recounted how she patched together Pink's "Get This Party Started," taking her first crack as sequencing, the arc of her collaboration with James Blunt, her love/hate relationship with the "beyond talented" Christina Aguilera, for whom she penned the 2002 smash hit "Beautiful," and more.
In an industry with so many facets, Perry has grown her career on the foundation of true artistry, tapping into inspiration and authenticity at every stage of the process. Her vision — or the vision of the artist she's working with — always comes first. From there, Perry says it's about craft and creativity, no matter who you are or what your process is.
"It's very important to really understand your craft," Perry said. "There's kids doing amazing albums on GarageBand because they're being creative. You can record on anything if you're creative, you have a good song and you get the emotion."