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Linda Perry: My Life in 15 Songs

Pop hitmaker looks back at a career in music that’s included collaborations with Christina Aguilera, Pink, Courtney Love and many more

American singer, songwriter and producer Linda Perry photographed in her studio on July 3, 2014 in North Hollywood, CA.

American singer, songwriter and producer Linda Perry photographed in her studio on July 3, 2014 in North Hollywood, CA.

Jessica Chou/Redux

No one is more surprised than Linda Perry when one of the hit pop songs she’s written, whether it’s Pink’s “Get the Party Started” or Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” roars out of a radio or in a club. “I’m not pop,” she says. “I don’t even know how I got in there, because my true self is dark rock & roll. I love the Velvet Underground. I love Zeppelin. I’m in that area. It’s super funny that I got into this whole pop world, because it’s not where I live. But maybe that’s why it makes me interesting.”

Pop tunesmith is only one of Perry’s many careers. Since becoming famous as a member of 4 Non Blondes in the late Eighties, Perry not only survived one-hit-wonder status in the ’90s with “What’s Up” but went on to remake herself as an A-list songwriter and producer, working with a diverse group of acts from Miley Cyrus to Weezer. This year, Perry is up for a Grammy in the Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) category for her work on albums by teenaged singer Willa Amai and rocker Dorothy, as well as for the soundtrack to Served Like A Girl, a documentary about female military veterans that includes Perry-helmed songs by Pink, Aguilera and others.

Perry, 53, is currently wrapping up an album with Natasha Bedingfield. She’s also been curating charity events for Haitian relief and victims of last year’s California wildfires. She took a break in a relentlessly crammed schedule to look back at the 15 songs and productions that shaped her career and life.

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 20:  Singer Dorothy Martin of the band Dorothy performs onstage during the GIRL CULT Festival at The Fonda Theatre on August 20, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Scott Dudelson/WireImage)

Scott Dudelson/WireImage

13

Dorothy, “Flawless” (2018)

Dorothy Martin is my artist. I manage her. And that is a record I loved, her whole album 20 Days in the Valley. There are no girls singing like her. She’s got a growl. She’s like Grace Slick or Courtney or Stevie Nicks. She’s a rock star. She’s the whole package. She’s been on tour with Greta Van Fleet, and people are starting to know who she is. There’s been a big void for a type of girl. And people are loving the rock aspect: Here’s this rock chick that’s got a very ’60s feel and is a badass on stage.

“Flawless” is a great train-wreck song. It’s someone who’s talking about a relationship where this guy just threw all your shit out on the fucking street. Like you were garbage. And she’s basically trying to say, “I’m not flawless. But I’m going to treat myself like I am.” You’re just trying to empower yourself in a situation where someone’s not treating you with the respect you deserve. This song gets a huge reaction. It got to number eight on the rock charts, which a girl hasn’t done in years.

AUSTIN, TX - DECEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton performs in concert during her 'Pure & Simple Tour' at the Frank Erwin Center on December 6, 2016 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

Rick Kern/WireImage

14

Dolly Parton, “Girl in the Movies” (2018)

Dolly is the best human on the planet. Oh my fucking God, what a light. I got called to maybe produce one of the songs [for the soundtrack of Dumplin’]. And I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck. I’ll fucking tap-dance for her while she’s eating lunch. Don’t you fucking call anybody else. I will fucking do it for free. I don’t care. Please do not call anybody else.”

When I listen to Dolly records, I hear everything and the kitchen sink. I hear a lot of twang, I hear a lot of this, I hear a lot of that. What I wanted to do was simplify. I just wanted her voice to be more in front. I wanted to give her more of a raw edge.

We had a writing session the next day. Prior to that, her manager said, “Dolly has not written with anybody in a very long time.” Everybody’s prepping me to be okay if we don’t get a song. I’m sitting with her putting the microphone up, changing the microphone for another song. And she’s like, “So what are we gonna do tomorrow?” And I said, “Well, we’re going to write about five or six songs.” She looked at me like, “Oh, slow down. Let’s see if we even have one in us.” I think she just instantly liked my ego, my confidence.

In the studio she looked just like Dolly. The whole thing. To a tee, doesn’t miss a beat. I said, “I have an idea.” I played her the melody and the chorus, and I had “Girl in the Movies” as a line. She was like, “Oh I love that. That’s like the girl in the movie.” In one day she wrote all the lyrics. It was like I met my creative soul mate. It was so easy and so free and effortless. And she’s so talented with her storytelling. I’ve never met somebody who has the stamina I do, and she’s 73 years old.

I’m a little boisterous, a little edgy, a little loud. I’m aggressive. I want things the way I want them. And I learned with her to calm my spirit down a little bit. Dolly would be all, “There’s a reason all this is happening. If we didn’t do this, then maybe this would’ve happened.” You just let the chips fall where they fall. And as cheesy as it sounds, I actually started doing that and it does feel better to let the chips fall where they’re gonna fall. She softened me.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Performer Willa Amai attends the Face Forward's 10th Annual "La Dolce Vita" Themed Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on September 22, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)

Greg Doherty/Getty Images

15

Willa Amai, “Here You Come Again” (2018)

She’s an artist of mine. She’s 14 years old. Willa had heard I was working with Dolly, and she sent me that arrangement of “Here You Come Again” and I’m like going, “Holy fuck — what is this?” Then I completely forgot about it, and we were talking about “Here You Come Again” because they really wanted it in the movie. And I was like, “I forgot I had something to play you.” I played them Willa’s version. At the time Willa was 13, and they were like, “Oh, my God. We need to use that.”

Now I’m going, “How the fuck am I going to get Dolly Parton to do a duet with this 13-year-old no one’s ever heard before?” So I get to Nashville and I’m talking to Dolly and go, “Hey, did you hear my 13-year-old Willa do ‘Here You Come Again?’” She’s like, “No I didn’t. Who’s Willa?” I said, “She is like a little Carole King. And a total dork, little nerdy kid. She’s a savant. And she did this version of your song where she took a completely different approach.” And she’s like, “Let me hear it.”

So I played it to her. It was Dolly’s idea [to duet with Willa]. She said, “It would be sweet that she’s singing and I come in. And I’m like passing the torch over to her.” Then she’s like, “Oh my God. It’s the same name. Willa.” Willa is the character in the movie. I’m inside freaking out.

The message to hear is that ambition is the most important part of making it. You can be talented all you want, but this goes out to all those little 12- and 13-year-old kids right now. Talent is one part of it, but it’s our ambition, our motivation, our drive to be successful. Fucking don’t give up on your creative vision. If you stand by it, you can fucking become Adele.