To call Linda Perry anything less than a Renaissance woman would miss the point. She’s a singer, songwriter, musician, producer, engineer, record executive, philanthropist, and, now, reality TV star. But the whole of who she is is so much greater than the sum of all those parts, which is something that listening to her records will never quite reveal. Watching her work and seeing her process, though, helps bring that whole into sharper focus. And that’s exactly what she wanted she wanted to achieve with her new VH1 series, Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project. Well, that, and a few other things.
A new marriage and a new TV show… life is pretty good right now, hey?
Yeah. Everything’s good. It’s never just that cut and dry, but yeah, life is good. I have luxury problems, should I say.
How did Make or Break come about?
When I decided to do this show, it was really directed toward this generation, the kids now today who don’t have Carole Kings or Patti Smiths as mentors. They don’t really know that music comes from life experiences — that you pick up a guitar and you find your way through it; you discover who you are; you find your emotions through it; you find your weaknesses through it, your strength; you find your voice and you start creating the person that you want to be. That, to me, is not being voiced. So I wanted to do a show based on, basically, how I am in the studio and that’s how I work in the studio. What you’re seeing is just how I am in the studio always. I wanted to bring that and see if it would be of any interest to people because I know there are very talented people — I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to a group of people who don’t know that there are other ways besides curtains rising and judges judging and singing other people’s songs.
And, honestly… let’s talk about that for a second. If you’re going to sing other people’s songs and that’s what you want to do? Awesome. Carole King wrote great songs for people like that — the Shirelles, the Ronettes. She wrote so many great songs and those people did it with style and made it their own. Barbra Streisand — her whole career is built on that and that woman, you would think she wrote those songs because there’s so much passion and soul in it. She really characterized and crafted and made herself who she is by using other people’s words. She just made sure she found words that were similar to what would be inside her. Bette Midler, Celine Dion… all these people, they made a craft of being passionate and when they sing other people’s songs, it’s amazing. But I don’t see that happening. What I see and hear is people basically singing exactly like the demo of the singer that the producer put on the track. They’re not putting their twist on it. Their twist is their outfit. It’s not their heart and passion on the line.
Anyway, that’s it. That’s all I’m trying to do. That’s where the show came from. VH1 was all about jumping on it because they wanted to take a risk and the show is a risk. It’s not a typical reality show.
As opposed to all of the competition shows that are looking for the next “star,” it certainly feels like you are looking for artists who have both the talent and the ability to work their way into and through a career. Is it a fair assessment to say that it’s an artist development project in the guise of a reality show?
Yes. That’s exactly what it is. That’s why I got rid of that Noah kid. I don’t know how many of the episodes you’ve seen, but at the beginning, there was a kid who was sweet, he looked like he could have been in One Direction. I’m sure he’s talented — not to my particular taste — but he could be American Idol runner-up. He’s the guy that they would pick and he’s the guy I got rid of. I took him in because I didn’t want to be judgmental. That was one of the things — when I picked artists, I didn’t want to just pick artists that I loved; I wanted to pick artists I could help, that I saw something in. And I did see something in Noah and I was hoping that I could get him to a cool, more artistic place that was more honest and more real, and less cliché. It didn’t happen. I could feel it right away and I let him ago.
A lot of people complained. They were like, “Why did you get rid of him? He was the best.” And I was like, “Exactly. Because you are used to those kinds of people. Me? I’m going to give you something better. Stay tuned. Watch and see.” So that’s the whole point. I’m going to get rid of what you’re used to and I’m going to bring in something better — something you should listen to, something you should aspire to. I’m going to raise the fucking bar in this show. And that’s what I feel I’m doing — I’m raising the bar of what people are used to seeing and taking it to another level.
On an episode I saw, you cut through each young artist’s preconceived notions about who they think they are and what their music is, and you help them see who they actually are — musically, if not in other regards, too.
It’s about life, too. It’s not just about music. You can apply… everything that these guys are learning can be applied to life. All the viewers who are watching… you don’t have to be a musician to understand what I’m saying. We get in our way all the time, you know? And you don’t have to be playing guitar to do it.
So true. On the music side of that equation, do you think that is one of the lost arts that a true producer brings to the table?
I don’t know about that. All I know is what I learned. The people that I aspire to were in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s when producers really saw something and they brought it out. They brought out something better. They helped you with your vision. I don’t want to create people for them; I just want to help create their vision. But they have to have the vision. I can’t be doing that part for them, as well. That would be pointless. So that’s what I’m looking for.
I think that the lost art, right now, is the artist being confident that they can do it without all the bells and whistles. And that, to me, is the problem. It’s not the labels. It’s not The Voice. It’s not American Idol. It’s the artist not having the guts or wanting to take the time to explore the possibilities. Everybody is just looking for the fast track. And it doesn’t work that way. And, if it does, it’s only temporary. That’s it. It’s a band-aid. It’s going to fall off.
Even though it’s a case of “you know it when you see it,” how would you describe the intangibles that you’re looking for, that signal a diamond in the rough?
It’s hard. There’s a band on the show right now called Hunter Valentine. I don’t like their name. I don’t even like their music, to be honest. But I like them. And they have so much heart because what has gotten them from here to there has been their drive, not their music. There’s no way. Going and playing the White Party at fucking Dinah Shore Weekend with a bunch of drunk lesbians rushing the stage is not success. That doesn’t mean you’re great. That just means those lesbians are drunk and you guys are cute, you’re dykes, and there’s nothing else out there. You know? But that’s not the world. So, for me, they are so lost in the lesbian world that they don’t even know what they’re missing right now. There’s a bigger world out there and they’re just playing it safe in their little world they created. But, to me, there’s something bigger brewing in them. I like them because of their heart.
So I look for that. I like people who are willing to explore their emotions, who aren’t afraid to just break down and open up. And drive, man… drive is extremely important. You can have the greatest album in the whole world. You could’ve just recorded the greatest album ever made — better than Thriller, better than Tapestry, better than The White Album — and if you have no drive, that record ain’t gonna see fucking daylight. It ain’t gonna see jack shit. It’s going to see your bedroom floor and that’s it.
You have to have a dream. You have to have drive. You have to have heart, passion. And you have to have talent. But, honestly, talent is just a small part of it. All the other stuff is actually far more important.
You said in a recent interview that you don’t feel like you’ve been held back in your career due to being a woman, that you’ve maybe been somewhat impervious to sexism. What do you think it is about you that has pushed through?
I have no idea. I’m not trying to push through. I’m not trying to be anything. I’m just being who I am. And maybe it’s because I don’t give a fuck. Maybe too many people focus on who they are and what people perceive of them. And maybe I just don’t care. So maybe people are holding me back in some way — or have tried — and I just don’t see it because I’m blinded to that kind of negative… um, what’s the word? Not ignorance, not naïve… Give me the word…
Well, it’s almost like you maybe have blinders to it, but in a good way.
Yeah, it’s totally in a good way. I don’t give a fuck. If somebody told me I couldn’t walk in here because I’m gay and a woman, I would say, “Fuck you.” And I would walk in any way. You know? Or I wouldn’t even address it. I would just keep walking. I just don’t care because that kind of way doesn’t deserve any kind of energy given to it. And I think some of the problem has always been that people give way too much energy and power to ignorance. That’s why it sustains.
Absolutely. How do we boost the numbers female producers and engineers in the world?
I don’t know, man. All I know is that it’s something I love. I love being in my studio, geeking out with all my gear. I’m an engineer. I do all my own shit. I record everything. I’m great at it. I love it. I’m here 24/7. I’m very dedicated to what it is that I do. To have success in those areas, you have to work really hard. It takes a lot of work because you have to constantly be educating yourself with new skills — “How do I do this? Oh, I hear a sound in my head; how do I get it?” It’s constant. It’s never ending. I’m exhausted by it. But it’s the only way I know how to be. You know, most people — forget about women — most people just don’t have that kind of stamina or dedication. Or they just really don’t care about it that much.
As far as women, I don’t know what women are doing. I have no fucking clue. All I know is that there’s a bunch of fucking women running around half-naked singing a bunch of crap. You know? So, I don’t know. I don’t know what the women of the world are up to and what they’re thinking, but I wish they’d get their fucking heads out of their fucking assholes and start getting back to when women were strong and actually saying something. That would be a nice thing to see.
It really would. What do you consider your greatest musical accomplishment… so far?
Um… I don’t know if I’ve had that yet. Ask me again in 10 years. I don’t think I’ve had it.
Alright. That’s kind of exciting. You were recently honored by the Save the Music Foundation which helps to preserve music education programs in schools. Where — and who — would you be today if you hadn’t had music to turn to as a kid?
Well, I would still have it because it was like a left arm, it was like an eyebrow, it was like an ear — it was a part of me. I was very lucky, though, to get support because I was horrible in school and the only class I did somewhat decently in was music. But I didn’t know how to read music, so what I was really happy about was that the teacher knew that. But he couldn’t figure out how I was learning the songs because, every day at class, I would know how to play the song, but he knew I couldn’t read music because I couldn’t do the homework. So he finally came to me and was like, “If you don’t know how to read music, how are you learning the songs?” And I said, “I’m listening to everybody else and I’m just picking it up by ear. And I’m figuring it out.” And he was like, “Okay. And you don’t know what any of this stuff says?” “No. I just don’t have that kind of brain. My head doesn’t work that way.” So he gave me a guitar and let me go into this private area. He said, “You can stay in here all day. You can do whatever you want in here. Just, at the end of the day, learn the song.” So I would be in there pretty much all of class and I’d come out and learn the song by listening to somebody play it. And then I would just play it. That would be it.
I felt that was such a wonderful way of teaching. That was a good teacher. He took what I was good at and supported me, whereas nowadays, most teachers are just so ready to correct how you’re doing things wrong. And they are not really supporting what good you are doing and embracing that. Because we’re not all going to be great students. We’re not all going to be great at everything or at the same things. But we do have greatness in other things. We have other qualities that are different from others, and those people need to be shown support. A lot of the time, you don’t get that support. You get written off — “Oh, they’re dumb” or “They need to go to a special class” or “They’re retarded” or blah blah blah blah. There are all these labels for people who just don’t have the same kind of brain as the average kids in class. It doesn’t make them dumb. It just makes them different thinkers.
Speaking of labels… you also support a number of LGBT organizations and causes. The fact that we have to spend so many resources on fighting fights that should be not be fights, like marriage equality and workplace discrimination, is ming boggling. Do you think we’ll ever see a day when people are just people, a day when we can work together on the things that really matter?
I don’t know, man. You’d think that would be the case, but… I don’t know. I feel like everybody keeps the fight because it gives you something to fight for. What if the fight wasn’t there? Would gay people be as proud? Would they be different? Would they be the same? Is it really equality to be the same, to be treated like everybody? Is that what everybody’s looking for or are they looking for something greater? Think about the question. Think about the fight at hand. What, exactly, are we fighting for? To have a piece of paper that says we’re married just like all the other straighties out there that end up in divorces… that beat their wives, that murder their husbands, that abandon their children? Is that what we’re fighting for? Or are we fighting for something greater? Do we want to be the average American straight Christian? No. I don’t. I love being different.
So what are we fighting for, would be my question. Now, we’re constantly fighting for many things. We’re fighting to keep kids in school. We’re fighting to keep music in school. We’re fighting to feed starving children. We’re fighting to stop rape. We’re fighting for HIV. We’re fighting for cancer. We’re fighting for every fucking other new disease that shows up within every five minutes. We’re fighting to live. We’re fighting to keep this planet alive. So which one is greater — the fight to get married or the fight to be alive and stay alive on this planet? I’m not saying anything negative. I’m just saying think about the fight. What are we fighting for? What label do we really want? What label is going to be marked worthy enough for us to have, for gay people to carry? What does that label mean? What does that label look like? What’s the font on it? How big is it? What is it? What is the label we’re looking for?
Same, I guess.
Not for me. But for a lot of folks.
Exactly. But that’s what I’m talking about. What are we fighting for? I know what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting to live on an awesome planet and make sure it’s here for whatever family I leave behind, for my studio, for whatever my legacy is and whatever I’m going for in my life. I’m fighting for a generation, right now, to get some fucking balls and some heart and stop following what they’re seeing on TV — except for my show, of course — and start doing something different. Start bringing something to the table. Start doing something! What are we doing? Is it really all about iPhones, wardrobe, whatever the latest gadgets are, and a fast pace of living? Or shouldn’t we slow it down a bit and observe the environment we’re living in, growing up in, breathing, experiencing, creating, loving, embracing? Don’t we want to slow down a little bit? Because that’s what I’m trying to do — slow the pace down just a tiny bit because I want to enjoy this fucking ride while I’m on it. And the way people are going right now? They are flashing by everything and they’re just going to die and not even know what they fucking were living for. That’s what I’m fighting for.
This article originally appeared on No Depression.