As the lead singer of 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry enjoyed a top-five hit in the United States and Britain with the anthemic folk-rock song “What’s Up?” in 1993. During the recording of the band’s sophomore album, Perry abruptly left the group out of disdain for the mainstream success it had found. In the wake of Perry’s departure, the group broke up and its album was shelved; to music fans, 4 Non Blondes was relegated to “one-hit wonder” status. Although her subsequent recorded and live work was appreciated by a core audience, Perry herself seemed destined to share the same status as her former group. She released two albums in the 1990s, In Flight and After Hours; although neither got much commercial attention, Perry insisted that her artistic credibility outweighed album sales. In 2001 the singer emerged as a record producer with duties on Pink’s Mlssundaztood and on the second album by pop sensation Christina Aguilera.
Linda Perry was born on April 15, 1965, and grew up as the youngest of seven children in Boston, Massachusetts, and later in San Diego, California. The music played in the Perry household was eclectic. Her father liked jazz, show tunes, and pop standards; her mother favored Brazilian music; and her siblings listened to rock ‘n’ roll. Perry not only picked up her wide range in music appreciation from her family, but also her inspiration to make a stab at playing music. As she recalled in a February 2000 interview in Lesbian News, “My family, they are definitely not an ordinary family.… My brother played guitar. I’d spy on him, listen, and try to figure out what he was playing. Then I’d mimic and play what he did. Once I got older, I tried to play everything.” Taking her natural ability for granted, Perry did not immediately aim for a career as a musician until she turned 18. Moving to San Francisco in 1987, Perry began writing her own songs and singing on the local club scene.
After a couple of years in San Francisco, Perry was fairly well known by local music fans and other Bay Area musicians. When a slot opened up in the group 4 Non Blondes for a lead singer around 1990, Perry was invited into the band. She quickly became the driving force in 4 Non Blondes; tattooed and dreadlocked, Perry’s visual impact was memorable, and her voice, reminiscent of Janis Joplin, was distinctive. After securing a recording contract, 4 Non Blondes’ debut Bigger, Better, Faster, More? proved a regional success at first. Once the video for the single “What’s Up?” hit MTV in early 1993, the album became a nationwide hit. Written by Perry, “What’s Up?” eventually climbed into the top five on Billboard’s Hot 100 and on the British pop charts. Bigger, Better, Faster, More? sold about six million copies worldwide.
Pegged as the kooky lead singer of a pop-rock band, Perry was profoundly unhappy with the mainstream
For the Record…
Born on April 15, 1965, in Springfield, MA.
Recorded with 4 Non Blondes, early 1990s; released solo album, In Flight, 1996; released second album, After Hours, 1999; produced album for pop singer Pink, 2001.
Addresses: Website —Linda Perry Official Website: http://www.lindaperry.com.
success of 4 Non Blondes. When the group entered the recording studio for its follow-up effort to Bigger, Better, Faster, More?, Perry announced that she was leaving the group even though they were in the middle of recording her songs. As she told Billboard in August 1996, “It sounded like a 4 Non Blondes record. I wrote stupid, poppy songs that probably would’ve been hits. But I didn’t want to do that.” While the breakup was a bitter one, Perry reflected, “I just felt it was time to move on and go in my own direction. I felt that I wasn’t going to get any more inspired being in that same relationship.”
Perry enlisted the help of the team of musicians that played on Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club for her first solo album, In Flight. The album drew on Perry’s own eclectic musical tastes and resulted in a work that was hard to categorize as either folk or rock. A Q review welcomed the 1996 release as “an alluring sound, like passion in a dream or, indeed, a hangover,” while an Advocate columnist praised its “thoughtful arrangements, introspective lyrics, compelling sounds, and mature performances” as an advancement on Perry’s work with 4 Non Blondes. A People review concluded that the album was “Too deep, perhaps, to rule the top 20.… But in this era of angry young women with jagged little pills, Perry stands out because she turns her ugly experiences into such beautiful music.”
In Flight was also frank in referring to Perry’s sexual orientation, which had made her an icon in the lesbian community. Appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote In Flight, Perry’s guitar had two controversial words scrawled on it. She refused to use another guitar for the appearance and the show’s producers allowed her to go on without censoring the words. “I thought they were going to completely avoid showing my guitar and shoot from really far back, but they were right on it, they were on my face, everything. I don’t know what they wanted—they were just trying to push my buttons,” she later recalled in a January 1997 interview with Lesbian News.
In 1994 Perry announced that she was starting her own record label, Rockstar Records, to gain exposure for Bay Area bands. Two of the first bands to sign on to Perry’s label were Stone Fox and 2 Lane Blacktop; Perry also produced Stone Fox’s debut. Perry subsequently used Rockstar Records to release her second solo album, After Hours, in 1999. She made the album available on digital audio format as well through the Liquid Audio website. “I was sick of writing music for men in suits,” she told Red Herring magazine in December 1999. “I wanted to go back to writing for myself and my fans. I built my own recording studio, started my own label, and decided to use the Internet to sell my records.” Although the distribution of After Hours was innovative, the album’s content brought Perry back to the mainstream. As a Q review noted, “After Hours edges towards Sheryl Crow territory: nothing too radical or groundbreaking, just powerful rock songs with boomerang melodies and plenty of emotional energy.”
In contrast to her days with 4 Non Blondes, Perry took a new perspective on fame. “I’m here because I want to be,” she told Lesbian News in February 2000. “Now I want to be famous again.” She continued, “Sometimes you have to set up the groundwork to stay where you want to stay. You have to be stable first. There are compromises to be made. There’s no bending. I have a new thought. I’m going to go out there because I want to be famous. If you want to be famous, you can.” After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Perry found more satisfaction in quieter past times than during her days as a regular on the San Francisco club circuit. “I love being home,” she told Lesbian News. “I play with my dogs. I love being with my girlfriend. I love playing pool, smoking cigarettes, sitting by the fire.”
In 2001 Perry’s career took a surprising turn when she was contacted by one of her fans, singer and rapper Pink, who was looking to collaborate with her as a writer and producer. As Perry related to the San Francisco Chronicle, “I told her, I’m not hip at all. I make low-fi, garage-sounding classic rock records.’ She said, ‘I know—that’s what I want.’ I said, This is crazy—I’ll bite.’” The result was a critical and commercial success for Pink, who scored a top-ten pop hit with “Get the Party Started” in late 2001 and another hit with “Don’t Let Me Get Me” in early 2002. Perry also went into the studio as a producer for Christina Aguilera, who was working on a follow-up to her Grammy Award-winning debut. “There’s not a trace of Christina Aguilera on these songs,” Perry told Rolling Stone about the project. “I know she’s got to do something incredible to survive. People have been waiting for her record, and she’s got an amazing voice on her. The trick with her is to get her to use it differently.”
While Perry was helping a new generation of singers find their own voices, she also reflected on how her experiences had helped her develop her talent. As she told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’m 36 now. It took me ten years to learn how to be diplomatic. I never even knew what the word meant until a few years ago. People used to say that—‘Can’t you be a little more diplomatic?’—and I’d say, This has nothing to do with politics.’”
In Flight, Interscope, 1996.
(Contributor) The Crow: City of Angels (soundtrack), Hollywood, 1996.
After Hours, Rockstar, 1999.
With 4 Non Blondes
Bigger, Better, Faster, More?, Interscope, 1992.
Advocate, September 17, 1996, p. 81.
Billboard, November 19, 1994, p. 53; August 3, 1996, p. 10.
Lesbian News, January 1997, p. 24; February 2000, p. 28.
People, September 9, 1996, p. 23.
Q, September 1996; December 1999.
Rolling Stone, February 20, 2002.
San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 2001.
Linda Perry Official Website, http://www.lindaperry.com (April 10, 2002).
Red Herring, http://www.redherring.com/mag/issue73/magnonblonde-73.html (April 10, 2002).
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