I’ve only met Linda Perry once, and it was for no more than two or three minutes last January at NAMM. I had stopped in to a fourth floor Hilton ballroom for the annual Producers & Engineers Wing lunch, hosted by Maureen Droney as a means of bringing together the manufacturing and creative communities to address legislation, philanthropy, standards and all kinds of issues related to professional audio.
I walked around the room, greeting longtime friends, and spotted producer/engineer Rafa Sardina a few bodies away. He was going to be sitting for the March cover of Mix the following week, so I went over to thank him and see if everything was set. As I squeezed past EveAnna Manley and Phil Wagner, I saw that Rafa was chatting with a woman and showing pictures from his phone. I waited, and I thought to myself, “She looks familiar. I’m pretty sure that’s Linda Perry…”
More on Linda Perry: The Indomitable Linda Perry, by Robyn Flans
I leaned in during a pause and said to Rafa, “So, you excited to be on the cover of Mix? Are we all set up?” We did the one-arm man hug, and he assured me that he was excited and all was good. At which point, the woman he was talking to, standing no more than five feet tall in a taut, strong frame with a tall hat and tattoos from head to toe, looked right at me and said, “When am I gonna get my cover, Tom?” Her smile was wry and wide, her eyes large and open and penetrating. It was both charming and disarming at the same time. I simply said, “Whenever you agree to sit down for an interview, Linda.”
Walking away, I figured it was 50-50 whether the cover ever happened. I also realized that I knew next to nothing about her.
Fast-forward to April, and I get a call from Lisa Roy. The cover story is on. Linda wants to do it. It was time to do some more research, something beyond what I knew about 4 Non Blondes, Pink, Christina, Gwen, Adele and all the others. I had figured that she was a hitmaker for pop stars, a songwriter and producer who could put an artist over the top and bring fans streaming by the millions. Yes, she has done that, but no, no, no. That’s not her, as you will find out in Robyn Flans’ excellent cover story.
In editing the interview, I kept bouncing back and forth between the serious, industry-insider Linda who starts labels and loves to sit at the board and play with sound, and the rebellious Linda who has no problem speaking her mind to the industry and record label powers that be (typically male) or an artist who seems a little too comfortable with compromise. As she says near the end, “I’m the one you want on your side if you’re going to war. I’m not that good at peace.”
She’s talking about rock and roll, about truth in music and artists who are willing to take risks. As I said, I only met her for a few minutes in person, but I can’t help but think that some of that spirit comes from her formative years in San Francisco from the mid-‘80s to mid-‘90s. I moved to the Bay Area in 1985. Believe me, it was a happening place at a happening time, with the emergence of the first wave of Tech and the first hints of affordable synths and samplers. Along with plenty of rock.
“It was a time of experimentation, the first real democratization of recording,” says Leslie Ann Jones, an engineer at the Automatt during the time. “There was a real sense of independence and freedom, with the freedom to explore and not be typecast. There was certainly a shifting narrative toward female empowerment.”
“There was definitely a scene at the time, with local bands like The Contractions and D’Cuckoo, June Millington and a lot of others,” adds longtime friend and former Mix editor Linda Jacobson. “Not just LGBT. It was vibrant in the clubs everywhere—South of Market, the Mission, the Haight, Broadway. To a lot of people, that spirit and edge proved something of a precursor to what would become grunge in Seattle.”
I’m sure that much of Linda Perry’s independent spirit was there at birth, along with her musical ear. But for a young rocker coming of age and finding a voice, San Francisco was a good place to be. I think she’s done all right.