Linda Perry Discusses Her LGBT Center Benefit, Xtina, and Songwriting

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Linda Perry was once the explosive, artfully decadent frontwoman of 4 Non Blondes, but she’s since evolved into a megastar of the songwriting community, coauthoring singles with P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and Gwen Stefani. Now, the 48-year-old industry vet is the producer of the fundraiser An Evening With Women, a benefit for L.A.’s Gay and Lesbian Center, that takes place this Saturday and features host Kathy Griffin and performers Ozzy Osbourne, Natasha Bedingfield, and Sia.

We caught up with Perry to discuss her involvement with the Center, making people cry by dropping Christina Aguilera’s name, and being a “wonderful chameleon” of the songwriter world.

The Backlot: You’re producing this event, so I imagine you’re too stressed to be excited about it yet, but what’s your favorite part of the gala?

Linda Perry: For me, I just look forward to the end of the night because we do this thing where we let people know where we’re at, how much money we’ve raised, and it really is awesome because we always make more each year. Everybody gets so excited. I don’t know; it just makes me feel good, like I feel like I have a purpose and there’s a goal we set. To walk on that stage and say, “Hey, we met our goal this year,” and to see the faces of all the volunteers and all the people involved, it really feels good.

TB: How did you get involved with this cause?

LP: This event used to be called the Lace Awards, and it was at the Music Box and I think some other places. They were doing the best they could with what they had, and they invited me a few times. I went to support, and then I think it was the third time I showed up, I thought, “OK. Oh, dear.” Their big thing was, at one point, I think they might’ve raised $30,000 or $40,000. They were really working really, really hard, and they just didn’t seem to be able to get to where they needed to go. I believe at that point they were reconsidering even having the event anymore. On the third time I got involved in showing up, at the end of the night I took the powers that be aside, and I said, “Listen, if you want me to be involved with the things you do — and it seems you do, because you keep inviting me, and I keep showing up — I’m going to have to take this event over.” They just looked at me and were like, “Thank God. We’ve been waiting for someone to do this.” So I made a lot of changes, and that’s how I got involved.

TB: I imagine there’ve been some pretty emotional moments at the gala over the years. What’s your favorite moment?

LP: It’s hard, and this sounds cheesy, but I keep getting a new favorite. But my favorite all-time moment, I believe was when I told them I was taking over — and by the way, I didn’t ask them if I could take over their event. I told them I was taking over their event — I made a lot of changes. They were reluctant about some of the changes, and one was getting rid of the name The Lace Awards. It sounded like a little too much if you know what I mean. They were selling tickets for $40. We’re selling $300 tickets and $15,000 tables. I think we have a couple of $25,000 tables too. That’s a big jump, you know, from where they were. My favorite moment was, on our first committee meeting, I came to the center, and all the volunteers and co-chairs were there. I walked in and said, “OK, for our new year, our first new event we’ll be launching, I want you guys to know that Christina Aguilera has agreed to perform.” Everybody freaked out. For me the equivalent would be if someone told me the Beatles, all of them, including the ones who’d died, were raised from the dead and going to play my birthday party. They were, like, crying. People were crying, screaming. The shock that ran through the center, that’s when I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Every year I walk in and tell them who the lineup is, and it just gets louder and louder and louder.

TB: What’s new on the program this year?

LP: I’ve been trying to get Kathy Griffin for six years. I ran into her at the Clive Davis party, and I didn’t even want to go. I went because I thought, “Something’s going to happen.” I grabbed her and said, “Will you host this year’s event?” When I got a text from her assistant three days later that said she’ll host it, I thought I was literally being punk’d. To have her, I’m so excited. Ozzy will be our first male performer! We’ve always had strong women artists, and I’ve been wanting to open it up. Who better to open it up than the complete opposite, a total madman? I can’t believe Sharon; she’s so generous. I don’t even think Ozzy had a choice. She said, “You’re doing this.” Sara’s been by my side this whole year. She was last year, so this year she’s been even more of a trooper. It just feels exciting.

TB: How is Sara? I think of you guys as an awesome, unexpected, superheroic couple. 

LP: Well, it’s all of everything you just said! [Laughs.] Respecting Sara’s privacy, I will leave you with that.

TB: I’ve always liked how versatile your songwriting is. Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For” does not sound like it was written by the same person as Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Since you’re so skilled at adapting to other performers, I wonder if you’ve ever met anyone else who can adapt to you just as well. Who’s your Linda Perry?

LP: Oh, I’m my own Linda Perry! I do that to myself. I’m a wonderful chameleon. You give me a character, I’ll write it. If you say I want you to be a 47-year-old Hispanic salsa dancer, and you wrote a song on a banjo for your ex-lover that died in a bullfighting ring, I would be able to write that song and play that character. I just love experimenting with music and the voice. Like to me, the voice is an instrument. Just as I would change a guitar and play through a different amplifier, the voice is the same thing. When I work with these women, they’re looking for me to bring out something different in their voice. Because I’m a songwriter and a singer, Christina — she ends up following my demos. So did Alicia Keys. It’s a wonderful thing that I can sing something and then they start following the way I do the phrasing. They want to do things differently too. It’s helpful when someone [sings something], and they can hear it. A lot of producers are not singers. They get a generic singer to come in and sing the song. With me, I’m not the greatest singer, but I have a lot of emotion. That’s what other artists tap into, and it makes them want to create that emotion themselves. Me, I’m just trying to be true to myself, and I love going all over the place. I can sing like an old black man and like a 12-year-old girl. I love that diversity.

TB: What’s exciting to you in music right now? I imagine as someone who readily taps into other styles and voices, not much can ever seem new to you.

LP: What’s exciting in music to me is always the challenge. We go in and out of styles in music, some may say what we’ve been listening to for the past 10 years has been meaningless; some may say it’s the soundtrack of their life. For me, everything is needed. It’s all needed. How would we know good without bad? How do we know left without right? Up without down? I have to say I’m not an angel. I’ve had my moments of asking, “Are you f*cking kidding me? Is that really successful?” But then I catch myself and I bite my tongue and go, “You know what, Linda? Everything is needed.” I just look forward to the challenge of being the best that I can be while I’m here. That goes with everything in life in general.

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