If Linda Perry wins producer of the year at the Grammys this week, she will be the first woman to do so. The former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman is the first female to be nominated in the category since 2004, when production team The Matrix (whose Lauren Christy makes up one third of the group) scored a nod.
As the industry begins its busiest week, Perry has teamed up with the Grammy Museum for several panel discussions, including one at this afternoon’s (Jan. 4) A Celebration Of Women And Music focused on mentoring young, female artists. This evening, the superstar producer will also moderate a town hall with friend and collaborator Dolly Parton, who is unveiling her costume exhibit, Diamond In A Rhinestone World. Perry will return on Wednesday (Jan. 6) for a discussion about LGBTQ voices in the music industry.
Billboard caught up with Perry ahead of Grammy week to talk about the gender disparity in the industry, the best advice Dolly ever gave her and who she’s rallying behind in the Big 4 categories: “Who do you think? Brandi Carlile.”
Billboard: You are the first woman to earn a Grammy nomination for producer of the year in 15 years. First of all, congratulations
Perry: Thank you very much.
How do we get more women represented in producing and engineering roles in this industry?
Well, I think more women need to be hired. I think what happens is — I do believe that people are trying to make changes, but you kind of just go to a norm. Like if I have an artist, “I’m thinking about I want Andrew Scheps to mix this album” or “I want Billy Bush to engineer it” — we just go to the norms. We need to make women more of the norm and more the go-tos, but in order to get to that point we have to start recognizing women in those positions by giving them the opportunities to mix your album or engineer it or produce it. And that’s where it gets tricky. I believe like I’m a norm and people do reach out to me but it’s not enough.
I remember losing a gig. A band hired me and then once their fans found out they did, they fired me because they’re like, “What? Linda Perry, pop songwriter-producer is going to do your next album?” And this was a very dude band and I think that they felt their fans and decided that it wasn’t the right thing. It would’ve been a groundbreaking thing if they would’ve done that back then and we would probably be having a different story because it’s getting those bands that we really need to be recognized.
So I think it’s a series of events, it’s not just one thing. We have to allow being open to a girl coming in and engineering your project or producing first. We got to give people a break, a chance, a shot.
With the Times Up movement and renewed discussions about gender equality that are happening now, are you seeing any changes?
It’s not as much change, but what is happening at a more rapid pace is awareness. And in order to change, you have to be aware. People don’t change things that they’re not aware of. Change doesn’t happen there. You have to be aware and then we make the changes. So, right now, [since about] 2016 has been all about awareness. I feel 2019 is time to make changes. I see it everywhere, I see a lot of people grouping together.
The Recording Academy is being very outspoken right now with getting people to stand behind them and commit to hiring a woman in some form in a recording process. Let’s just extend this opportunity out and let’s let it catch fire and run through the business so it becomes the new normal so we can build bigger female names as producers and engineers and mastering and technicians, whatever it is. I feel like the action is happening.
The truth is too — what we really need to focus on is women don’t want to be a charity case or just get hired because she’s a woman. There’s plenty of women that can kick ass and do a great job equal to any other man that’s getting that position, we just need the opportunity to fail. Like if we’re not good, then give me the opportunity to either fail or succeed — but to write women off at the top and not even offer the opportunity? That’s where it’s unfair. Women are not standing up and saying, “Give me the job because I’m a woman.” They’re saying, “Give me the opportunity to show you that I’m good enough.”
What is your advice to young female producers that are looking to get into this industry and shake it up?
You really don’t need anybody to hire you and give you your first chance because the way it’s set up nowadays you can produce in your garage, in your bathroom, in your bedroom because the technology has given us that opportunity. So if I am an artist and I want to make an album and I don’t have any money, well, I’ll download some program and I’ll just start making an album and start learning how to do these things.
Part of what’s awesome right now, the uniqueness in some of these recordings is the lack of experience. The lack of experience and lack of money is getting kids to actually do different things and more creative things. It’s like when you don’t have money to flip your bedroom, you’re going to go, “Okay, I’m going to go to the yard sale or the swap meet and I’m going to figure out with my little budget to make my room look awesome,” and I think you can say that people will relate that sometimes when you have too much money, it can ruin things. Like some people overdo their bedroom and it’s gaudy and it doesn’t have a flow and it’s got no vibe because it’s over the top.
What I would tell these kids is believe in yourself, believe that you don’t have to have experience to record. You just need to be talented and have the drive and motivation to create and be adventurous and think outside the box, and then most of all, you have to be open to fail because when you are open to failing and losing, then you have no fear. And that’s what makes a very unique, original legend artist is when you feel you have nothing to lose — you just go for it.
One of the panels you’re speaking on this week is about the new wave of LGBTQ artists making waves in the industry. Is there a particular artist that you find especially inspiring?
Brandi Carlile is probably my new favorite person in the whole wide world. She’s just been doing it her way for such a long time and I am so happy for her. I mean, it’s as if it’s happening to me. All her Grammy nominations and the awareness and attention she’s getting because this is an artist that has been doing it her way for a very long time. She has credibility like you don’t know. She’s had people like Elton John asking her to go have lunch, but then you have a whole other side that has no idea, that’s never even heard of Brandi Carlile. She’s got credibility. She’s got the important credibility and that’s within your peers and within the industry.
She’s going to get the masses now and she is a great spokesperson for human beings in general; the way she looks at life, the way she talks, the way she is open to people. She has been very proud and very out, has a beautiful family, well-spoken, and extremely talented, and a beautiful storyteller. So right now, I will wave the Brandi Carlile flag as long as I possibly can.
You are moderating a discussion with Dolly Parton at the Grammy Museum to celebrate her exhibit opening, and your Dumplin’ collaboration, “Girl In The Movies,” was nominated for a Golden Globe. What is the best advice Dolly has given you?
Dolly is, besides Brandi, another one of my most favorite people. Dolly is a big, big ray of sunshine and she makes sure that her shine gets on each and every little part of your body. She lifts people. She’s such a positive, beautiful person and she never even has to say a word. Like when I’m with her, her energy just changes my perspective. It calms me down. I call her all the time just to say “hi” because I know she’s going to lift me or she’s going to say exactly what I need to hear.
What’s funny about her is that her sayings are so old-school. She said something to me that is almost cheesy, but she’s like, “Just let the chips fall where they fall,” but when she does it, it’s in her country accent.
It sounds silly but when you really digest it and really consume and absorb what that means, it’s really a very, very big lesson of letting go of control and not controlling other people. It’s “let it go.” If it goes that way, if it fell it’s supposed to fall and chances are, it fell for a reason. And so, I’ve been living like that. I’m an Aries and I’m impatient and I’m a very micro-managing, controlling person, so I’ve been living that lifestyle and I feel the difference in me, just letting go. You’re right, you’re fucking right, Dolly Parton. You’re right.
I have a feeling where you’re going to go with this but, with the Grammys this week, who are you rooting for in the Big 4 categories?
Who do you think? Brandi Carlile. And you know what? I’m rooting for her because to me she’s the one that actually wrote a really great song, something that I can hear 15 years from now. I’m not saying the other nominees are not good at all, but when I was voting, I was just closing my eyes, listening to every artist with equal opportunity
By the way, I discovered her new album from being on the board. Like, that’s how I first listened to it — so when her song “The Joke” came on, I was like, “Holy fuck.” I wasn’t expecting it. I had gotten moved. It was like — have you seen Monster? Charlize Theron’s performance in that movie gave me chills. It moved me and I haven’t been moved like that in a very long time. And then when I heard “The Joke” come on and we listened, everybody in that room listened all the way through. It was obviously the song, this was a song. It was a no-brainer to me. It was a no-brainer.
I believe 100 percent in her album and I think just having all these nominations are amazing. It’s up to us to decide if winning or losing is better or worse, you know what I mean? That part is not the most important — it’s all the awareness the nomination brings is the thing that you have to walk home with. I know so many people right now are probably going, “Who the fuck is Brandi Carlile?” And that to me is exciting because who she is: she’s about to change the game. She’s going to help redesign 2019 on a musical level.