Hit songwriter Linda Perry has faced a lot of challenges in her long career in music, but she recently surmounted one of its biggest hurdles: getting through an hour of her own new daily web talk show without dropping any F-bombs. It was a mandate brought up as a condition of having one of her many celebrity writing collaborators, Dolly Parton, come on her new daily talk show, “What’s Up With Linda Perry,” which runs live at noon PT Monday through Friday on the YouTube channel for her company, We Are Hear.
“Dolly said I couldn’t curse, so I didn’t, and I can’t believe I got through a whole hour without doing it — not lying,” says Perry. “That’s why I needed a moment before going on, because I had to literally own my swear words out of my mouth, because the last thing I want to do is disrespect Dolly Parton.”
“We had a bet that I didn’t think Linda could could make it an hour without cursing, and I lost,” says her We Are Hear partner, Kerry Brown. “I owe the company beer and 16 pizzas. Now that everyone’s working at home, I can’t buy one pizza for everyone, so I have to send 16 different ones. But Linda won.”
“Dolly actually said ‘ass’ and I think ‘damn’ or ‘heck.’ But you know, Dolly is like f—ing Mother Teresa,” Perry says, now that her mouth is freed up. “She’s been doing a lot of things for kids and been donating a lot of money. A lot of kids were going to view the show, and she was more concerned about her audience. And that’s what I love about her. She’s always thinking about her fans, her audience, the people that support her. And that’s what makes her Dolly.”
What makes Linda Perry Linda is a bit more colorful (at least when it comes to language, if not coats). And her daily show is nothing if not candid. When she had Brandi Carlile and her wife Catherine Shepherd on as guests the day before Parton, Perry was open about how the pandemic has thrown her for an anxious loop, and got some coping wisdom from the calmer couple up in Seattle.
“The best that I can do is every time I go live, I’m real. I’m honest. I mean, you’re not gonna find anybody more vulnerable and more transparent on the air anywhere. I go live and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m not gonna lie to you guys. I’m freaking out right now. I was fine yesterday, but today I woke up really depressed and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m not in full control.’ Whatever the topic at hand, I don’t have any agenda.”
Perry was open enough to keeping herself free for the moment to host a first-time reunion on the air of her former band, 4 Non-Blondes. “We hadn’t really talked about when I left the band,” she says. “The four of us together have never had that conversation. I knew there would be be s— coming at me about it, but I don’t care. I can’t protect. I want people to see those sides, you know?” Ultimately, the conversation about the contentious split seemed to just be getting started — with a discussion of how Perry resented the rest of the band resented her throwing herself into the crowd — and they agreed to resume the air-clearing conversation for an upcoming part two.
When it comes to hosting a daily talker, Perry, who considers herself something of a recluse, says, “I’m good at it, oddly. Is it possible, if all of this goes the way we think, that I’m going to be stuck on this f—ing Monday through Friday talk show (indefinitely)? Yeah, it’s probably really possible.”
But she emphasizes that all the other roles she takes as the head of We Are Hear along with Brown haven’t gone away.
“There’s a lot of hats being worn right now,” says Perry, a woman who knows about hats. “There’s the role of a co-founder of the company,” she says, referring to We Are Hear — which, prior to becoming a web channel at the beginning of April, already existed as the brand for Perry’s record label, management company, music publishing company, live events planner, Studio City retail store and even vinyl pressing plant. “There’s the role of a manager that’s trying to figure out how to keep our artists afloat and not freaking out. There’s the role of the person that is partnering with Kerry in doing all these livestreams. There’s the role of the host, and of curating the show. And there’s the role of the mom.”
As Brown explains it, “When we were told to go home like the rest of the world, we sent our employees home with their laptops and Linda and I decided basically just to put We Are Hear online. We started with not much tech — Roland Music Corporation did help us and gave us a little support and some gear — but it was kind of like, just flip it on and go for it. Linda went in and did the first show and it was amazing.” Soon, Matt Pinfield of MTV fame, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and Donita Sparks of L7 were doing their own shows.
Says Perry, “I think the reason why we started a company together is because we both have the same mentality: let’s just get going. You know, this business is a lot of people talking and a lot of waiting, and that’s just not our jam. We don’t do that. So we saw that people needed help. We’re really good at helping; we do great philanthropy. We do great charity events. Our ‘Heaven Is Rock and Roll’ show at the Palladium last year was amazing with (Dave) Grohl putting together the existing members of Nirvana, L7, Marilyn Manson and Cheap Trick. So it’s just our organic nature to just move.
“So when this went down, we just both looked at each other and were like, ‘Let’s go live.’ Without even knowing what that meant,” she laughs. “I just put a camera on and was like, ‘Am I live right now?'” (She was.) “It’s like basically, if you think of a baby, we were running before we even came out of our mama’s womb — that’s basically what it felt like. We just started running, not even knowing what we were running toward, running with, running from, anything.”
Fortunately, as livestreaming has instantly become a primary form of mainstream entertainment, the public has been forgiving of — if not actually welcoming of — seat-of-your-pants programming.
“Then Lzzy Hale said she wanted to do the show, we were super-stoked because she’s a badass,” Brown says, “and she’s got a big social media following. The first time we went live with her, we were switching from one shot to another shot, and I had one of the microphones open, and people could see me too. I was unaware that that computer channel was open and I was doing some work somewhere in the house, and all of a sudden I read one of the manic texts coming in from our team, and I go, ‘Oh, f—… Sorry!’ Then Lzzy goes, ‘Oh, we have some technical difficulties.’ I got off and I was super-embarrassed. After the show ended and was (otherwise) great, I said, ‘Lzzy, I’m so sorry. I can pull that down right now, or edit it.’ She goes, ‘No, leave it up. It’s super rock and roll. You know?’ But if you go back and watch what we’ve done in a month, we’ve gone from the ‘Oh, f—‘ or ‘Is this thing on?’ to a show that’s produced and looking great, but still keeping a cool vibe.”
Brown continues, “People have come to us at this time in human history for a reason, and I really look at everything that we’re doing right now as some kind of archivable moment. Because what we’re going back to is never going to be what we are used to at all. The way that live entertainment is going to be handled, the way that music is going to be delivered, the way that collaborations are going to happen… It wasn’t a gradual segueway like what’s happened through history with music in 10-year cycles. Everything was cut overnight, and it’s a restart. And there’s going to be a lot of s—, and there’s going to be some amazing art across the world, but it’s all being archived. That’s why I liked not trying to take anything down that we’ve done, even if we f—ed it up.”
When Perry had Carlile and Shepherd on her noontime show, the subject was how to keep kids occupied during the lockdown. But the talk inevitably turned to other topics that arise in this historic moment.
“How are you guys feeling?” Perry asked them, once they got past the kid-talk. “I have a lot of anxiety. I’m not going to lie. … I’m used to a certain routine and I’m finding it somewhat hard to navigate through, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve been practicing self-isolation for socializing for my whole life. And so I feel like that part’s easy. But I think what I’m having an issue with is control. I’m a Latin woman, I’m an Aries. I have a lot of fire and I feel I’m out of control, because we don’t know what is going on. And I’m not trying to be political… but when you don’t have the people that are supposed to be running this government having stable reactions and giving us some kind of information that is useful, it’s almost like double — like, not only are we suffering a pandemic, but there’s a whole other virus going on in the White House.”
“My favorite thing about you is how blunt you are,” Carlile responded. “You’re just stream of consciousness and say what’s on your mind and how you feel and it usually comes out really true and you feel that coming from you. And I think that’s perfect, what you just said. I think when things like this happen, you want to believe that there are checks and balances, that it’s foolproof, that there’s an adult in the room. And when you see other countries dealing with it and there is an adult in the room — when you look at Germany and you look at Italy and look at France and you look at these countries that are coping with this issue — you kind of wonder why we don’t have that and why we’re still talking about injecting bleach into ourselves. It’s honestly very upsetting … and, (speaking) as an optimist and a believer in that public manifestation, very temporary. I know that there’s not a vaccination due for a year, but there’s an election due a little bit sooner than that. We can fix that virus.”
Perry has not released a solo album this millennium — she only released one on a major label, in 25 years ago, after splitting with 4 Non Blondes, before going on to what she considered a truer calling as a songwriter and producer in a career that has ranged from Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and Pink’s breakout album to Parton’s recent “Darlin'” soundtrack. But Carlile used some of her airtime on the show to try to goad her into a followup.
“When we first started hanging out,” Perry says, “Brandi said, ‘You need to make an album.’ And I said to her, ‘Okay, if I make an album, you have to produce it.’ You know, I can’t produce myself. I’m too critical, and I wouldn’t know the right choices to make, because I get too self-conscious. And what better person than Brandi Carlile… Now when to do that, that’s a different story. But I’ve been playing a bunch of songs that I wrote for artists that they rejected, and I’m like, ‘You know what? That’s a really great song, and maybe I could do something with that.’ So there’s been the bubbling little viral bumblebee in my ear, buzzing about, okay, maybe it’s possible to actually do an album. Dolly thinks I should. But then when Brandi said it, (it felt like) yeah, everything’s possible.”