NEW YORK —
Linda Perry is still trying to get used to being an artist again.
After spending more than a decade comfortably in the background as the uber-producer and songwriter behin hits for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and others, she's now fronting the duo Deep Dark Robot.
She hadn't made a video in 15 years, and she's still warming up to the idea of doing interviews. When booking the tour for her new band, she asked for the smallest venues.
But the 45-year-old Perry is clearly relishing her second chance in front of the microphone.
"I want to be an artist in this. What happens next year, I don't know, but this year, I want to focus on it because I need a break from the studio, I need to be outside," Perry said during a recent interview in a New York restaurant. "I need to be talking to people. I've been cooped up for a very long time, and I'm a big personality."
Everything about Perry screams rock star, from her tousled brunette hair to the tattoos that adorn her body and even her face, to her blunt, occasionally coarse talk. But she's lived the rock-star life from the background as the person behind songs like Aguilera's "Beautiful" and Pink's "Get the Party Started."
She did have a taste of pop success as the leader of the '90s group 4 Non Blondes. But the group was a one-hit wonder, never duplicating the success of "What's Up," and later disbanded.
Perry then flirted with a solo career. But she truly flourished when a young singer named Alecia Moore sought her out. The result was her work on Pink's breakthrough album, "Missundaztood."
"Alecia gave me like my big break. I was more interested in producing, not songwriting ... but I write music. I mean, that's just what I do," she said.
Perry went on to write for Aguilera ("Beautiful"), Stefani ("What Are You Waiting For") and Alicia Keys ("Superwoman").
She also started Custard Records, which had its greatest success when it signed an unknown British singer named James Blunt.
The imprint released Blunt's multiplatinum debut album, "Back to Bedlam," which included the No. 1 hit "You're Beautiful."
"(He went) to pretty much every label with 'Back to Bedlam,' and every label passed on it," Perry recalled.
Perry's innate music talent and instincts have made her one of the most popular producers in pop music. But she grew tired of people coming to her for a quick pop hit.
"Some of the artists are so controlled by their labels and management and are so lost that I can't work with them," said Perry, who insists on meeting every performer before she works with them.
But her unhappiness had more to do with Perry, not her work. She started to feel like she was going through the motions, and "that's not me — that's not my style."
"I stopped doing production actually a little while ago," she said. "I hadn't been happy with some of the stuff I was doing. I thought it sucked."
Perry started flirting with the idea of working in a band — something she never thought she'd do again. She came up with the name Deep Dark Robot and knew it would be a great band name. Then she found a great partner: Tony Tornay, drummer for Fatso Jetson, and one of Perry's close friends.
It took a while before any actual material came from their musical relationship.
"I started a million bands with my friends that have never actually done anything ... people get busy. She has her day job and she was busy working with other people, and I have another band that I play in, and I do photography as well," Tornay explained.
The creative spark for Perry was love. She fell hard for a woman who wasn't gay, but enjoyed her friendship. It was basically unrequited love, and Perry ended up with a broken heart.
"It was very brief, but it was like an impact, this person, and she ended up being a muse for the record," Perry said. "So we called it '8 Songs About a Girl.'"
The record has a raw rock sound that is gritty and unpolished — not by design — but Perry loves the end product. Although she has a plush multimillion-dollar studio, it didn't get much use for "8 Songs About a Girl."
"I set up mics and we recorded. I didn't go into producer mode, I just made it sound OK," she said. "The record started out to be demos ... but it was so good, we're like, 'there's no way we're going to rerecord this; the demos are the album.'"
They've taken the same grass-roots approach to the entire project.
Perry said the videos were shot for $3,000, while the album cover was shot on an iPhone camera.
"Everything that we've done has come really naturally to us so far, and the second that things get complicated, it just doesn't feel right," Tornay said.Comment on this story
The album was released in March. They have already recorded material for a covers CD and are planning other EPs. They've been on tour for the last month with a full band, playing club dates, but Perry hopes to build their audience over the next year or so.
Which means those pop artists looking for the Linda Perry treatment will have to go elsewhere.
While she's got a few side projects she's still working on, Perry has basically closed up shop as a producer — for now.
"I'm focused on this — this is where I'm supposed to be," Perry said. "Something extremely over-the-top special would have to show up to take my attention off this. ... This is where my heart is."