What would you say if someone told you Linda Perry, the unforgettable voice behind 4 Non Blondes’ 1992 hit “What’s Up?,” has become one of the hottest producers in pop music? Perhaps, in her words, “Hey, what’s goin’ on?” It’s a behind-the-boards comeback, that’s what, and all the one-hit wonders are doing it.
Find it hard to believe Perry co-wrote and produced several songs on Pink’s Missundaztood, including the title track? Or that she’s behind upcoming projects from Christina Aguilera (see “Christina Aguilera: Not Your Puppet”), Solange Knowles and Courtney Love?
Consider that Deep Blue Something’s Todd and Toby Pipes, of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” fame, have recently logged studio time with fellow Texas rockers Flickerstick and the much heavier Drowning Pool. And that Meredith Brooks, the self-proclaimed “Bitch” of 1997, is producing Jennifer Love Hewitt’s highly anticipated Jive Records debut.
They are the artists behind some of the most memorable hits of the last decade, and they are suddenly getting back on that track, only in a truer sense of the word “behind.”
Perry is so intent on staying behind the scenes, she declined to be interviewed. Other artists-turned-producers, however, did offer insight into the emerging trend.
“Artists make good producers in many ways,” Toby Pipes said. “We relate with the artist and know what they are going through with labels, management, road problems and songwriting.”
Matthew Wilder, who had a hit in 1983 with “Break My Stride” and later produced No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom as well as tracks for Aguilera, 98 ° and Natalie Imbruglia after failing to score another solo smash, agreed that understanding the challenges artists endure is invaluable.
“My experience,” Wilder explained, “gave me the gift of insight into what it is to navigate through unimaginable disappointments, fighting every inch of the way for what you believe in…. My experience as a recording artist allows me the sensitivity and perspective of young musicians who are on a similar quest and affords me a vocabulary to be able to speak to their respective needs, frustrations and desires.”
Artists also bring with them a proven ear for hits, name recognition and studio experience.
“Most artists have had the chance in their careers to work with a ton of great producers in great studios with great engineers, so over time you learn a lot from the best people in the business,” said Pipes, who is producing up-and-comers Crash Vinyl, Hi Fi Drowning and John Price. “We have had the chance to work with some fantastic people over the years, and hands-on experience with the best is priceless.”
“When I met her,” Aguilera said of Perry earlier this year, “she showed me how to sing from a different place. It’s an incredible release to scream like that.”
Artists becoming producers is hardly a new concept. Veterans like Brian Eno (Devo, U2) and Steve Albini (the Pixies, Helmet) were in bands – Roxy Music and Big Black, respectively – long before they became sought-after producers. It’s the idea that artists are overcoming one-hit-wonder status by producing that is novel.
Don Was was ahead of the game when he started producing full-time (he had dabbled in it before) for Glenn Frey and Bonnie Raitt just a few years after his group Was (Not Was)’s big hit, 1988’s “Walk the Dinosaur.” But his star has even been re-energized in recent years, thanks to his work producing the latest Barenaked Ladies and Black Crowes albums.
Both Pipes, who has long recorded Deep Blue Something’s material with his brother, and Wilder said becoming producers was not a conscious decision.
“Once it became evident that my recording career had run its course, I had to find other ways to continue creating music, for it’s what I know, what I do and what I love,” said Wilder, who is producing newcomers Dana Glover, Mercy Street and Benny Cassette.
Wilder considers the move from artist to producer a natural step in the evolution of a complete musician. “I never considered myself having left the scene,” he said. “It’s not about getting back, it’s about moving on.”
Deep Blue Something and Brooks are moving on too, though unlike Wilder, they are taking advantage of the increased exposure from producing by moving on as artists. Deep Blue Something’s self-titled third album was released last year, while Brooks’ Bad Bad One is due in May.
“If people are digging what you are doing to help other people, they might dig or have more of an open mind toward what you are doing yourself,” Pipes said.
And Deep Blue Something would be glad to tap into some of Drowning Pool’s audience. Really.
“Todd and I grew up on a lot of different styles of music, starting with Simon and Garfunkel, then Black Sabbath, then Iron Maiden, then David Bowie, then Joy Division, then on to the Smiths and Stone Roses, and Bauhaus, so somewhere in there we were influenced by the rock.”