September 30, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Do you think the stripper pole should go near the hot tub? or the lounge?” Linda Perry is playing tour guide inside her palatial ”Hef-style” recording studio in North Hollywood that is nearly finished — minus a pole or two. At 40, she still has the swagger of the rock star she was over a decade ago, from the top of her scraggly mohawked head to the steel-tipped toes of her platform boots. But career-wise, the former frontwoman of the now-defunct 4 Non Blondes has actually undergone one of the most extreme makeovers in recent music history: from washed-up one-hit wonder to Grammy-nominated songwriter and überproducer who has cranked out myriad hits for some of the world’s biggest pop stars, such as Pink, Gwen Stefani, and Christina Aguilera. (In fact, Ms. Aguilera is scheduled to arrive in a few hours to put the finishing touches on the hotly anticipated follow-up to her 2002 smash, Stripped.) ? But on Oct. 11, Perry will be stepping back into the spotlight — and back in time — with the rerelease of her solo debut, In Flight, which was recorded and initially released on Interscope, way back in 1996. ”I know what people will say: ‘There’s Linda trying to reinvent herself,”’ says Perry over a pot of yerba maté tea and an assembly line of Camel Lights. ”But I’m not trying to make some desperate comeback. I just want to give this album a chance.” She bangs her tattooed hands on the table. ”It never got a chance!”

To be 100 percent fair, In Flight did get a chance back then — it just didn’t get off the ground. Years before she would rake in millions for major labels with her behind-the-scenes skills, Perry was an unexpectedly tough solo sell to the masses, who had devoured the widemouthed warbler on 4 Non Blondes’ maddeningly ubiquitous 1993 hit, ”What’s Up.” That single eventually catapulted the San Francisco band’s 1992 debut, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, into a 1.8-million-album success. ”I listen to that girl singing — I can’t even refer to her as me — and I’m just like, ‘Shut the f — – up!”’ Perry says with a raspy wail.

For while the wild-eyed, dreadlocked party girl who stumbled into 4NB in the late ’80s to make noise on stage was doing just that, bellowing to arenas filled with fans, inside she was freaking out that she would never get the artist cred she craved. ”I wanted to play Carnegie Hall,” she recalls dreamily. ”I wanted to sing to people who were all dressed up and sitting down — not just drunks sloshing back and forth.” In late 1994, only a few months into recording their would-be follow-up, Perry split from the band, and Interscope dropped three-fourths of the Non Blondes — keeping Perry to fulfill the group’s multi-album contract.

As Perry set out to record In Flight, a moody, mostly acoustic album, she was determined to be about as Non Blonde as Suzanne Somers. ”I sang every vocal with a guitar in my lap, with my cigarettes, a glass of red wine, some pot, some tequila, and recorded it in what seemed like one long breath,” she recalls. ”It was incredible.”

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