Linda Perry has written songs for the biggest names in music, from Pink to Christina Aguilera. Now, the singer/songwriter is ready to transition into a new musical medium: that of film and TV scoring. Perry came out of the gate swinging, composing the soundtracks for both Soleil Moon Frye’s new Hulu documentary “Kid 90” — which you can exclusively listen to in its entirety below — and Don Hardy’s 2020 documentary about Sean Penn’s work in Haiti, “Citizen Penn.”
Perry said film composition is something she’s always wanted to do, especially as music and visuals go hand-in-hand for her. “It’s my organic next chapter, it’s very obvious that I was going to go in this direction,” she told IndieWire.
Perry is a chameleon, able to change to suit the marketplace. When her career as a performer — most famously for the band 4 Non-Blondes — subsided, she took up songwriting. Now, with the change in musical styles, Perry knew she’d have to adapt again. “Right now I’m not the hip songwriter/producer,” she said. “I totally get that and I know why I’m not. Because I’m not hip.” (But that’s not to say Perry has abandoned songwriting and singing entirely. She recently debuted her first song in 15 years, entitled “The Letter.”)
The interest in composing came to Perry at a young age, with Disney’s “The Jungle Book” being an early inspiration. Later on, she’d gravitate to rock operas like The Who’s “Tommy” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” These days, she finds herself inspired by the dark, Oscar-winning work composer Hildur Guðnadóttir did for “Joker.” “To me, the best type of composers…support the character,” Perry said.
And Perry is supporting two very different types of characters in her documentary work. For “Kid 90” Perry realized the film needed something passing for narration. “When I showed up with that score there was a lot of me singing, like I was filling in the gaps,” she said. “‘Citizen Penn’ I’m just an underscore. I’m creating the vibe underneath the chaos.”
“Kid 90” documents Soleil Moon Frye’s teenage years, which the actress tracked on a near daily basis through home video recordings and voicemails, affected Perry on a personal level. “I’m extremely envious that she has documentation of her past, and the people that were in her life,” Perry said. “I forgot so many important things…You get swept up in a tornado and you don’t know what’s around you. You just land when you land.”
During a specific moment in the documentary when Frye reads a letter she wrote herself as a 16-year-old, Perry was floored. “Where was I when I was 16? I know where I was, I was trying to commit suicide, and doing drugs, and very lost,” she said. So to accompany Frye’s feelings reading that letter, and connecting to Perry’s own personal connection to the material, the composer crafted a song that felt like a mourning cry to accompany it. “It was hopeful yet, deep,” Perry said.
“Soleil was very particular,” Perry said. “She is very stubborn and precise about what it is that she wants.” Perry said she doesn’t like to let others down, and Frye actively challenged her throughout production.
Perry said she’s in heaven while composing, not just because she can foster her own sense of creativity and work with amazing people, but also create something timeless. “There is no lose here,” she said. “If they don’t like it, I just do something else. I am a very creative machine…but the key is when I’m writing here I don’t have to beat what’s on the radio. I don’t have to sound like anybody.” She simply has to embrace the emotions of what the director, producers, and characters create. Perry considers herself the “heartful hum” of a movie.
As Perry transitions into composing, it highlights the lack of women who score film and TV. Perry said she’s supportive of more women entering all industries, but especially composing, and she hopes to push harder for inclusion. “I’m not gonna say I’ve been lucky because I have endured my share of bullshit,” she said. “But I am not an easy pushover.” She said the biggest advice she can give for those entering entertainment is to go in with zero fear.
If anything, there’s hints Perry might be bringing the rock opera back. While not saying anything too specific, Perry said she’s working on a creation in that realm — and here’s hoping it will be just as brash as she is.