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Interview: Linda Perry

Linda Perry
25 April 2021

As the frontwoman for 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry had her first hit with the 1992 single “What’s Up” – but that was only the first of many chart-topping songs that she has written. During the past three decades, Perry has established herself as one of the most successful songwriters in the rock and pop realms, penning megahits for P!nk (“Get This Party Started”), Christina Aguilera (“Beautiful”), Gwen Stefani (“What You Waiting For?”), and dozens more. This year, Perry expanded her credentials even more, venturing into film composing with Kid 90, a documentary that actress Soleil Moon Frye made about her life (currently streaming on Hulu). Calling from her California home, Perry discusses this latest development in her career – and looks back on everything else she’s accomplished.

How did you decide to sign on to compose for Kid 90?

LINDA PERRY: Soleil [Moon Frye] gave me a call and sent me early clips of the film that wasn’t even done. It was just a 15-minute rough version of it, and it was really cool. First of all, I was impressed that at such an early age, she had already started this journalistic POV. She was thinking way ahead to document all this content of her growing up with all these friends, and the problems they were having just living. Being a child actor, you go through a lot of things. It’s not a normal life. So I immediately jumped in. I was like, “Yes, I want to do this.” She originally wanted ‘90s style music but once I started getting the footage, I started creating this whole other kind of vibe, and she ended up loving it and was very complimentary and gave me good insight on where to go and how certain scenes needed certain tones. I loved it. It was an amazing experience.

Did you find that having to write to visuals changed the way you approach your songwriting?

LINDA PERRY: Actually, this felt more organic for me. I feel that this is my path. I’ve always written from a visual point of view. In my younger years, I really listened past the actor and listened to the score. I was always focusing on the score. I could tell a bad one and I could tell a good one. A good one plays a supporting role. A bad one gets in the way and you notice it. So I always gravitated toward doing this, and it just was going to be a matter of time of when I was going to make the switch. Then I sent it out into the universe: “Okay, I’m ready to make the switch.” And it just started coming to me. I think most people manifest everything that happens in their life. I believe the universe wants to give, and if we ask very clearly what it is that we want, I believe that we receive exactly what we want.

Your song “The Letter” on this soundtrack is especially powerful. How did you write that one?

LINDA PERRY: At the end of the movie, a sixteen-year-old Soleil wrote a letter to her older self. And in that letter, it’s expressing, “I hope you find happiness, love, you have friends, you’ve made great leaps and you’ve navigated yourself to where you want to be in life.” So she’s reading the letter [in the film], and I just wrote the score that would go under there and it was emotional. Because I thought, again, “How incredible that she actually wrote herself a letter.” This woman was thinking way ahead and was so deep in herself, leaving little breadcrumbs for herself throughout her whole life. That was very emotional. To me, it speaks a lot to myself. I really relate to the song. It’s my story, as well. And I find it extremely beautiful. I’m actually really proud of myself for writing the song, and I think it fits in there with one of my top songs I’ve written, for that reason, for the emotional content of it.

How did you learn to write like this?

LINDA PERRY: It’s not learning, I guess. I don’t know. Who knows where that shit comes from, really. I started very early, plucking at the guitar. When I was six or seven years old, anytime I approached an instrument, I never approached it like a six-year-old kid banging on a piano. I always approached it trying to find a melody. As far as I can remember, I never was one of those kids, like you give a kid a guitar or a piano and they just start going bang bang bang – I never did that. I would be very thoughtful in my approach. And I would be very respectful, for some reason. I honored the instrument. I’m not too sure why or how that happened. It just is something that I was gifted at a very early age. And then I just started writing, and I never looked at it as something special that I was going to be doing. It was just something that I did.

When did you actually start writing your own songs?

LINDA PERRY: I started writing actual songs when I was fifteen [years old]. It could have been earlier, but that’s just the time I remember. At sixteen, I was joining bands and I was playing guitar and I was actually really good. And I can play bass. I didn’t know I could play bass until this band, the bass player didn’t show up for practice, and I just started playing bass. Then I was able to play all the songs. That was an all-girl band that played cover tunes. And then I got kicked out of the band because I was too young, and also, they said I couldn’t sing. And then I joined another band, and they did ‘80s covers, as well. I played keyboards and guitar in that band. And then they kicked me out because I couldn’t sing. Which is very interesting. So I thought, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be a singer. No big deal.” Then I started writing my own songs. My brother was in this really great metal band in San Diego, very popular in the city. And I was going to do this talent show, and I asked my brother’s band to do the talent show with me. I wrote this song called “Pity Girls,” and it was all about girls being depressed and committing suicide. And I did a cover version of Joan Jett’s “Do You Want to Touch Me.” And I was great singing my songs. So when I moved to San Francisco, then it hit me – I think I was 21, and I was like, “Oh, okay, I’m going to be a rock star.” And then my journey began. I think I got signed when I was 24 or 25.

What do you think it is about your music that has made it connect to strongly with people?

LINDA PERRY: I fucking don’t know – I ask myself that all the time. I know that I’m different. I’m a very unique little character. I have my quirks. I’m very obsessive. I’m a workaholic. I am a great mom. I’m a great friend. I could work on being a better daughter. I could work on my relationships better. I’m 100% raw energy all the time. I don’t know how to fake something. I don’t know how to tell a lie. I am honest with my emotions. And so I think it transfers into my music. I’m very honest. I’m a very emotional person. I can only be that way. Now, I can’t write a hit every single month. And maybe not every year. But when I do write a song that resonates, it carries the weight of a regular person’s ten hits. My songs stand and they walk slowly for years. And they will survive throughout the years, throughout the decades. That’s one thing I’ve noticed, is that when I do write a song, that baby soars, and it stays in the air a very, very long time.

When you put so much of yourself into your songs, does it ever feel weird hearing Someone Else singing it, though?

LINDA PERRY: Sometimes. I think that these are the decisions you have to make. Like, when I worked with Christina [Aguilera], I made the decision right then and there, I wasn’t going to be an artist anymore. Even after I did the P!nk album, I was teetering, like, “Maybe I’ll go be an artist.” Because I’m a damn good one. I’m a great singer. I write great songs. I have a really cool style. And I work hard. So I could have had a very successful career as an artist. But when I was working with Christina, in my mind, I knew I couldn’t do both. It would take too much out of me to try to do both. So I made the decision that I would be a collaborator and work with other people and help them find their emotions and dig a little deeper. I mean, I have so many songs that I couldn’t give to people because I have a very unique style, the way I sing. And there are a lot of songs that, to me, are massive hits. But it probably could only be that with me because of the way I deliver. There’s a lot of songs I couldn’t give to somebody because it just wouldn’t make sense for them to sing it. What [“The Letter”] has done for me is, releasing this song has made it more clear that I should start releasing more music and get the songs out there. Because, hey, I’m not going to go tour. I’m not going to be running around in leotards and showing my belly and wearing a lot of makeup and trying to be a rock star. I’m going to be Linda: I’m going to release some music. And wherever that goes, it goes. I’ll support it the best that I can. I will admit that it does feel good to have a song out there that I really fucking love.