Asked what she plans to cover in her keynote speech for the Vancouver International Film Festival’s upcoming AMP conference, and Linda Perry gives an answer that suggests, for some folks, honesty is indeed the best policy.
“Oh my God,” the songwriting legend and alt-rock alumni says, on the line from home in Los Angeles. “Disclaimer needed—I have no idea what I’ll be talking about or saying.”
Based on a half-hour interview with the Straight, it’s not like Perry will find herself short of things to discuss. The 56-year-old icon covers a wide-range of territory over the call, speaking colourfully on everything from not forcing the creative process to the importance of honesty in the often-dishonest industry known as the music business.
VIFF’s Amp component exists of course as a place for creatives to discuss and dissect things like scoring films, landing songs in movies and trailers, and the tricks of navigating the music side of the movie industry. This year’s keynote is billed as a one-on-one conversation, with Vancouver-based Jane Aurora, musician and producer, asking the questions. As for Perry, she’s in a better position than most to offer guidance and insights.
She first achieved lift-off as the frontwoman of 4 Non Blondes, which rode the grunge-soul anthem “What’s Up?” to multiplatinum status in the early ’90s alternative boom. Right around the turn of the millenium, Perry shifted her focus to songwriting for others, promptly piling up a string of hits that gave her instant hotshot status. If you ever sang along to “Get The Party Started” by P!nk or “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, then you know and love her behind-the-scenes work.
Since then, Perry has written for everyone from Gwen Stefani and Alicia Keys to Lisa Marie Presley and Unwritten Law. She also moved into producing and, most recently, has started composing for film. It’s the latter that has her totally stoked today. She’s collaborated with Dolly Parton on 2018’s Dumplin’, Bono on 2020’s Citizen Penn, and Soleil Moon Frye for this year’s documentary Kid 90. And Perry is happy to report that the transition to film work has been seamless.
“Dating way back, to when I started in the 4 Non Blondes band, I’ve always been drawn to composing,” Perry says. “But it never felt like the right time. Life is like that—sometimes it’s the wrong time, and sometimes it’s the right time. And when it’s the right time, it’s go time. So I said to myself ‘It’s go time, because I really want this because I’m done with what I’m doing.’ So I started focusing on it, got the Citizen Penn documentary, and then the Kid 90 documentary. I’m so excited about this next part of my journey.”
Film work is, she notes, different from being in a band. And different from songwriting, which, in the pop world, she sees as being increasingly about proven formulas that tick the right boxes for streaming services.
“When you’re scoring, you’re working with a team with a vision,” Perry says. “I get to come in and emotionally support the story, and I get to do it with as heavy a hand, or as light a hand, as I want. You can go big, or go small, but in the end you go with what you feel is right. That can be me playing one note on the mandolin, or it could be an orchestra. The winner is whatever supports the emotions you’re seeing in a scene.”
While collaboration is a huge part of filmmaking, so is having a vision, whether you’re the director or the composer.
“I’m not easily intimidated because that shows weakness and not being confident,” Perry opines. “In order to be in this business you have to be confident. You have to have fucking balls and be able to be convincing.”
That confidence should not, however, be mistaken for arrogance. In fact, just as important as being confident, Perry says, is being able to show vulnerability.
“I don’t intimidate easily,” she offers. “It’s actually the opposite where I find people are very intimidated by me, and I think that’s because of my confidence. And my vulnerability as well. Vulnerability is not weakness—there’s a strength in not being afraid to show your emotions.”
And, suggesting that Perry might actually have a pretty good idea what she’ll be talking about in her AMP keynote speech, she’s got plenty more advice for those looking to break into the business of marrying music and movies.
“As you get older, and as you click back, you’ll see a series of moments in your life where you didn’t listen to your instincts or trust them,” Perry says. “You didn’t feel confident enough to go with whatever this thing inside of you was telling you to do. There are a series of moments that I can reflect back on and go ‘Okay. I could have done that. And, fuck, I could have done that too.’ There were numerous times I veered off course when I wasn’t listening to my gut feeling.
“The thing is, we all get to discover ourselves,” she continues. “Where I am right now, it may have taken me a little longer to get here, but I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. That’s the part I’m really happy about. I don’t know if I’m ending where you want me to, but the point is that I’ve listened to my gut for a while now, and continue to follow my instincts. And that’s what’s going to lead you to where you want to be.”
Linda Perry gives VIFF's Amp keynote speech this Friday (October 8) at 2 p.m.