For actress Soleil Moon Frye, music is inextricably linked with her experiences growing up in the 1990s.
Early on, Frye took stock of her upbringing as a child actress, keeping a diary from the age of just 5, later utilizing audio recording and video cameras to document the lives of her and her famous friends at a time prior to the advent of camera phones when recording every moment wasn’t ubiquitous in the way it is today in the time of social media.
In the new Hulu coming of age documentary Kid 90, Frye utilizes all of those materials in the telling of a story that defines both time (the 90s) and place (Los Angeles and New York), directing a uniquely rare look back defined by the film’s unflinching honesty.
The documentary explores relatable topics like friendship, love, loss, death, acceptance and moving on, addressing the importance of having an open and honest conversation about mental health that’s free of stigma.
Music plays a major role. Artists like Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and House of Pain rapper Danny Boy appear in a film that also features era appropriate tracks from Eddie Vedder, Nine Inch Nails, Liz Phair and more.
At the heart of the film is an original score (now available on streaming platforms), created by singer, songwriter, producer, manager and label executive Linda Perry, who navigated the first half of the 90s as vocalist of platinum selling alternative group 4 Non Blondes, which tallied a top 20 single in 1992 thanks to the inescapable “What’s Up?”
While Perry has worked with artists like Christina Aguilera, Pink and Adelle, Kid 90 marks her own first new music in over 15 years. On the soundtrack, she works with stunning 16 year old singer Willa Amai on “The Show” and recently released a video for “The Letter,” a heartfelt song inspired by one of the film’s most emotional scenes, one which sees Frye, 44, revisiting a letter written to her adult self when she was just 16.
Motivated by the success of a partnership years in the making with Kid 90, Frye and Perry collaborated further on the Peacock reboot of the hit 80s sitcom Punky Brewster.
Perry scores the new continuation of a series which sees Frye nodding in the direction of nostalgia, revisiting not just her most famous role but one she continues to embrace both on and off the screen.
“Punky is really my inner superhero. In really, truly discovering my Punky power, I’ve also rediscovered my Soleil and Punky power. That inner spark that I really associate with youth, I feel it coming alive so strongly through the process of Punky and the documentary. And I feel so grateful for that,” said Frye. “Punky was always such a survivor. And I remember from the earliest age saying, ‘Punky and I are so much alike!’ That heart and that perseverance and that strength – I really lean into her so much. Our life journeys – whether it’s life imitating art or art imitating life, we definitely have so many shared experiences. And I will always hold Punky close to my heart.”
I spoke with Soleil Moon Frye and Linda Perry about the art of collaboration and the role of music in both Punky Brewster and Kid 90. Highlights of two separate conversations, lightly edited for length and clarity, follow below.
Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character in Punky Brewster is a musician. There’s an 80s episode where music plays a big role. Generally speaking, how important is music to the Punky Brewster reboot?
SOLEIL MOON FRYE: Music is so important in life. And I feel as though with Punky, we’ve really always tried to be authentic in the storytelling. The original Punky had so much heart and spirit and soul. And it was so important to carry that on in the continuation. I like to call it a continuation – because to me it feels like a continuation more than a reboot, you know?
I think because music is such a part of life that it makes sense that it’s such an important part of the show. I love that our creators are so driven by music. We all love music and are so inspired by it. We had talked about it from the very beginning that that would be such a big part of the DNA of the show.
The show runners were really passionate about the music all along. Linda and I have spent years now working together on the documentary and it just felt so natural to continue that. Because I think, although they’re so different in so many ways, they’re both about coming of age at any stage of our lives. And Linda really does such a beautiful job of capturing that essence. I was just so grateful when she came on.
Certainly, nostalgia is part of a continuation like this. But in presenting the Punky character to a new generation, how important was it to kind of embrace nostalgia while still keeping the show contemporary and relevant too?
SOLEIL: It’s so amazing. Because I’m such a nostalgic person. And I love the 80s and I love the 90s. I love music from all decades. And I think that’s something that really is part of the connective tissue of the show – that it does have a nostalgic feel and also feels very much like what we would listen to today, you know?
How did you go about creating the sound for this show?
LINDA PERRY: For me, I was just trying to put music that didn’t sound like bad, cheesy sitcom music. I was just trying to do my best version of what songs would sound like and what the theme was to me. They didn’t really give me a direction. I just kind of went with what felt like the right thing to do.
I didn’t go 80s whatsoever with it. They had an 80s episode and I may have geared that music on that particular episode more 80s – because I thought it was fun. But it was very minimal. It’s just quirky.
As far as the songs that Freddie Prinze sang, I had nothing to do with those. Those were already written – because they were to camera, to film. They shot it that way. So I would’ve loved to have gotten in on those. But those were already cleared.
What’s the goal when you’re creating the quick, cohesive little guitar blasts that kind of establish a consistent tone while ending scenes and advancing narrative?
LINDA: I thought the characters were great and the kids were great. You can’t go too deep, man. It’s Punky Brewster. You kind of have to find a balance of what’s going to be realistic. I feel like I somehow stumbled on a balance that was very guitar driven – but with a quirk to it, you know?
There’s some quirky cues in there that I was surprised they actually liked. I had an alternative feel – but it had my rock sensibility. You hit these moments where they just want like two seconds [of music]. So I tried to be as clever as I could in every moment.
My goal was just to remain authentic. I don’t do series. This was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. I’m a deep thinker. I get really into things. Not that this wasn’t deep – but it was just a different part of my brain. Because you’re not writing a full song and you’re not trying to get on the radio. You’re just simply trying to help narrate the story and push it along. Ego has to go. My personal tastes have to go. I have to think about what is best for the situation. I was given a job. My job was to help move the story along and still remain kind of fun. And I feel like I did that job.
I really have a good sense of emotion and finding the listening – like if someone’s talking. If Soleil is talking or Punky is talking, I can hear their tone and I base whatever I’m going to do on that tone of the voice. Sometimes I shut off the volume and I just watch. I try to understand the body language and what’s happening. And then I’ll base something simply on that.
What was it like working with Soleil to create a score for Kid 90?
LINDA: That movie is so beautiful to me. I love the music created. It’s an emotional documentary – a coming of age story that’s very real. There’s a lot of emotional pieces in it. It’s Soleil’s story. And her story is a very relatable story. She originally wanted 90s music. And when I started watching it, it was like, “No. This is timeless. We don’t want to put a date on it.” So, I went with the emotions of what was happening and that’s where the music came from.
There’s a couple of songs in there that were songs that actually were very prominent for her in her story that were playing on the radio or something that was left in because they were important. But the majority of it [is original new music].
Music certainly plays a pretty key role in the film. As a director, how did music kind of work in tandem for you with the story to kind of drive the narrative?
SOLEIL: I am so driven by music. And music is such an important part of my process.
This documentary has been in the making since… Well, I started carrying my diary at age 5 and my audio recorder at 12 and then a video camera as a teen. And music has really always been such a part of my life. And you can see it in so much of the found footage where music is playing.
Spending the last more than four years living with these tapes and the audio recordings and the voicemails and the diaries – music is always such a big part of that. So I was so grateful when I have this beautiful experience with someone [like Linda] who has been such a huge inspiration to me throughout this process. She just put her entire heart into it. She would send me music and send me more music. It was just a beautiful process. She really was such a muse for me.
Truly, Linda’s score, and what she has created, is really the soundtrack and score to so many of our lives. I’m so forever in the deepest gratitude.
There’s such a diverse array of 90s music in the film. Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell and Danny Boy from House of Pain both appear in it. We also hear songs from artists like Eddie Vedder, Nine Inch Nails and Liz Phair. What is it about that 90s music that you still connect with so deeply today?
SOLEIL: It brings me back to a time. I love how music transports us and moves us through the decades and the times. I’m a big believer in quantum physics. I love quantum physics and I feel time has folded over in some way where the teen journalist in me and the adult journalist in me come together. And it was really important to me in this documentary to allow those moments to play and authentically be themselves.
And so the music, whether it’s my best friend from childhood and I sitting in a car with Cranberries playing – that’s what was on the radio at that time. Nine Inch Nails. That’s what we were listening to. Liz Phair! I think I must’ve listened to her music every day of my life in the 90s. So I love the way that we were able to allow that music to play naturally and fit in. And then Linda did this beautiful score throughout that really is timeless.
I think that, in a lot of ways, we so often see things that are manufactured to the times. But with this, I love that, to me, it feels very much of the time and of those moments. I feel that there’s a rawness to it that allows it to breathe and feel of that time.
My dream was that when people would watch it, they would watch it through their own lens and be able to live their own stories through this story. And the response of other people responding to it so beautifully and to their own life experiences and to the music, to that decade that I think is so important to so many of us – and also to those that are growing up today that wonder what that decade was like – that’s been really incredible.
I can’t possibly imagine looking back at my childhood in the depth that you did while making Kid 90. I would cringe. What would you say is the most important thing you learned during that process?
SOLEIL: It’s really been a coming of age for both the teen me and the adult me. And that inner spark that I really associated with youth. I really thought that that inner spark was something I felt when I moved to New York City and was living in the rawness of it all. To rediscover it felt like my teenage self had left this chronological blueprint to come home to and rediscover myself once again. And that has been so illuminating, transformational and really life changing.
I will also say, I hope you get to see Linda Perry’s “The Letter” – her incredible song and music video. It’s brilliant. The fact that my teen self was asking these questions to my adult self and I really had to look within and go, “Am I living with my full purpose? Have I made my life?” Asking those questions and wanting to make that teen girl proud of me. And I think she would be.
At the same time, my grown up arms were able to hug the little girl who felt insecure in so many ways and felt shame in so many ways at some of her experiences – felt maybe responsible for. It was like being able to go back and say, “Everything that you go through – all of the messiness, all of the love, all of the heartache and pain – every step of that is going to bring you right where you want to be.”
I’m so grateful for the healing.