Alex Ross Perry is the first to admit that Her Smell might be a little too pungent for some.
“It’s raw, it’s aggressive, and vulgar, and irritating, and improper, and combative,” the filmmaker says of the drama, which chronicles the nightmarish fall and uncertain redemption of a fictional ‘90s punk rocker, Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), the frontwoman of a trio called Something She. “I wanted to make the movie where the people that think women in rock ends in the ‘70s would look at this and go, ‘Oh, well, this is filth, I hate this kind of music, I hate these kinds of mean, vulgar young musicians who can’t carry a tune.’”
Moss, who also produced, wasn’t afraid of the mean or the vulgar in Becky. “I would hope I never meet her,” she admits, but as an actor, the character presented an irresistible challenge. “She’s this sort of whirlwind, this person who is just a tornado that comes into people’s lives and just takes over and leaves a lot of damage.” Her Smell marks Moss’ third collaboration with Perry, and the pair “have the same drive to make things that are different and unusual and no-holds-barred,” she says. “We don’t have a whole lot of concern for making a pleasing character or a likable character. We like to push the envelope together.”
Formally inspired by 2015’s Steve Jobs, Perry constructed the narrative in five acts, each one depicting a single scene in Becky’s life. The second 20-plus-minute real-time sequence, during which Becky refuses to cooperate with her exasperated bandmates in the recording studio, brings another trio of musicians into the narrative: the Akergirls, played by Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Dylan Gelula.
“Obviously, Something She comprise the main narrative of the movie, but the Akergirls, therefore, have to comprise a very valuable and very specific counterpoint,” Perry explains. “If there’s an early ‘90s grunge sound that Something She alludes to that recalls something like Veruca Salt or Elastica, then the Akergirls come sounding more like The Donnas, or something. It’s a little poppier, a little hookier, a little catchier on purpose, but still has the same spirit and the same flavor. You can tell that they’re inspired by Something She, but they’re not doing what that band does.”
Perry had turned to musician Alicia Bognanno to write original songs for Something She, but needed a different perspective to provide the Akergirls’ sonic counterpoint. He happened upon an interview with Anika Pyle, frontwoman for the band Katie Ellen, and knew that he had found the right person after listening to a few of her songs.
“I just basically left it in Anika’s hands. I said, ‘Give me something in your voice, make it about this long, make it poppy, catchy, but make it so you can picture kids in a club who resent major label sellouts listening to this and thinking this is great music,’” Perry says, adding that he was also very specific about his desire that the band have no bass player. “I just wanted there to be something different about them. I just wanted them to clearly have made some decision not to be a three-piece with bass, drums, and guitar.”
Pyle delivered “Can’t Wait,” which the Akergirls perform in the studio for Becky, who takes an interest in the trio. “It was essentially perfect right away,” Perry says of the 90-second poppy punk track, which was used in the trailer for the New York Film Festival, where the film screened in September. “I’m still not sick of it. It still just makes me happy to hear it.”
Listen to “Can’t Wait” exclusively below.
Her Smell hits theaters March 29, 2019. We can’t wait.
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