IN CONVERSATION: Miki Berenyi (Lush, Piroshka)

IN CONVERSATION: Miki Berenyi (Lush, Piroshka)

Miki Berenyi, once of Lush and now of Piroshka, is on fine form. Talking to God Is In The TV, she looks back on 4AD, Lush, why they were dubbed both Shoegaze and Britpop by music weeklies, her forthcoming memoir, as well as reflecting upon Brexit.  She also talks about Piroshka’s second album, Love Drips and Gathers which came out a couple of weeks ago on Bella Union.

Londoners Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson met at fourteen years of age and became firm friends. Lush formed with Berenyi’s then boyfriend Chris Acland on drums and Steve Rippon on bass (later replaced by Phil King )

Signing to 4AD across five albums (Gala, Spooky,  Split, Lovelife, Topolino ) and numerous EPs and singles in the ‘90s, Lush produced wonderful sounds, pairing loud guitars with vocal harmonies somewhere in the mix. The central songwriting duo of lead singer, the flame-haired Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson carved songs crammed with passion, infectious heavenly melodies and coated in a dreamy sound that evolved from reverb-laden guitar crescendos to spikier catchy garage pop. Their trademark vocals were possessed of both a bittersweet tone and infectious hooks and were delivered with a refreshing attitude. Underrated by some at the time in an era dominated by blokes with guitars, Lush looked and sounded like forerunners for a wave of current contemporary female led acts. Lush originally split in 1997 with Berenyi abandoning music after Acland’s passing, only returning in 2016 with an EP and a run of shows.

Piroshka emerged in 2018; four individuals with distinct musical identities, but also overlapping histories. Before Miki and KJ ‘Moose’ McKillop were a couple (and parents), they were pivotal figures on the London-centric ‘90s indie scene. Likewise, Elastica, whose drummer Justin Welch was part of Lush’s 2016 reunion, whilst Michael Conroy of Modern English who played for both Moose and – on their last ever gig – Lush.

As Lush Mark II came to an end, Justin persuaded Miki to start another band, Piroshka, which in turn reignited Moose’s long-dormant ambitions.

Love Drips and Gathers follows Piroshka’s 2019 debut Brickbat, Miki explains: “If Brickbat was our Britpop album, then Love Drips And Gathers is shoegaze!” summing up their newly expansive sound that’s more eighties synth drama than nineties indie.

With more textures and synths that reminds me of early ‘80s European new wave colliding with the dreamy gaze of the early ‘90s, Love Drips And Gathers follows a more introspective line meditating on the ties that bind us, as lovers, parents, children, friends – a subtler, more ethereal and enveloping sound, one whose personal themes are worn on the sleeve and invested with melodrama.

Hi Miki, how are you today?

I’m fine, it’s so weird with this lockdown – any kind of appointment feels like such a huge event. I lost my job at the end of the year, so even though lockdown is lifted Moose is still working and stuff, but I’m still at home so I feel like a pensioner or something! My landscape is very flat so when something crops up like this, it sends me into a fluster.

How have the last eighteen months treated you?

I think I’ve just been a spectator really, it’s sort of affected my kids more and Moose as well. With my job, it went, but then I got offered a book deal. So I am just trying to discover how to fucking write a book (laughs); it’s totally out of my remit really. It’s a memoir. There seems to be quite a trend for this lately. I’m slightly regretting years of slagging off music journalists because I’ve realised how difficult it is, I’m discovering how hard it is. (laughs)!

I saw that you’ve been posting images from tours and video shoots from the Lush years on Facebook. What bits do you look back on fondly and not so fondly?

I think it’s really jumbled up with what’s good and what’s bad. In the telling it has to be black and white, having loads of photos makes you realise that. Like having a bunch of photos where we are having a really brilliant time, except it was in a period that was really difficult; there were sketchy periods for us as a band. But I think within that, what used to carry us through a lot was, we were all friends. That was mainly the most important thing: there was a lot of camaraderie. Certainly, when Chris was around he was really funny and always upbeat. We often suffered difficult times that were coming from the outside.

I think it’s the journey upwards that is most fun and most exciting. Once you get to a certain position that’s where all the difficulties come. When you start you are just like “oh my God this was our first time in London or on TV or in Europe!” Everything is a massive achievement and an adventure, but I think that’s when the expectations go up and it gets more stressful.   We were really looked after by 4AD. Of course they wanted to sell records and the important thing was the record was good, but there wasn’t the same pressure to have a hit as it were.

How important was it for Lush to sign to 4AD?

I don’t think Lush could have achieved a tenth of what we did if we hadn’t been on 4AD. It was integral to what we did, because when we started out we were quite incompetent and aware of that and we needed a lot of coaxing and nurturing. And having an environment that was totally non-exploitive helped, there was never really any pressure to stick the girls at the front that might have been there on another label. It really suited us to be cloaked in that 4AD artwork, we were really suggestible as a band but we really baulked at that exploitation. We were quite purist in that way.

I read you started out as a punk band…

When we started out we were a bit punky, shouty, gymslipsy, “He’s a bastard can’t you see he’s not good enough for you!!!”(laughs). I suppose it was indie punk but we were part of a scene with quite a jumble of things going on. You can get away with a lot if you just whack the guitars and shout over them.

I guess punk isn’t just a sound it’s a spirit…

When I first got into punk it was “oh my God everyone is really working class” and they were like “ooh you went to private school” so I didn’t feel I could wear that badge with any legitimacy. You didn’t want to be a sell-out band or exploiting your sexuality or whatever, although there were plenty of bands that did that. I think Debbie Harry used her sexuality in a really cool way. But as women we were just conscious that was always the temptation, certainly with record labels, that would be the first thought they would have. But we didn’t want to be part of that at all. And we loved being part of 4AD.

We were quite, collecty: we liked Factory and Cherry Red. When me and Emma were going to see Xmal Deutschland were playing, so we were aware of 4AD bands, so it was good to be put into that stable especially once Pixies and Throwing Muses came along. It felt like an honour to be honest. I certainly felt way out of my depth but it was flattering to be included in that stable and it gave you a certain amount of kudos as well.

4AD has definable characteristics not just in terms of sound, but the aesthetics, the artwork…

It feels like a stamp of approval to people outside. I genuinely did buy records like that too. I’d never heard of the Stockholm Monsters, but they were on Factory so I’ll buy that.

It was tiresome at times though especially in Europe. They expected us to live up to this very arty persona and weren’t very impressed when we were swigging cider. I think Robert and Liz and Simon were hardly these angelic po-faced people either. It can feel like a bit of a straight jacket but there was no question of leaving or being on another label. At one point we had another manager who was like “lets just look at other labels” but we were just like “well, you can look but we aren’t going to do it.”

You worked with Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) on a few EPs and your debut album Gala; what was that like?

I can’t remember if he had made noises that he was interested in working with us. We did the Mad Love EP first, I think. I think Ivo who ran 4AD was a bit worried about putting us in a studio with Robin for a whole album; it was a little bit sketchy. We really wanted to make the album with him. There was a bit of criticism because it was like “oh, he’s just put his sound over them.” I didn’t agree with that because we learnt so much being in the studio with Robin. There were difficulties because we had to do everything his way; Chris had to learn to play on a pad rather than a drum kit. But it was really brilliant to work with someone like that; he was really engaged and on it and full of ideas. It did our confidence good because we would sit in the studio and be like “I’ve got a guitar part, but it’s shit” and he would say “well, just play it, stop running it down before you’ve even done it.”

It’s funny when I mention you to people, depending on their era, when I mention Lush they either say Shoegaze or they have heard of ‘Ladykillers’ from a Shine compilation..

If you get a band that goes on and on, Blur were called Britpop and Blur were called baggy. My Bloody Valentine were called one thing and another and eventually they just become themselves. It’s the fact that if we had gone on we would have outlasted those labels, but there’s only a few albums, so yes you get shoved in one or other category. I get it, I shrug my shoulders and go “whatever” now.

In the ’90s there was a lot of labelling of acts in scenes. It still happens now, Galaxie 500 was saying it has got ridiculous on Spotify with all these different made up genres…

I get it, its algorithms. Back in the day it was a shorthand. Before, you had that for the music papers to go “well if you like this you might like this because they’re the same kind of band.” I always think bands baulk at labels because it knocks the interesting edges off you. Every band can say “well we’ve got that song that’s not Britpop” or “that’s not shoegaze!” but most of it is about the time you were making records as much as the sound of them..

If you could pick one song from your career to play to someone what would it be?

It’s hard. I’d probably pick something like ‘De-Luxe’ which isn’t even by me, it’s Emma’s song. To me, that’s like pick an obvious track and play it there you go.

Split had different sides something like Desire Lines and Hypocrite are quite different. Would you say the second album Split was an evolution of your sound?

A lot of the evolution came from different producers. There’s no doubt there was development; a lot of it came from me and Emma working with each other.

I saw you recorded some of it in Rockfield..

It was lovely, it was good fun. It was actually our manager who was a bit large and in charge I remember being dragged around all these bloody places – some of them really fancy. Rockfield was quite shabby and to be honest we got talked into it. We weren’t well suited to a residential, we got talked into it and probably would have been better recording it in London. I’m such a fucking towny and as lovely as Monnow Valley is after about two walks in the countryside I was bored. I kind of missed my mates, I didn’t sit in that studio being really productive I just sat around waiting for my bit.

Would you say your last album Lovelife was your most commercial

One of the things that happened with the CD format was that we suddenly had to record so many tracks to fill up the CD with as many tracks as possible. There were so many songs you could actually look at all the songs recorded around the time of Lovelife and put together a totally different album. Some of the songs were picked as singles because it was that time.

When Emma wrote ‘Single Girl’ it was a B-side as far as she was concerned but because Britpop was around it was quite an in-your-face pop song that was picked as a single at a different time,.

‘Lovelife’ itself would have been a single but that was on the album before.  I think Split was a very very introverted album and it actually got a bit of a damp reception. It was out of step with the times. So we  maybe did make more of a conscious effort with the lyrics to be less revealing with the lyrics and more upbeat. To be perfectly honest Britpop was old hat by the time Lovelife came out so we got sneered at with that anyway.

Lush were on Top of the Pops; what was that like?

It was quite fun! I think Chris had the best quote about it. It actually means when you get in and if they asked you if you were in a band you could say “yes, and we played Top of the Pops!”

Music is so much more fragmented now, but back then you had John Peel, Top of the Pops and music weeklies…

There was some quite narrow bottlenecks that you had to get through – radio play and music papers and Top of the Pops and it doesn’t really exist anymore as you say. The internet has changed everything in some ways; there are positives and negatives. It’s much more scatter gun and you have to track down what you want to listen to. If you just rely on some algorithms to chuck stuff at you that has its problems, doesn’t it?

Back then you had to go searching for what you wanted; there was a reward for searching out certain records then. There was a frustration, though, that you would read about some artists you would never hear, unless you heard it on the radio or on a compilation tape, now you can just type it in and you can hear it straight away.

I suppose bands toured a lot more in the ’80s. There was that, kind of, although you had these big bands that would tour albums, There were a lot of bands who just played all the fucking time. It’s like if you don’t catch this band on this date they’re not going to be back for another two years.

I think there was a whole structure that supported that circuit that the internet has blown apart; streaming certainly has. I can remember doing a tour for Ladykillers; for a tour of thirty dates in Britain and two months later we were out touring the album in many of the same places. Back then you would get tour support, the record company would pay that and the album would make money. Now albums don’t make money either so there isn’t really the money to support you going out for thirty dates and play everywhere now. I think it’s quite hard for smaller bands now.

With the Brexit nonsense and with festivals and Covid as well, you wonder how many festivals will come back next year…

There’s a bit of me that’s a little bit optimistic. Back in the ’80s there weren’t that many festivals; we are judging it on now when there’s so many. I think there will be a resurgence. I had a neighbour who used to put on a festival; I remember him telling me it takes three years before you can make a profit. It would help to have a government who would support it and recognise it as massively important that it is. It’s just not on their agenda. Back in the ’80s you had the GLC that actually was a huge arts fun and I can remember festivals in Finsbury Park, on the South Bank. Obviously the Tories hated it as soon as they could. It’s weird because there are Tories that go to gigs; you’d think they have some love. I just don’t even think they are interested.

It’s a bit of a culture war by the Westminster government on culture at the moment. There’s also the very little Englander attitude that wants to wrap itself in the flag and try and tell people to go home. I think its really sad and ignorant, the world is getting smaller and we want to cut ourselves off..

Coming from London that’s what I remember through the ’80s, it was like this sneering attitude not just if you were foreign if you were from London, if you went up to Manchester they were like “oh you fucking Londoners.” I remember when I was at London Poly I remember meeting this guy from Liverpool at the bar and another one and they had a fight because they were like three streets away from Liverpool. It’s so weird that really specific regional snobbery.

I wonder if in future generations they will want to rejoin the EU?

I voted remain, but I think both sides are spitting venom at each other. I just voted remain instinctively, even then I didn’t know what it meant. So when I see Bruce Dickinson on Twitter and everyone is like “oh you idiot what did you expect?” But I am like clearly not this. Obviously I didn’t buy it but there are a lot of people that did, believing that there was going to be some great new dawn or whatever. It’s quite a dereliction of duty not to properly explain what was going to happen and that was the biggest issue. It was just an idea with no grounding.

Piroshka have been called a supergroup because you were all previously in different bands…

‘Supergroup’ is another of those terms where you think, “Christ”. I think it was because when we first announced our album that it got taken up as terminology, I could already sense the sneering sounds of “Oh God, what are all these old has-been indie B-listers doing trying to revitalise their sorry careers by capitalising on their collective”.

I suppose it’s just not that cool anymore to be in a guitar band. I think the real thing about us four getting together was that we actually knew each other and that it was incidental that we had been in bands before; that wasn’t the driver for it. But three of us got together because we knew each other from Lush anyway.

I was listening to the album, with the combination of synths and guitars, I was getting almost a European New Wavey sound in parts of it…

Quite possibly, it was quite a conscious decision to let Moose and Mick do a lot more of the production of it. Moose in particular can sit in a room fucking around with pedals and the sounds and Mick too really. I am more like this ones got distortion and chorus and this ones got distortion, I only need four pedals!

Is the lullaby-esque ‘The Knife Throwers Daughter’ about family?

Moose wrote it, I think he’s got me, his mum, his daughter, so its about the women in his life. He reads a lot of novels and he did remark that in the last couple of years a lot of the books he read were all by women writers. When you read back a lot in the early twentieth century is about a domestic environment and I think that was influenced by the way he was thinking about lyrics.

Scratching At The Lid’ is epic; it really bubbles. It sounds like trying to throw off regret…

It’s quite a morbid picture really, that idea of being buried and scratching at the lid and thinking, “but I haven’t finished yet!” As you get older and once you get into your 50s you can spend a lot of your time worrying about stuff. I think your 40s is quite key actually, I think that’s what Moose was thinking about. You can feel like shit, I’ve tipped over there’s a tinge to that.

You can worry an awful lot about where you are and what you are doing, it eats into your time its better to just do and not worry about it too much. I think that was what a lot of what his regret was in that song. You can spend decades worrying, then you look back and think well what was I worrying about? Why did I spend all that time worrying? I spent most of my life being quite anxious about things, but on some level it’s not a terrible thing to be, it does drive you to achieve certain about things. But if it casts too much of a shadow, there’s no point being too anxious about things if they spoil your enjoyment.

I read, ‘V.O.’ was inspired by working with Vaughan Oliver; what was it about working with him that made it a good relationship?

Some bands baulked at that; we were signed at the same time as the Pale Saints and they had their own ideas of what they wanted on their sleeves. They were very together as a band so I don’t think Vaughan used a couple of their sleeves. Whereas we were like “do what you fucking like” and he rather liked that. Why wouldn’t you? Someone is giving you the opportunity to work with amazing artists, so why wouldn’t you?

We had a great working relationship, in that respect, we let him get on with it pretty much and trusted him. Often the titles were inspired by the sleeves, ‘Scar’ was inspired by the artwork. With the Piroshka stuff, Chris Oliver who worked with Vaughan, both those titles were triggered by the covers. Both Chris and Vaughan would listen to the music and discuss it and that was the direction they would take from that. I am awful with titles, I literally have people at the pressing asking me to confirm them at the last minute.

When I saw Chris’s artwork it was quite poetic and I remember trawling through old poetry books. I don’t know much about poetry, but I remember doing that one at O Level and I thought it was a nice line. It’s difficult with titles because a lot of them have been used. I remember The Smiths having lyrics from a quote or a play and I remember thinking Morrissey probably had endless notebooks of lyrics and titles.

With ‘Echo Loco’, I was getting references to politics and social media..

That was on my mind.  I think basically it was around the time of the first Piroshka album, I started going on social media. I really hadn’t done it before at all. I thought if we are doing a band I need a profile on social media to be my own PR and all that. I started using it and thought “wow it’s a minefield”. I feel crappy writing a song and just saying its about the internet because, it’s really dull.

I think it’s a very prescient theme, Twitter in particular is very reactionary…

When I was a kid it was often quite sci-fi fantasy thing to say, “imagine if you could read peoples minds that would be brilliant!” Now you have Twitter and you can read what they think. And I look at it and I think fucking hell “I don’t want to know what people think about this because it’s doing my head in!”

There’s some brilliant stuff, you have to find the good stuff. There are times when I am absent-mindedly scrolling and I can feel my mood darkening. It’s genuinely upsetting and depressing if people can say these awful things in response to people. Living in ignorance is better in some respects. Just turn it off, it’s a big thing to manage. It’s brilliant there’s bits about it that are brilliant but you have to monitor your mood.

Maybe what I was thinking about with that song there is this desperate need to connect with others, whether its interacting or loving the same band and relationships, but there’s a desperate edge to it sometimes. Where ultimately it is virtual, you don’t know these people. People confess things, I’ve done it myself – ‘oh yeah I’ve done that when I was 14′, you tell people things that you would never dreamed of telling anyone for years. I am terrible because I overshare anyway. It does fascinate me, but I think there is a tiresome element to it. I think my first experience was the comments under a Guardian comments section – if you keep scrolling for long enough every possible response will be there at some point. You almost think they are saying something somebody else hasn’t said.  YouTube comments are horrible!

Love Drips and Gathers is out now on Bella Union.

http://smarturl.it/ldag

Piroshka UK live dates:

Tuesday 2nd November – Brighton – Chalk
Wednesday 3rd November – Leeds – Brudenell Social Club
Friday 5th November – Manchester – Deaf Institute
Saturday 6th November – London – Garage
Sunday 7th November – Guildford – The Boileroom

Photo credit: Ivan Berenyi

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