Personality Clash: Miki Berenyi x EERA

Personality Clash: Miki Berenyi x EERA

Discussing sexism in music, touring, and the viability of independence...

EERA is the alias of Berlin-based, Norway-born Anna Lena Bruland. Second album, ‘Speak’, finds Bruland in reverent homage to 90s guitar bands while also expanding her sound palette with electronic textures and brittle melodies, all edged with what we at Clash described as a “luxurious darkness”.

Miki Berenyi formed Lush with fellow guitarist and vocalist Emma Anderson in 1987, the band going on to straddle both the shoegaze and nascent Britpop scenes. Lush disbanded in 1998 and Berenyi went onto work in publishing, before forming a new group, Piroshka, in 2018.

Clash sat in while Bruland and Berenyi tore into two thorny topics – the changes in the music industry since Lush formed and sexism. 

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Then and now

ANNA LENA BRULAND: I've always been drawn to the bands from the 90s. Those bands had a very unapologetic sound that I really love. It's not very polished, compared to a lot of music today, and there was always something happening that you didn't expect. It's more challenging: you need to work hard to understand everything in the songs. The music from that time just feels real to me.

MIKI BERENYI: I know what you mean. Quite a lot of people who emerged from that scene weren't exactly virtuoso musicians or amazing singers. I needed a lot of layers of guitar to make my playing a bit more interesting, because I'm just not that good a performer. It was like, “Just put a fucking pedal on it and no one will know how shit I'm playing.”

ALB: I just recognised myself in that.

MB: Did I read something of yours where you said that you don't jam? That resonated with me because me and Emma from Lush always wrote separately. I always needed my own space to work on the songs.

ALB: I can't get into that headspace in a room with loads of other people. I work way better in the dark, just at my laptop, with my guitar and effects, and I write in that space. I can’t sit in a room with acoustic guitar and write a song.

MB: With Lush, producers were often hired in to add a different dimension. When we worked with Robin Guthrie, we got quite a lot of criticism from people going, “He's just made them sound like The Cocteau Twins.” I remember thinking, “Well, there's no point in working with Robin Guthrie unless he's actually going to bring some of that to your sound.” There isn’t a lot of money around today to hire big name producers like there was back then.

ALB: I'm finding that I'm being pushed into learning more production because of that. I'm pushed into doing live sets alone, without a band, because it's cheaper to tour. The financial situation is difficult. Luckily, I’m quite interested in production, but I'm not interested enough that I want to produce someone else. It's purely so that I can create what I want to create, on my own terms.

MB: There’s also quite a lot of multitasking involved with being a musician today. I find it a bit daunting. I’ve got to do my social media, and I’ve almost got to be a business manager. I just want to play live. I don't want to have to document everything and put it on social media and all this other shit that you have to do.

ALB: I'm the same as you: all I want to do is write and record and play. I'm not the person that could be like, “Hi guys, my new song is out today. Hope you like it.” It makes me cringe. It must have been so nice to not have to deal with all that social media crap in Lush.

MB: Yes, but the flip side of that is you did have to get involved with the press – meet and greets, or shake and fakes, or whatever they called them. With Lush, we knew a lot of the journalists and we were friends with them. That led to quite a complicated relationship – like maybe we were too close. I can’t remember if it was the NME or the Melody Maker, but there was an editor who went, “Does anyone in this room not know them? Who will give it a bad review?” It was really difficult to tease apart whether it was genuinely because the album wasn't good in their view or whether it was time for us to be barbecued. There was quite a lot of that. I think the press today tend to be a bit kinder, really. I think they try to nurture music rather than smash it to pieces.

ALB: There’s loads of lazy journalism out there, though. The amount of times I was compared to Lana Del Rey. I have nothing against her – it's fine – but I don't see it.

MB: So much of the old hierarchy and structure was built on the fact that there was some money around. A lot of the financial burden was taken off you. Piroshka did like a little tour in November. We literally broke even. I think we made £47.

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ALB: The Public Service Broadcasting tour I did in November was quite unique, because I played in their band as well as supporting. So I actually did two sets. I didn't spend any money traveling, because I traveled in their tour bus, so that cut out a huge expense. I was very lucky that I could actually make a tiny bit of profit. I didn't spend any money and I didn't have any expenses because I played my support set alone. Me just standing there with my guitar feels weird, though. The industry and the lack of money is forcing me to do that.

MB: That’s really fucking harsh. Lush had done quite well in America back in the day. Piroshka’s label, Bella Union, said, “Do you think you could tour in America? It’ll be a really good opportunity.” And I was like, “No, I'm not getting 40 grand into debt to hike miles around the US in a van.” It's punitively expensive. There was a lot of talk a while ago about how there was no more money in albums, but it was all in live music. Well that works if you’re Radiohead, but it doesn't work for small bands. I think we were lucky in Lush that when we signed a record deal, we didn't have to have jobs. We could commit all our time to Lush, and it was a treadmill – record, tour, press. That whole year would get taken up with that. Records back then had some longevity. Nowadays, an album comes out and within a month it's gone.

ALB: Everything has to go so fast. Now that I’m independent, I see the whole financial structure. For this last record, ‘Speak’, I could just about spend enough on getting it out there in terms of the press. I think it's interesting that very few people talk about these things. My fans asked me, "How can we support you in the best way?” I say, first of all, always buy stuff at shows, even if it's a pin, even if it's a t-shirt that you're never gonna wear, because it gives something directly to the band. Number two, use other things than Spotify. Use Bandcamp, for example, because that gives a bigger percentage to the artist. I feel like a lot of fans think that sharing a Spotify link really helps, which it doesn't, really.

MB: That's really good that you're actually giving guidance.

ALB: I always say this, but if I went back to when I was really young, I don't think I would choose music again, because it’s one of the hardest things you can do. That said, and I know it sounds lame, it’s not really something you choose. It's something you just have to do. I need an outlet for it. For me, it's all about balance, and I need to make music to have that balance. Unfortunately, you also need money, which sucks.

MB: There's an argument that creativity is actually incredibly rewarding in itself. What I love about creativity is that it comes out of nothing. You can literally sit in a room with a guitar and come out however long later with something formed, that hasn't cost you anything apart from time. I think it's a really human trait to create. All the years when I wasn't in a band, I loved cooking. And I had a mate who said, "I suppose that's become your creative outlet now.” I hadn't really thought about that. I think people's need to create is always there.

ALB: I used to only give myself one label. “I'm the musician girl and this is what I do.” The older I get, the more I'm seeing that I have loads of different skillsets that I can use in my life. That made me feel more creative. I wasn't so hard on myself. If I wasn’t able to write that week, I could just continue on and my life kept going. It's also funny what you said with cooking because throughout the whole pandemic, when it was at its heaviest, I didn't really feel the need to write, but I made cakes every day. I made my boyfriend very fat.

Sexism

MB: With Lush behind me, I don't think I'm exposed to the kind of sexism that’s out there. Do you find that that's an issue?

ALB: I find the biggest issue is women and sound technology. Whenever I'm on stage setting up my gear, male sound guys seem to assume that I don't know shit. And then, after I finish, they come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that was actually really good.” It’s such bullshit. It feels like you have to prove yourself a little bit more. I see a lot more and more female producers and live technicians, which I think is wonderful. I hope that keeps going, because I think it's really important to balance that world out a bit more.

MB: When Lush split up, I got a sub-editing job at IPC. I remember thinking, at the time, "Wow, the corporate world is way ahead of the music industry.” You couldn't get away with that kind of behaviour in an office with an HR department. I didn't realise quite how bad it was until I was out of that environment and realised it wasn’t acceptable behaviour.

ALB: Sexism has been hidden away in the entertainment industry. It’s because we're supposed to be so grateful to just be part of it. That phrase pisses me off, because I work really hard to be where I am. I am grateful in many ways, but I need to be respected and get paid.

MB: I do think there's a contrast between how men are treated and how women are treated as artists.

ALB: I think it's different depending on which world of music you're in. Thank God I'm not in the major pop world. That sounds horrible. Being an indie kid, I think it's a bit different.

MB: There was something quite asexual about shoegaze. Nobody really gave a shit that there was a lesbian in My Bloody Valentine. No one really gave a shit about how pretty Liz Fraser was. You had shitloads of women in that scene and it wasn't something people pointed out. With Britpop came this sort of male energy. People thought Britpop was quite androgynous, but I thought it was the opposite. If you chose to wear a fucking suit and dress like a boy, you were in; if you dressed like a girl, you were treated like a slag. It felt really limiting. It became so much more about your attitude and I felt girls were being constrained even more, actually. There's a lot about Britpop that I loved. It was a fun time. But for all the exuberance, I felt like it was a step backward.

ALB: I feel like the selling point now is always about the person behind the music. So Björk is the quirky one. PJ is the private, mysterious one. It‘s like everyone has to have some sort of persona and for me, it's been really hard. How are you supposed to try and find out what your selling point is? I just want to create the music and move on. I was asked to put together a new biography recently. They asked me, "What's your thing?” I feel like there’s a lot of focus on the people before the music in many ways.

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MB: When I was in Lush, it felt a bit like there was only room for one type of girl in the room. So if it's the punk rock thing, it's like, “Courtney Love – she's fucking great,” and everything else was shit. Blokes in bands were allowed to be whatever they wanted to be. There was also that idea of genius. Women never get that. I think there's still a kind of weird idea that women are these feathered creatures that are wonderful to listen to and look at. I still feel that there's a little bit of that, even with someone like Madonna, who clearly was ruthlessly ambitious and put a lot of work into what she did. It still feels like she wouldn’t be credited in the same way that someone like David Bowie was.

ALB: I think that Kate Bush has come the closest to being seen as a genius.

MB: Joni Mitchell as well. But, you know, they're safely in the past, so you can sit there and reference them. I don't think – even in the 80s – that anyone called Joni Mitchell a genius. I don't think you really get that with women in bands. Around the time I was in Lush, women in rock would be bracketed together. You could literally have Courtney Love, Throwing Muses, Lush and Echobelly grouped together as ‘women artists’. I know that there is a female experience; a lot of women do write quite introverted lyrics, and have a particular perspective on the world that might unite them in some way. But it's a bit fucking thin to group us like that, isn't it? I think there's still a problem with that. It still feels like we're a subcategory. But I do think there has been improvement.

ALB: I'm glad it's gotten some improvement. That's good. It gives me a bit more hope for moving forward.

MB: Well, I think that people are less likely to write you off, but I do think there's still a bit of a problem. I think you should be allowed not to want to sing like Adele. She’s got an amazing voice – amazing as in professional, but those sorts of polished voices aren’t that interesting to me. I still think that women are under that pressure to put in this sort of astounding vocal performance, but there's something a bit more authentic about an untrained voice. An untrained voice is struggling to express the emotion, so the emotion is the thing that is carrying it. When it's a really slick performance, I just find it quite un-engaging.

ALB: That's why I love Nico so much. When she sang, it was so flat, in horrible, horrible ways, but it worked. She was so good. It was such a weird kind of performance, almost like she's not actually in that moment. It's always really interesting to listen to. We need more room like that for women to express themselves in whatever way they choose – without having to fit some sort of ideal.

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EERA's new album 'Speak' is out now. Piroshka's album 'Love Drips And Gathers' is out now on Bella Union.

Interview: Mat Smith

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