This July Piroshka released their new album Love Drips And Gathers – a combination of ethereal beauty and atmospheric experiments created by a simple desire – to make their second record unlike the first one. Dan Volohov sat down with vocalist/guitarist Miki Berenyi discussing the nature of the experiments in Piroshka along with cultural references, the formation of Lush and the band’s reunion, songwriting and lyrics, as well as her upcoming plans.
We’re also delighted to bring you a first chance to see the video for Piroshka’s new single “Echo Loco”, which you can find at the end of this article.
It was said that when making Love Drips and Gathers you were already signed to Bella Union so you didn’t have much hurry involved in the process of recording. But I still think you took a more thoughtful approach with these songs, particularly with the production and atmospheric aspects of the recording. So was it just a calmer atmosphere you felt or a different approach?
Both, I think. Moose in particular felt the way we had recorded the first album he just didn’t have a chance to do what he really likes to do and I think he found that really frustrating. So we were already committed to having much more time and taking it slower. Looking at the sounds more than just getting the recording down. That has always been a part of the plan. With the first album… by the time, we actually got signed with Bella Union, most of the album was already recorded. And it was a question of “Do we have to go back and re-record everything ?” Trying to accommodate what Moose wants to do or just get it, treat it as like a first energetic “This is how we sounded then! And then, save all that for the second album” – which is kind of what we decided to do.
How much self-reflection was involved in what you’ve been doing? Especially as a second record is pretty much always a dilemma for most artists.
In a funny way, it really wasn’t! Because, quite possibly, the first album was so much born out of just trying to form a band. It wasn’t like we had an idea of how we wanted to sound or what we wanted to do. We just wanted it to happen. So Justin would send me something and I would wrote: “Right! I’m just gonna make this work with lyrics or whatever”. I think, in a funny way, if it were a normal band in a normal time and we were all younger, there would probably be a few songs on the first album that would kind of work their way out of the set or would have changed naturally. But because there was none of that – we hadn’t played any gigs, we were just recording them… they were all like demos… Really, to be honest! In many ways, I think, Love Drips and Gathers was probably like how our first album would have sounded anyway. It’s not like we had that first album, it was material that we’d spend years cultivating… Which is what you usually get with the first album of a band. They play and they grow and blah-blah-blah… By the time they get signed this is the first album. We hadn’t fucking done anything – it’s literally the first thing we’d done. So it didn’t really feel like that difficult at all. It was almost like: “This is the record we all sort of waited to get made” in a way. I just think, it was quite rough with the first album. And we didn’t have that second-album-struggle like “Oh, that worked for the first album! What do we do now?!” – it was like I said, a bit more like demos. I don’t want to run it down! So it didn’t actually feel like much effort at all ( laughs )!
The only epithet I came to thinking how to describe the record is “ethereal”. Which is always synonymous to “a lot of work”. The arrangements, on the production side… Did it go initially or it was more like “for this we’ll need to do this”?
I think, it just gave a bit more run to something that’s already started with Brickbat. So with Brickbat, the problem was – we were going into a studio and had REALLY limited time. And sometimes everyone was talking at the same time. And you had like Justin is one corner [saying]: “Oh, I think, I’m gonna try this drum thing!” and Mick on the keyboard going: “Oh, I’ve got…” and Moose on the guitar: “Can I just try and work…” (laughs). It’s kind of crowded in. And actually it ended up with the right person, who was in the right moment at the time got their stuff on it. And other people were like: “Oh, shit! There was something I wanted to try! I just didn’t get the chance!” – so, really, I don’t think we actually had the chance to do all the things we would have done on Brickbat.
So with this one, it was just as collaborative. I mean, I do sit here and say that we handed it over to Mick and Moose, and that’s true! Just say – they had more time. Because, I think, what happens in a recording is clearly the vocals have to go on and the backing vocals. So I didn’t get the time to do what I needed to do because that’s just necessary. These are the embellishments you lose out on. So if Mick sort of decides, the day later: “Oh, I kind of think I can do that bass better.” – there’s no time! If Moose wants to try 55 different fucking guitar-sounds and just noodle about a bit – there’s no time. And if someone suddenly while we’re recording hears a keyboard or something, they think would sound really good – there’s no time. I think, with this album – there was time. All these ideas you might have on Brickbat now, on Love Drips and Gathers you can explore them. And also, because with the first album we were still trying different people to work with, different studios which then also… Even logistically it’s quite a problem. Because, you still have to get used to working with different people. Whereas it was all Iggy (Bella Union’s in-house engineer)! He knew sounds inside out. He could feed into… He can have an opinion. Which, I think is a really important part. In Lush we always worked with producers. And it was a really important part of the process – to have someone else feeding the ideas. Kind of balancing what you’re doing off being on sounding board. What’s possible and what’s not. And Iggy sort-of-fulfilled that role. He was very much on board, he mastered it! Which is what you want!
On a lyrical level, you also get a bit deeper exploring the topics of relations and relationships, love and other feelings within something like “Loveable”. What drove you to this particular dimension?
In Lush, I’ve always been in between those two things. Anyway. There are Lush-songs that are very personal and very much about relationships. Lush wrote a lot about relationships. And I think, when we started Piroshka, I was consciously thinking to get away from that because it’s a new band and I need to find a new way to write. So I gave it a go but I sort of settled to be a bit more comfortable with writing about what I usually write about (laughs). The things that usually affects me! There are songs on Brickbat about relationships but I think, I’ve tried to get away from who I was before. And then with Love Drips And Gathers I sort of reached the level of acceptance. You write about certain things because that’s what drives you. It’s pointless to try and escape from your own type of creativity and what inspires you.
At the same time, writing songs like “Ladykillers” or “I’ve been Here Before” or in a more abstract – “Familiar” you hadn’t followed one type of formula. And there’s still a different degree of duality in your lyrics. When you wrote “Ladykillers” it was more about the situation you were in. While “Familiar” is an example of that balance – between you, being a lyricist and a composer as well. What defines about your lyrical focus ? Abstract and more concrete, minimal or more detailed?
“Ladykillers” is a bit of a weird one, because it was totally born out of actual events (laughter). It was a series of things that happened that pissed me off and I thought… It wasn’t like general observations. They were really specific incidents which then lead to a kind of generalized feeling of that kind of experience. And possibly even things like “Light From A Dead Star” which was very much about my parents. I think there are songs that are inspired by particular experiences. Others are a general mood. And possibly, the subjects I’m a little bit more guarded about.
With “Ladykillers” – I didn’t give shit about the bad manners of these people. Cause, I don’t fucking care about them. But when I’m writing about my daughter or my partner… I kind of have to thread quite carefully (laughs) about what you make of it! So I think, there’s a bit more of a relatable general mood… It’s an interesting point! I’ve never really thought about it that way! I guess, there’s also the fact that less things happen to me now (laughter). I do live a 54-year-old-life. I don’t really get to experience those sort of triggers that much. That’s the problem, I think. A lot of the triggers I experience are reading the fucking news or seeing things online. And I’m not great at writing… These are kind of boring details to include. Some people do it really well, writing about the current political climate, but I’m a bit aware that it would sound really embarrassing or uninformed. And I don’t really meet many arseholes any more so I can’t really write about those experiences (laughs).
Getting together at first as Piroshka and starting rehearsing with Mick and Justin – did you initially have this idea of the band you could be in with these people or was it just messing around and seeing what would happen?
Really, it started because Justin had been playing on the Lush reunion tour. And then Mick stood in for the last date, which Phil didn’t play. So he had to learn like 27 songs or something… For one fucking gig! And most of the rehearsals it was me and Justin. Because, for Emma to come up and rehearse at that time was a pain in the ass. She had a young daughter. So really me and Justin did most of the rehearsals together. We actually have a fucking blast! It was a REALLY GOOD FUN! After the Lush thing ended, we sort of retained the energy of that. Justin was really driving this! He was really keen to form a band. He was the one who said: “Listen, we have a very good vibe…” – he started sending me tracks and drum-bits. Backing things or whatever to start writing songs to. So I think, that energy was born out of necessity. So it wasn’t like we deliberately got together to form a band. It just evolved quite organically, really. But more through Justin’s enthusiasm. And then, across the experience of rehearsing together. For weeks! Really intensely. And having a good time with it!
But when you got together as Lush – through that reunion tour, how did it feel when songwriting came back into your life again after 20 years of pause?
It was quite… Tricky. Emma had sort of bunch of songs ‘cause, she’d always stayed in music. Or certainly more than me! She’s been [doing] Sing-Sing and trying to write music for other people so she had some songs lying around and we’re gonna work them up for the Lush EP that coincided with the reunion. I really didn’t want to be involved… I just wasn’t. I hadn’t written a song in… like you said, 20 years. It just felt like a really bunting task because, the way Lush wrote was always… We didn’t really write together. The idea of sitting down and writing the whole song – bass-line, drum-pattern, backing vocals, bass-guitar-parts – It was just overwhelming. So I thought: “I’ll do what I have done before with Emma: she’d write the music and I would write the lyrics”. And that’s what we did it. It was… quite a challenge. It took me a long time and a lot of rewrites. Because, putting yourself in this position of “What do you do?” you go back and re-listen and you try to get into that zone. But I was writing from the perspective of someone in their twenties and the concerns are really different when you’re older. I think, It was difficult. It took me quite a long time to escape being “Miki from Lush” back then and to try to write in a certain style. But I felt some competence, just to refocus the expression and the subject matter. To make it at least relevant to my current experiences and to make it feel a bit genuine. I just wanted to write a song where it’s like: “Let’s write a song about the landscape outside of my window!” – I did actually need to hang around a bit for things that actually meant something. Meant enough to write about. So there’s quite an obvious lyrics about Chris and the feelings of loss about him… Even writing Burnham Beeches which was about a woman I was when I was16. It’s just this idea – when you get older, you look at these things almost like they’d happened to someone else. And I think, that was just that perspective of writing – at that time, I was 49. But I was also pleased with it ‘cause I had this nostalgia. Also, very much about my daughter. What it’s like to be a parent. And similarly to Rosebud – what it’s like to be a parent to a child when you have a pretty vulnerable time and being bullied and stuff. I felt these were very important experiences from my current frame of mind. It took me a while to get into that space and realize that those things can be written about in an interesting an engaging way.
These days, when do the ideas usually come to you? What brings you to playing and exploring something on the course of your daily life?
I think everyone, even with the most mundane life, finds things that are challenging or remarkable in some way. Or often the things you talk to your friends about, you complain about or feel sad or worried about. I think those are the things that interest me and resonate with me. Because we all have those challenges and you do have to explore them in order to get on top of them. I think, sometimes, being able to vocalise the feelings around those things is a good way… Feeling that you feel some sort of headway towards solving them. I mean, these things are never solved. Being a parent is just a fucking nightmare sometimes. If there was an answer to it – we’d have to know it! It’s a struggle. And those daily struggles – whether it’s a struggle of growing old, whether it’s a struggle of your health or how you feel about your job, not because the job is interesting, but because these are all universal human feelings of success of failure. Because those things are often on my mind, because I’m quite an anxious person (laughter) – these are the things I end up writing about.
A lot of the songs on Love Drips and Gathers were written by other members. While, when you started working on Brickbat, it was basically you and KJ who were dictating the direction. Is that correct?
Not entirely. I think that is an interesting thing. On both album there would be songs that are very much Moose’s! “Everlastingly Yours” on the first album was really his kind of song. And obviously there are songs on a new album… Some of them had started with me: “Blameless” of the first album, is a very much my song. Yes, Mick writes the bass-line, Moose adds some guitar-parts, Justin works out on a percussion part but the song is mainly structured from either me or Moose. “We Told You” was Justin’s. That’s where it all started and I actually added the vocals. Which I took off! That’s why it didn’t go on Brickbat. He was a bit upset that it didn’t go on Brickbat but I just didn’t like the vocals I came up with. We actually took it off and went back to what he did and used that as a starting point again. “Familiar” was born out of something Mick did and then Moose picked up on and then I added the vocals. That was a genuinely collaborative thing, Iggy had a lot to do with that. “V.O” – I just did it instrumental and then you could have fun with that and the rest of the band really added to it, when I was really thinking I could add vocals. I haven’t written it with the vocals so it almost felt like someone is coming to me with a new song I now have to write a vocals for. So some of the songs were very collaborative. “The Knife-Thrower’s Daughter” was very much Moose’s but then I added all the orchestrations. There’s a sort of looseness, there’s not a total template, there are ideas flying around but also, kind of a politeness about it. I don’t want it to be all my songs. Moose doesn’t want it to be all his songs. I want it to be some things that come from Mick or from Justin because, that’s what makes an interesting record.
When you have two guitarists within one band, it sometimes gets to a point of a conflict. Like with “Superblast” when this conflict drives the song. With KJ you reached the point when your guitar-parts complement each other. Does it affected your writing part, In comparison with what you and Emma had in Lush?
Not really! To be honest with you, I’ve always been a rhythm-guitarist. It always makes me laugh when I’m asked “Oh, what pedals do you use!” – and I’m like “Literally the same fucking pedals I used 30 fucking years ago!” I’m not that experimental. So my role was always to thick out the sound anyway and I have no problems with that. I find it hard enough to play rhythm guitar and sing every time without complicating it with any extra elements (laughter). In Lush it was very much Emma who had all the effects and the lead-parts and all that. And it’s the same really in Piroshka! That was never really an issue, it was just always the set role I was perfectly happy with. So I don’t even care if I don’t play. It’s not like: “Hold on a minute! Where’s my guitar-part?!” (laughs). It genuinely doesn’t bother me. And I think, I’ve always thought of the lead-guitar as the main thing. I like that charming quality of 12-string and I do think it adds a certain fullness to the sound. Even Moose coming in, it was never like: “Oh, I’m the guitarist now! You don’t have to play!” And he’s very used to being in bands with lots of guitarists. I think, coming from that whatever-shoegaze-is-scene that is a huge part of that. Brush up against each other and sometimes pull each other in different ways. Two chords in different places being played in the same time that adds a kind of layer to the sound. Which is very much what interested us really. All of us.
You’ve noted that you didn’t really have confidence at the beginning of your career, which is something that doesn’t always comes with experience. But what was it like in your case, when you got the confidence?
(laughs). I don’t that’s ever happened, actually!
Very self-critical (laughs)!
I know! But I think, I just don’t know if it’s in my personality. Because, I’m not a trained musician I’ve never felt that confident about it. There’s always an element of imposter syndrome when you think – and I still think … “You think I’m a lot better at this than I am,” (laughs). And to be fair, I understand! It’s not I think I’m so terrible. It’s I actually think… that a lot of people are quite terrible, I don’t mind that. That’s the whole point of this kind of punk-rock-kind-of-ethic. That you’re not an amazing trained musician and all of that. So I never expected to be that. I recognize people who genuinely do have an amazing voice and who are amazingly skilled musicians. I’m not one of them, right? There’s a lot of people out there who claim they are. And I don’t think they are. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them! Sometimes being an amateur actually gives you more room to experiment because you’re limited by your ability and it does tend to make you more inventive in your songwriting because you have to accommodate your lack of prowess. So it doesn’t really bother me. It bothers me when somebody says: “Oh, you’re shit and everything you do is shit!” because I don’t agree with that either, that’s not what I’m saying. But there’s no point in me saying that I’m a great singer and a great musician when I’m not! (laughs). That’s fine! And it’s an insult to people who have actually spent years and years and years developing that, that really are very talented and very skilled. I don’t really have a particular problem with it!
I think, the confidence was a really crippling thing at the beginning because I never wanted to be the singer, I was slightly pushed into that role. And I think, playing live… There was a point, when Lush were playing CONSTANTLY and that definitely made a bit of a difference. Like with everything, the more you do it – the better you get. And I think all that touring did make me a lot more confident. And more competent. When we recorded Lovelife we were able to just go in and… When I recorded Spooky, if you heard the sessions from Spooky – I’m singing so quietly and I’m so nervous that poor Robin was trying to actually find a vocal somewhere in there. By the time, we recorded Lovelife it was fine. I could feel that out and make mistakes and not felt embarrassed. Definitely, just doing something a lot is the way to get over that luck of self-confidence.
At the same time, you grew during the era of punk-rock. You experienced that period after the punk-rock explosion of the mid-late 70’s when we had artists like Public Image Ltd or The Teardrop Explodes, Siouxsie and The Banshees – who either started over the period of punk or had an element of punk in what they’d been doing but also were innovative. And usually, when it comes to the music of the 80’s, there’s always this Duran Duran, Culture Club vulgarism that comes after. How much did that affect your mentality when you got into the scene and how much self-searching was involved in that?
I will be honest with you, when I was growing up – the funny thing about me and Emma growing up in London – we didn’t have that distinction between Duran Duran or Public Image Ltd. We knew they were different but we didn’t really care. At one point we’d go to five or six gigs a week and it would be literally be like Culture Club, Sex Gang Children, Xmal Deutschland. You know what I mean? It was just ANYTHING. We would go to fucking see anything and we enjoyed it! The scene at that time was so divided, I can remember people going: “How could you go to see that band last week?! They’re shit!” and I’d be like: “Well, I don’t really care!” We didn’t have those boundaries – we were getting into anything and I actually think it really helped in being in a band! It’s almost impossible for me to site influences – there are things I can pick and think: “Well, I definitely was thinking of this when I wrote that song…” and it could be Carly Simon or The Ronettes or some Top Ten nightmare (to some people) or some really obscure alternative band. And we didn’t really care! I think, that’s actually very liberating. To be honest, a lot of the early stuff we were writing and performing was purely because we really couldn’t play then. We were learning. So it was literally three chords I could play. We’d try to copy records by Delta 5 or The Raincoats or something… Just try to learn. So we could actually construct a song with really basic skills. That was as much of an influence on what we were sounding like. We didn’t really have a masterplan, that’s for sure. We weren’t thinking “Oh! We want to be like The Pixies!” or “We want to be like My Bloody Valentine!”. It just didn’t even cross our fucking minds, ’cause, I would look at bands like that and think: “We might want to be them but we haven’t got a fucking hope in hell!” (laughs). Not good enough! So we just had to crack on with what we got. And I suppose we didn’t really have any boundaries.
Speaking about your parents and their musical influence on you, I noticed that it was only your mother who played the piano. But still, you had two parents both coming from different cultural backgrounds. Was there every a question of cultural reference for you? Like a lot of writers had – Salman Rushdie, Amelie Nothomb…
Not really. To be honest, the combination of being Japanese and Hungarian was VERY UNUSUAL! People would be like: “How did that happen ?!” I think, as a first-generation-born-in-Britain while both of my parents were immigrants, I spent most of my childhood… I’d move around between them a lot because, they’d divorced. So it was this school, that school blah-blah-blah. It’s always been a trial to fit in. I became a sort of… I suppose currently I’m identified as British. Most of my cultural references came from that. I would visit Hungary and Japan regularly for holidays but if anything it made me realize how unlike, how unused to those separate countries’ culture… And bear in mind, it was still the time when Hungary was in the Iron Curtain… and in Japan, it was a very sort of conservative… Especially for women environment. Lovely, but not something I’d relate to. I couldn’t imagine living in either of those countries. EVER. While I enjoyed a bit of gypsy music in Hungary or weirdly, J-pop stuff that was in Japan – I never for a minute thought that it would become global. But here you go… I didn’t really take many references from that and to be honest with you, even that amount of my parents’ music – they weren’t really massively into music. If anything, when I think about it, most of my music as a child came from film and television (laughs). It was musicals, which at that time, obviously, before multichannel and internet – lots of Hollywood musicals and rock and roll films… Blah-blah-blah. Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Monkees, and then eventually Top Of The Pops and that kind of stuff. It’s not like I had my mom playing me Japanese opera or something. It just wasn’t that (laughs).
What we should expect next from Piroshka? What are you doing right now?
We haven’t really started… I think, Lockdown had really wiped everyone. But it meant that this album could be massively delayed. Because, of everything… Mick is in Modern English so they had to push their timetable. Justin is usually on tour doing crew-work. All of that had to be shunted so I think, he’s gonna be busy for a while. But we’re already sending a few ideas around and making a start on where we’d go. Like I said, I don’t want the same fucking record over and over and over again. So it would take a bit of experimentation having changed our sound… Weirdly, in Lush, I think we were slightly trapped in that. Because, once you’ve got some success you feel like you’ve got to retain that audience – I do think, when you’re on a much lower rung it kind of frees you up a bit to try whatever you want. Because, it doesn’t really matter so much. Most of the people who got interested in what you do are clearly quite open to lots of different new music because that’s why they ended up listening to you. Don’t expect an acid-jazz record (laughs)!
We’re delighted to bring you a first chance to see the video for Piroshka’s new single “Echo Loco” below.
Speaking of the track and visuals, the band said, “The video was a collaboration between Connor Kinsey and Ronan O’Brien, who is actually a former student of Chris Bigg (who does all the Piroshka album artwork)! Which is also kind of funny because Connor himself is a former (drum) student of Justin’s. The song is kind of about the dangers of only being around people who think exactly the same as you. Finding your tribe is great, but it can be self-defeating if you’re not allowed to think for yourself.”
Connor described the “Echo Loco” video as “a collaboration between myself and Ronan O’Brien who stars in and filmed most of this video using film and mixed media. My thoughts when creating the thematic story was to look at how our surroundings can create a sense of loneliness. Those around us occupy our time and in doing so, we lose a part of ourselves.”
The album, Love Drips and Gathers, is out now on Bella Union. Physical, digital download and streaming versions can all be found here.
Catch Piroshka on tour at these 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
Find out more about Piroshka on their official website
Interview by Dan Volohov