Piroshka Wields Political Discourse And Dreamy Guitars

Feb 17, 2019
Originally published on February 17, 2019 8:12 am

A brickbat is something to wield: a rock, or a biting remark. It's also the name of the debut album by the British band Piroshka. Led by Miki Berenyi of British shoegazers Lush, the band comprises musicians from a handful of acts that made their mark in the 1990s British indie-pop scene, including Berenyi's partner K.J. McKillop of Moose, Elastica's Justin Welch and Modern English's Mick Conroy.

On Brickbat, the quartet uses gentle vocals and dreamy guitar pop to take on some very contemporary concerns, among them income inequality, school shootings and Brexit. Berenyi and McKillop joined NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro to discuss the role of politics in their music as well as their home lives; hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for interview highlights.


Interview Highlights

On dramatizing Brexit in the song "This Must Be Bedlam"

Berenyi: All the different verses are actually different people's view of it. ... I was just trying to get just the general morass of different people pointing the finger at each other, and just the general confusion. I think the overriding thing about Brexit is that we all voted on something that nobody really understood in the first place.

McKillop: All the members of the band, we're quite politically engaged. In some ways, it's the only game in town: You know, we sit down with friends for a drink or for dinner and it's difficult to get off the subject of how people feel about, not just Brexit, but the state of the economy. But to be honest, I am a socialist and everything for me is political. It's how I engage with the world.

On addressing religion in "Everlastingly Yours"

YouTube

McKillop: It's quite a personal song, that one. Both my parents passed away in recent years. I grew up in quite a staunch Catholic family, and I always felt with my mom's generation, a generation born between the wars — she was Irish as well, where the Catholic faith is so almighty and so powerful —that your first battle is freedom from the church. For me, somebody that's — as as well as being a good lefty — a good atheist, it's just that notion that sometimes you can grow up in a culture that does trample your dreams into the ground a little bit.

On using music as a method of political speech

McKillop: I think you're kind of relinquishing your responsibilities when you don't make comment. And also, because we've wrapped a lot of these thoughts up in quite pretty pop songs, if I may say so, the message is kind of couched in a lot of melody and harmony. There's nice juxtaposition there.

Berenyi: Also, it's not lyrics that are saying overtly, you know, "The church is bad." I think actually, they're about the confusion and anger and entrapment people are feeling. I don't think you have to be an atheist or you have to be a socialist to be able to relate to the fact that inequality is affecting us all. The idea of feeling trapped in a bad situation with something like "Everlastingly Yours" — where it does actually make you feel like your dreams are being shredded in front of your eyes — I think lots of people can relate to that.

Brickbat is out on Feb. 15 on Bella Union.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A brickbat is something to wield - a rock, a biting remark and now an album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS MUST BE BEDLAM")

PIROSHKA: (Singing) I put it out on my Facebook page. Some of my followers are getting enraged. Shut this down. I don't want to hear that you think differently 'cause what the hell do you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Brickbat" is the debut album from a new British band Piroshka - new but made up of members from earlier music acts from the '90s indie-pop scene - Lush, Elastica, Moose and post-punk pioneer Modern English. In "Brickbat," this seasoned quartet take on some very contemporary concerns - income inequality, school shootings and Brexit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS MUST BE BEDLAM")

PIROSHKA: (Singing) I know my history, so why don't you? This ain't what we wanted, and we changed the rules. Open your eyes. It's falling apart. And as the world...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Miki Berenyi and Moose are two members of Piroshka. And they join us now from the studios of the BBC in London. Welcome to the program.

MOOSE: Thank you for having us.

MIKI BERENYI: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about the song we just heard, "This Must Be Bedlam." I gather this was inspired by Brexit.

BERENYI: All the different verses are actually different people's view of it. There's even a pro Brexit verse in there of someone who was sort of lecturing me about how there's a history of kind of anti-sentiment within the left wing of politics in Britain. And so, really, I was just trying to get everybody's - you know, just the general morass of different people sort of pointing the finger at each other and just the general confusion, actually, because I think the overriding thing about Brexit is that we all voted on something that nobody really understood in the first place. And this is why we're kind of in the mess that we're in.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIROSHKA'S "NEVER ENOUGH")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moose, the reference here, of course, to Facebook and seeing stuff that gets you angry, is this coming from personal experience?

MOOSE: Yes, in the sense that all members of the band - we're quite politically engaged. In some ways, it's the only game in town. You know, we sit down with friends for a drink or for dinner, and it's difficult to get off the subject of how people feel about not just Brexit, you know, the state of the economy, the kind of government that we have or rather don't have. But to be honest, I am a socialist. And everything for me is political. And it's how I engage with the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER ENOUGH")

PIROSHKA: (Singing) I take. I keep. I have. I grab. I don't need to talk 'cause I say that it's mine, and it's mine. I want it all...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I should say here that you two are a couple. And you have two kids together. Do you talk about this stuff at home? I mean, is this the thing that you sort of say, we need to bring this to our music? We need to kind of speak out about this.

MOOSE: Well, they're going through a very strict communist education program.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOSE: Breakfast bootcamp. No, no, no. That's not...

BERENYI: Oh, my God, please.

MOOSE: No, that's not true. That's not true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that you're kidding (laughter).

MOOSE: Yes. It's just...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At least, I hope you were kidding.

MOOSE: It's wishful thinking rather. No. Yeah, I mean, it's the environment that - we want them to, you know, make - obviously, make their own decisions and have that kind of freedom. But we want them to be informed. And we want them to engage. And we want them to ask questions and not take things for granted.

BERENYI: I mean, it's a weird thing though - isn't it? - because this is for America. And I think when you mention the word socialism in America, it's like everybody goes (laughter) you know, like hair on fire. And so...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it's subject of big discussion at the moment because we have politicians now who identify as socialist, so it is the subject of great debate.

BERENYI: I mean, I remember - my dad was from Hungary and absolutely hated, you know, anything left wing with a vengeance. He was a staunch kind of Thatcherite, actually. But when I used to talk to him and say, but what do you think of, like, free education or free healthcare? He said, well, obviously, that's fundamental. You have to have that. And I was like, right. Well, in Britain, that makes you left-wing then, actually.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's listen to a little bit from another song off the album - "Everlastingly Yours."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERLASTINGLY YOURS")

PIROSHKA: (Singing) Here he comes with his ha ha has that he gets from a bottle to get at my soul. Take it to battle and trample my dreams in the ground.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the lyrics are about fighting back against an enemy. What's the story here?

MOOSE: It's quite a personal song, that one. Both my parents passed away in recent years. And I grew up in quite a staunch Catholic family. And I always felt that from my mom's generation - you know, a generation born between the wars. And she was Irish as well, where the Catholic faith is so almighty, so powerful. I always felt that your first battle, really, is freedom from the church. For me, you know - somebody that as well as being a good leftie, I'm a good atheist as well. And (laughter) just that notion that sometimes, you can grow up in a culture that does trample your dreams into the ground a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERLASTINGLY YOURS")

PIROSHKA: (Singing) There's something within me that gives me the power to fight to rip out his heart and shatter his bones with a smile.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What I'm hearing from you both is that you feel a responsibility as artists to speak out politically. But it is a double-edged sword, right? A lot of people are sick of hearing about the issues, even if they might agree with you. You may alienate others. Why is it important, do you feel right now, to insert your voice into the conversation in this way?

MOOSE: I think you're kind of relinquishing your responsibilities when you don't make comment. And also, I think that because we've kind of wrapped a lot of these thoughts up in quite pretty pop songs - if I may say so - the message is kind of couched in a lot of melody and harmony and quite sweet music as a nice juxtaposition there.

BERENYI: I mean, I think also it's not lyrics that are saying overtly, you know, the church is bad because I think, actually, they're about, you know, the confusion and the sort of anger and the entrapment that people are actually feeling. And I don't think you have to be an atheist or you have to be a socialist to be able to relate to the fact that inequality is affecting us all, you know? And, actually, the idea of feeling trapped in a bad situation with something like "Everlastingly Yours," where it does actually make you feel like your dreams are being shredded in front of your eyes, I mean, I think lots of people can relate to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIROSHKA'S "VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Miki Berenyi and Moose of Piroshka. Their new album "Brickbat" is out now. Thank you so much.

MOOSE: Pleasure - thank you.

BERENYI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIROSHKA'S "VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was fun.

BERENYI: OK, good.

(LAUGHTER)

BERENYI: We don't sound like - I think, you know, like, these austere kind of...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

BERENYI: I'm just imagining this sort of Soviet family. Like...

(LAUGHTER)

BERENYI: What is going on? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.