16th Annual Artist Survey: Piroshka | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, November 17th, 2019  

16th Annual Artist Survey: Piroshka

Miki Berenyi, Michael Conroy, KJ "Moose" McKillop, and Justin Welch on Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence, and Surreal Experiences

Mar 17, 2019 Issue #65 - Mitski and boygenius
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from all four members of Piroshka.

Piroshka features members of various other iconic British acts. They are fronted by former Lush singer Miki Berenyi (vocals/guitar) and also include former Moose guitarist KJ "Moose" McKillop, Modern English bassist Mick Conroy, and former Elastica drummer Justin Welch. They released their debut album, Brickbat, last month via Bella Union.

Lush reformed in 2015, with Welch filling in for the late Chris Acland on drums. The band released one great comeback EP in 2016, Blind Spot. When bassist Philip King left the band later that year, Conroy filled in on bass for Lush's final shows before the band broke up again after those shows. It was Welch who suggested forming a new band with Berenyi and Conroy. McKillop is Berenyi's partner and has two children with her and naturally found a place in Piroshka. Both Lush and Moose were leading lights in the early 1990s shoegazing scene.

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more. 

Top 10 Albums of 2018

Five from KJ "Moose" McKillop :

Leon Vynehall: Nothing Is StillGorgeous and smart. An album that feels complete/whole. I listen to it in its entirety whenever I can. A move away from his more dance floor focused material. This is jazzy and ambient and even classical in places.

Low: Double NegativeThis must be their finest hour. It can be grueling at times but the payback is worth it. I like to have it on while walking around central London. Everything looks different.

Tim Hecker: KonoyoHitching his technology to some ancient Japanese instruments, this is mesmerizing. Live too, at the Barbican, it was transcendental.

IDLES: Joy as an Act of ResistanceRaw, brutal, incendiary, and vital. It could have been made in '78 or '84. Not that we need reminding that we're still living in Thatcher's Britain.

Jon Hopkins: SingularityI loved immunity and played it to death. Seemed like a long wait for this but totally worth it. Takes you into another floating world. Sumptuous.

Five from Justin Welch: 

Shame: Songs of PraiseI went to see Shame play in Brighton in 2016 at The Great Escape. At the time they where still finding their feet but there was a real buzz about them. I liked them, too. They sounded like early Happy Mondays to me and their debut, when listening, feels like you're back at one of their live gigs.

Thom Yorke: SuspiriaIf you manage to buy a vinyl copy of this record, you'll hopefully love putting the pink plastic on your deck as much as I do. The distant voices and creaks in the background make it sound like a contemporary take on a Hitchcock classic to me. I believe Thom's son plays drums on a couple of the tracks. He's one to watch out for; he's got a great feel. I'm a big fan of horror and horror soundtracks, which is probably why I've been bigging up this record to friends, who then look at me as if they've seen a ghost.

Interpol: MarauderI've been a big fan of Interpol for all their six studio albums and this one is as strong as the other five before it. I like to listen to this record when running along the sea front in morning in St Leonards-on-Sea where I live. It's one of my five a day! My only regret is that I wasn't able to go and see them play the Royal Albert Hall in London last month.

The National: Trouble Will Find MeI recently moved flat but before that a lot of my stereo equipment was in storage and not being used. 90% of the music played in our house is on vinyl, so since moving here I've been tailoring a new deck, speakers, and amp, and therefore buying some favorites to play again, this classic being one of those purchases. Favorite track "Heaven Faced." [Editor's Note: This album came out in 2013.]

Beach House: 7'm a little late getting into Beach House, but 7 was a summer favorite in our house. I heard a couple of their tracks on the radio so I did a bit of investigating, only to find out that the band are label mates on Bella Union. I'm a sucker for a vintage drum-machine and a vocal swimming in reverb.

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

Michael "Mick" Conroy:  Piroshka LP Brickbatseeing its completion, and the wonderful artwork by Chris Bigg and Martin Andersen. And of course, it finding a perfect home at Bella Union.

Miki Berenyi: Getting a hugely enthusiastic response from Simon Raymonde when I'd only sent him the Piroshka tracks to get some advice and didn't for a moment think he would actually be interested in putting them out on Bella Union. And the parade of lovely and talented folk we've been able to work with. In fact, everything to do with the band has been a highlight. That's the way it is at the beginningyou're starting from fuck all, so everything achieved is a positive and anything that doesn't work or happen is kind of what you were expecting anyway.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020? 

Moose: It always seemed too much to expect to wrestle control of the Senate from the GOP. We had our fingers crossed for Andrew Gillum in Florida against that racist [Ron] DeSantis. That would have been a good scalp. Never mind. Next time, maybe. As for 2020, no credible candidate seems to have surfaced so far. Need to get a move on.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018? 

Miki: It tells me that we still have a long way to go. What the Kavanaugh hearings demonstrated to me was that it doesn't matter how credible, calm, precise, and eloquent a woman is in her testimony, or that she is 100% sure of who her attacker was. If the man she is accusing is of similar or higher statusclass, race, education etc.and it boils down to her word against his, then the man is believed and the establishment that supports him will pull every trick to justify their bias. At worst, they will grasp at motives to accuse her of lying; at best, they will bend logic to invent all manner of ludicrous scenarios to explain why she "must be mistaken." As for Republican women (or any women, for that matter) not believing hera lack of solidarity among women is hardly new, is it? We're so used to blaming women for the violence done to them that the first response to a sexual assault is usually to reel off a checklist of doubtwhat were you wearing, were you drunk, why didn't you do X, Y, or Z, was it really assault, are you sure it wasn't just a clumsy pass, maybe you were giving off signals... etc., etc. Unless you're a modestly dressed teetotal virgin, it was probably your own fault. And even then you're probably making it up to get attention.

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.) 

Mick: No. 

Miki: I gave it a go but my kids told me to please stop.

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Miki: The Swedish Chef. I love cooking but I get a bit ambitious sometimes and the result is chaos.

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

Mick: I was disappointed by some of the things Kanye said and did.

Moose: I couldn't have become any less of a fan. He's awful. As for Trump, anyone who has tried (and failed) to "cozy up" to him just looks foolish ([Justin] Trudeau, [Emmanuel] Macron, etc).

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit tragically took his own life this year. What should be done to improve mental health conditions for musicians? 

Miki: When an artist expresses their mental health problemsdepression, anxiety, addiction, whateveras part of their art, it can seem like they are dealing with it, making success of it, and therefore don't need any help. And I wonder if it's then even more isolating that you've laid out your pain in plain sighteffectively writing a song that says "I'm fucking dying here"when people skim past the message to discuss the harmonica solo. I mean, I'm not blaming anyone, just speculating.

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

Moose: The tipping point for action may be long gone. Far too many powerful lobbies in outdated industries still call the shots.

Miki: It's too late; we're all going to drown/burn/starve.

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses. 

Mick: Where I live, our main supermarket is a Co-op where they don't have those self-service checkout thingsonly humans behind cash registersbut of course this is not the norm these days. I guess most people reading this, like me; do most transactions via a phone. 

Miki: Mick lives in a very lovely "Ye olde worlde" place called Woodbridge where automation is rightly seen as a more shabby option than having your weekly shop put through the till by an actual human being capable of giving you personal attention. The problem with a supposed meritocracy is that those with top status feel that they do terribly difficult and complex jobs, and have therefore earned and deserve their success, which by inference means that those at the bottom of the pay scale must be stupid or lazy and are capable of only the most mundane tasks. As a result, certain jobs have become increasingly machine likereading off a script, only operating within proscribed parameters, no autonomy or embellishment allowedwhich makes them really easy to replace with robots. I'm not sure what my point is, but there's something deeply wrong with making efficiency the sole driver of businessactively looking for ways to make work less interesting and individualized so that humans can be factored out altogether.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood?

Miki: [The games] "Pass the Parcel" and "Musical Bumps." Actually, when our kids started going to birthday parties, Moose was outraged that there was a gift in every layer of the parcel. He was like "No! It's one gift in the last middle wrapping. Everyone else gets nothing except the thrill and excitement of taking off a layer of paper!" He's right, too.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite?

Mick: Caravan holidays in Italytop to bottomVenice to Pompeii and back again.

Miki: We used to go to Hungary every summer to Lake Balaton, which is a huge lake that is no more than around four feet deep for about 200 yards, so absolutely ideal for children. I would spend all day in the water and at night watch the shooting stars and gaze at the Milky Way. It was magical. On the downside, this was during Communist times, so you had to be really careful what you said to whomand there was virtually no TV. In fact, the only thing worth watching was the weekly episode of Columbo dubbed into Hungarian.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

Mick: Probably supporting Roxy Music on a North American tour in 1983 [when I was in Modern English]. Each day, the main band members arrived at sound check in separate limousines, sometimes all at the same time. They would drive right up to the stage in the arena, sound check, get back in their limos, and then disappear until the gig.

Miki: One of the last [original] shows Lush played was in Honolulu and the night before the gig we were invited along as guests of Don Hoknown as the Hawaiian Elvisto watch him perform his regular slot at the Waikiki Beach Hotel. Emma [Anderson] and I suddenly found ourselves sat on high stools flanking him on the stage, mic in hand, harmonizing backing vocals for his hit "Tiny Bubbles." I'd only heard the song onceperformed earlier in the setand had no idea what I was expected to do. The elderly audience members were very forgiving though and we got a polite round of applause.

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place?

Mick: Neither. At the end of the game, that's it.

Moose: The best place.

Miki: No place.

What's the best advice you've gotten from an older or more experienced musician and what's the best advice you've given to a younger or less experienced musician? 

Mick: It was a roadie for Sham 69 who was watching us [Modern English] at sound check. He tuned our guitars for us and said that even punk rock sounds better when you tune up.

Beloved chef, travel TV host, and music fan Anthony Bourdain died this year. If you could have appeared on his Parts Unknown show, which city or country would you most have wanted to travel to with him? 

Mick: Probably London. He had a knack of finding interesting places. Then I could take visitors to new places when they visit.

In the Trump era do you feel that it's a responsibility to make political music and/or speak out about political issues or do you think it's better to provide your listeners an escape from the never-ending bad news feed? 

Miki: I just write about things that occupy my thoughts and most of my lyrics are about trying to make some kind of sense of that. Sometimes those thoughts are about personal relationships with the people in my life. Sometimes they are about trying to understand what the hell is going on in the world.

Where do you stand on social media in 2018, is it uniting humanity or ruining the world? And which platform do you find most useful and which one do you think is doing the most harm? 

Miki: I mainly use Twitter. I find Facebook sprawling and confusing, but I like words so Instagram is less interesting to me. The way people behave on social media can be a bit like road rageyou know how you can get a person who is normally calm and polite, but put them behind the wheel of a car and they are calling everyone else a moron and extrapolating unforgivable character flaws from the way someone parks their vehiclethere's that same intolerance and rush to condemn on Twitterand I'm as guilty of it as anyone. I don't think we have yet mastered the etiquette of sharing our deeply held thoughts and opinions with complete strangers. If someone agrees with you, they are brilliant and a friendif they disagree, they are full of shit and an enemy. There's no perspective or context. It certainly ups my anxiety levels!

If you were to have a hip-hop side-project, what would your rapper name be?

Mick: SPEKTAKULL.

Miki: Mikillah.

This year The Doctor in Doctor Who was played by a woman for the first time in the show's 55-year history. Which other established character would you like to see switch genders? 

Mick: James Bond seems to be doing the rounds at the moment.... why not?

Miki: Donald Trump.

What did your parents most get right in raising you? What did they most get wrong?

Miki: They loved me, which is the most important thing. And they were both charismatic and intelligent, and knew how to throw a partywhich are all good things to be around. My dad once justified his rather hands-off parenting by saying that he always treated me like an adult. But I wasn't an adult, and being constantly praised for being "so grown up" can be a rather convenient excuse for neglect.

[Note: A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 65, which is out now. This is its debut online and the full version of the interview.]

www.bellaunion.com/artists/piroshka/

www.facebook.com/piroshkaband/

www.twitter.com/piroshkaband

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