Meet Mia Berrin, a.k.a. the leader of the band Pom Pom Squad. She and her bandmates recently released their first EP together -"Hate It Here"- and she talks to us about her music, style and love of being overwhelmed.
Tell us about yourself.
Hey, I’m Mia. I play guitar and I sing/write songs in a band called Pom Pom Squad!
Where did you grow up and how long have you lived in New York for?
I always ask people if they want the long answer or the short answer— I was born on Long Island, went to grade school in Northville, Michigan, and finished middle school and high school in Orlando, Florida. I came back to New York to study acting at NYU and I’ve been here for about two and a half years now.
What’s your favorite thing about living in New York?
I love the crazy. I think I really like to be overwhelmed. I’m the kind of person who is always like, “everything is so hard because I’m so busy,” but I think I secretly really love it.
How did you get into making music?
When I was twelve I went to a summer camp that made you pick “electives” and I’m really bad at sports, so I chose music. I remember it was only me and two other girls and there were these two counselors trying to get us to learn the bongos. For some reason, we kind of bullied them into letting us learn to play guitar. When I went home I begged my parents to let me get one. Then when I was in high school I discovered the DIY scene. That was the first time it ever occurred to me that I could make my own music.
How did ‘Pom Pom Squad’ start?
Pom Pom Squad actually started my Sophomore year of high school. My best friend, Leka, is a drummer, so I was really pushing for us to start a band. Back then I didn’t really know anyone else who was trying to make music — or at least not the kind of music we wanted to make— which I think is hilarious because there are all of these really cool bands coming out of Orlando right now. We were both really into surf-rock and Riot Grrrl, and the scene was mostly hardcore and pop-punk at the time. We had a lot of trouble finding bandmates. Leka was also pretty busy all the time, so it kind of just devolved into my own project. I started posting covers on tumblr under the name Pom-Pom Squad, but it wasn’t until the summer after my senior year of high school that I started releasing any of my own songs. I started playing with the guys this past year.
How would you describe your band’s sound and how did that develop?
I’ve been dreading having to identify with a genre title so I’ve just been calling it “sad-girl music.” A lot of people have been calling it “garage pop” which I think is kind of funny. Initially it was a lo-fi/punk project, but I think there are definitely a lot of other elements that have made their way in since then. The sound has definitely developed a lot since I met Alex [Carr], Greg [Tock], and Zoltan [Sindhu]. Alex and I met at a party in the spring and that summer he pretty much offered to produce my music out of the blue. It was very serendipitous— I’d been toying around with the idea of writing an EP in my head for a while, and I had written a couple songs in the months before Alex reached out to me, but it was definitely the push I needed to commit to the project. The boys are all extremely talented musicians, which is one of the reasons that it’s so great to have them on my team. I typically go into a session or a practice with a million weird ideas, but the guys actually know how to execute them, which is incredible.
What is the creative process like for you? How do you go about making your music?
It’s sort of a waiting game. I watched this interview with Leonard Cohen where he said “I think all songwriters know that you don’t write the songs anyhow.” That just floored me. I find that if I sit down with the intention of writing a song, it turns out to be pretty unproductive. Sometimes you toil over a verse or a lyric, but I think, especially when I was younger, I put a lot of pressure on myself to always make something good. I’ve definitely gotten better at allowing songs to just happen. I think all I can really do is try to be present and keep the channel open. Sometimes I’ll do little free writes before bed or if I’m feeling something particularly strongly. I just let myself go on and on and sometimes you get a song or sometimes a verse or sometimes a line. To be honest, songs usually happen for me at really strange times, like when I’m walking down the street, or when I’m in class. The voice memos on my phone are full of little ideas for melodies and guitar parts, and I try to keep a journal on me at all times.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I was a really sensitive kid, and in a lot of ways I’ve never really grown out of that. I’m a big feeler, and I internalize everything. I’m also obsessed with love, which is a fatal combo. All the songs on Hate it Here have to do with either holding on too tightly or trying to let go.
Describe your personal style.
Really fucking all over the place!!
Do fashion and music overlap for you? If so, how do they influence each other?
Oh definitely. When the project first started I wanted it to be this total commentary on the 50s Americana high school aesthetic. I used to be obsessed with cheerleaders— they were just such a cultural icon of this beautiful, powerful, untouchable American girl and they were so not me. I went to a very TV high school, and developed a love/hate relationship with the iconography. I still have all of these cheerleading outfit pieces that I’ve been meaning to wear for something, but the project has grown up a lot, so I think they have to stay in hibernation for a little longer. The newer stuff really explores ideas of public and private space and I think without realizing it, the clothes I’ve been wearing in the live setup have been really reflective of that. I wore a pair of blue satin pajamas the first time we played at Sunnyvale, which might be one of my favorite looks so far, and I’ve been all about the concept of lingerie as daywear lately.
What’s it like being an alternative band in New York? How do you distinguish yourselves from other bands who are making music now?
I think I’m a performer above all else, so I really thrive in a live setup. I’ve just been enjoying making the project a physical space instead of just a digital space. The thing about music that gets made in bedrooms is that sometimes it never leaves, so playing shows and meeting other bands has been a cool way to conjoin all of these private spaces.
Where do you see yourself in five years? What’s the dream?
Honestly I just wanna be the queen of rock and roll.
Check out Pom Pom Squad's Playlist:
Interview: Emily Saunders - @thesaunder
Photography: Allie Sarachene - @alliesarachene