Hear Z Berg’s ‘Get Z To A Nunnery’ with Ryan Ross and Phoebe Bridgers
The former Like frontwoman didn’t make a solo album. She built a time machine.July 9, 2020
Listeners may remember Z Berg as the former vocalist/guitarist for L.A. rock hopefuls the Like and Phases. Others may recognize her as an occasional collaborator (music, other) with Ryan Ross and the ringleader of the Dead End Kids Club tour. But we promise you, you’ve never heard her like this. That’s a big reason why AltPress is streaming Get Z To A Nunnery prior to its release July 10.
Z Berg’s solo bow is positively alien. No, not in the robotic, turquoise-and-pink EDM-vomit-launch kind of way. It’s otherworldly because every detail sounds like a ghost from half a century ago. Nunnery is filled with gorgeous string arrangements, bittersweet lyrics and Berg’s lush vocals. Every song feels like she’s singing directly into your ear, as she makes you think, regret, cry and wait for morning. We don’t know if she was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory studio or beating Audrey Hepburn for the lead role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Alas, she did neither: Z Berg wouldn’t be born for another four decades. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to her album.
Your album feels like this year’s diary entries written on faded hotel stationery found in a box from 50 years ago. How may we describe Z Berg in 2020? Is she an old soul with modern problems? Or is she merely a high-functioning empath?
Wow, you fuckin’ nailed it, my friend. I’m literally selling a diary, Screaming Into The Void, that has the lyrics printed inside it. Who’s the high-functioning empath now?
Z Berg in 2020 is rather unglued, I suppose. As the tenets of reality crumble around us and the end feels decidedly nigh, I can’t tell if that makes me feel more at home or less. I have never felt quite at home in this world. So the fraying of the fabric of reality makes some sense to me. These songs span a decade of my life, but the themes feel decidedly appropriate at this particular moment. Loss, regret, existential dread… Quite apropos themes, I think.
The title of the album is a whimsical little quip. The context of these songs suggests a life that’s sullen, chaste and loveless might be better than the one you’re trying to navigate.
Sullen, yes. Chaste, never! It’s a funny little record. It’s dreamy and orchestral, and I’ve got a propensity for purple prose. But the songs are about a decade of absolute hedonism and destruction and the strange and futile task of attempting to pick up the pieces and [have] them make some sense. I’ve had a rather unconventional life. I started my first band when I was 15, and I’ve been touring and raising hell ever since. I also stopped growing when I was 12 years old and have pretty much looked and been very much the same ever since. My life feels like it’s lasted 400 years and only one day all at once. I just posted this “High school – 2020” comparison on Twitter, and it’s honestly rather terrifying. The picture in my attic must look absolutely revolting.
What was the best advice anybody gave you during the making of Nunnery? Also, what was the worst advice?
The best advice is honestly just to get out of my own way. Stop doubting myself and the process. A record never ends in the same place it began; you never really know what it’s going to be until it’s done. The worst advice? Nothing comes to mind. I’ve probably blacked a lot out.
Nunnery also feels like the best album of 1966—only better. Did you envision these songs to be so austere with minimal arrangements? Were you looking for the album to sound like a period piece? Or did you just want to give time travel a try? Because you really did succeed on that front.
I think the intention was to make something that felt not of this time and slightly not of this world. The intention is to make music that is nostalgic for a time that never really was. That’s sort of the nature of songwriting, isn’t it? To rewrite your memories more beautifully, to try to apply order to the chaos that was your life. Rewriting the words of your past to make them less painful and singing them over and over again until you believe the lie.
What’s the story arc for “Berg And I”? American Horror Story meets Bergman’s Persona?
Close! It’s actually based on a short story by [Jorge Luis] Borges called Borges and I.
Well, it’s about that and getting blackout drunk and cheating on your boyfriend on tour. See what I mean about rewriting your memories? I have a lot of ghosts that follow me around, a lot of regrets. But I’ve trapped them all in song form, you see. And so maybe, just maybe, they can’t haunt me anymore.
You added your Christmas collaboration with Ryan Ross, “The Bad List,” on the record. Was it a thematic thing? Or was it symbolic? Naturally, you’ll have to explain to me what it was symbolic of…
Yes, I did… I actually retooled the record a bit at the last minute. I took away a few songs that felt like they compromised the integrity of the experiment and added a few songs that felt like they better lived within it. Ryan and I wrote “The Bad List” to be a Christmas song. But it ended up being so much more. Ryan was such a big part of many of the years this record is about, and “The Bad List” felt like a really beautiful finale to the record. To us, and to those tumultuous years. And that haunting “say goodbye” felt like the right way to let it end. Followed by the sinister little “Epilogue,” a moment to sit and grieve and process before the whole thing really ends.
What do you hope listeners take away from Nunnery? And what do you think the reality will be?
I can only hope that they enjoy spending a little time in my little world. A world in which it’s always raining, the ghosts of loves long lost forever haunt you, you absolutely never learn your lesson and a trail of blood, bobby pins, broken hearts and violins follow you wherever you go. But there’s always just a little twinkle of mischief in your eye.
Reality? No such thing.
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