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Getting To KnowPom Pom Squad


I meet a lot of girls of colour who love punk music, but when they're looking at the stage, they’re not looking at themselves.
Alternative Melodies United States - Published: 1st August 2017 - - Words & Questions: A Lonely Ghost Burning -

Delivered with her heart on her sleeve, there exists both a gripping dynamism and compelling vulnerability about the work of New York-based Pom Pom Squad. The expressive alternative-punk project of Mia Berrin featured on the sixth volume in our Alternative Melodies compilation series, her debut EP, Hate It Here, having demanded attention via a dramatically delivered yet highly believable emotional purge; a deep exhalation of inner turmoil and an impassioned reminder that it's okay to feel things and to feel them intensely. A Lonely Ghost Burning spent some time getting to know Mia, who discussed at length how critical she believes it is to keep herself visible as the project lead, finding her artistic identity, visceral feelings, being compared to Britney Spears (in a tale of casual sexism), problematic attention from fans, her journey into an alternative scene lacking diversity, and the difficulties faced by other women of colour who might wish to follow her path.

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The Interview

For how long have you been writing songs, and what was it that inspired you to start?

Mia: I’ve been around music for as long as I can remember. I come from a very musically-inclined family, but I never picked up an instrument until I was probably twelve or thirteen. I started writing songs with the intention of starting a project when I was a sophomore in high school.

And what was it that prompted you to actually start releasing your music?

Mia: I’d had this idea for Pom Pom Squad — my best friend is a drummer, so I was like, “We have to start a band! How cool would it be!” I was like, “We’re gonna have an all girl band and it’s gonna be incredible.” She got really busy with things, so it devolved into this thing that I would do in my bedroom — it was a total solo project. When I was eighteen, I went to Pitchfork Music Festival, and it was the first time I’d really been up close and seen all of these bands and all these women be congratulated for screaming and really using their voices in ways that weren’t necessarily pretty. That had never occurred to me before. I loved riot grrrl and I’d listen to a lot of noise music, but I had never thought that I could do it; it never clicked for me. I went home, wrote Lux Lisbon, and recorded it alone in my room, very nervously.

Since then, you’ve obviously picked up other band members. Has doing so changed the way you perceive the project?

Mia: Yeah. I mean, I think the intention of the project is the same — it’s a really good release for me, emotionally, to be able to write these things and express myself — but I definitely wanted it from the beginning to be a female project. I wanted it to be a riot grrrl band. Serendipitously, I was trying to find female band members, but I couldn’t find anybody in time, which sucked. So, the guys (Alex Carr: lead guitar, percussion & Zoltán Sindhu: bass, percussion) and I initially struggled with what the dynamic was gonna be. I think there was this idea when we all started that they were the temporary band, so they felt excluded and isolated. We finally found a good balance…

It was hard for me to put myself at the front of the project for a while, so I would put my friends or other girls on the release covers; Hate It Here is the first time I’ve put myself on the cover art. I think I still needed, in some way, to be about femininity, female empowerment and empowerment of women of colour, and so to have this band and it to be all male — we have to be very careful about the dynamic in terms of the imagery.

Okay, so for those who are unaware: What is your process as a songwriter?

Mia: Every time I get asked this, I’ve been mentioning this Leonard Cohen interview. It was one of the last interviews he did before he died, and he was like, “You don’t write the songs.” If I sit down to write a song, it’s usually pretty unproductive — with the exception of today, actually! I have a deadline for the first time, and it’s still a waiting game, it’s just a waiting game in a much shorter amount of time. I like to let it happen naturally; usually, I’ll be walking down the street or in class and I’ll come up with a riff. I always try to carry a notebook, and I always try to get it down and record it really quickly into the memos on my phone. That’s usually how songs form for me.

Has having a deadline had any significant effect on your ability to create?

Mia: I think, for the first time, I had to try a bunch of different chord progressions and a bunch of different concepts. When I have all the time in the world, I’ll kinda marinate in a concept and be like, “Well, whatever happens with it is gonna happen. The song’s gonna get written one day, maybe next year, maybe tomorrow — who knows?” But, with this song, the theme has to be very specific, and I’ve been testing out chord progressions all day. I finally landed on one that I liked, but it was very frustrating. I work decently well under pressure, but it’s agonising for the first section.

Is there a particular mood you tend to be in when you do your best writing?

Mia: Hmm… That’s a very good question… I think I need to be in a relatively relaxed space. Living in New York, you don’t really have a lot of time to think or to finish thoughts, so I find that during the school year, I write less and less, or I don’t finish songs. I need to wait until I have a decent amount of time to really be there with it.

What is the most important element in any song that you write?

Mia: That I believe what I’m saying. No-one’s going to believe you if you don’t believe you. If I find myself writing a line that I don’t think is worth listening to, it’s gone; I don’t want to make anything inauthentic.

When you have a basic idea, how easily do you find it to build upon?

Mia: I think it depends on the idea. Most of Hate It Here came pretty naturally. There were certain songs that were agonising, but a lot of them I didn’t have to think about too much; it just clicked and made sense. There are songs that I’ve had in my notebook since high school that are still not built, so I think it’s really specific to the idea.

With regards those songs that were agonising: What was it about them that made them so?

Mia: Me. [laughs] I was very afraid when I wrote them of letting my voice be heard. When I used to record alone, I could put a bunch of effects on things. I remember the first cut of Pharmacy — someone messaged me through Bandcamp and was like, “Could you just put the vocal up a little?” So, I went in and I put the vocal up, and it’s still pretty masked when I listen to the version that’s up. The version where there are no effects, there’s a stark difference. When I started recording with Alex, who has a lot of really great technology and gear, and I had the realisation that people would actually hear me singing, I was very nervous.

So, definitely letting myself be heard and received, but also I was scared of being soft. Songs like He Never Shows terrified me. That song is a total crush song; it’s very vulnerable. Then, also, I remember Hate It Here was one of the harder songs to write, actually, because I was in such a place where I wanted to be seen as a punk artist and have a punk identity, but all the things I was writing felt so soft and so vulnerable. I was like, “How can I be a punk and still have a bleeding, open heart?” Then I was like, “Oh wait, it’s the same thing.” It’s about an attitude, it’s about a style. That song when it finally came together was so satisfying for me, because it does have the yelling, and it does have the softness. I had a friend come up to me after a show and be like, “How can you be so aggressive and so vulnerable at the same time?” That was an absolute success.

There’s this Mitski song — I just got into music school, and I wrote my entrance essay about this song. It’s a very soft song, but it has this militaristic, electronic drum. At the end of it, she just screams like nine times, and it’s the most cathartic thing. I’ve always wanted to do that in a song, so Hate It Here was my equivalent of screaming nine times. [laughs]

You mention being nervous about people hearing your vocals. Is this because you don’t necessarily identify as a singer?

Mia: No, I’m actually a much better singer than I am a musician; I’ve been singing for much longer. I’m not entirely sure; I think there’s something really vulnerable about letting your voice be heard, and vulnerability is hard for everybody. It’s not something you learn how to do, and you get into the real world and you have to open up to people. It’s so easy, now, to be closed; you have a phone, you have a personality — everyone can kinda build their brand. You don’t have to be real.

But I think, vocally, there’s definitely something about letting your guard down. I used to be very self-conscious about my voice. I’ve gone in phases with it. I used to always wish that I had a higher pitched voice; I wanted to have a really pretty voice, and I felt my voice was too low or not feminine enough. Now, I’m on the total opposite end of the spectrum where I feel more comfortable screaming a lot of the time than I feel singing, because you have to have control — singing is a very controlled act. I used to get comments a lot, like, “I can’t imagine you singing Lux”. They can’t imagine you singing those songs where you’re yelling. I would have friends that would only like the songs where I was singing, but not like the songs where I was screaming. I didn’t want to be pretty, so when I was writing these songs that were pretty, I didn’t know who I was.

When you’ve been vulnerable in your work, does it then become easier the next time?

Mia: No. [laughs] I think you go back to where you started. I think now that Hate It Here is out and people have heard it and decided how they feel about it, it’s easy to forget that songs were hard to write, or songs were difficult for me to sing, or the guitar parts were difficult for me to play. Now that it’s in my body, it’s a lot easier, but I’m writing a new record for us right now, and it’s back to the same place, where I’m like, “No-one’s gonna like this. What am I doing? What are you saying? Why are you talking about that? Talk about something else. Just write another Hate It Here! People already liked it!” [laughs] I’m definitely back in the trenches trying to figure out if what I’m saying is worth saying.

We’ve been recording very, very slowly; it’s been a much slower process. Hate It Here, we recorded in a week, and it was just me and Alex for most of the time and then Zoltán came and did the bass and the drums. This recording process has been interesting because I can’t decide if I’m recording the songs because I want them to be finished, or because they are finished.

You just said, very deliberately, that you are currently writing a record for us. Does the differentiation between Pom Pom Squad being a solo project creatively, but a three-piece band for studio and live purposes, ever make things awkward?

Mia: Yeah, I’ve definitely worked very hard to keep my identity as Pom Pom Squad, because this project has been mine for so long and I’ve gone through so many concepts with it. I am very specific about the visual element and how I want us to be perceived. It is a little bit difficult because I don’t know how much to include the guys. I love the guys; I absolutely love working with them — they’ve been so kind to me, and we’ve really found our niche as a group, I feel — but, I remember we were all at a party and this girl came up to me and was like, “You need women in your band. It almost weakens your message that you don’t have women in your band.” That was hard for me to hear, because it’s so difficult to find people that you love working with, and then to be told that your message is not the same because of them…

I came from Orlando where there was a huge pop-punk scene when I was growing up, and now there’s a huge alternative scene — I couldn’t find collaborators. I came to New York, and I couldn’t find collaborators. I finally find people I feel comfortable with — when we get in the studio now, we know each other’s rhythms — and to be told that the message is different…

I’ve been, like I said before, working hard to keep myself at the forefront of the imagery, keep women at the forefront of the imagery, people of colour, people who are non-white, people who are of different sexual preferences and identities. I’ve just been trying to make it a very inclusive project — because I felt so excluded from so many of the music scenes that I’ve attempted to break into. That’s been an interesting process: finding what Pom Pom Squad is.

Why was is that you felt excluded from those scenes? Was it because of the colour of your skin? Was it because you’re a woman?

Mia: It’s both of those things; it’s neither of those things. Riot grrrl was the first time. My mum raised me on The Smiths, The Cure, New Order. My dad was classic hip-hop, like Eric B. & Rakim, Run DMC. That was what my household sounded like, so the middle ground between them was alternative music. When I started to find my own musical identity as a teenager, riot grrrl was the first thing that set my heart on fire. It was a very visceral experience to hear those words and sounds and to be an angsty teen absorbing the sounds of other angsty teens. I remember when I realised that there were no women of colour in riot grrrl, it was really disappointing. They weren’t talking about me; they were talking about something else. I still love the music, but I love the music with a grain of salt, knowing that that’s not my story, that’s not my issue. Also, I’m mixed-race, so I’ve never really identified with one identity in particular — I just identify as mixed-race. It sort of felt like, growing up, I was the white friend, I was the black friend, I was the Spanish friend, and it was like, “No, I’m not. I’m barely your friend. I’m just a person.” I just wanted to be nothing. So, I have always felt between identities, and I always wanted to find my perfect mixture and make room for other people that didn’t feel like they had a place to land.

So, do you feel like you’ve had to forge your own path into an alternative scene rather than follow a pre-existing one?

Mia: I definitely feel like I’ve had to forge a path in a lot of ways. The first artist that I ever heard talking about what it’s like to be of a different culture in alternative music was Mitski. She has a song called ‘Your Best American Girl’ where she talks about loving somebody of a different culture, and she’s also stated in interviews that that song means a bunch of different things — it’s not necessarily about race. But, for me, I heard that and I understood it in a way that was very visceral, and new, because it was a confirmation that, these things I felt, other people had felt. I think you always need that, to whatever degree, to proceed. I don’t think anything is strictly original; everything is born from layers of influence — like radiation. Even if you didn’t hear this artist, that artist is in you in some way.

I would still love to forge a path and to make more room. I meet a lot of girls of colour who love punk music, but when they’re looking at the stage, they’re not looking at themselves. Sometimes, that’s good, but other times, when you have a lot of questions about where you belong in the world, it’s good to look up and to see that you exist.

Do you feel that the independent alternative scene is becoming more inclusive?

Mia: I do. I think there have definitely been movements where room is being made for people. I think that there are still miles to go before we sleep, but it’s something. I’m hoping we’re coming up on a good time.

Are there any especially prominent creative obstacles you face?

Mia: The fear of myself. [laughs] I keep going back to this concept, but things that I will allow and will not allow myself to say. I don’t remember who told me that if you’re afraid of something, you should usually follow it; that’s something I’ve been trying to live by in the process of songwriting. And fear of being misconstrued is a big one.

Are there misconceptions that you feel people make about you then?

Mia: I’ve been lucky enough that the feedback so far has been really overwhelmingly positive. Imagistically, a misconception has often been made — based on cover art, based on other things — that I’m not the one behind it, and that is something that is very frustrating for me. Something that is an honest mistake, especially when Teenage Girls came out — they see this picture on the cover of three girls, and they assume that’s the band. But it’s not! I have three friends who are talented and beautiful in their own right for other reasons. I’m also a big feeler; I feel a lot of things. I have to be very careful with my words because of that. I really have to stop and tell myself, “They couldn’t have known. It’s fine.” But I definitely have a burning desire to assert myself as the person behind it. Even when we first started the project, the guys would ask Alex, like, “Should we do this? Are we doing the right thing?” And I’m like, “Well, you can ask me that question because… it’s mine.” [laughs]

Which is exactly how it should be.

Mia: Yeah, but I think there’s still a lot of stigmas around. For the most part, I’ve had extremely positive experiences with bookers, with venues, with sound people, but we’ve had a couple where they really won’t talk to me, they’ll talk to the guys. I had this guy after a show — and it was funny, but I think about it sometimes in terms of the implication — explain to me that we were a mix of Hole, Nirvana and Britney Spears. I thought it was hilarious, but I was sort of trying to get him to say that I was the Britney Spears, because there’s nothing in our sound that is particularly Britney Spearsian. I was like, “So, why Britney Spears? Why Britney Spears?” And he says, “Well, it’s about what the eyes are taking in.” I was like, “So, what are the eyes taking in?” I was wearing a school uniform skirt, an old college t-shirt and fishnets. He was like, “Well, you know: you wore that skirt for a reason. You wore those tights for a reason.” I’m like, “Okay, so I’m Britney Spears. Nothing about them is Britney Spears. I’m Britney Spears.” So, effectively, ‘you are teenage sex object wearing guitar’. I was like, “So, the guys are Nirvana, I’m Courtney/Britney.”

That must be incredibly frustrating.

Mia: It’s mostly funny, but I think there’s the macro and the micro of it. The macro is: alright, you see a teenage girl on stage doing her thing, and the micro of it is: layers and layers and layers of preconception, and what you bring into the venue with you when you come to watch the show, which is, ‘female is lead singer’. And admittedly, I don’t really know how to play the guitar — I’m learning now; the guys joined the band, and I realised that I had to step my game up — but it makes it that much more difficult to want to improve when I feel like I have to be perfect to be respected.

How easy then is it for you to convince yourself that your work is worthwhile?

Mia: Some days are better than others. The biggest change in my life recently has been that I changed from acting school to music school. I had a really amazing teacher in between that transition who told me that your work doesn’t matter until you decide that it matters. I’ve really taken that to heart, because it’s true. Everyone is making art. Everyone is trying to do something — especially in New York; it’s such a bustling scene. I place a lot of importance on making sure that I have something worth showing to people. I personally feel like I have to make sure it’s cohesive, and I have to make sure it’s a project; it can’t just be that I throw it on the internet.

Is there anything that irritates or frustrates you about the style of music that you make?

Mia: I sometimes find that it’s embarrassing. [laughs]


Mia: I don’t know! I think, and maybe this is just proximity, but I sometimes hear the things that I’m making and I’m like, “Oh, my God! What are you doing?” People are like, “Oh, it’s pop-punk”, and I’m like, “Nooooooooooooooo!” [laughs] “It can’t be pop-punk!” And, it probably is.

I don’t think so.

Mia: I personally don’t think so either, but we get a lot of interesting genre titles. [laughs] Sometimes, when I listen to it, it sounds geeky, and I think, again, it’s totally just me being inside of it and knowing what went into it — to other people, it probably sounds fine. I think there’s always this pressure and want, in such a busy music scene, to make something cooler, more musically complex, more nuanced — and I don’t write like that. There are times when it’s a little bit more nuanced, but what happens is going to happen, I think, and I know the second I start getting precious about this is when it dies.

Okay, so obviously your music is very sad, and you identify as making ‘sad girl music’. Firstly, is that identifier deadly serious, or is it meant more playfully?

Mia: I think it’s a little cheeky. I think it’s one of those jokes that your friend makes, where they’re like, “Oh, my God, I wanna die!” And you’re like, “Haha!”, with a little bit of “Are you okay?” I think that’s where I’m at.

What sort of trajectory do you feel your writing is on with regards sadness? Is it getting more sad, less sad, or is it pretty stable?

Mia: Alex said something the other day. We recorded a new song that we’ve played the last couple of shows, and he said, “Mia, the new stuff feels a lot more triumphant.” Which made me feel really nice. I think, when I wrote Hate It Here, I was in a very particular place, and I did feel like a loser in love and in life. I had a couple of acting teachers tell me, “You really like to play the loser. You need to stop playing the loser. Play the winner!” I was like, “No, I wanna play the loser right now. I wanna play how I feel.” Now, I feel more together. I feel more pulled apart, but in different ways, about different things. From an outside perspective, Alex says ‘more triumphant’, and I’m okay with that.

Is the sadness in your work ever reciprocated? By which, I mean when you play or listen back to the songs, do they generate sadness within you?

Mia: I’m definitely reminded of a specific place, but I think I can look at it now and feel, again, more triumphant. I feel a lot of pride when I listen back to Hate It Here. And again, it’s different on different days. I remember the recording process and feeling like there were so many things we could have done differently, and I listen back to them now, and it feels like that’s the only way they could have been. I think it’s good to remember how I felt, but I think there’s also a level of disconnect after performing them and hearing them a bunch and having my friends make jokes about them. It’s not quite the same as if I was listening to it back then.

When you perform the songs live, does it become increasingly difficult to muster the level of emotion that they perhaps need to be at their best?

Mia: No, I’m very lucky to come from an acting background, because that’s something I did learn. It’s like acting Shakespeare: everything you need is there, and I think, in some weird way, my body knows those emotions and knows those sensations, so it’s like riding a bike. I love doing the live shows and I love getting overtaken by everything that’s going on and by a crowd — there’s just an energy that changes and I kind of blackout and whatever happens, happens. I have a really bad habit of rewatching performances a lot and with a very clinical eye. [laughs]

Have there been plenty of opportunities for you to perform live?

Mia: There have been. I’m a really, really lucky person. The reason we started playing shows was that Alex has a project under his name — Alex Carr — where he was playing with the band, and they were booking, so he asked me, “Would you be interested in playing Pom Pom Squad shows?” I was like, “Would you play guitar?” and he was like, “Yeah, I’d be down.” I think that was the most exciting prospect for me about starting a band in the first place: getting to perform. Basically, Alex and Zoltán were putting me on their bills for a while, and then after that I would get emails on my Pom Pom Squad accounts getting asked to play shows. So, it’s been a while since I’ve had to email a venue and be like, “Hi! Can you let us play here”, which has been a huge privilege.

So, do you have any fears that being an artist brings into greater focus?

Mia: I think when I started putting things on the internet — throwing them into the internet abyss — I would open every message and every email and wince. I’d be prepared for someone to say something that would just completely crush my spirit. Oh, gosh, watch: this interview’s gonna come out and it’s finally gonna happen! But it has not yet happened. There have been things that have happened that bother me about the way that fans interact with me, particularly. But, so far, the response to the music has been great — better than I could ask for.

A fears it does bring into focus is: being respected — as a woman. I was talking to a friend of mine about this last night. There was an influx, for a while, of DMs and men coming up to me after shows and asking me out. There was a teenage boy at a show who asked me to prom, and I thought that was the most endearing thing, but other times it’s this thing where men want to explain my gear to me or my sound to me, and I’m like, “I’ll learn about it, and I know about it. Thank you.” … I think, and I’m so conflicted about even saying this, part of me wants there to be a sense of separation between an audience and me because, if me being on stage and me presenting my feelings is going to make me attainable, I don’t want to be attainable.

There are other fans who are so sweet and will send me their music and be like, “Tell me what you think!” And I’ll be upfront with them, like, “I’m not that separated from you.” But, I would rather a sense of separation mean a little bit more respect than a sense of closeness mean that men feel comfortable asking me out without having met me, without having spoken to me, without seeing if there is any reciprocated interest. It’s a really difficult territory to navigate, because I want to be able to talk to everybody, and I love talking to people after the shows, and I love getting messages. I love how human it is and how being in a band has put me in social circles and allowed me to meet people that I wouldn’t have met in other circumstances. So, I guess it comes with the territory, and I guess it just is the way it’s going to be, but that’s something that I’ve started to notice and started to become afraid of. I’m very conflicted in that I want to be a bigger band, and I want to have more exposure, but I know that more exposure is gonna bring more trouble — as it does, because you have a broader group of people there to tell you about yourself and tell you what’s wrong.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the band Pinegrove. They’re blowing up right now, but there was an article that got published — all too recently — saying that the girl from Pinegrove is beautiful but useless. In what world is it okay to say that? No-one would say that about a male member of the band; it just would not happen. It really does blow my mind. There’s no winning until society can get its shit together.

Do you think these things have been made worse by the political climate of the past twelve months?

Worse and also better. I’m really lucky to have, in that time, been surrounded by artists, and be in New York where, for the most part, I can talk about how I feel politically and not be criticised. I think it’s a good time for art. Art is revolutionary and does change culture. For me, if I can make my feelings clear as an artist of colour, if I can make myself visible as an artist of colour to other women of colour as some kind of signal that you can say how you feel and you can be heard…

I’ve shied away from very on the nose political commentary, but I’m not going to hesitate to speak about political issues, as me. There was a lot of controversy with the band PWR BTTM recently, which is extremely disappointing because they were such a light for a lot of young, queer kids coming up in the rock scene. I think a lot of people wanted to keep their mouths shut about it, but I was just like, “This is unacceptable.” I wanted to be very open about that. If I’m lucky enough that you’re listening to me, I want you to know that you deserve better as a queer person in music.

And how about in terms of the brazen male attention that you mentioned before? Have things become worse in that respect, given the attitudes of those in power?

Mia: Yes and no. I think men in the rock scene are a little bit more nuanced, which is unfortunate. I feel that sometimes there are men who feel like, “Well, I understand that that’s wrong, so I’m not gonna do that, but I’m gonna do it in a subtler way.” … I want to make sure that what I’m saying is being heard the way it’s meant to be heard, because it’s very easy, especially in this political climate, for people to feel attacked, and that’s not how I want anybody to feel, but there’s definitely like a ‘Well, I Know Better’ syndrome, and sometimes people simply don’t know better, think what they’re doing is right, and don’t know how or why it could be wrong. That’s sometimes even harder.

I’ll tell this story: I got in a fight with a man at a diner because he asked me about my thoughts and beliefs, and he was telling me that the world is open to me. He was like, “Well, race doesn’t really matter anymore. I know so many artists of colour who are successful, and it’s not about them being a person of colour.” And I was like, “Alright, I hear that, but also you’re telling me that from the perspective of a presumably straight, white male.” This was a total stranger to me, and he was like, “Wow! You’re really leaning on that feminist card. You’re really leaning on that minority card.” I was like, “I’m not leaning on anything. This is just the lens which I have been given to see the world.” I know that I’m naive, I know I’m very young and I know I don’t have all the experience that a lot of other people have, but I think I have grown up in a very unique way, trying to forge my own identity. I can sympathise with a lot of people, I can emphasise very easily, and I was very frustrated. Because that’s how people think: that they’re doing me a favour by telling me the world is open to me, and I’m like, “Well, I am in the world, and I can see which doors are closed. For you to tell me that they’re not closed is not fair to me.” Because if I could enter, I would enter.

I think, in a lot of ways, it is really amazing to be an artist of colour, because people do want to hear me, but at the same time, they wanna hear me to fulfil a very specific expectation and to fulfil their own goals — sometimes it feels more self-serving than generous. Sometimes, I feel like people want to hear me so they can say, “Look at me! I’m listening to an artist of colour. I hear it! I’m with it!” Then, at the same time, I can’t blame anybody for not knowing how I feel, because how could they? So, it’s very difficult to navigate.

As a curator, I want to promote diversity; I want everyone who discovers this project to feel they are welcome and they are seen. At the same time, even on a progressive, inclusive platform like Bandcamp — which is where I source the vast majority of the artists for the compilations — it is evident that people of colour especially are hugely under-represented across the genres I search and seek to cover, ‘alternative’ absolutely being one of them.

Mia: Yeah, and it’s a more difficult line to walk given that there’s already systematic obstruction. There’s already all these layers of problems that get in the way, and some people don’t have the same opportunities. There’s already systematic problems in how we hear music and whose music we think is worthy of our time that are influenced by race, that are influenced by gender. We don’t even realise where those barriers are, half the time.

I think, also… I have a pretty jazzy voice when I sing classically, and I never wanted to do R&B — it just wasn’t ever my thing. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I think sometimes it just doesn’t occur to people that they can act or be a certain way, or look into a certain style of music. For other people, they have that moment.

Clearly there is much more to be said on this issue but, given we’re like an hour into this thing, I feel we probably need to move on. So, how do you keep yourself interested in your art when the buzz of a new song or great show wears off?

Mia: I think that, as much as I love the buzz, and as much as I love the attention, I’m in it for the art, and I think I have to be. It’s hard. There were definitely times when I was obsessed with the stats and obsessed with the attention. I got a lot of love, and I want to give a lot of love — I’m a very emotional person, and a lot of the things I do are predicated on emotions, so I think I have to make it about the art, and I have to make it about expression, because if I make it about anything else then what’s the point?

What do you feel that you gain from being artistically inclined?

Mia: I gain perspective, and I think perspective is extremely important. I think I’m very lucky to be someone who makes art. Art really is a very dangerous thing; historically, when you want to overthrow a society, the first people you get rid of are the artists. The artist has a few jobs in society: to interrogate an idea, to celebrate an idea, or to propagate an idea. I think art is the vehicle of culture; it can change things. And I hear myself, and I hear this very art-school mentality, but at the same time, when I meet adults — and I’m really lucky to have been mentored by really incredible working artists — I just don’t know what else I could do. I think I see the world differently, and I think I’m allowed to see the world differently. It’s just another set of eyes with which you get to see, and I’m happy that that’s my set of eyes.

Finally, to what extent would you like your creative output to define you as a person?

Mia: Ooh, that’s a really interesting question… I feel that, in my life, I’m a nice girl and a normal girl, and I think in my emotional life, I feel a lot of things that I’m not allowed to express because of social contract. There have been so many times where I felt like I was going to explode, especially in acting school. Times where people told me I was very neat, very together, very mature and very grown up. On the inside, I feel like a baby; all of these visceral, big feelings. I think that, in my art, I get to be the person I feel like on the inside.

When you put music out, it’s not yours anymore; you don’t get the same ownership of it that you have when it’s just yours. People hear it, and they perceive it through their set of eyes and through their set of lenses, and they’re gonna hear what they’re meant to hear because that’s what they can hear. So, I think no-one can ever truly know me through my creative output, but I think, at the same time, if what I make can make somebody feel good, feel understood or feel angry, then sure, that can define me, but I’m only going to be defined by what you can make of my words, my voice my body — whatever I’m presenting to you.

Pom Pom Squad featured onAlternative Melodies 6

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