Speaking to Blunt Magazine from Los Angeles, the artist, known as Z Berg, reinforces that the constant focus of her art on mortality is not something that she “puts on.” There’s no concept album, just the general concept that all of our human experiences have an expiry date. You can trace her preoccupation with death throughout her entire musical career, from her first band The Like to her debut solo full-length, Get Z to a Nunnery. As morbid as that may sound, Z Berg was one of the few among us actually primed for what 2020 put on the table, dropping the aforementioned album smack bang in the middle of last year.
“There definitely was a question of, ‘Is it a crazy thing to put out a record that I can’t tour in the middle of this complete chaos?’ And then I realised, my record is literally the ideal listening experience for being plague-quarantined and depressed.” It’s morbid, but Z Berg smiles, adding that as much as she would have liked to tour on the album, “there was actually something a little bit refreshing about that experience of being able to put something out in the world and then just starting something new.”
Flash forward to what that “something new” would end up manifesting as; Z Berg in the pandemic re-watching Grey’s Anatomy on a loop, trying to figure out how she could put this catastrophic turn of events into words and song. “It’s hard not to feel pretty endlessly sad about it. I mean, we’ve started opening everything up and now there’s like a mass shooting every day. It’s like, there’s not even a moment to feel like anything will be alright.”
She continues: “I’ve been obsessed with plagues since I was a little kid. And so when this happened, I was just like, ‘I told you all.’ And like, it was raining every day. And so I just sat in bed and I learned how to edit and I made this whole visual album and then I just immediately started working on another record. I think if I hadn’t been able to work and create and write and have that, I mean, I would have lost my mind. I’m making a record with one of my best friends in his studio is his house. So, I’ve basically just gone from my house to his house.”
Ironically, despite having spent her life preparing mentally for this kind of event to occur, Z Berg reiterates that writing about a global crisis while it’s taking place is easier said than done. Most stories have a beginning, middle and end, but there’s a haze over how we’ll get out of this particular bind, and therefore coming to terms with it is a little premature. On her new album, she dabbles in the subjects of confinement and isolation, but dominantly faces the truths that a recent break-up unsurfaced to her.
“So, here’s the fun wrinkle!” she proclaims. “I remember when this first happened, I had this feeling that it’s very hard to reflect upon something this extreme and tragic and intense and unique when you’re in the middle of it. I also went through this horrific break-up in January, so my year started off with a bang to begin with. I comically remember thinking like, ‘How could I possibly feel this bad? How could anything be this bad?’ And that was January.
“So I think a lot of what I’ve written about has been relationship-oriented, but through the lens of this time and the self-reflection that this period of time has allowed for. I’ve realised, a lot of my music, despite being super depressive and plague-y in vibe…Well, I have a song called ‘I Fall For The Same Face Every Time’. And it’s basically about resignedly repeating the same mistakes, over and over again. My hope is that this will be the last record written about identical, toxic, drug-addicted boys that I date. I’m an intelligent, self-loving, literate bisexual who chooses to date men who are awful, but what does that say about me? Do I date people with intimacy issues, or am I the one with intimacy issues?”
Given how generous with both her time and her truth Z Berg is, the answer is likely that there are some pretty shitty people in the world, but she’s just not one of them. She notes that the self-awareness that she’s carried with her since childhood has been something that she used to “continue bad patterns of behaviour, because I’m like, ‘Well, I know I do this.’” The other conclusion that she’s come to of late is that “art does not require you to be consistently suffering and brutalised. There are other things to write about.” In that sense, she ironically states that her music is sounding a little happier these days. “I make end-of-the-world music and then the world ends,” she laughs. “And I’m like, ‘What if we made some music for the club?’”
Having said that, tossing aside a bad relationship and framing dark thoughts in a pop melody doesn’t mean that all of the other problems that she’ll grapple with in her lifetime have disappeared. There’s still a global pandemic, a climate crisis, lax gun laws, discrimination and oh – death, coming closer and closer with every passing day. But Z Berg has been preparing for this, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to let it stop her.
“Anytime I think that someone I love is going to die, I call them to tell them I love them. It comes from some kind of slightly dark OCD, but I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to make that positive and to live with intention and with presence and figure out a way to do everything I can.” With new music on the way and projects in every other direction on her mind, she sure is doing just that.