ELIZABETH ‘Z’ BERG of THE LIKE is a voracious reader of Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but also counts an appearance in a recent episode of 90210 as a career highlight. “I talk like a sailor and I drink like one too, but get me in a mini-dress and I’m all giggles and smiles!” she tells ALASDAIR DUNCAN.
Elizabeth ‘Z’ Berg has an almost improbably perfect rock & roll backstory – Los Angeles born and bred, the child of a former Geffen Records executive, she and her best friend Tennessee Thomas have played in bands since their high school days, and currently form the core of glamorous girl group The Like, who hobnob with Phoenix and Mark Ronson and make gorgeous ‘60s-inspired videos. Her whole deal seems too good to be true, until you actually meet her – funny, foul-mouthed and endlessly quotable, she gushes about books, boys and beauty, changing tack so frequently that it’s difficult to keep up.
Los Angeles is a city so ingrained in rock & roll mythology – The Eagles, Stevie Nicks, the Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Strip – that it must surely be a heady place for a young musician to grow up. “I’m one of the few people who can say I was born in L.A.,” Berg says with a laugh. “People are always a little shocked when I tell them that – it’s like seeing a unicorn or something, it’s so rare out here. People are never born here. I think they just come here to die.” Berg does not require a lot of prompting to wax lyrical on the magic and mystery of the city.
“I like to say that Los Angeles is like The Bible – you can pretty much find anything in it,” she tells me. “Anything you want, you can find here. That makes it the most difficult place on the planet to visit – it’s so spread out and there’s so much here that without a good tour guide, you would just get lost in the wasteland. Once you know the place, it’s about finding your niche. It’s a really magical city – I feel really lucky to be from here, and its vastness had a real effect on shaping me and my art.”
As far as musical influences go, Berg is a life-long disciple of The Beatles. “I think I was brainwashed a little as a kid,” she tells me. “I pretty much only heard The Beatles until the age of about 10. I have a great memory of being five years old and a friend of mine saying ‘I like rap’ and me saying, quite smugly, ‘well I only listen to The Beatles’. I was a big thing for me growing up, just hearing them. That was my musical education and where my understanding of songwriting comes from.”
“From there, it pretty much went chronologically,” she continues. “I started listening to The Stones a lot, and Dylan, which was the next real huge thing for me, and then The Supremes and The Ronettes and The Shirelles and The Kinks and The Beach Boys. From there, I started getting into punk and listening to The Pistols and The Clash and The Slits, and then a lot of great girl post-punk stuff like The Raincoats, then some ‘90s stuff like Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine and The Sundays. I’m always going back to those influences, because they’re the things that first made me want to be an artist.”
The Like’s newest record, Release Me, is an album rich in garage-inspired rock and pop, with a strong rhythmical underpinning, thanks in part to its producer, one Mark Ronson. Working with Ronson was an eye-opening experience for the young band – thanks, in no small part, to the time constraints that come with such an in-demand producer. “This record was just a mad experience, because of how little time we had,” Berg tells me. “They locked us in a room with Mark and said, ‘make a record in a week or you don’t get to make one at all!’ A lot of that urgency really comes through in the finished product.”
“The first five days, we recorded nine songs,” she continues. “Everything is live to tape, one mic on the drums, all of us in one room, and a lot of the vocals are one-take. It was the most terrifying but also the most creative record-making experience possible.” Would they do it again? Berg says definitely. “Not having the luxury to second-guess yourself can sometimes be your greatest blessing, because at the end of the day, you know what you have to do, and you’re forced to do it. Sometimes, just having a week is more than enough – there’s not enough time for your vision to get diluted!”
Many of the songs on the album revolve around a mysterious ‘he’ – Wishing He Was Dead, He’s Not A Boy. Is there any one ‘he’ who inspired them, I ask? “Oh, it’s quite a collection,” Berg says coyly. “One day, when the Behind The Music comes out, there’ll be great stories of who these songs are about, because it’s all funny.” She won’t tell me any more than that, or whether drummer Tennessee Thomas’s brief relationship with Ronson proved an inspiration, but insists that all of the songs on the record draw heavily on personal experiences.
“I always admire the people who can write stories when they write lyrics, but I’m not one of them,” Berg tells me. “I don’t really understand how to separate myself. The reason why I write songs, I think, is that I’m broken enough that I really don’t know how else to deal with the things in my life. The way I fix them is I write songs. This record is extremely personal, because it’s about a period of great personal turmoil. There’s a lot of stuff there...”
From here, we turn to the question of aesthetics. The Like’s videos are uniformly gorgeous – just check out He’s Not A Boy, with its ravishing mod styling. “It’s fun to be in a band with all girls, because we like to play dress-ups!” Berg says when I bring this up. “That’s the one very feminine aspect of me. I talk like a sailor and I drink like one too, but get me in a mini-dress and I’m all giggles and smiles! So yeah, that part’s fun, and also, I just like for every aspect of what we do aesthetically to be as pleasing as the others. It’s fun to make the way we look in the videos and the images that we put out as much of an art piece as the music is.
“That aspect was such a huge part of The Beatles and The Stones and all of those girl groups and Motown artists,” she continues. “They had dance teachers and image consultants. That was always such a huge part of rock & roll, and I really feel it has been lost somewhat in the last couple of decades. My biggest problem with the generation I live in is that the advent of cheap materials and convenience and post-modernism has had a huge effect on ruining the concept of beauty and aestheticism. There’s just such a lack of attention to detail and appreciation of beauty. I grew up loving Oscar Wilde – I like for things to be beautiful! It’s not an unnatural thing, it’s not forced, it’s just that I like structure in my universe. That’s why I’m an artist. I like to apply a bit of order to the chaos.”