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Interview: Ber spills "juicy deets" of new EP created with Now, Now members

Ber, photographed in St. Paul in December 2023.
Ber, photographed in St. Paul in December 2023.Nate Ryan for MPR
  Play Now [17:24]

by Diane

January 08, 2024

Ber’s music first debuted on The Current’s Local Show on Jan. 30, 2022. Yet by the time our station aired her 2021 acoustic duet “Meant to Be” featuring Charlie Oriain, it had already reached viral internet success — reaching fans all over the world. 

Today, after topping many local music critics’ “Best of 2023” lists with her infectious indie-pop EP “Halfway,” this native of Bemidji, Minnesota, is gearing up for what is likely to be an even bigger year. 

On Jan. 10, she’ll debut the single, “Room For You” — a preview of a new album she’s been working on with Bradley Hale and Cacie “KC Rae” Dalager of Now, Now. On Jan. 12, she’ll perform at First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2023. And on Jan. 26, she’ll kick off The Current’s sold-out 19th Anniversary Party with Lucius and Abraham Alexander, also at First Avenue.

It only makes sense we highlight this rising star as The Local Show’s Artist of the Month. Ber gave us the “juicy deets” on her new, unreleased music, as well as her collaboration and writing process. She also talked about her background story, including the time she spent studying music in Norway and England. 

Transcript edited for clarity and length.

[Your success story] has felt like it's happened so fast. 

I agree, wholeheartedly. 

In 2021, "Meant to Be" came out. That was a song that went viral on TikTok. And then we started playing it on The Current and I was just like, "This girl is from Bemidji? This sounds like just any contemporary pop song you'd hear on any station." … And then I heard "Boys Who Kiss You in Their Car" next, and I was just like, "Are you kidding me?" 

Wow, two polar opposites. (Laugh)

I could obviously hear your talent. And I was just like, "Dang, this is so exciting." 

[Clip of "Boys Who Kiss You in Their Car" plays]

And here you are now. And, also, your song "Superspreader" was named the number one local song by The Current.

Can I say I cried, by the way? I was in Grand Marais when those lists came out. And more and more things just kept coming from The Current on Instagram, and my aunt would text me and be like, "Oh my God!" And I'd sent it to my family … I was like, "Oh, wow, this is so cool."

You obviously have a great voice and presence. But one of the things that I recognize about your music is your lyricism. It's so potent.

Thank you. 

And it's so well written. It's so honest. 

Yeah. Yeah it is (laughs).

But also it's topical. Like, "Superspreader," you think of the pandemic, and then just all of these little inner weavings of cleverness that I just think is so fun to enjoy about your music. And even going back to "Meant to Be." I know a lot of people grasped onto that song because they're like, "Oh, man, I can relate to that," and have their own stories. Tell me about lyricism for you, and writing songs. 

It's been cool to learn about this. But people listen to music so differently. Some people really gravitate towards rhythm and melody. And I have always been a lyrics person. If I've been listening to a song since I was a kid, I know every lyric in that song. That's what always drew me in ... When I'm in a session, I sit down and I stare at these words for a long time. And sometimes it comes right out to me as if it's just a conversation. And sometimes it's like, no, this needs to be perfect. "Superspreader" was kind of that way. That took a long time to [develop the] lyric because I wanted the verses to be so real, but funny, and have a rhyme scheme. And everything needed to land the right way, because I was also being quite sarcastic in a lot of it. And then the lyrics in the chorus are so simple. 

But "Meant to Be" was one of those that also just spilled out of [me and] my friend Charlie [Oriain], who I met over the internet. And we'd been writing and writing and writing and writing and writing every day on Zoom for the whole pandemic. And then we just decided to meet one day when I was on my way over to England. So I went to the Isle of Wight and sat in his backyard. And on the first day we ever met in person, we just sat down and wrote "Meant to Be." And didn't really think it was that good. I sent it to my manager. I was like, I don't know if people are gonna get this. It's a fun play on words, but I just don't know if it's relatable or anything. 

(Laughs) And little did you know.

I know, I'm laughing at it now. But I remember the text that I sent to my manager, and he was just like, "No, what are you talking about?"

[Clip of "Meant to Be" plays]

For me, lyrics are a way for me to be vulnerable with myself. And to be actually honest with myself, and catch myself in a lot of lies, and catch myself in a lot of feelings. And be like, "Oh, this is actually how you feel about something." And I get really emotional when I look at something and it's like, oh, okay, that's how I feel. 

Yeah, just see yourself on paper.

I think that's why sometimes songs like that are kind of scary to show to people because it's such a vulnerable thing. But it's also the only thing that's ever drawn more people in; and I've been able to find people that relate. And so it's two sides of a coin for sure. But I love lyrics. 

I host The Local Show, which is a Minnesota show. Tell me about being a Minnesota girl and growing up in a small town like Bemidji.

Growing up in Bemidji was awesome. The arts culture there is so rich. And so that fueled me a lot. And also their sports teams are — I mean, it's a big hockey town. I'm a huge fan of hockey, just growing up around it. I never played or hardly skated. I did enough, but just recreationally on lakes and stuff, you know, at [Winter Solstice Celebration].

But there was such a beautiful arts community that I got to know really well because of the community theater there. And then once I graduated, or actually moved into high school, I participated in show choir, which is huge up there. And I met a lot of my best friends through the music program — choir, orchestra. I always thought theater and musical theater were going to be the path that I wanted to take. So doing this artist project and songwriting was never like in the cards, but I would write little songs and stuff in my notebooks. I just never really focused on it. But I love the community up there. People are so kind and really supportive of anything that they see.

I loved it but I also loved leaving. And that is not a dig at Bemidji. I was ready to leave and explore … so I moved to Norway. 

Give us a sentence or two in Norwegian. 

[Speaks Norwegian]: I just said, “After high school I've moved to Norway and studied at folk high school.” But it was really cool. It was this music and dance-focused folk high school in Melhus which is just south of Trondheim on the west coast of Norway in the hills. It's a happy place for me. I went and studied jazz. And I never studied jazz before — 

Jazz in Norway?

I know. Crazy. But NTNU, the university in Trondheim, has an incredible jazz program. So it really filtered — I don't know, I just had a really cool relationship with the city and all the jazz venues there. And it was so fun just to learn how to use your voice differently. And that's where I started writing. And it was like a side project that we did, because I met these three awesome Norwegian guys ... And we just decided to start an indie band. And we wanted to sound like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers. That was a goal. And it was so fun just to goof around and write these songs. And we just did it in our dorm rooms and then would perform at school. Those boys became really close, good friends. And we ended up all auditioning for LIPA and Leeds College of Music while at that school because a representative came to the school and said, "Hey, this thing in England exists. You guys should audition. We love it when Norwegians come to England." So we just all auditioned … I didn't have any plans to go to England. But we ended up getting in and getting little scholarships. And so then I moved to England. And oh, I hated it. I hated it so much.

(In a British accent) You didn't like England very much, did ya?

That was beautiful (laughs). I liked the pints, I liked the people, I liked being not in Minnesota. Again, because I really like trying to just get out there. And it took me about a year and a half to find the right people, and to figure out what the heck I was doing. And it was a really weird time. But then I met two friends named Jamie and Brandon. And Brandon goes by Hot Dennis and Jamie goes by Sven. And Sven ended up producing “Meant to Be.” And Hot Dennis and I wrote my entire first EP together. So they ended up being really pertinent people. About halfway through college, I met my now-manager, too. And he's like my best friend. He just started putting me on trains and filling my diary with sessions. And then I would go back up on the weekends and finish my college work. And it's about a three-hour train ride from —

You were hustling!

I was working so hard. Even thinking about it now, it's crazy. But yeah it was really fun. And I learned so much. And I wrote, like, 400 really bad songs. I still write a lot of really bad songs. 

Well, of course. We all do. 

But you gotta do it. And I came back because my visa expired. And that's the only reason I came back. At the time I had a boyfriend, I was living with friends. I lived in London. I was like, let me stay. This is where I want to be. This is where the music scene is. I didn’t know anyone in Minnesota ... because I've been gone for five years. 

I was gonna say you've become very (quickly) acquainted with the Minneapolis music scene. 

It's so funny because it's really underground until it isn't. I talked to people about this all the time. Artists will DM me and say, "Hey, I also live in Minneapolis. How did you meet people? I'm out there looking, but I can't find anyone." And for me, it took about a year. And I guess it was probably prolonged because of the pandemic. Let's be real. It was back in 2021. Everything was isolated. Everyone was shut down. People were in their bubbles. It took me until 2022, till after I'd already put out some music to then meet Brad and Cacie of Now, Now after finding out they were from Minnesota from my aunt. So we got in touch with them. And once I met Brad, I then met everyone. Like it was like this big wave. And then I met Landon (Conrath), who is a gem. He was such a big part of welcoming me into this world, and introducing me to people. And we toured together. He was my MD on the Sacred Tour.

[Clip of "Funeral Home" by Landon Conrath and Ber plays]

Give us some wisdom about your collaboration. You're very good at it. And I've heard this time and time again from other people who are in the music industry — don't do it alone. Work with other people. And surround yourself with other great talent to kind of bolster you ... And I think that you really are someone who's really good at collaborating. And so I just like to hear you talk about that a little bit. 

It's really nice of you to say, actually. When I started the whole songwriting thing when I was over in England — that stemmed from a collaborative songwriting course. We were just put into rooms and they would say, "Write a song." And it's really weird when you've not done that before. It's something that you practice. And it's now kind of the only way that I work. And that's something that I hope to change. Genuinely, I would love to be able to sit down and write a record. How cool. That would be so sick. And maybe someday I'll feel comfortable enough in my own skin to do something like that. But I just am not now. Because the way that I've really fallen in love with songwriting and making music in general, the only time I ever feel inspired is when I'm sitting across from someone. And we're talking about something and we come up with ideas together. 

My favorite part of sessions have always been this two-hour window at the start of a session, where you don't really know this person. I don't know what people expect from a songwriting session when they hear those words, but you don't just walk into a room and then write a banger and then leave ... When I take my trips out to London or LA, it's crazy because you're meeting these people that you've never met before, and they have no idea who you are. So you sit down, and you just tell them your whole backstory and tell them something that you're going through right now. And it's really intense. But those are the moments I love — it's getting to know people and finding common ground. And then being like, "That's a really good idea!" Like, "Hey, I've experienced that. And you know how this feels like when that happens?" And the ball starts to roll a little. And you find something that you have in common with someone. That's when we've written my favorite songs. And there's also so many things I just can't do. So many things I'm really bad at that I love that I'm bad at because then I'm restricted. Sometimes when you're supposed to do something, it does sit in a box for you. And then there are ways you can get out of that box.

The new music you sent me I got to listen to and preview before ... So good. I'm already like, “Oh my gosh, yes.” This is going to be a hit on The Current for sure. I can already hear a little bit of the Now, Now influence.

Oh yeah. Well, Brad and Cacie worked on the entire EP with me, which is so fun. And I just trust them so much. And I think once you do find people that you really understand and trust it's just so fun to then keep working with them. Because you can throw out your craziest ideas and they'll say, “Yeah.” And it'll become something really cool. And that's something that is hard to grow a pair and do with strangers ... I brought the lead track, “Room For You," which is coming out soon. I brought that to them. I wrote that in LA with two really incredible writers. I had been sitting on the demo for a long time, but I love the song. And I was like, "Can we just make this fit into our little world that we've been creating?"

[Clip of "Room For You" plays]

But other than that, the other three were co-written with them. And I love writing with them because, again, they have that like silly little telepathy thing. But "Better Man" is something that I'm really excited about. I have been teasing that on the internet for like a year. I'm really excited that people are gonna finally be able to hear this.

I remember we had all the melodies sort of set, and I was just mumbling; and Cacie looked over me, and she was like, "Did you just say 'better man?'" And then I died laughing. And I told them this huge, long story about how I'd seen my ex — the one the songs are about, right? Like, that person. We were in the same room for the first time in three years this last summer. And it just was so anticlimactic. And I had just been telling her this long story about it. And we were all laughing about the whole thing. And she was like, "Yup, we're writing the song." ... I am giving you all the juicy deets. I don't know if I'm even supposed to. But whatever, I'm not Beyoncé. Who cares?

Ber performs as part of First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2023 on Friday, Jan. 12, and The Current’s sold-out 19th Anniversary Party with Lucius and Abraham Alexander, also at First Avenue on Friday, Jan. 26.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.