Interview by Lennon Walter, photos courtesy of Berry Robertson
In the winter of 2015, I opened up the Youtube homepage on my laptop. There were a few recommended videos, but one caught my eye: a cover of “She” by Dodie Clark, titled “They”. I clicked on it. For the next few minutes I listened to a lovely romantic song sung by a young musician named Berry Robertson. I noticed two things: there aren’t any gendered pronouns in the song (more on that in our interview!) and Berry is quite talented! I’d describe their style as raw and acoustic- not much editing or sound mixing, just a kid with a guitar and a beautiful voice. Read on to hear Berry’s thoughts on queer representation in music, their low-key (but amazing!) approach to songwriting, and their very best advice to new musicians!
Tell me a bit about your music. What is your music origin story?
I play guitar, ukulele, and I kinda play piano, but I’m not classically trained at all. The way I learned was by Googling major piano chords and figured it out from there. I’ve been playing ukulele for a year and a half. I’ve been playing guitar for almost six years; it’ll be six years this September. I picked it up when I was about 11, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until a year and a half later. I’ve always done something related to music in my life. I guess that’s my origin story: I just picked up a guitar, completely self taught, and went with it, and it’s become such a big thing for me.
Was there ever a pivotal moment when you realized that music is more than just a hobby for you?
I grew up saying that I wanted to be a musician. [I had] this one friend who told me that I was bad at singing. After that, I was insecure about my voice for a few years, until I started doing theatre. I would audition, and people would tell me that I had an amazing voice and that I shouldn’t be so nervous. So after that, there was a big spark and I started wondering why I’d given up everything that I wanted to do just because one person knocked me down. I felt it, throughout my entire body, that music was something I needed to do.
How has your musical style evolved?
My sound has stuck to how I’ve always done music: a lot of acoustic, not much editing or mixing, it’s about my personal experiences – which is terrifying, honestly. Whenever I post a song, I’m like ‘people are going to speculate!’
Do you have a songwriting process?
A lot of my songwriting process is not forcing songs. I can’t really sit down and be like, okay, I’m going to write a song’, it just doesn’t work like that. It really has to come naturally. A lot of the time, I start with an experience or a word, or maybe even [something] that someone has said to me. And then I play around with that. Some of my finished songs are actually a combination of multiple songs I’ve been working on [that are all] meshed into one song. I write a lot about my personal life experiences, I write a lot about my relationships, but I’m trying to branch off from that. I realize sometimes that I should write about my mental illness or gender stuff.
You did a cover of “She” by Dodie Clark called “They”, but you changed the pronouns in the song to be gender neutral. Would you ever write more songs specifically about growing up queer?
Definitely! I want to write more songs about [growing up queer] because I feel like there’s such a lack of queer representation in the media. A lot of songs are super gendered… [but when there are gender neutral pronouns] it helps people realize how being non-binary is a real thing. A huge part of music is people connecting, and it means so much to people when they are represented in music.
What advice do you have for young people who want to produce their own music?
My advice is to not stress out about it being perfect. I’ve spent way too much time trying to make it sound so so perfect. I prefer my music to sound natural… people put a lot of pressure on themselves to make their music sound a specific way. All you really need is an instrument, your voice, and something to record on. It’s not about having a fancy editing program, it’s about your sound and your lyrics; it’s about sharing your experiences with the world and connecting with other people through your music.
In the past few years, especially with platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud, more young people are producing their own music. Have you noticed this impacting your music?
It has impacted me so much, actually. My dad is a singer-songwriter and he said he wishes he could’ve had all of the access that people have now. It’s so much easier to share your music online with people and get it noticed. In some ways it’s harder because a lot more people are doing the same thing, but it’s not really a competition. It’s not about the views or the likes, it’s about the music. ✿