‘I Belong to Myself’: An Interview with Pom Pom Squad’s Mia Berrin

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‘I Belong to Myself’: An Interview with Pom Pom Squad’s Mia Berrin

Pom Pom Squad's front woman, Mia Berrin, poses within a soccer net to promote her latest EP.

Pom Pom Squad's front woman, Mia Berrin, poses within a soccer net to promote her latest EP.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIRA WILSON

Pom Pom Squad's front woman, Mia Berrin, poses within a soccer net to promote her latest EP.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIRA WILSON

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIRA WILSON

Pom Pom Squad's front woman, Mia Berrin, poses within a soccer net to promote her latest EP.

By ALYANA VERA, Staff Writer

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When I saw Pom Pom Squad (PPS) on the rooftop of Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick, the punk quartet had gathered to headline and celebrate frontwoman Mia Berrin’s 22nd birthday. 

Onstage, Berrin is bottled lightning — fierce snaps of energy flickered as she snarled into the mic, the heat of her voice crackling as she seethed on slower songs. Each growl Berrin let loose was refreshing; women aren’t taught to externalize their emotions the way she does, and PPS’s music encourages the listener to not just feel, but feel deeply. 

Music as Catharsis

Since the start, Berrin’s work has centered around emotional release. Originally founded as a hobby project in her Orlando bedroom, PPS was a way for Berrin to process her “post-high school angst.” Influenced by the likes of Riot grrrl and the L.A. punk scene, Berrin fell in love with punk as a child: it “was the first thing that punched me in the gut.” 

Despite her love for music, Berrin’s self-described “Quiet Grrrl” project wouldn’t take off until she left to study acting at New York University in 2015. While there, Berrin was approached by trained musicians who wanted to record with her. 

This partnership resulted in PPS’s first EP, 2017’s “Hate It Here.” Although it would be the lineup’s only release before disbanding a year later, “Hate It Here” set the tone for Berrin’s future work, offering deeply personal tracks that touched upon abandonment, loneliness, regret and self-doubt. 

Gettin’ the Band Together

In the time between bands, Berrin worked on her second EP, “Ow,” with the original intent to record, produce and mix it herself. It wasn’t until, as Berrin described it, something akin to fate brought PPS’s current lineup together that Berrin would change her mind. 

“I have this friend who says that there are just certain days where everything happens and he calls it the ‘magnet days,’” she said. “That day, it was definitely a magnet day.”

It was one of her first shows as a solo act, and Berrin was dealing with the aftermath of a break-up earlier that morning along with the anxiety of performing alone. Both drummer Shelby Keller and bassist Maria Alejandra Dale Figeman played in the opening band, and the three bonded between sets. 

Berrin said that “they both separately came up to me drunk and were like, so when are we gonna play together?” 

At first not taking the offer seriously, it would take another prompt from Keller and Figeman — this time in the form of text as Berrin was about to fly back home — before Berrin would be ready to take the leap.

Guitarist Ethan Sass would join a few months later when he and Keller happened to be working at the same farmer’s market. 

With the band together, PPS set out to record their latest EP, “Ow.” Berrin called “Ow” a “delayed reaction” and a “reflection” of her first EP. 

Gaining Perspective

I asked Berrin if she now has answers to the questions on “Hate It Here.” The title track was the result of a friend challenging Berrin to write the questions she was afraid to ask: “Am I ever gonna be okay? / Am I allowed to like myself one day?” Berrin paused before offering, 

“I don’t know if I’m answering things for myself, but I’m navigating better.

“I was looking for external sources to like, explain to me what I should do or what was wrong with me or what I was experiencing. And what I realized is, at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to explain these things for myself, and I’m the one who gets to make the rules first and foremost about my own life and what I want and what I choose to say.”

Berrin is no longer the hesitant co-ed she was at the start of her musical journey, as she now said: “I feel more self-assured.” 

Becoming Blunt

“Ow” was written almost entirely in Florida, at a time when Berrin was dealing with depression.

“It was kind of that transitional period where I was dealing with all this pain, and I was like, ‘Okay, so I can either be debilitated by it or choose to move forward. It was either do nothing or do something.”

Berrin would turn what she described as “a stream of consciousness, depressive episode” into “Ow,” but it wasn’t easy. Berrin said that while she trusts her songwriting abilities, she felt more confident in her lyricism on “Hate It Here” than on “Ow.”

“In the same way that some people kind of hide self-hatred or self-deprecating feelings with humor, I hide the thing I actually want to say with flowery, smart songwriting rather than forthright, straightforward songwriting.

“This whole EP was kind of an exercise in trying not to say the smart thing, but actually saying what I meant.”

There is certainly a bluntness to the lyrics on “Heavy Heavy” with Berrin intoning “I’m feelin’ empty, F— the MTA / I always miss my train” on the track. As the first single off “Ow,” the track captures Berrin’s new approach to songwriting the best. The absence of flowery language lends the song an almost oppositional slant, which at first caused Berrin some unease. 

“I think letting myself be vulnerable, it’s letting myself feel mad. I’m like, okay, I’m angry. What do I want to do with it rather than trying to convince myself not to feel it?”

“It’s so much easier emotionally to do the easy thing or do the palatable thing. But I think I’m not really interested in that.”

Making Space, Taking Credit

Writing becomes cathartic in this way, allowing Berrin to process her experiences by translating them into songs. Although she is singing about her relationships, Berrin said that her focus is on herself:  “Ultimately, I write music for myself first and foremost, to teach myself something.”

“I actually ran into somebody, around this time last year, when I started kind of talking about talking openly about writing an EP. They were like, you know, who’s the song about or what’s the EP about?”

“I think…my literal answer was it’s about me. Because it is. Ultimately, they’re not there to contribute to that conversation. It’s all this conversation that I’m having with myself.”

Berrin is open about the struggles she has had centering herself in her own art and being confident about her work. “Honeysuckle,” the third and last single off “Ow,” sees Berrin hint at imposter syndrome, with the lyrics, “Sometimes I feel just like an actress / Begging for your validation.”

“When I make art, I tend to shift the focus away from myself and tell myself I’m here because other people are letting me be here,” she said. “That song, for me, was about making room for myself inside of that and allowing myself to take credit for what I did and what I do.”

On the eve of her second release, I asked Berrin if imposter syndrome still strikes.

“I do feel like I belong now,” she said. “But I also feel like I belong to myself and I feel more comfortable inside of myself.”

Pom Pom Squad’s second EP, “Ow,” is out now.