By Emma Hug Rosenstein | October 09, 2023
With their high energy shows, electric sound and engaging presence, Strawberry Launch is set to become New York City’s next big indie band. The genre-bending band consists of five members: Riiza (vocals), Matrianna Gahol (guitar), Abby Flicker (bass), Taylor Hurt (Keys), Benjy Berkowitz (drums.) Through hard work and practice, they honed their skills and are now able to experiment with a multitude of sounds from all of the instruments. Their high energy music includes addicting guitar riffs, hypnotizing drum beats and synths, as well as lyrics you’ll be singing for days after. Strawberry Launch’s vibe is infectious – one quick listen, and you’ll be hooked.
We sat down with Strawberry Launch ahead of their show at Brooklyn Made, where they answered a few questions for the groovement:
You first became a band in 2018 – can you talk about how everyone came together?
Riiza: Well, we have Miss Grit to thank for that, because I wanted to start a band but was clueless on how to do so. I was friends with Miss Grit at the time and asked if they wanted to start a band with me. And they were like, ‘no, we have our own project.’ And now they’re touring with Nation of Language. They are incredibly cool. They were like, ‘I can’t do another project, but I know some guitarist you should ask.’ And I was texted a list and cold called the first person on it, and it was Matrianna. And I don’t know why you decided to take my cold call, but we didn’t know each other at all. I sent you a demo sheet, showed up at your dorm, and we just started together. Matrianna was instrumental in putting the rest of the band together.
Matrianna: I knew Abby through NYU. We were in the same program, music technology. I brought her in as a bass (player). And then we went through a bunch of different drummers but found Benjy through our previous drummer who had to move back home. That’s how we know Benjy, NYU too. And then Taylor and I went to music school together in Chicago. She went to NYU, and I was like, ‘oh, what if it would be cool if we had keys?’ So I asked her to play with us.
Taylor: The band was already around for a year before I joined.
Do you think continuously playing live instead of focusing on putting stuff out there helped you as a band and improve as musicians?
Riiza: I think that’s what we needed. I think we’d be making really different music if we didn’t give ourselves that time.
You said that you guys started with making classic rock music, how did you switch into the indie genre?
Riiza: The keys for me.
Abby: I think it was a combination of all our interests. When we first started, Riiza brought songs to our rehearsal. And we started writing collaboratively, and between Taylor being the synth wizard and coming in with all the cool sounds and the majority of us listening to indie music, it’s just reflected in our songwriting.
What was the first show this band played?
Riiza: Technically there are two versions of the first show. If you’re talking about the first show in general, we did a songwriters round way on the Upper West Side in this tiny little theater. It was just Matrianna, myself, and the drummer we had at the time. But then once we had everybody, it was Piano’s, that was another songwriter showcase we did. And we were the only full band.
Which record label are you signed to, and how have they helped you out?
Riiza: Trash Casual. They fucking rock, we love them. They are basically my parents. They have been instrumental in figuring out how to move the next chapter of Strawberry Launch, what that looks like, what that sounds like. It’s not a secret that we’d love to do another EP, and there may be another EP on the way, we’ll see.
How has being signed helped the band more than what you had been doing before?
Riiza: We’ve been approached by a lot of other distributors, labels, we’ve had people that wanted to get involved. I think we’ve had a hard time finding people who want to prioritize us and understand how we work and our dynamic. The people who own Trash Casual have been in my life for a long time but didn’t want to get involved until recently. And I appreciate that we’ve worked really hard and there’s been a lot of growth in how we make our records. Having people we really trust say, ‘hey, we want to come in and help you guys and prioritize you as a group,’ has been really awesome. It feels good people want to get involved but not take advantage.
“Sweet Basil” is your most popular song. Can you talk about how that single came to fruition? Specifically the guitar riff, since that is such an integral part of the song?
Matrianna: I wrote the whole song, no lyrics, on winter break. I was just bored and playing guitar. I don’t know how that came about. I was just practicing guitar and playing around and wrote the guitar line and just started recording on my laptop and added a simple drum loop and keys and bass to it. It kind of just became a song with no lyrics. But I wrote it especially for Strawberry Launch and thought it would be a fun song to play, as we were transitioning to indie music. I named it “Sweet Basil;” it was a placeholder name because there were no lyrics, and we just kept the name.
Riiza: She already had it, and I just wrote around it.
Matrianna: I had a candle on my bedside table that said sweet basil.
Has social media played a role in your success?
Abby: Should we talk about TikTok?
Taylor: This past year, I started getting a lot more serious about it and posting more. The first strategy I used was starting a bit of a smear campaign. I would be like, ‘tired of all these girl bands, and they have a male drummer,’ and dumb stuff like that. Or, ‘oh these guys went to four years of music school just to write this,’ stuff like that. Those ended up blowing up, and we did get a lot of hate comments because I think it attracted the haters. We shot up in streams, the comments were bringing it more and more to the algorithm.
Riiza: If you had talked to us a year ago, we would’ve been like ‘TikTok is so stupid.’ After everything that’s been going on, I don’t think we’d be going on tour right now if our music hadn’t picked up some steam. It really has been life-changing for us.
You just released your latest single, “Videos,” which has a bit more of a darker rock sound than some other songs. Can you talk about the creative process and executing the idea of the song?
Riiza: I guess it’s kind of a mess how it came together. We were in a songwriting session upstate. I don’t know if i had said something, or you played a chord we liked, I can’t remember.
Matrianna: I already had the chord progression. I wrote it a while ago and recorded my audio, not for Strawberry Launch in particular, I just had it. And then we went on a songwriting retreat together, and I pulled it out. And then I played it for them, and wrote a little more chords. I don’t even remember how the rest of it came.
Riiza: Lyrically, I think it started as it wasn’t supposed to start in this revengeful way, but it became that. I’ve done a lot of exploration in my previous relationships now that I’m in a very healthy one. There’s a person from my past that I think about a lot and how I realized this person really loved me but didn’t like me. Some of the things I put up with back then I would never put up with now. I find it really creepy sometimes that people pour their heart and soul and self into your phone and people hold this version of you forever. And we hear so many of these instances where relationships go badly and phones are hacked, and I think that is really terrifying. And that song kind of morphed into that, and I don’t know why but it did. I felt like it needed this moment of release, and that’s why the scream is in there.
I was going to ask if the scream took a million takes?
Riiza: It took like 12. We did a show where I did that in the set and was like, ‘oh I’ve got to put that in.’
Is this in a sense a homecoming to your earlier sound?
Matrianna: I feel like it’s more accidental.
Riiza: I feel like we were doing things back then we weren’t ready for, in a rock sense, and now that we’ve gotten savvier and better at what we do, we were able to explore an alt rock vibe but keep our pop-ness. And I think that’s something we’re figuring out.
Is there something you want people to take away from “Videos?”
Riiza: Don’t fucking settle. That it’s ok to be fucking mad when people wrong you. I mean, don’t do anything stupid, but it’s ok to be angry and don’t settle. So silly. That’s also the theme of my life. “Ready Yet” is kind of about the same thing, people settle and I am scared to do so.
Where does songwriting inspiration come from? Do you find it’s an advantage writing from a more creative place rather than sitting down and trying to write a song?
Matrianna: I think it’s nice that we do it that way, because it’s more genuine and not forced to write a song that you don’t like and just throw things together just to do it. But also, I think it’s’ both. It could be helpful to have more formulas to write more songs that way. But I guess they won’t be as genuine.
Riiza: I think an interesting thing I’ve noticed about us is that we go through these periods of playing a lot of live shows. At the end of 2022, we played a lot of shows, but we hadn’t been writing at all. We took four months off to do all of our singles. I feel like we go through bouts of playing shows and writing for three weeks. I think that as we start to figure out what works best for our lives, I would love to get to a place of spending a day working on a live show, spending a day songwriting. Maybe that will work and maybe it won’t. We’ve been trying to do both and were thinking about what to do next.
Taylor: I think all of our inspirations don’t sound anything like the band, which I think is a really neat thing because it makes our genre so much more. I don’t want to say different, but I have a hard time defining our niche. My biggest inspiration is Weyes Blood. I love her so much. I feel like she writes incredible music, and she just gets it like no one else does.
Riiza: I love Ethel Cain. I think she’s really doing the whole thing differently. Listening to her songwriting style has really challenged how I write. I’ve really been enjoying it. I think his name is berlioz. He has that jazz for the modern people.
Abby: I would say hemlocke springs. She recently blew up on TikTok and I think that she’s saving indie music and bringing it to the forefront again. My other one is Talking Heads. They’re like my all-time favorite band.
Matrianna: I think mine is Japanese Breakfast, because I really love that she has a lot of Asian power, and that’s what I like about her. She’s like my idol. I want to be like her. My second one is probably Boygenius.
You said on social media that this past year has been really life-changing. What are some of the most memorable moments?
Riiza: It’s playing Bowery Ballroom for me.
Riiza: That’s been a goal of ours for a long time. At the beginning of the year we manifested it, like we’re going to play it this year. And we did. It was really cool.
Matrianna: Or going on tour.
Taylor: I feel like seeing the switch in the crowd going from our friends to complete strangers has been crazy. It’s such an amazing feeling. I feel like we all know each other’s friends, but knowing and seeing a face we’ve never seen and they’re singing the words is so crazy. That’s been an amazing shift.
Benjy: I concur. I think the Bowery Ballroom was really cool. And just hearing people like the music or listen to the song.
You’ve played shows at many venues around New York. What are your favorite venues, and what’s your dream venue?
Matrianna: This is my favorite venue.
Abby: I concur. What’s our dream venue?
Riiza: Honestly though,
Matrianna: Or Radio City.
Taylor: I feel like Red Rocks. Or Pitchfork music festival.
You have a very specific image and vibe. What have been the strategies to create your image – is it what you are naturally drawn to or was it curated?
Taylor: I feel like we all have our own personal styles. We never sat down and said, ‘we have to start doing this.’ We all have our own personal style that mesh well together. As we kept playing and dressing for shows, I think we started to dress more and more alike.
Abby: Yes, and drawn to things and colors.
Riiza: I will say I have no shame in saying I’m a couple years older than these guys. When I first met them, I felt like the first couple years we were together I had my normal self and my band self. And I don’t know what happened after the pandemic, but I feel like I really morphed those two, and now they’re one resting entity. And I have gotten a lot of my personal style from them and taken a lot more risk with my image, and I just like myself visually more because of how their own personal style has influenced me. Our designs, we have Will Montgomery to thank for that. Our EP cover and other singles were designed by Will. Our last singles were designed by Rachel Graves. She’s an incredible artist, everything she drew for us was really cool. Will, he’s designed every strawberry, all of our merch, and I’ve just really loved watching him throw ideas, and he’s taken all of our notes to heart and created this fruity universe. Couldn’t have done that without him.
Have you found any setbacks with being a mostly female band?
Abby: I’ll say one: I remember very vividly, this is more general, but I remember this one guy who came up to Matriana and I was livid after I heard this. And he said something like, ‘wow, you guys are really good for a girl band.’
Matrianna: He came up to us as we were leaving. He came up to me and said, ‘wow, you were actually really good for a girl band.’ And I didn’t know what to say. I was just like, thanks.
Abby: No major industry stuff, just inappropriate comments.
Taylor: I feel like we have a lot of power being a female-fronted band. People are less likely to stomp on us because there’s power in numbers and having each other. I’ve experienced more misogyny in music when I was out there solo rather than with the band. I feel like we’ve been really lucky.
Riiza: The only thing I don’t appreciate sometimes, and I don’t think this is because we’re a mostly female band, but there have been times when we are in a soundcheck, studio, or working with producers, and they are not aware that most of the people in this band literally have a degree in music tech. And understand what they’re doing. And understand their instrument. It pisses me off personally when we have people who try to tell them what to do with their instruments. I’m like, “the people in front of you know more than you do, and you need to be ok with that.”
What do you feel makes you stand out as a band? What’s your edge?
Taylor: I think it’s hard to define. I think there is a lot of uniqueness to our music, I have a hard time finding artists we sound super similar to, and I think people recognize that. I think that’s our edge.
What do you want people to take away from your music if anything?
Riiza: I think the one thing I want them to take away is that it’s okay to be nervous or be afraid, or it’s okay to feel a lot of emotions at once. I struggle with that a lot. I have found a lot of comfort listening to other musicians or artists that write about the same thing. Lyrically for myself, that’s what I want people to take away.