The Berrymans:
surrealism meets silliness

An interview by Tom Knapp,
February 1996

The Berrymans sing about silly things. They address important universal issues like cussing, the forced retirement of Mother Nature and the widespread problem of bowling ineptitude. Less pressing topics include backyard barbecues, the perils of not eating enough vegetables and unexpected (shh!) sex.

And when they sing, the Berrymans want their audience to feel a little pain. "After a show, people tell us their cheeks hurt from laughing," said Lou Berryman, the distaff half of the duo. The once-married couple sings tunes with whimsical, sometimes nonsensical, irreverence. They're comfortable singing about things most people wouldn'tdream of putting on a record -- at least not without a parental warning sticker.

But the Berrymans approach the world with a different point of view, and even the most conservative audience would be hard-pressed to take offense. "A Chat with Your Mom" (popularly called "The F-Word Song") is an amusing parent-child lecture that uses the word "F-Word" a lot without ever actually using the f-word.

Sex is the light-hearted topic in "Naked and Nude" -- "Oh, you were naked. Naked and nude. I could tell just by looking, your clothes had been removed." Sexy? No. Titillating? Nope. Just good, clean fun. Lou said their quirky style was born from a mutual "fondness for surrealism and a love for silliness."

"It comes from a pretty active imagination," she said during a telephone interview from her Wisconsin home. "It's pretty well grounded in real life, with a goofy sense of what things are like."

And they never worry about running out of inspiration. "That's the one thing I'm not afraid of," Lou said. "There's so much, just in everyday life. ... We're not just taking inspiration from peak experiences, but the everyday stuff." Their divorce, she added, hasn't hurt their relationship at all. "We were married for about five years and that just didn't take, but the music went on," Lou explained. "A lot of musical duos break up after a while, but we broke up before we got together. ... Luckily, we didn't play as a duo before we got divorced."

The two met in an art class in 1963 and ended up working together in a variety of musical groups. They have performed as a duo since 1977. In post-marriage life, the couple has divided the labor in what seems to be a mutually satisfying manner. Lou takes care of booking, promotion and light lifting; Peter handles art and graphics, "schlepping," rationalization and heavy lifting. They split the driving; she fills the tank, he checks the oil. Generally, Lou said, Peter writes the words and she provides the melody. Both sing; he plays guitar, she plays accordion. Peter sings with a gravelly joviality; Lou responds with a high, sweet voice reminiscent of musical theater.

Most of the tunes are conversational, with the couple playing off each other more than they try to harmonize. In "Pass the Pepper," for instance, the singers carry on a long-winded conversation at the dinner table without ever hearing a word the other says. And the catchy choruses are designed with sing-alongs in mind. When the audience isn't singing, the Berrymans still want to hear some noise. "Humor is an interactive style of music, so we want to hear the audience as we're playing," Lou said. "That's really important when you do comedy. ... We want to hear them laughing. We want to hear them breathing."

It's important, she hastily added, that the audience keep breathing during the show. Otherwise, the Berrymans might have to cancel a few songs.

[ by Tom Knapp ]