The Like: The latest indie popstrels

They all have dads in the music business, but don't mention the fact to them, says James McNair
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The Independent Culture

In a west London hotel, Tennessee Thomas, the drummer with The Like, is literally spitting feathers. Together with the singer/guitarist Z Berg and the bassist Charlotte Froom, she has just engaged in a cotton-ripping pillow-fight for the benefit of a NME snapper. The frivolous mood evaporates somewhat when I ask the barefoot, mini-skirted, similarly feather-strewn Froom about the bandmates' famous fathers. "Boring territory", she snaps, her nasal Californian whine cutting me off mid-sentence. "I'm sick of being asked about our stupid parents."

For the record, The Like are the progeny of the A&R man Tony Berg, the record producer Mitchell Froom and Elvis Costello's drummer Pete Thomas. When the trio formed in Los Angeles in 2001, their average age was 16. Well-connected they may be, but mere nepotism doesn't explain the quality of The Like's indie-pop debut, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? Berg's dreamy, "boys and books"-obsessed songs join the dots between The Bangles and The Sundays with some style, and for all her brattish demeanour, Froom has a McCartney-esque way with a melodic bass-line.

"Our dads do know each other, it's true", concedes the more amiable and enthused Thomas when pressed, "but we didn't really form the group through them. Charlotte and I were in a school-band together, and friends had told us about this strange songwriter-girl they called 'The Letter'. We thought, 'Ooh! How mysterious! She's just called Z!'

"After we'd tracked her down we all hooked up on Instant Messenger", Thomas continues, "and a few days later me and Charlotte turned up on Z's doorstep all giggly and everything. When Z sat down on her bed with her guitar and played us "Twenty-Seven Days", we were like, 'Wow! That's a real song! Let's set up our instruments!' We were there until midnight, I think. It was incredibly exciting to know that we'd finally found the right person."

Sleepover rehearsals at Berg's house became a regular fixture at weekends. Soon came tentative local gigs, and, when those went well, The Like played further shows in New York during their Christmas holidays. A year older than her bandmates, Thomas had by now started a fine art degree at university, but with record company interest growing, she opted to put her studies on hold. A deal with Geffen Records materialised soon after. Which was nice. Better yet, The Like's debut album was to be co-produced by Wendy Melvoin, the singer/guitarist best known for playing on Prince and the Revolution albums such as Purple Rain and Parade.

"Wendy was only 18 when she joined Prince's band", says Thomas, "so she can relate to how we feel. Her dad, Mike, was a session guy [for The Beach Boys, among others], so she's got that musical family thing going on, too. In the studio she's really energetic and inspiring, and she'd be like, 'Come on chicks! Let's take it up a bit!' She even took us to Prince's house for a party after the Oscars last year. Ashlee Simpson and Paris Hilton were refused entry, but we got in."

Quizzed as to which of the album's recording sessions were most memorable, The Like's rhythm section responds as follows:

Froom: "For me it was when I did my bass parts and I brought in my black cat Cleveland. That was right after I got her. She was so tiny and cute."

Thomas: "My cat died during the making of the record. Pickle, her name was."

Froom: "You should have called her Chutney."

Thomas: "Or Chunky. She was huge... Unfortunately Z's allergic to cats, though, so it was a bit traumatic for her."

Interviewed separately, thank goodness, the 21-year-old Z Berg proves to be a charismatic, unmistakably bright character. The Like's front-woman and songwriter describes herself as "a loser" who spent her fifth-grade year reading the complete works of Shakespeare, and says that, prior to meeting Thomas and Froom, she only had one close friend. "I think that people tend to be slightly intimidated when they first meet me", she explains. "I'm a bit weird and they think I'm being sarcastic when I'm actually being sincere.'"

Musically, Berg cites such varied influences as The Sundays, Snoop Dogg, Erik Satie and Norwegian black metal. Lyrically, she claims to draw inspiration from situationist literature. "Take a song like "You Bring Me Down" ", she says. "It's a love song, and in my favourite love song style it's called "You Bring Me Down"! My boyfriend is in a band, you see, and I'm using the situationist project's concept of radical situations to describe our relationship as star-crossed lovers. When he comes home, it's like waking up, and when he goes it's like going back to sleep and living with this horrible grey hue over everything."

But now it's Berg who is on tour and her boyfriend is at home. How does she cope with the itinerant lifestyle? "By reading, mostly. Right now I'm on Swann's Way, and that floating, creative punctuation thing translates quite nicely into the touring life. Trapped in a Proustian run-on sentence: that's me in a nutshell!"

Once Berg gets started on literature there's no stopping her. Nabokov's Speak, Memory is a favourite read, and suddenly remembering a passage within it, she leans forward excitedly before taking our conversation down an unexpected path. "I'm a synaesthete. You know what that is, right? I think 'synaesthesia' literally means 'a confusion of the senses.' Anyway, there's this great bit in Speak, Memory where Nabokov starts describing letters of the alphabet and the colours they evoke, and I loved that.

"Tennessee is orange and yellow and she's a six and kind of a three. Charlotte is black and sometimes pink and an eight. You're forest green and an eight or a nine."

Back with the band's rhythm section, I ask them about other career highlights. Froom cites a recent support tour with Kings Of Leon ("They were perfect Southern gentlemen; they bought all the drinks"), while Thomas talks of shooting the video for "What I Say And What I Mean." It involved a troupe of Busby-Berkeley-style synchronised swimmers performing at a pool in Long Beach while The Like performed their debut single on an island stage above.

Despite The Like's burgeoning success, Froom and Thomas say that their famous dads have thus far resisted any temptation to get hands-on with the project. "We wouldn't let them anyway", adds Froom. "As a teenager you want to rebel against your parents, and from the moment we got together we had a policy that our dads wouldn't be involved."

But hasn't Tennessee's old man given her a few pointers on drums? "Not really," she says. "I get frustrated because I can't do what he does. He always ends up saying, 'You're doing it wrong', and I'm like, 'Leave me alone - I'm going shopping.'"

'Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?' is out now on Geffen