Local singer has her eye on the prize: Los Angeles
By Jessica Laskey
When singer-songwriter Ricky Berger says she likes to be in the driver’s seat, she doesn’t mean literally—though she did just finish another extensive U.S. tour that she planned and drove herself. The 24-year-old is also in the midst of recording her second album in San Antonio, plotting a move to Los Angeles, teaching herself to read and write music and penning new songs into the wee hours of the morning.
“I love to work hard,” Berger says matter-of-factly. “I like sitting in the driver’s seat of anything I do—I like seeing how every little step gets done. It makes you appreciate other jobs, too, not just art. You see the 300 steps that go into everything.”
Berger’s keen observation of all things artistic and otherwise has been present since she can remember, as has her strong sense of self.
“I taught myself piano when I was 4 years old,” Berger recalls. “I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. The idea of playing someone else’s music was just weird, so I wrote my own. My sister always told me I was adopted—I come from a family of engineers—but I’m secretly glad they hovered over her and left me alone to do my own thing.”
But Berger is quick to point out that a lot of her early musical influences were inspired by her upbringing.
“My dad introduced me to a lot of the music I love now,” Berger says. “We would listen to music at dinner and my dad would say, ‘Name that composer!’ I still listen to that same music, actually.”
It seems like there isn’t much melodically that doesn’t thrill Berger. She attends as many performances as she can, including musical theater and free weekly concerts downtown where she’s “by far the youngest audience member.”
“I think making beautiful art is the most important thing in the world,” Berger says, clasping the table emphatically. “You have to do things for the love of it and have a passion for your job.”
It’s this infectious enthusiasm that adds to Berger’s considerable charm. With her long, blond hair and blunt fringe that frames her giant green doe eyes, her mile-long lashes, her ready grin and bubbly laugh, Berger seems like a Disney cartoon come to life.
“Walt Disney is my ultimate idol,” she says. “I think he may have been the smartest man who ever lived. And Fred Rogers [of the children’s TV show ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’].”
Though Berger does indeed exude sunshine, she also has a backbone of steel. She ran away from home in Bakersfield at the age of 17 to live with an aunt in Natomas. At the age of 21, she was in a serious car accident when she lost consciousness at the wheel, which led to her diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.
“Before the accident, I felt like a 21-year-old trapped in a 100-year-old body,” Berger says. “I had such severe joint pain that I thought I’d have to give up music. When I found out that I had diabetes, this light bulb went off and I changed my entire way of eating. It’s like putting grape juice in a car. If you put in the wrong fuel, it’s not going to work.”
To keep the diabetes under control, Berger sticks to a strict regimen of all-organic meat and vegetables, even when she’s on the road. Armed with a car refrigerator, she stocks up at organic farmers markets all across the country to keep herself going on her months-long tours.
“Nobody ever tells you about the mental-physical-emotional connection of what you eat,” Berger says. “Eating healthy for me is really more about psychological clarity than anything else. Plus, I love steak.”
With her health stabilized, Berger is free to focus on the future. She’s about to leave for Prague to record some background orchestral tracks for her second album, which she’s been working on for more than a year with famed record producer Gordon Raphael. Once the album of 11 songs is complete, she plans to move to Los Angeles.
“I want to be somewhere where people live to work, like me,” Berger says. “I’m such a workaholic, and I find it refreshing that people down there treat the entertainment industry as a job, not a hobby. Also, I have lots of friends down there.”
Many of her L.A. friends started as fans. Berger prides herself on being accessible to her followers, who return the favor in fascinating ways.
“I’ve never bought an instrument,” Berger says. (At any given performance, she plays the flute, xylophone, accordion, piano, guitar and ukulele.) “My fans will give me an instrument and say, ‘Please write a song with this,’ so I learn how to play it and do.”
With this whimsical gusto—not to mention her vibrant vocals and fierce determination—Berger is in for one fascinating ride.