Lillian Berlin, vocals, guitar Eve Berlin, bass Bosh Berlin, drums
Write an honest record about money, religion and war and you're liable to be branded with the loathsome anti-American tag, an unjust fate that's befallen no less a band than St Louis agit-rockers Living Things. But that's par for the course when your mom was a 60s radical and you burned posters of George Bush on stage at gigs during the 2000s. Say what you want about patriotism, but if they don't watch the Watchmen, who will? Damn good question. Luckily, the brothers Berlin - drummer Bosh, bassist Eve, and mastermind Lilian -- joined by guitarist Cory Becker, aren't willing to hazard a guess.
On their latest barnburner, the political and social mine field of Habeas Corpus, Living Things extend their sneering critiques and impassioned cry to a new era - one where the economy's in free fall, chickens are coming home to roost, and the very future is in question. Recorded in Berlin, itself a city once ravaged by war and riddled with questions of the future, the sophomore release from this troupe of everymen seems uniquely equipped to face this new world. Standing tall with the energy of unbridled punk rock, the wisdom of Americana, and the searching honest heart that beats in the chest of all of us. Maybe you don't know it yet, but this record belongs to you. And you. And you, too. Living Things is now hand delivering it in venues all across America as part of this summer's Nylon music tour. The question is, will you be there to receive it? We hope so. And it would seem every music magazine under the sun does too.
Interview by EsteeS
Living Things is a powerful political rock movement by brothers Lillian, Eve and Bosh Berlin. They have ideas and strong opinions that theyâ€™re trickling into popular culture though music. Speedily gaining recognition in the music industry, they yell and pound in an accessible manner to be heard.
ME: How did you start creating political music?
LB: My inspiration for it was my mother, she sort of preached politics in our house day in and day outâ€¦I started to see as I grew older that â€˜oh wow, these ideas that we have are significant because thatâ€™s whatâ€™s going on everyday in the world.â€™ I felt like this was my mission, to sing about social awareness topics.
ME: Do you agree with your motherâ€™s anarchy?
LB: Somewhat, 90 percent I do, and I think the parts that she doesnâ€™t agree with is the violence of it, she was young at the time. When youâ€™re an anarchist and youâ€™re involved with a lot of organizations that are very anti-establishment there is violence. And thatâ€™s the downfall of a lot of those organizations. Itâ€™s like, â€œbe anti but donâ€™t do the same thing that what youâ€™re against is doing.â€? Violence is fucked up to me.
ME: Is your mother thrilled about what youâ€™re doing?
LB: Yeah. Wellâ€¦when we first started off she wasnâ€™t. She is totally not into music and we didnâ€™t grow up with record collections and stuff like that. When she saw that, okay, we got this idea that is an offshoot of her idea and she thought that she failed pretty much because it didnâ€™t get out. The only way to get stuff out is to seep it into the popular culture. Popular culture listens to music, watches television, watches movies and goes on the internet, so you know, the only way to really make a difference is to become apart of pop culture and once youâ€™re part of it speak your ideas and hope it influences someone to do something better.
ME: Have you ever considered running for any political position?
LB: Yeah actually, I tried to run to be an alderman where Iâ€™m from in St. Louis. I didnâ€™t get elected though. I got sponsored, I got almost on the ticket for the mayor, too, but, it didnâ€™t work (laughs) but I think that as I get older and maybe, hopefully, gain more respect, uh, I would love to run in politics. I look at our band as a stepping-stone to further things. Living Things, we chose the title because it represents everything.â€?
ME: Are you active in political organizations?
LB: I go to small socially or politically active groups wherever Iâ€™m at and I write essays for political websites. Whenever there is a political opportunity we always try to jump on it.
ME: Whatâ€™s the main message youâ€™re trying to get across?
LB: The main message that we are trying to get across is to just simply have an opinion. You can come to our concert, listen to our record and you can listen to our ideas and if you donâ€™t believe in our ideas or agree with our ideas thatâ€™s absolutely fine, but just leave with your own idea. I feel like a lot of people donâ€™t have any idea of what to do for anything or opinion on anything. Everything is always like â€œthat sucks.â€? Well, why does it suck? Nobody can articulate anything anymore, itâ€™s just all these catch word phrase things and I just hope that people can start articulating the problems that are happening in America because America affects the whole world. As Americans it our responsibility to elect officials and government people that will run our company- wait, well, America is a company, run it well, because it hasnâ€™t been run well, and it affects everybody. When people go, well, George Bush has fucked up this and the head of FEMA fucked up New Orleans, well, you know what? We elected these people so we also fucked up. Nobody wants to take this responsibility, not even George Bush; he blames the shit on God. So, people need to start taking responsibility and start changing, because thereâ€™s more to life then cool bands or cool actors or cool films or your boyfriend or girlfriend. There are serious problems and once we get older and weâ€™re in our forties and stuff and we have children and theyâ€™re growing up, its going to be like holy shit, back when I was twenty three I should have probably done something because now the world is even more fucked up.
ME: On your previous albums you start with ideas but theyâ€™re not totally articulated, in your new book, Post Mortem Bliss, are your ideas going to be totally articulated or is it going to be not so political? What are the basic themes in your new book?
LB: In my book, basically, it is a collection of chronicles from when I was thirteen to eighteen and itâ€™s sort of like a snapshot of a kid, myself, growing up in he ninetees, in America, in a small suburb that was a very right wing Christian value place. Itâ€™s a snapshot of what itâ€™s like to be in that world and all the problems I was faced with. Itâ€™s very honest because itâ€™s actually a real life kid talking about what was going on everyday. The things that were happening to me just so happened to be so extreme that I feel like it encompasses things that probably happened to like, ten different kids that all happened to me. It deals with prescription pills, diagnoses with ADD and having to go on Prozac, diagnoses with ADHD and having to go on Ritalin and like, my school that wouldnâ€™t let me ride the normal bus. I had to ride the retard bus because I was in a special school district because I day dream, basically. And thatâ€™s pretty much the painted picture of small town USA.
ME: What have been the consequences from dealing with controversial political subjects?
LB: The most extreme thing was in Dallas when we played a show and I got shot at and beaten. That was a year and a half ago on tour with The Libertines. I played and afterwards I was outside passing out this magazine that I created and pass out to people that was about politics, and I was passing out this magazine to kids outside and I saw this mural down the street near an ally and I walked down to look at it. Two guys jumped me and fired two shots. I had to go to the hospital and all this shit and they were pissed off because of what I was saying on the stage. And, I mean, thatâ€™s a pretty extreme example of something that has happened to us but thatâ€™s sort of fucked up when itâ€™s someone speaking the way they feel and someone goes and tries to almost kill them over it. Itâ€™s ridiculous and sad because America is about freedom of speech and nobody wants you to practice it.
ME: How old is everyone in the band and when did you start it?
LB: Weâ€™ve had the band for a very long time; weâ€™re all brothers and we had nothing to do at our parentâ€™s house so we would play music and stuff. Bosh is the youngest; heâ€™s our drummer he just turned 20 years old. Eve is the middle brother, he plays bass and heâ€™s 22 years old and me, I sing and play guitar and Iâ€™m 26. We just added a guitar player named Cory whoâ€™s from St. Louis, and heâ€™s 24. When we started the band Bosh was about three and I was about eight, he was actually the person that started music first, he was actually playing drums at three and thatâ€™s like not an exaggeration. My mom bought him a toy drum set and he could keep beats and stuff. What he used to do was, he would keep beats on his drum set and I would read sort of scat stuff because I couldnâ€™t play an instrument and slowly after that we all started playing instruments. By the time Bosh was five he was like really fucking good and it was sort of like a freak thing because we would dress him up in a little outfit that made him look like he was part of our gang or something and he would play his drums and it would be like a freak attraction to watch.
ME: What were the events between living room concerts and having huge record labels wanting to sign you?
LB: What happened was we played a lot in St. Louis and played a lot around the country because our dad used to go around the country and used to bring us along because he was a carpet guy and would peddle carpets. Then I ended up leaving the house and I got involved with shady shit and I went back to our house when I was 21 and thatâ€™s when we formed this version of the band and we were like â€œfuck it, this is what weâ€™re doingâ€? so we started really writing songs and took songs that we wrote from we were little and fixed lyrics and shit and made a recording with Steve Albini and it started circulating to record companies and they wanted to sign us.
ME: How did you develop a relationship with Steve Albini?
LB: It was really easy and stupid. We were in Chicago playing at this place called The Empty Bottle and we were staying at a friends house looking up recording studios in the phone book and his was listed and we were like, â€œoh cool, letâ€™s go record there when we come back to Chicago.â€? So we called it and he answered his phone because he lives at the studio, his house is the studio, and he was like â€œyeah send a CD, no problemâ€? and we sent the CD and he emailed us and saying â€œwhenever you want to record here just call me.â€? A couple weeks later we called him and did our first demo there and it turned out great, record company signed us from it. Then we made our full-length album with him.
ME: Being so anti-corporate, I would think you would want to be on an independent label, what was your logic?
LB: I think itâ€™s cool that large record companies are supportive of a band that wants to speak out the way they feel and I think smaller record labels let bands speak out but sometimes you cant get it to as many peopleâ€¦ major labels and indie labels came to us but we just signed with the ones we felt like would get our record to many people.
ME: How do you involve the audience into your shows?
LB: The most typical easy way that Iâ€™ll do it sometimes is like, during the last election, we had people come up and divided up the people that wanted George Bush to win and people who wanted Kerry to win and put them on stage and gave the microphone to each person and was like, â€œWhy do you want Kerry to win? Why do you want Bush to win?â€? and people could say why they did. Then, after the show we would have sign up sheets for people that werenâ€™t registered to vote so that they can register to vote. We want the show to be interactive and feel like more of a gathering and less like, â€œweâ€™re the pompous rock guys on stage that are playing and weâ€™re super cool.â€?
ME: Whatâ€™s Living Things ideal future?
LB: Our ideal future is to put out more records that deal with socially charged issues and hopefully open up as many people and influence as many people to make a change within society regardless if I agree with what they want to do or not and then to hopefully move on to politics.