Lillian Berlin : vocals, guitar
Eve Berlin : bass
Bosh Berlin : drums
“Society is divided into two antagonistic factions: those who issue the orders and
those who obey the orders. The problem is the grand issuers of the orders have abused
their authority and have seduced society into abdicating their rights. It’s time to learn
to recite your rights like the ABC’s and 123’s so you are aware of what you’re giving up.”
So says Lillian Berlin, singer/guitarist/lyricist for Living Things, who will
release their debut album, Black Skies In Broad Daylight (DreamWorks Records), at the
beginning of 2004.
Living Things, a band of three brothers – Lillian, Eve and Bosh – are natives of St.
Louis, Mo., a socially conservative town noted more for Jesus, Monsanto and sports than for
anything resembling a rock ‘n’ roll scene. They have been playing together since their
hands were big enough to hold an instrument, which gives their angst-ridden roar an organic
In the early years, their father had a job laying carpet under the attractions at
traveling carnivals, and the whole family would accompany him. The boys formed a
three-piece and spent several summers gigging in parking lots next to the Ferris wheel.
The main attraction was Bosh, a kindergartner dressed in an Angus Young-style schoolboy
uniform, pushing the songs along at an incredible 170 beats per minute.
“We learned a bunch of covers, but I couldn’t sing, so I screamed the words,” says
Lillian. “Nobody had any idea what we were playing ’cause we had the chords all wrong. We
just started making stuff up to entertain people. That got my juices flowing for writing
“We knew this older ‘block’ kid, as we liked to call him, who turned us on to a
bunch of ’70s punk records and ’80s hardcore records and it was, like, ‘Wow! We can do
this!’ It was such basic stuff, with a clear social message. But books, newspaper stands
and billboards are what really inspire me to pick up my tape recorder and write a song.
That’s the shit that gets me off.”
Lillian cites mainly literary figures as influences: Hunter S. Thompson, Jim
Carroll, Nick Cave, William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, Michael Moore, Sylvia Plath, Allen
Ginsberg, William Blake, Anne Sexton and … CNN?
“Yeah, I just love laying in bed, a little fucked up, picking apart the news with a
naked girl,” says Lillian. “That to me is salvation. That gets me higher than anything
else. You know females have ruled the world since the beginning, with Eve and Lilith.”
Well, who could deny the connection between sex and politics?
“Our mother was an activist of sorts, full of progressive ideas about government,
religion and sex,” Lillian notes. “She was always challenging the establishment. She was
the one who’d throw mash potatoes at the television during the evening news. So before I
began my music, even in grade school, I had my philosophy and ethics in place. When it
came time to pick up a guitar, the things that came naturally for me to write about were
how fucked the world is.
“The first song I ever wrote, when I was 13, was titled ‘Marijuana Orgy.’ I wrote
about the obvious idea, which was new to me at the time, of how marijuana gets you off,
numbs you in a nice medicated way, but you know, ‘they’ don’t want you dabbling – God
forbid you actually enjoy yourself. Of course they will allow a drug like alcohol to be
legal, though it’s harder to kick than heroin. But you know, there is no drug for natural
bliss. I could write about relationships, but what comes naturally to me are issues of
abused authority and the governmental stranglehold that has been clamped on society and its
soon-to-be-lost free thinkers. I love America, but not its politicians.”
High school was not a comfortable environment for such a stubbornly free spirit.
His brain alienated but otherwise clear, Lillian was given to reading books that weren’t
assigned, refusing to read books that were assigned and resisting any labels of “Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” with their concomitant prescription for Ritalin.
“My mother said no to the drugs,” says Lillian. “She didn’t believe in it. But
there’s this heaping amount of mood-altering drugs prescribed to kids, like Prozac and
Ritalin and that bullshit. Everyone I know on Prozac is under 18. Something like 1.5
million kids are on that drug, and the FDA didn’t even approve it for young people until
last year. They’re carrying around baggies of the most amazing shit, all prescribed. It’s
making kids even more depressed and suicidal than they already were. How can society put
the blame for high school violence on music or lifestyle when we’ve got kids hooked on
pills? It’s like fucking crack for kids. Maybe that’s part of the dumbing down of the
generation coming up, the ‘blackout generation.'”
Home wasn’t much easier than school. “We’d get grounded all the time for beating
each other up,” says bassist Eve Berlin. “Our parents would send us to the basement
because we’d ruin the upstairs, punching holes in the wall and shit. We didn’t have
anything to do down there except take out our instruments and jam. Later we started having
trouble with the law, getting dropped off by the cops at 2:00 a.m. We’d get grounded for
two weeks. We had to come home right after school. We couldn’t use the phone or watch TV.
So we’d make music.”
Hostile to the jock crowd at school, they made their own sport: cop baiting. “We
were under 17, so the cops would just pick you up and scare you by taking you over to
Juvenile Hall,” middle brother Eve continues. “I never did anything that involved guns,
which was a popular thing to have alongside your bag of drugs in our town. I would just
vandalize. In St. Louis everyone looks like the cast of ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ I looked like
the cast of ‘The Lost Boys,’ so kids would fuck with me at school. At night it was my
revenge. They might find a couple windows broken on their car or a big ‘Fuck you’
spray-painted on it. It was always the same 10 cops who caught us out after curfew. I
knew them better than most of my teachers.”
Playing together and apart in various formations, locations and desperation, the
brothers Berlin finally united around their common disdain for the St. Louis scene, or lack
thereof, and borrowed a car from a girlfriend to drive to Los Angeles in search of a record
deal. They were young, they had a bunch of good songs, they were comfortable onstage when
they weren’t beating the crap out of each other, they were loud, and big record companies
were sniffing the air and catching a distant whiff of socially conscious rock ‘n’ roll
preparing to storm the charts again.
A handful of gigs later, Living Things decided to go with DreamWorks Records, after
meeting A&R exec Beth Halper, who signed them. “It felt like DreamWorks was somewhat less
full of shit than everyone else,” Lillian explains.
They went to Chicago to record four tracks with Steve Albini that became an EP
titled Turn In Your Friends & Neighbors (released in early 2003). It exposed guitars
boiling like molten lava, a magma-down-the-mountain mercilessness in the bass and drums,
and a vocal snarl with such conviction it feels like the entire volcano is about to blow.
Shortly thereafter, they recorded basic tracks for their full-length album, Black Skies In
Broad Daylight, with Albini, then bought a big pile of recording equipment to finish it in
the same sweaty St. Louis basement where they spent much of their time dreaming …
breathing … wailing … fighting … trying to dig a way out of the suburban wasteland of
their Maryland Heights neighborhood.
“During the recording of our record we were on our best behavior, even though we all
shared the same room,” says youngest brother and drummer Bosh. “But by the time we went to
mix the record, if it would have gone a week longer, one of us would have had a skull with
a fist through it.” Which means the brothers are getting along now? “Yeah, we have
separate hotel rooms.”
“The whole time we were making the record we didn’t leave Steve Albini’s cave-like
studio/home,” says Eve. “We were pretty detached from the outside, other than the morning
newspaper, which we all read from top to bottom every day. It was nice not dealing with
the everyday chaos that goes on; it gave you a different perspective when you’re looking
out at it.”
“It feels as if the world is coming apart at the seams right now,” says Lillian.
“Democracy – the idea of government of the people, by the people – has become null and
void. If we stay in this suspended state, if we buy into the fear, we will have died
before we ever lived. The general consensus seems to be a ‘fuck your friends, fuck your
neighbors, every man for himself’ mentality. The media are manufacturing the so-called
facts. If you heard it on the Big Three networks, you must believe, because the television
would never lie. Well, wake the fuck up. Start asking questions. Don’t keep your mouth
© The Living Things