Although its debut album was just released, Living Things already has a volatile relationship with the music industry.
For the past two years, the band has been bouncing from label to label. And because of their politically charged lyrics and onstage antics, its members have been booed off stage, beaten up and even shot at.
Living Things finally found a new home at Jive Records, which on Oct. 4 released “Ahead of the Lions.” The icing on the cake? The album’s first single, “Bom Bom Bom,” entered Billboard’s Modern Rock airplay chart last week at No. 39.
It’s been a long, hard road for the act — made up of siblings Lillian Berlin (vocals/guitar), Eve Berlin (bass) and Bosh Berlin (drums), plus Cory Becker (guitar) –- to get to this point.
In 2003, Living Things’ first EP was released on DreamWorks Records. Soon after, the label was sold to Universal Music Group and some of its artists were absorbed into Geffen Records. But Living Things didn’t fit in with the ideals of its new label and soon found itself without a record deal.
Enter Jive Records. With a roster filled with acts like ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and R. Kelly, Jive isn’t known for breaking rock bands, especially ones as politically outspoken as Living Things. But for both it was the right fit at the right time.
“All the major labels have a lot of pop and R&B [artists], ’cause that’s the only thing that seems to really sell these days,” Lillian Berlin says. “The strength of [Jive] is that they don’t have another band like us, and they want to. We’re sort of their rock band to break so that they can sign others. I feel like it’s an ideal situation, rather than just being lost in the shuffle with 30 other rock bands.”
A major label may seem like a strange pairing for a band that cites such diverse influences as Tupac Shakur, poet Sylvia Plath and novelist Henry Miller, but Berlin is quick to disagree.
“It’s important that our message be heard by as many people as possible,” Berlin says. “A lot of indie labels could get the message out, but not to a broad spectrum. When we went looking for a new record company [after Geffen], Jive was the one that said, you guys can do anything you want to do onstage or off. So we said, ‘Hey, why not?'”
Although the band’s lyrics attack capitalism, war and the “dumbing down” of society, the “message” he is referring to is more of a desire to provoke debate about these issues.
“Our political beliefs and our music go hand in hand,” he notes. “What inspires me to write a song is what I read in the newspaper, so I can’t really separate them. Entertainment and politics influence each other. If somebody doesn’t agree with what I am saying but walks away with their own opinion, then my job is done.”
Berlin hopes to spread this political awareness through more than just his music. He has written a book, “Post Mortem Bliss,” about his personal struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and his concerns about more and more children being prescribed Ritalin and Prozac to battle this type of disease. He is also close to signing a cable television deal for a show called “The Blackout Generation,” where Berlin “invades” schools across the country to “hand the mike” to junior high and high school students who want to express their opinions.
Before he can pass the mike, though, Living Things must continue getting its music out to new fans. Berlin takes the challenge in stride.
“People are intrigued by our story. We’re the band that the record [industry] tried to kill, but we kept chugging along,” he says. “We’ve stuck to our guns and haven’t given in to the corporate machine. This is what we believe in, this is what’s important to us, and we’ll keep doing this regardless [of what happens]. We’re like the underdog, and everybody loves the underdog.”