Bringing Up Baby

B-Sides gets the real story behind Living Things, chats with the Hail Marys' punk-rock mom and talks to Michael Stipe about his new charity single

At 26 years old, Lillian Berlin, singer and songwriter for the Living Things, has a wife, a one-year-old daughter, a four-star review in Rolling Stone, a phantasmagoric video in high MTV rotation and a trail of biographical bullshit James Frey might envy. The St. Louis band's rise to rock-god status could be dismissed as a majestic media blitz — if the brothers Berlin (a.k.a. Jason, Justin and Josh Rothman) didn't back up the hype with Ahead of the Lions, a pitiless hard-rock record that slashes and slams with livid hooks and leftist bile. We gave Lillian a chance to clear things up before does.

B-Sides: Mind if I call you Jason?

Lillian Berlin: [laughs] That's funny. That's my first name. My middle name is Lillian. When I was in school, my mom would register me as Lillian. I had the shit made fun out of me.

And your brother's middle name is Eve?

Yves. It's French. Our parents separated, so we were raised by my mother. She was the one around most of the time, so we decided to switch to her maiden name [Berlin] and tell Dad to kinda fuck himself.

Adios furniture discounts.

That's not my dad's family. When my grandfather moved to St. Louis from Germany, he changed his name to Rothman. There are all these Rothmans all over; we're not related to any of them.

Your mom wasn't really in the Weathermen.

Well, in Chicago there was this activist branch that she founded. Different groups had handshake agreements and allegiances, and her group aided them. She got into trouble when things went south after the bombings.

When did you move to LA?

We never moved to LA. We mixed our album in LA and that somehow turned into moving there. I've got a place outside of St. Louis near the Ozarks, a cabin that I fixed up and made livable. My wife and baby live there. She's also got a place in Toronto, so we split time between the two places.

Name your worst high school experience.

Getting diagnosed with ADD. You get put in a class with severely handicapped kids, with this thing that's not even scientifically diagnosed, and in public school you're forced to take these prescription drugs. I'm doing a documentary on that, filming twelve high schools in America and twelve in Europe, basically contrasting what it's like here and in Europe.

Any plans to burn photos of George Bush at Mississippi Nights?

Who the fuck knows? For me it's a ritualistic thing. That picture represents the 200 unpatriotic men who are destroying America. But I hate the whole "Fuck Bush" thing. If you don't get on your feet and do something about it, you don't get anywhere.
8 p.m. Saturday, March 4. Mississippi Nights, 914 North First Street. $15. 314-421-3853.

Immaculate Conception
When the Hail Marys burst onto the St. Louis punk scene in 2002, they swiftly became heavyweight favorites. Their religious devotion to playing out and aggressive live shows garnered them a solid (and rabid) fan base, and they were justly rewarded with the 2004 RFT Music Award for Best New Artist. But just as quickly as the band left-hooked the scene, it faded back into obscurity in 2005 — with rumors of a break-up abounding.

So when lead singer Katie Gates reclaimed the stage last November for the Marys' first performance in over ten months, she was surprised at how many people offered her their congratulations. Not on the band's comeback, but instead for the birth of her and husband/bassist Ryan Gates' daughter. Now nearly six months old, little Delia Rose Gates was the real reason for the band's extended break.

"I disappeared for nine months," Gates says of her own vanishing act.

During the hiatus Gates continued to practice with the rest of the band, including new drummer Dave Easley. But her daughter's kicking in the womb eventually made her give it a rest.

"I played until I was showing, 'cause that's not very rock & roll," Gates says. ("Or then," she reconsiders, "maybe it is.")

Known for her aggressive growls and for occasionally bloodying herself onstage, Gates is pumped about performing regularly again. The petite blonde, who admits that the Hail Marys' happiest songs are the ones about drinking, is steadfastly opposed to the notion that motherhood will mellow her songwriting or stifle her creative drive.

"All you have to do is make me mad, and I'll write another song," Gates says.

Though it will be some time before Delia Rose is able to attend one of her mother and father's shows, Gates is already preparing her for the rock & roll lifestyle. Opting for Social Distortion and the Beach Boys over "Baby Bach" for prenatal bedtime music, Gates beams that her daughter now has an inclination for Patsy Cline. But matching pink Chucks and press-on tattoos aside, this rock & roll mom foresees the day when her daughter will rebel.

"We make jokes that she will be like 'Mother, please cover up your tattoos,'" she says. "Or 'Please stop playing your CDs, that's so embarrassing.'"

Whether they'll mortify her daughter or not, Gates is anxious to pen some new songs for a new CD. And as long as the fans and the babysitters continue to show up, the Hail Marys' blaze of glory will carry on.
9 p.m. Saturday, March 4. The Way Out Club, 2525 Jefferson Avenue. 314-664-7638.

Half a World Away
R.E.M. is well-known for doing charity work and supporting political causes, so it's not a surprise that vocalist Michael Stipe jumped in to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The 46-year-old covered "In the Sun" (a gentle song originally performed by moody folkie Joseph Arthur, an opener on R.E.M.'s 2004 U.S. tour) six different ways and released the EP via iTunes. (Versions include a solo rendition, a duet with Coldplay's Chris Martin, a collaboration with Arthur himself and even a remix by Justin Timberlake and Black Eyed Pea On the eve of the release of the mini-album, B-Sides participated in a conference call with an obviously sobered Stipe, who had friends affected by the disaster and was haunted by what he saw when he visited the beloved city.

B-Sides: How do you see this devastation affecting the way you create music, film and art in the future?

Michael Stipe: I only have one song written since then, "I Have Seen Trouble," if that indicates [that] it might have had a profound effect on me as an artist and a songwriter. I read all the articles in all the newspapers. I was watching and listening and absorbing through the same media channels that everyone in this call was. Seeing it firsthand radically changes you, you really can't imagine how bad it is.

"Five months later, it's still a disaster. The scale of it is monumental. I thought I had answers and solutions. We all have moments of arrogance. Seeing it firsthand, I recognized that it's a much more complicated situation than I imagined. The thing I would like to stress is that there are people now five months after the disaster who are still profoundly in need. We don't need to forget that as Americans, this is our time, this is our story. And how we respond to this is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

"New Orleans, for me, is a place that's always had a mystery, a beauty to it that is unparalleled in this country and worldwide. My band, we've kind of moved from city to city record by record. We realized early on that working in the city can bring a certain flavor, a certain nuance [to recording]. New Orleans is one of the few places we've returned back to to record again."