The Coup’s Boots Riley Talks Funk, Domestic Espionage
(CBS Seattle) - The atmosphere at a Coup show is unique: strangers dance side-by-side, fueled by powerful rhetoric backed by a hip-hop and funk fusion. The exuberance inside whatever club the band has packed that evening lasts for hours. However, frontman Boots Riley would prefer that his message of radical change to the way the United States operates sticks with the audience long after the show is over.
You recently returned from a string of shows in Europe, how did that tour go?
Real good. We actually have songs that are on regular, commercial radio all throughout the Netherlands so we headlined all these big festivals. The song “Magic Clap” is actually one of those songs you hear on the radio too much, like “damn, are they playing this song again?” And that’s the first time we experienced anything like that.
Do you think your message resonates differently over there than it does in America?
Definitely – I think that people get an idea of what we’re talking about because it says so in the bio … But it’s hard for them to catch my lyrics if English isn’t their first language — it’s mainly the music that they feel. People understand that we’re putting out these radical politics, but they don’t catch the nuances … My music is about affirmation of life and engagement in the world and wanting to change the world. It comes from a place of being optimistic that it can happen – so there’s a lot of joy. It’s something people wouldn’t expect from the on-paper description.
So would you say that as you guys grow in popularity, your audiences are expanding outside the traditional hip-hop community?
First of all, the “traditional hip-hop” community hasn’t been traditional for like 20-something years. The people that go to hip-hop shows are the same people that go to some new, hip rock show – they just wear different clothes when they go. Those lines have been really blurry for a long time. Our crowd is definitely a mixture of people that like different things. I have definitely proven myself with albums to the hip-hop, hardcore purists as far as my lyrics are concerned. And what I’ve done with these last couple albums is just kind of expand from being just a lyricist to a songwriter. To me the song is more important than the punch line and to express something that is not just “wow, look at that lyrical back-flip he can do.” So with the crowd, we get a lot of folks – we get the hardcore hip-hop folks, we get punk and we get people who are just there for the funk. Our stuff is kind of like funk and punk and hip-hop all rolled up in one unit … And because of all of that, it’s really funk because all the music that we think of is funk from the ‘70s – it was very different for its time. Parliament-Funkadelic having the guitars in it – that aesthetic was thought of as being psychedelic or rock. What we’re doing is a similar thing with different aesthetics.
When I asked Wayne Kramer last year what acts he thought mirror the MC5, one of his answers was The Coup. Do you consider the MC5 as a direct influence?
I would say that what they were doing – using their music to help a movement – I think that’s definitely what we do.
How did the Patton Oswald video for “Magic Clap” come to fruition?
A couple years ago Patton was tweeting Coup lyrics, talking about how he was a Coup fan. So I hit him up and got his information and actually sent him a script I’d written for a movie that is going to be shot at the end of this year … So when we were going back and forth about that, I told him that we were going to need more publicity for this album [Sorry to Bother You] … Patton just showed up and did his thing.
It’s such a simple video, but with all the props that he has, it’s almost like a cartoon – everything imaginable just kind of shows up.
And all of that was kind of lucky. We had one day in between tours and had the idea. The place where the couch happened to be was at a post-production spot that had all of these props that were used as models for drawings on animated work. So it just happened to be there and it worked out perfectly.
Is this the first album to have live instruments on every song?
No, we’ve had live instruments on all of our songs since our first album. The only thing different is that I used to not have live drums. The drums were programmed on most of the other stuff.
With the live drums, is Sorry to Bother You the best representation of The Coup’s live show?
Definitely – and that’s why I think it clicks so much better. I tried to make it feel much closer to what we are live. I used to have the idea that The Coup on recording and The Coup live were two different experiences – which they were, and I wanted to keep them that way. But I feel like not enough people knew what we sounded like live so I melded the two experiences together.
In regards to the current political landscape, what is your take on the Edward Snowden situation and revelation of the NSA’s information-gathering techniques?
I don’t think anybody’s surprised – and that’s unfortunate. I think that most people understand that something like that could happen … We’ve kind of been lulled into this idea that there’s nothing we can do about things like this. The truth is, there’s no power to do anything about it without a mass movement … They may decide these programs may need to move from the CIA to the FBI instead. If it’s the FBI then it’s not as illegal, right? The point is, as long as there’s not a radical movement to stop the direction that things are going, it’s going to keep going that way. You’re going to have a few progressive elected politicians that make it their “life’s work” to stop this. They’re going to move it a little away from the right – about two inches – in their whole career.
What is the status of Occupy Oakland?
All the people are still there doing things, they’re just not calling themselves “Occupy” because they don’t want to be connected to other Occupy movements. And that’s a problem because the reason anybody knew that those groups existed is because of their connection to each other.
Are there any new causes or organizations you’ve recently become active in?
I haven’t been involved in anything in the last several months because I’ve just kind of been trying to pay bills be doing all these shows. But I’ve been somewhat involved with the Justice 4 Alan Blueford campaign. I’m also keeping in touch with various organizations that are doing foreclosure defense work.
Seattle is one of the few U.S. cities to get a double dose of The Coup while they promote their latest album, Sorry To Bother You (Anti), taking the stage at the Crocodile on Friday (the band made a stop in mid November as well). Tickets for the show can be purchased here. NighTraiN and Malitia Malimob open.
-Chris Coyle, CBS Seattle
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