At about 4 a.m. on December 2, 2006, the Coup, Mr. Lif and several others that they were travelling with were involved in a fiery bus crash two hours east of San Diego, where they had just performed. The driver had fallen asleep, and the tour bus ended up going down a 35-foot embankment. Injuries ranged from mild to serious, but everyone survived, though all of their possessions—equipment, instruments, clothing, personal belongings—were destroyed.
MVRemix sat down with Boots Riley of the Coup in Vancouver, on their first tour since the accident, to talk about the details of that night, as well as, inevitably, politics. A more comprehensive interview about their music can also be found here.
MVRemix: So this is your first tour since the crash…
Boots Riley: Yeah, this is just a short ride and then we're doing some spot dates, a few of them with Lyrics Born. Then I'm going to Italy and hosting some parties, then we'll do the whole band in Europe next month.
MVRemix: I've read a few accounts of what happened, and I know plenty of people have probably been asking you about this, but you know I have to ask what happened.
Boots Riley: Yeah. Well, we were on our way from San Diego to Scottsdale, Arizona, and the bus driver fell asleep and we went of a cliff, 35 feet down. It was kind of like a skateboarder going sideways down a 150-degree ramp, you know? [The bus] slid on its side. Long story short, we all got out alive but the bus caught on fire and exploded. There were a lot of injuries; Silk E had a punctured lung and three broken ribs, the DJ for Mr. Lif, Wiz, he had a shattered knee and had a cut on the top of his head. The girl that was selling merch for both of us, half of the meat on one of her fingers just came off. So, we were all lucky to be alive. All our stuff burnt up, because we were packed to be in there for like a month, so everything from wardrobe to equipment to cash, you know, all sorts of little things, were burnt up. We came back home and it was a whole band needing— you know, if it was just me, I'd be like, 'Okay, I'll figure out some way to hustle something,' but it was all of us needing some way to get by for a little bit until we could get the insurance money and get back out and perform, so I put the call out on the MySpace and people came in and, you know, gave money. Somebody sent me a laptop. It made me feel really warm.
MVRemix: I heard you were about to go sleep, but someone had a movie…
Boots Riley: Nah I was going to go write, because I'm writing a couple albums right now, but I was just gonna lay down and just kick it in the bunk, but somebody had Anchorman, and you know, I love Will Ferrell. We were just coming from San Diego, and "Stay classy, San Diego!" you know? So that fits it. So I stayed in there watching it. I kind of got bored of it—I was gonna go, and I was feeling tired—so I was gonna get up still and get back in the bunk, but Steve was sitting right next to me, you know, it has this booth in one part of it, like a diner, and there's a couch over here. Steve was sitting right next to me, and I was just too tired to make everybody move, plus people were standing in the aisle, so I just said, 'okay, I'm gon wait here for a little bit.' I was waiting there for a little bit and I said, 'okay, I'm going to go to sleep.' I started closing my eyes and soon as I started doing that, there was a bump, and then just rolling down.
MVRemix: So when you felt the bump, what went through your mind, aside from, I assume, "Oh shit"?
Boots Riley: I was mad that this was the way I was going to die. I was like, 'This is fucked up. I'm not ready for this.' You know, I think, in like a fraction of a second, my mind did an assessment of my life. I used to always be scared of death. Not because I was scared of the actual dying, but I was scared of not being here to do the things that I want to get done, and wanted to experience those things. But, I think I did a quick assessment of my life, and the weird thing is that I felt calm, like "okay. I really did the best that I could do." You know, if I had to leave a legacy, I'm happy with what I've done so far. See, now that I'm alive, I'm not satisfied with that, but I remember thinking that: "Okay, cool." I didn't feel like, "Oh, I didn't get to do this, or I didn't get to do that," you know?
MVRemix: It's wild that so many things could go through your mind in a minute…
Boots Riley: Yeah, shit's crazy. And then, you just kind of disconnect and start feeling surreal. That's the only way you can get through it, just think of what to do next.
MVRemix: What made you decide that you were ready to tour again?
Boots Riley: We need money. [Laughs] You know? That's our living. Also, I'm not done with promoting this album. We're about to put out some videos. We're about to do a video for "Laugh/Love/Fuck." We're gonna do some stuff with YouTube. The people at YouTube are teaming up with us to kinda promote. So we're gonna do a couple videos to promote that. Also, we got this Coachella show, which is a big for us, so I want us performing as much as possible before that.
MVRemix: In terms of recovery, how is everyone doing? I was talking to Silk E earlier…
Boots Riley: She's doing alright. She's up there but she's still in pain, you know? She's still not all the way healed. She was like, a couple weeks after the thing, "Oh I could go, I could go!" No, I'm not gonna let you. [Laughs]
MVRemix: On a lighter note, you were chosen to be the keynote speaker for UC Berkeley's graduation ceremony. Any thought into what you're gonna talk about yet?
Boots Riley: I'm kinda putting it together right now. I have things that I want to say, but I'm looking at the form of other peoples' speeches. I want to say something that people will remember. I don't take it lightly. It's a big moment in their lives, so I want to say something that's useful and is inspiring and help them see their lives in terms of a bigger picture.
MVRemix: 2008 presidential election: Who you backin'?
Boots Riley: First of all, no one who doesn't say that they're ready to get out of the war now, which neither Obama nor Hillary could say.
MVRemix: Well, Obama does want to get the troops out, but through phasing rather than immediately withdrawing them all.
Boots Riley: He wants to phase them out… I mean, you could say that about some moderate republicans too.
MVRemix: He's been against the war since the beginning.
Boots Riley: I'm not saying he's not progressive or nothing, but I was just listening to a story on Pacifica about how after he announced his run for the presidency, he toned down some of his stances, that being one of them. Also his stance on Israel, or Palestine having its own autonomous state. Now he won't say that, you know? I heard there was a lot of people thinking he's going to win, but you've got to know what he's about. He may say something else. That's the same thing about Kerry and so on and so forth. But you know, Obama is decidedly middle. He's playing politician. He's saying, "Elect me, I'll be the first black president, but I'm not going to be too radical," you know? Even though that's what all the polls show, that most of the country wants that, but he's not even right there where the polls are at.
MVRemix: I'm a very big Obama fan…
Boots Riley: I'm definitely not a Hillary fan.
MVRemix: In his defense, his views are predominantly "leftist" but he doesn't believe that political issues can be so easily dissected into left and right, and that's why the media hype around him is that he's not trying to be "left" or "right…."
Boots Riley: History is filled with those kinds of politicians.
MVRemix: But he's handsome!
Boots Riley: [Laughs]
MVRemix: Have you read his book?
Boots Riley: No I haven't. I've heard about it but I haven't read it yet. He has a couple books, right?