BERRI TXARRAK are holed up in a studio in Venice, California, when I catch up with them. They're a long way from their native Lekunberri—a small town in Navarra, located in the Basque Country of Northern Spain—but the post-punk/metal trio has made a habit in recent years of traveling far from the political strife of their home in order to make records. Right now they're recording their eighth studio album, and second with producer Ross Robinson (At the Drive-In, Slipknot). The band also came stateside to mix their 2005 shredder Jaio.Musika.Hil with Ed Rose (Coalesce, the Get Up Kids) and record their 2009 LP Payola with Steve Albini.
During Berri Txarrak's 20-year career, vocalist/guitarist Gorka Urbizu has written entirely in the Basque language of Euskara, a tongue spoken by only around a million people in the world. Euskara was suppressed as a sign of separatism during the nearly 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and only reemerged in the years following Franco's death in 1975, sprouting the Basque Radical Rock movement of the '80s. While Berri Txarrak (translation: Bad News) began well after that rebellion's bubble burst, their choice to sing in Euskara is still considered something of a middle finger to the crises and corruptions haunting that area of the world.
"Choosing Euskara as your language to write your songs almost means a resistance act by itself," says Urbizu while gearing up for the band's first West Coast tour. "Our language is still not respected, and institutionally attacked often."
Berri Txarrak is one of only a small handful of bands from the Basque Country to tour Europe and the US, and they've received accolades for their chameleonic hybrid of metal, punk, and rock. The progressive arc from their self-titled debut is staggering; since the band's Faith No More-like beginnings, they've undergone tremendous evolutions. On Payola, the group turned toward the grating punk they'd hinted at throughout their catalog, even recruiting Rise Against's Tim McIlrath for guest vocals.
Despite the band's political leanings, Urbizu says they're just happy to play music and get in lots of travel.
"It makes no sense for us to stay in a ghetto, especially after 20 years," says Urbizu. "The language factor is important, of course, but we just want to be the best band possible. When it comes to that idea, we don't really care about where we're going."