Four months have passed since an Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris was the target of a terrorist attack. The opening band, White Miles – an Austrian, gritty garage-rock two-piece – had already played and departed the venue when the shooting began, but frontwoman Medina Rekic still vividly remembers the panic she felt that November evening. "It was the worst feeling I ever had in my life," she tells Rolling Stone. "I didn't know where my friends were, and there were all these wonderful people still in there."
As White Miles prep for their first-ever U.S. show – a South by Southwest gig at Austin's BD Rileys Saturday – Rekic says immersing herself in music helped her cope. Since 2011, she and her bandmate, drummer Hansjörg "Lofi" Loferer, have been bashing out raw, throbbing, punky blues-rock worthy enough to earn them shows with Courtney Love, former Kyuss frotman John Garcia and the Answer. Although they've previously put out a debut album in Europe, they'll be issuing their first international release, The Duel, which they recorded with producer Micko Larkin (Hole), on April 15th. Music has been their escape.
Rekic is at her parents' home in Tyrol – a sparsely inhabited Austrian state roughly the same size as Connecticut – in early March, when she speaks with Rolling Stone. The singer and guitarist – whose band hails from Walchsee, a small municipality with a population of less than 2,000 in the north of Tyrol – describes the area as beautiful and says she has been enjoying "mountain life." "It's full of valleys and landscapes," the typically effervescent singer says. "I love it. It's just a place to hang with family and friends."
"This guy ran over. He was full of blood everywhere."
She met the drummer about a decade ago at a battle of the bands, where they were both playing in separate groups. "I'd seen his band sitting in a corner, and I was like, 'Aww, these are some nice dudes, I'm just going to walk over and start a conversation,'" she remembers. "And we totally clicked." Both her and Lofi's band won the contest, as she recalls, and they sparked a friendship. After he grew disillusioned with this group, he phoned up his friend and proposed they play together. They named their duo after the blur of white separating lines on roads that bands see when speeding toward gigs. "It's the color of freedom," Rekic says.
Touring brought White Miles all around mainland Europe and as far from home as the U.K. An offer to expand their audience by opening for Eagles of Death Metal, as they supported their Zipper Down release, promised the band gigs in England and Ireland, as well as central Europe, Scandinavia and the southwest of the continent. Everything stopped in Paris.
On November 13th, the band played a sweaty, electric opening set at the Bataclan. Afterward, Rekic and Lofi said hello to their friends at the merch table — including Eagles merch manager Nick Alexander who would mind their wares while they stepped out — had a beer, showered off and stepped outside for a bite, Eagles of Death Metal's boogie-rock still ringing in the air. They had a smoke and spotted a Greek fast-food joint next to the venue and grabbed takeout.
"When we got back to the venue, I saw a policeman," she says. "He said, 'What are you doing there? Run back, they're shooting, shooting, shooting.' I'm not good with French, but in that case I understood everything. I said to Lofi, 'What the fuck? Shooting?' At that moment, we thought maybe it's shooting in the street. Like, OK, Paris, it happens. It could be a drug deal. I don't know what happened.
"And then we heard more," she continues. "It was louder and there were police running up the street. We went back to the fast food store, and a policeman ran back and said, 'Shut the gate.' We spoke to the police guy through it. He was like, 'Just stay here.' The woman opened the gate a little, and this guy ran over. He was full of blood everywhere. So we closed it and the lady's husband turned on the TV and we could see everything from outside the Bataclan, the increasing numbers of the people who got killed."
"I felt so helpless."
Rekic's heart sank as she and Lofi attempted to call their friends on the tour. They did not reach anyone.
"I felt so helpless," she says. "I was just 15 meters around the corner, but fuck. We were in there. For you, for my family, for my friends, for all the other people, hearing this, it's too intense to describe. Even though we were safe in the restaurant, I didn't feel lucky."
Terrorists had claimed the lives of 89 people at the show and wounded hundreds. Nick Alexander, the merch manager, whom they'd intended to relieve when they returned to the venue, was one of the fatalities.
White Miles were stuck in Paris for a couple of days as authorities placed the city on lockdown. At first, they stayed at the same hotel as Eagles of Death Metal and then at the Austrian embassy until they were able to get a flight back. They issued a statement the day after the attack, saying they were happy to be alive, yet "miserable" about what had happened.
When they finally arrived in Austria, Rekic's whole family was waiting at the airport. "It was intense," she says.
Upon arriving home in Tyrol, Rekic decided that one way to cope was to go to a big concert right away. Within a few days, she saw Deep Purple and Rival Sons in Germany. Then she began seeing local bands she was friendly with like the Black Bones play small clubs in Innsbruck, the largest city in Tyrol, and she visited her sister in Zurich, where she could settle down. "I decided to go to concerts as much as possible," she says. "And I'd visit friends and family. We'd talk, talk, talk, tell the story 10,000 times again, cry and scream that that was it."
A month after they'd returned, White Miles played Innsbruck. "Music is the best therapy," Rekic says. "That's what Lofi and me kept saying all the time. We couldn't wait to play again because nobody wants to be scared of anything. All our friends showed up to the gig and everybody was close. It gave me the best feeling I could ever have. To be with your friends, playing that soon again, is so good. It was very important."
Before long, they were back in touch with Eagles of Death Metal and before the year was up, they'd signed up to finish the trek with their tourmates. They played their first show back on February 13th in Stockholm. Rekic felt happy and at a loss for words to be back onstage again. Three days later, they were back in Paris, playing the Olympia.
"The show in Paris was so intense and so emotional, but in a good way," she says. "I could see all the people smiling and being happy. It was the most intense and most beautiful show of all. It was like closing a chapter, in a way, for us and for everybody. I don't know how to describe it.
"When the Eagles were playing, it was … " Rekic exhales, "magic. It was loud. I wish you would have seen it, just to soak up the energy." She laughs.
After the show, some friends convinced the band to go out to a bar, to dance and laugh. "Luckily we had a day off the next day in Paris, so we could hang out," the singer says. "We were out 'til, I don't know, 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning. We took a friend who had been at Bataclan to the bars, and then we met other people who were at the Bataclan show. There was so many people going out and just celebrating life."
They stuck with the tour through a late February gig in Brussels. Rekic has been in touch with Eagles of Death Metal's members since then. "Staying in touch is very important," she says.
Last June, White Miles began plotting the band's next steps. They met up with Micko Larkin and began recording what would become The Duel live in a Lichtenstein studio. Their last record, they felt, was "too nice, too polished," so they played it loose and recorded analog. "Every time the engineer, Little [Konzett], rewound a tape, he said, 'Come, smell the tape,'" Rekic says with a laugh. "It was so cool." The video for their bluesy, stomping "Crazy Horse" is emblematic of the experience.
"I'm very happy," Rekic says. "We're a little band. We just started four years ago, and now have a record that will be released worldwide. I just want to play it live." She laughs.
White Miles will get their chance in Austin this weekend, when they interrupt a European tour for a one-off show. Rekic, who has never before been to the U.S., says she's ready for the scene at South by Southwest. "I expect loads of music," she says. "We were told there would be loads of music lovers, greedy for new music, loads of happy people. Our friend kept saying, 'It's going to be margaritas and music and burgers.'"
Rekic is happy her band has finally made it, not just to the U.S. but to this point in time. "We're just getting started," she says. "We get the chance to do this and play music forever. We didn't get knocked down, not in the brain and not physically."