Black Lips tours, stirs up controversy
The group once fled India after a racy performance.
Apr. 06, 2010
During the last 10 years, the Black Lips has brought its raw garage rock to kids around the world with crazy live shows that have sometimes involved male nudity, band members making out and even vomiting. Although they're known for insane live shows, they've been releasing some serious music. Last year's 200 Million Thousand showed some serious growth within the band's sound, but still delivered the punk, garage rock their fans crave. Along with releasing an album, they made their way into music news quite a bit last year whether it was bassist Jared Swilley's fight with lo-fi artists Wavves, their India tour or recording a slapdash, "evil gospel album" with fellow garage rockers King Khan and Mark Sultan. Bassist Jared Swilley, a man not afraid to speak his mind, told us what's been up with the band lately and what they're all about.
MANEATER: You just recorded an album with King Khan and Mark Sultan, The Almighty Defenders. How did that project come together?
Swilley: We've just been friends for years. We've always kind of just recorded with them for fun, and we ended up being in Berlin for a few days before a European tour we were doing with Mark Sultan. It was snowing outside and too cold to go anywhere in Berlin so we just decided to try and make a record.
M: You're known for your crazy live shows. Do you make a conscious distinction between what is done in the studio and what is done on stage?
Swilley: Well we don't have crazy shows in the studio. There's a lot of expensive equipment you could end up paying for.
M: A lot of your songs seem to have a social and political message. How strongly do you feel that this is an important aspect of your music?
Swilley: There may be some stuff that people could perceive as being kind of political, but any time we're talking about it, we're not being super serious about it. I try to keep politics out of music. I don't think musicians have any role being politicians or having too many political views. That always seems kind of silly. We'll maybe mention stuff that's going on around us, our kind of observations, but we definitely don't try to have any political message except have a great time and do what you want to do.
M: So there are no political issues you'd like to talk about?
Swilley: No, unless it affects me personally or my immediate community straight up. I don't think I have any room to talk about Tibet or any wars or anything like that. I'm just a musician.
M: You're known for being somewhat juvenile. Do you enjoy being taken seriously or do you like having the bad boy, punk image?
Swilley: I don't think we're trying to have any bad boy image. We just like to have fun, and I think part of having fun is just embracing your youth and being a little silly about everything, but we don't want to be taken as clowns or anything like that. We're serious people.
M: A lot of your songs like your last single ("Drugs") are about drugs. Do you advocate the use of drugs and for what reason?
Swilley: No, the song is really not about drugs. We were just in the studio and someone was asking what the song was called, and I was kind of frustrated at the time so I was like "it's called drugs." We don't advocate the use of drugs, but we definitely don't frown upon it at all.
M: Other songs of yours are about drugs as well, like "I Saw a Ghost (Lean)."
Swilley: Yeah it's about cough syrup. We used to drink a lot of cough syrup when we were in high school, and a lot of rappers drink it and stuff, but I think drugs and music kind of go hand in hand. They definitely complement each other.
M: It seems like you never stop touring. Does that affect you or do you enjoy it?
Swilley: Yeah I love doing it. I love traveling. I like playing shows. We don't work here so it gets boring. Like right now I'm building a fence, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow so we can get on the road and go tour. I love traveling, and we've been doing it so long. I've been on the road majority of my adult life, so it's just something I'm really accustomed to doing. It's nice to come home, but I've been home for three weeks now and I'm kind of getting the itch to go again.
M: You've played in places like Israel and India. Why do you feel that its important to go to international venues that other artists wouldn't?
Swilley: Well, first off for our own personal experience because I want to see as much of the world as I can while I'm here. And doing it as a musician makes it all the more better because you get to go and meet people from there and hang out with people from there that are kind of into the same stuff you are. You really get the feel of the place you're at. And it's like Israeli kids enjoy rock and roll just as much American and Europeans and Canadians. They want to have fun too. And it's pretty cool to be able to go on a free trip to a far off place.
M: So what happened in India? Did police chase you out?
Swilley: We weren't physically chased by the police, but the threat was there and big enough to flee the state we were in and fly to Germany. We got kicked off the tour, so we had no place go after that, and we didn't know anyone in India. The promoters weren't very happy with us. Ian (St. Pe) and Cole (Alexander) kissed at a show, which is highly frowned upon in India, so they kicked us off the tour. I guess the promoters and the venue were so mad about it because we were at a college and they called the police. When we got back to the hotel after the show they were saying the police might come to the hotel and India is not the kind of place where I want any issues with my passport or getting stuck there. It was kind of a bummer that we didn't get to finish. I guess they weren't really ready for a band like us to tour there.
M: So where would you guys want to tour next?
Swilley: We have plans to go to China this year. We've had an invitation to go for a while, so we're going to try that out. I'd really like to do more shows in the Middle East if possible. We really want to play in Uganda because Cole's mom lives there so we want to go and visit her and play shows.
M: Cole's mom does AIDS research there, right?
Swilley: Yeah she does. I really want to go anywhere that we can go with the exception of like Somalia or somewhere where we'd just get killed, but anywhere we can go that will have us. I want to start touring South America more. It's been really fun every time we've gone there.
M: So your fight with Wavves, you didn't attack his van or retaliate when he played his show in Atlanta and I was surprised. Why didn't you retaliate in the juvenile manner you alluded to?
Swilley: I wasn't in Atlanta when they came through, and the whole thing was so dumb. It just needed to be laid to rest. It was just a stupid, drunken late night bar fight that got written about way too much. It was just a dumb, drunk thing.
M: So Ian has a grill, right?
Swilley: Yeah he has real grill.
M: Does he always wear that grill?
Swilley: Yeah he wears it most of the time.
M: Do you try to make your lives shows crazy or do you just play for the sake of playing?
Swilley: When I go to a show I want there to be a lot of energy and excitement. Usually the crowd is already there and we've had a few drinks so it just happens naturally. If it doesn't happen, we're not going to try and force anything out of anyone. I like to let the natural process occur.
M: Your music sounds like it was recorded in the '60s or '70s. It has a very gritty sound to it. How do you think that translates to today's society where a lot of the music people are listening to is auto-tuned or electronic music?
Swilley: I really think that that kind of saps the soul out of music because it's not humans making the music, it's robots (making) the music. I'm not really into robots, you know, when it's robots versus people. In the '60s, I really think they hit the pinnacle of recording sound. It just sounds the best. It's warm and you can hear everything right and it doesn't sound digital. So we just use the old machines that I think sound best. I don't like computers and Pro Tools and stuff like that.
M: So do you prefer vinyl over mp3?
Swilley: Yeah, vinyl's the best. I think CDs are completely obsolete and kind of dumb and cheap. I can see now, though, how mp3s are useful. You can put the stuff on your computer and your phone and that's convenient, but vinyl, as far as just having something that sounds good, and having the artwork there, and just a tangible object that vinyl is definitely timeless and will outlast any other format.
The Black Lips plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mojo's.