The Black Lips
By Alexander Laurence
The Black Lips are a band from Atlanta, Georgia. They are one of the hot
bands this year after causing a sensation by playing a lot of shows and having
crazy live shows. They started in 2000 as teenagers. But since then one member
has died, and they have been naked onstage, they have vomited and urinated, set
themselves on fire, and played instruments with their genitals. They have
released several singles and albums. Most recently they come out with a live
album, Los Valientos del Mundo Nuevo, and Good Bad Not Evil. The band members are
Cole Alexander (vocals, guitar), Jared Swilley (Bass guitar), Joe Bradley
(drums), and Ian Brown (guitar). I spoke to Jared recently on the phone while he
was getting a haircut, so here we go.
AL: Are you playing tonight?
Jared: Yeah, we are playing in Athens, Georgia tonight. We were actually
banned from the club four years ago. We had a bad reputation. They got worked up.
They had anticipated all this crazy stuff happening. It wasn’t that crazy.
They overreacted. We had brought out some lighter fluid. We were going to light
the drums on fire. They sent a stagehand onstage to take our stuff apart. Our
old guitarist got in a scuffle with him. He pushed off the stage. It became a
big debacle. They kicked us all out and called the police. They kicked out
everyone from Atlanta. Since then the owner of the club likes our band now. She
comes to see us play all the time.
AL: You can just blame it all on the guy who is not in the band anymore.
Jared: It was based on things that we have done. Back then people wouldn’t
let us use the monitors or any of their gear. They would take pictures off the
wall because they thought we would break it. They would threaten us when we got
to the place. It would start off on the bad foot.
AL: It took you a few years to figure out how to play?
Jared: We were more into destruction in the beginning. It took a while to
become technically proficient. We were really young and we would get really
drunk. That is what we liked to do.
AL: But you have played a lot of shows?
Jared: We have toured relentlessly since I was seventeen years old. We
couldn’t do the same stuff all the time. We never really thought about it. Stuff
changes. Time moves on.
AL: You played some shows in Tijuana?
Jared: Vice wanted us to do a live album. It was our first major label
release. You do a live album you want to make it fun. Doing it in Tijuana seemed
like a good idea. It is a crazy city. We wanted it to be a spectacle. We have a
lot of friends from Mexico. The guy who tours with us and does a lot of our
videos is from Mexico. He has friends in Tijuana.
AL: It’s odd for bands to go down there.
Jared: Yeah, we want to tour all of Mexico. There is a cool scene down there.
In Tijuana, I thought it was going to be a bunch of white kids from
California. But we ended up playing with a local band. They were cool. It was a good
vibe. People weren’t jaded.
AL: Have you played in Europe?
Jared: We have been there a lot. We are going again tomorrow. Europe is great
too. They are not jaded. Paris and London are rough crowds, but the rest, and
especially small towns are great. Italy is great.
AL: Do you like to go to new places?
Jared: I like to do that. We are going to Israel this summer. We are working
towards getting a show in Uganda. I would like to go to more crazy third world
places. We have wanted to go to Brazil for a long time.
AL: How did you decide which songs went on the live album?
Jared: It was mostly songs from our last album, Let It Bloom. Just some
random songs from the previous albums. We just play the songs we think are good and
are not tired of playing. We usually have a set and add songs all the time.
We don’t play a lot of songs on the record that have organ or piano.
AL: You just finished this studio album, right?
Jared: We just got out of the studio. We recorded twenty songs. It will
probably be twelve or thirteen songs.
AL: When you play live now, do you ever feel the need to light your pubic
hair on fire? Or do you figure that you have to do something new?
Jared: We don’t do that stuff as much as we used to. If it happens, it
happens. I don’t think about it. We want to play a good show and play our songs.
It’s more important to have a solid set. People should not expect that we are
going to pee on them.
AL: You have this song “Cocksucker.” Were you trying to be shocking with
Jared: That was on the first album. That wasn’t trying to be shocking. The
song’s contents haven’t changed all that much. We still write about the same
things. There are no new references to oral sex on the new album.
AL: How do you write songs in the band?
Jared: Everyone will come up with ideas for a song. We work on songs at sound
checks and at band practice. Sometimes we have lyrics ready, and other times
we will write them right before we record.
AL: How did the tour with Be Your Own Pet go?
Jared: It was great. It was weird because it was the first time we did a tour
where we were the older guys. They are all teenagers. When we were their age
we would have shows canceled on us or we would have to wait outside the venue.
They didn’t have to do that because they are on a major label and they had a
lot of press, and people know that they are all under 21.
AL: Did anyone in the band ever get seriously injured?
Jared: At SXSW three years ago I had to get fifteen stitches on my head. I
used to have this wrestling video where they show you how to cut your forehead.
You bleed but you don’t scar. I was really drunk when I did it, and I took a
razorblade and cut my scalp. I did it towards the end of the set. I played the
last two songs. Then people told me that I had to go to the hospital. We have
never had any broken bones. We used to fight onstage a lot.
AL: You fought with the audience or the band members?
Jared: Both. We used to fight with our old guitar player. Once some people
tried to steal our guitar. We fought some rednecks at SXSW.
AL: Now do you have better gear?
Jared: It’s nicer. For a long time we didn’t have any equipment. We had to
borrow stuff every night. Now that we are on Vice, we have stuff that works. We
had the same drum set for so long, it was pathetic. That is probably why we
play better. We used to have practice amps and the drum kit was in shambles. For
a long time we couldn’t afford to buy any cymbals. That was our main problem
for a long time. Other bands wouldn’t let us use them cymbals, even when we
were totally sober. It was annoying.
AL: If it works, the songs sound better?
Jared: Yeah. We got a tuner too. We don’t know how to tune really well. That
helps a lot.
AL: Would you consider doing the Warp Tour?
Jared: No. It would have to be totally different. I don’t like festivals
because you are outside all day.