Words and Photos by Dani Nosebleed
Interview by Max Dropout
The Black Lips faced a capacity crowd of stone-faced New York hipsters and the usual crop of elite rock journalists at the Mercury Lounge. The crowd wasn’t there for the Lips, though. They were there for that afro’d mess of put-you-to-sleep-Zeppelinisms and fuzz-sludge called Wolfmother, who happened to be headlining that night. And unlike the two previous NYC shows the Black Lips had played that weekend, only about five people that had any clue of who they were had managed to get in that night. Against all odds, the show held up well. It was tense, and you could sense the that the band’s objective was one of defiance, as opposed to their usual performances, which flow from a carefree vein of just breaking shit and having fun. By the last song, Ian had fireworks dangling from his gold teeth but couldn’t find a match, while Cole sent the Mercury Lounge’s audience scattering with a golden shower.
The simple truth is that the Black Lips are a fluke. How could a band who pisses all over the stage at a SPIN party wind up with a splash page spread in SPIN magazine itself? This is a band that would ravage some shitty dive in Brooklyn only weeks prior to playing two consecutive sold out nights at Roseland… but the irony doesn’t end there: I swear, their assigned dressing room at the same Ballroom is bigger than most clubs I’ve seen them play previously. They performed to a crowd possibly thirty times larger than usual, and not even then was their onstage banter decipherable.
The loaded answer is that since they started, the Black Lips have gotten their act together on terms that dont necessarily make sense to begin with. I heard them for the first time when I was fifteen years old. I had gone to Wowsville the first day of winter break. Their first 7” had just come out and was playing on the in-store stereo while Alberto told me how these guys were incredible and just barely out of high school. This was something I could connect with! This was something I could understand! It sounded like a dusty Back From The Grave record, or maybe just sweet garbage. Either way, I was hooked.
The first time I met the Black Lips was when I was seventeen, at a NYC show on their tour with the Lids. I met their ex-guitarist Jack outside and he rounded the rest of em into the van for an interview for my now-defunct zine, Static. We all crammed into the back of the van so I could ask them questions like, “How do you go about writing songs?” … “How has the tour been?”… “How did you guys get started?” …And, of course, the always popular fanzine favorite, “What is your name and what instrument do you play?” The latter question was the only one to which I got an answer, while the rest of the responses all involved some joke that didnt make sense to me, then all four guys would join in on a chorus of asking me, “How does that sit with you?” while they passed bowl around. I felt like the lame younger sister nodding and smiling so that her brother’s friends would think she was cool. I never transcribed the interview. The next time I saw them after that was about a year later at the Farewell to Wowsville party. By then Jack had been replaced by Ian and they had new songs that were catchier. I went to school the next morning hung over with firework burns.
At every Lips show I’ve been to in the past year, I overhear longtime fans who stand mournfully still, beer in hand, lamenting that what we are about to see will be the last show that’s gonna be like this… Intimidating. Insane. Flat-out retarded. “Theyre getting so big, its not always gonna be this comfortable.” By the end of the set, that stoic hipster is drunk, covered in beer and piss, and dancing like an asshole with a big smile on his face, because even in spite of the buzz, nothing has changed, and that’s hopeful enough. The only difference now is that there are just more people with whom to enjoy it. It’s hippie bullshit, minus the hippies and the bullshit. Maybe I feel like I grew up with them, and maybe they made me feel comfortable acting my age: acting senseless, impulsive, and having fun like a dignified fool.
In all, the Black Lips have managed to keep it stupid and sweet in the face of creeping mainstream interest, for which they have a seemingly novel interest and even refreshing suspicion toward. We managed to catch Jared one afternoon prior to running some errands before an upcoming European tour, and he was cool enough to answer some of our questions despite his rush.
There’s a documentary on the recording of Let It Bloom; who’s idea was that? What do you guys think about it, and where can we get a copy?
It’s not really a documentary about that. It’s just footage from our west coast tour/studio time there. Our friend Ernie Quintero filmed and edited it all. It was his idea. We are working on a full movie and that’ll just be part of it. We’ll sell it on tour and Ernie will have it at his website, Factotum Productions.
Quintero… Ernie is the shit. I have a bunch of the Spits toys he makes for their tours and I love all the stuff he shoots. When will the entire movie be completed? Is he living with you guys in Atlanta, or just going out on the road? How does his presence effect you guys?
Ernie is a good solid man, and a positive addition to our team. He mediates the fights and helps with some of the dirty work. I do’t know when the movie will be done. Ernie is pretty busy with all his video stuff and Spits/Black Lips tours. Spring at the latest. His presence is vital.
How did you get hooked up with ITR, and how has your experience been thus far after shifting over from Bomp? What’s the big difference?
With In the Red, we just emailed Larry and asked if he would do it. They’re both great labels, but Larry is more involved with what he does. He is very genuinely into everything he does, and puts a lot of work into it.
Let It Bloom was originally slated with the title “Last of the White Niggers.” How did you feel about the compromise?
It wasn’t really a compromise. It would have been a bad idea to use that title. Distributors wouldn’t have played it; overly-sensitive PC college kids wouldn’t have played it on the radio, etc. We are still gonna use the title on our next release. It just won’t be an LP. We didn’t wanna put up with the headache.
Yeah, I read you were gonna put something out on Die Slaughterhaus with the Niggers title. When can we expect that?
All of that is up in the air. We have more than an LP’s worth of unreleased stuff, so who knows?
Seems you guys are poised for a larger audience, so the Pitchfork worshiping assholes out there are probably gonna be scrutinizing what you do. How far is too far for you guys in terms of compromise? Where do you draw the line?
We haven’t really had to compromise. We haven’t really had to. A lot of clubs and people out there don’t like us, but that is gonna happen no matter what. Europeans may be afraid of the word “nigger, ” but we draw the line at whatever we don’t wanna do.
How big is too big for the Black Lips? Do you guys want to live like rap stars and have booty videos and shit?
Nothing’s too big for us. But let’s be realistic. I don’t think we’ll have any bling anytime soon, unless we search for new careers.
Let It Bloom seems like a real shift in terms of the quality of the song writing. These are some of the most beautiful melodies I’ve heard in a while… “harmonious” is a good descriptive term for this stuff. How did your song writing process or ambition deviate from the first two records? Like what were you trying to accomplish with this particular record?
We haven’t really thought about that at all. We don’t practice or talk about songs at all. With the last album, we just went to the studio and played what we had and kinda worked on a few things there. It’s the only time we ever really practice or play guitar together off stage. But we have been touring so much that I guess we “practice” almost every night. We don’t try so much. Maybe we should, but I think that would fuck us up.
Can you compare LIB to your other two releases? How do you feel about the final product?
I like Let It Bloom the best. We spent more time on it — two one-week sessions — than the last two.
You guys have a schtick people expect from your live performances. There’s always this moment in the show where you guys are going to do something super retarded that people are going to be talking about for weeks after they see you play. Are you guys aware of this reputation? Do you feel any sort of pressure to push the envelope?
Yeah, people always wanna see something. We don’t always do it. We know that people talk about it. We don’t feel any pressure because we can put on a good show without blood or piss or puke. We’ve just always done that even before Black Lips, so we don’t really think about it. It just happens.
Do you think it detracts from the music at all?
Maybe, I don’t know. If we didn’t have songs it would.
You guys aren’t concerned about being recognised for the wrong reasons? Like do you think perhaps people may pay attention to the puke and piss rather than the songs? IS there a wrong reason to get noticed?
We get asked that alot. we like to put on a good show, and play good music. If people pay more attention to bodily functions then I don’t really care what they think.
How has the new material impacted your live performances?
It made us tune and play more coherently. More people can get into it, I guess.
You played a sold out show at the Mercury Lounge to a group of people who were largely Black Lips virgins; they were there to see something entirely different… Wolfmother… and you guys were like this rabid black horse on the bill. You have since been banned from the Mercury Lounge because of the whole piss spitting incident. How do you guys feel about that, and how do you feel about playing in front of audiences like that?
That show sucked. If we had known we were gonna get banned for that, then we would have really done something that we SHOULD HAVE been banned for. I hated that audience, except for a few folks. Fuck those people. I hate playing places like that. We didn’t get ONE free beer! Not one. But we robbed the cooler and made off with a few cases. The only good thing about those places is that you don’t even have to try to make anyone mad or uncomfortable. ANYTHING is crazy to them. They aren’t real people.
Opening up for a hyped band like Wolfmother, and playing for the kind of hipster rabble that goes to a show like that, does that encourage you to slant your show in any particular direction? that is to say, more or less shambolic?
It kind of makes us want to do something bad on purpose. Like Knitting Factory or any of those kind of clubs. I just want them to get mad so much. I hate those places. I just want to make their job as hard as possible.
How do you feel about being featured in SPIN, and in such a graphic manner? A lot of people seemed pretty revolted by the blood. Pretty rad.
That was really cool. I didn’t think you could get into that mag without being on a major label or paying a shitload of money. I was very surprised. Maybe some kids will take a look.
The most wonderful thing about you guys is that you seem to be opening people’s minds up, and winning over critics and garnering new fans, and yet you haven’t really compromised your identities. I haven’t seen or heard any backlash at all. You’re still the Black Lips on top of it — your hardcore fans still love you. A lot of bands who begin to move toward a wider audience tend to end up alienating their roots because in order to get to that “carrot” they have to kind of alter the formula to make it more palatable. What are your ambitions with this band? How do you guys temper your artistic ambitions with making an actual living?
We have always done things the same since the beginning. Nothing much has changed. It’s all been very gradual, and I think whatever progression has been natural and in the right direction. We have been lucky that we can keep doing what we know, and be able to move forward at the same time. We don’t know how to do anything else, so even if someone wanted us to do something else to make it more mainstream we wouldn’t know how. We aren’t very technically skilled musicians.
You recorded Let It Bloom in two places, correct? At the Distillery in California with Mike McHugh, who has done the Hunches Records. Why did you decide to record with him? He seems to have developed a reputation for very dynamic engineering. How did you find recording with him?
We went with him because he was there in LA and Larry suggested it. I had also heard good things from the Hunches and the Lamps and some other bands. He is very good.
Where did you record in Europe? You spent a good chunk of time there — how did that come about?
We recorded in Berlin at Moon Studios with King Khan. We were on an extended stay there. Some of what we recorded there will be on Last of the White Niggers. We recorded there about two weeks ago, too. I think we might record our next one there, too.
And what were the differences in locations?
LA is in California and is very sunny with fake tits. Berlin is in Germany and is very gray with sausages.
Fake tits vs. Sausages. What do you like better?
I’m in Berlin now, and it’s alot better than california. at least in the Summer. I don’t like sausage. But i hate fake tits more, so Germany wins.
What’s the status of your label, Die Slaughterhaus? Anything coming out soon?
We have been slowly putting stuff out. Just released a CPC Gangbang’s single. Really great band from Montreal. We have some things in the works, but we’ve been gone so much it’s hard to really keep on top of it.
How has your reputation at home changed over the years? Seems everyone always adored you, personally… You’ve been banned in a lot of clubs since you started out there.
Yeah we’ve been banned from a few places. We don’t play at home so much; Atlanta’s good for us. But nothing has changed very much.
I’m really curious about what your day to day life in Atlanta consists of. What the hell do you guys do all day? He should film that.
We don’t work, so I usually wake up and either go swimming or play tennis, and skateboard. Anything to keep me from going crazy. I don’t like being at home for very long. I try to start new bands, but all my friends are losers. I’ll be more productive when I get back since we all live together now.
Tell me about that Dragon Con. footage. Do you guys go every year? I heard some funny story about the Carbonas cornering some dude that looked like Danzig one year, and singing Misfits songs to him til he was about to cry.
Dragon Con has been a tradition for the last five years or so. Unfortunately, I almost always miss it. I think we’re going on four arrests, more fights than I can count, and hundreds of nerds’ crushed dreams. It’s just an excuse to act crazy and get away with it. I don’t know about the Carbonas thing, but our old guitar player Jack got beat up by an orc last year.
Anything cool happened at Roseland? Were those people okay to you?
It was the most boring show ever. The food was good. It was too big, but when we got there with the Dirtbombs, Tom Cruise was on Letterman that night and I thought the people were standing out there for us.
I heard this story from Jeff Novak about how you guys went out to California to make this video and met with the producer, and he had this Piranha tank, and within minutes of getting into the house, you were all sticking your dicks in the tank. Fuckin funny as shit, but that coulda been brutal. Why the hell do you do shit like that?
Pirahnas aren’t really that dangerous. All that stuff you see on TV is a myth. We were doing it to prove that we have conquered fear, and we set a good example for all of those people. We like to help.
You played Horriblefest in Cleveland in the Fall. Apparently the whole thing was sort of a disaster – how did you come out from it?
We were there for a few hours and played and left the same night. I heard it went really bad. It was okay for us, but Cleveland is never a good place to play. I like the Beachland though.
Why did you choose that particular Jacques Dutronc song to cover? How did you guys get into him?
We are secret Francophones. Jaques Dutronc is awesome, and more people in the states should listen to him. It was a strong choice. We had no choice.
Seems the record is very heavily influenced by Dutronc even outside of the cover. What were you guys really into when you were writing the stuff?
We had been in Europe for a long time, I can’t remember what we were into. We write everything in the van. I guess more psychadelic stuff. It’s really hard for me to listen to all the classic garage stuff now. I still like it but
I think if I hear nuggets again I’ll scream.
Anna Rexi wants to know what Everybody Loves a Cocksucker’ is about. You would think that with a title like that it would be pretty straightforward. But lyrics like, “It’s hard to be feminine when you’re not a fag” make her wonder.
We are struggling to cope with our heterosexuality. It’s tough being a straight guy, especially when you’re like us.
What do the Black Lips look for in a woman?
We don’t do women.
Are you guys taking a break anytime soon? I know some of you have other projects on the backburner, such as the Original Three. What other bands are you guys involved in, and are you guys at all interested in concentrating on that stuff for a while?
We are on a two month break. I’m in Berlin, and the other guys are in atlanta/new orleans/touring. Ian has the Original Three, me and cole and joe have a band called the Spooks. We have a record done, but we haven’t got it out yet. Joe has a solo rap project that us and others are involved in, Cole has his solo “Old King Cole Younger” Record that you can find on Soulseek, and I am making some songs here in germany that i’ll put out on Slaughterhaus. Me and Joe are also in the Gaye Blades with Bobby Ubangi.
What IS the proper status of the black lips. After SPIN, after Vice (who changed their name recently), after the Roseland crap, what IS the band status? Anything new or crazy happening in terms of business or upcoming projects?
We are going to star in a low budget horror movie directed by Monty Buckles. We are on Vice records now, and we are doing a live LP from Tijuana, Mexico. We also have a new LP coming out on In The Red, all outtakes (unreleased songs) from the LA/Berlin Let It Bloom sessions. We never stop working, and we will be on tour for a ridiculously long time very soon.