The Black Lips, Atlanta, Georgia’s rowdy rabble of garage rockers, have reached an unassailable point of some return. They’ve outlasted youthful pharmecuetical over-indulgence, perceived shtick accusations because they liked getting wild on stage sometimes (as did every band they ever loved, so if that’s a “shtick”…), and going from dive darlings to globe-trotting model hang-out-withers while releasing consistently engaging records.
On their latest, Underneath The Rainbow (Vice), they don’t exactly do the “we’re going back to the garage” spiel (’cause they never really left), but back further to some vaguely recalled, ’70s Southern rock sounds they might’ve heard emenating from their divorced dad’s basements and the hick neighbors’ backyard parties they snuck into in their pre-teens. Or maybe they just needed to wind down for a second after all the success and travel on their last album, Arabia Mountain. Underneath The Rainbow feels like a taking stock moment. Although when you’re the Black Lips, “taking stock” means doing blow with Frenchmen and getting shtupped by Spring Breakers.
First off, where are you staying these days? You said you were on West Coast time.
I’ve been kind of bi-coastal between L.A. and Atlanta. My girlfriend Zumi, who played sax in the band the K-Holes (which features Jack, formerly of the Black Lips) lives in L.A., so that’s why I’m there. She also has been playing with Black Lips some live. So yeah, I’ve been digging the west!
B-12 shots—tell me about that. I seem to recall you guys expressing an appreciation for them, and perhaps even getting them in your ass before a Webster Hall show a couple years ago?
Yeah, we did it a couple times when we were worn out from the road, it gives ya little boost. But warning: watch out for sciatica when sticking a needle in your ass.
I saw Jack Of Heart last week. Their main man, Piero, might want to think about going all B-12. Remember that insane Be Your Own Pet record release show you guys opened at Bowery Ballroom, like 2009? How did the rest of that night play out?
Peiro is my best friend in France! He could use a shot in the butt. The Be Your Own Pet release show I can’t really remember, unless it’s the one where Peirro was thrown out for firing the fire extinguisher. His band didn’t get paid after that. We felt bad since we thought they needed gas money so we gave them two hundred bucks. Later in the night they had all this booger sugar, I was like “hell yeah where did you get all this devil’s dandruff?” Then I was like, wait?? Go figure.
[Ed.: Basically, Black Lips and Demon's Claws were opening, Piero was playing with Demon's Claws, he came out during Black Lips set, blew the fire extinguisher everywhere, the bouncers beat him up, cleared the club, and by the time things settled for Be Your Own Pet's set, the place was half-empty. It was hilarious.]
So, I always feel a little of the Monkees in you guys, just the general joie de vivre. Then the first tune on your new record, Drive By Buddy sounds a little like Last Train To Clarksville. Are you guys Monkees fans?
Yeah, we love the Monkees! That was back in the old days when boy bands had sometimes badass tuff songs like Stepping Stone! We need a great rock ‘n’ roll boy band today. And yes, Drive By Buddy does have the Last Train vibe going.
Did you want to work with Mark Ronson again this time, or do you always want to switch it up with each record? How much would you say he affected songwriting on Arabia Mountain?
We actually really wanted to work with him. We had plans to, but when we showed him some undeveloped demos he said he didn’t think we were ready. At first I was kind of hurt, but in the end I respected it. If he wasn’t feeling it, I wouldn’t want him to pretend. We ended up working more on the tracks and working with some other stellar guys. I think also Mark might have had some bigger fish to fry as well, I think he ended up producing some Sir Paul McCartney stuff around that time, so I can’t fault him if that was the case either. Also, on the last record, Mark wasn’t too heavy-handed, he might like tweak a part or bring in some weird instrument. One of the best things he did was on Mr. Driver where he told me to rewrite a vocal for the chorus. I have never had anyone tell me, “That’s not good enough, you can do better.” What I rewrote was infinitely better, and I was grateful.
So, Underneath The Rainbow: I’ve read a little about how you guys had been listening to and wanted to make a kind of rootsy Southern rock record. Like the first single, Boys In The Woods is a little ‘70s slow swamp boogie; and I hear a little rockabilly in the record too. So what have you been listening to? And was there a feeling of doing a more stripped-down, quicker record?
Definitely wanted to make a quicker record, I made it a point to keep it more short and sweet. The last few records have been long-winded, so we tried to make it more concise this time. We kind of listen to lots of older records and reissues from labels like Norton and Light in the Attic. We like a lot of Zambian ’70s rock like Amanaz.
Tell me about the making of the Boys In The Woods video.
Our buddies the ATL Twins (Spring Breakers fame) knew a bunch of strange characters who fit the mold of the song, so we just let them go ahead and direct the video along with their buddy Matt Swinsky. I think they did a great job. I thought people were gonna raise more of a stink about when Jared was raped in his own music video, but was relieved when there was none. Society has come a long way. By the way, who does that? Music videos have always been about making yourself look like a badass, not emasculating yourself. Props.
The song Funny. Good one! Anything to say about the making of that one?
Was trying to make something catchy and danceable that didn’t make me cringe. I still cringe just a tiny bit [when I hear it], but am glad we did it. We used tape-looped drums and horns on that one.
On Do the Vibrate, is that actually a cell vibrate sample?
Yeah we recorded a phone vibrating. Glad you picked that up. It’s kind hard to tell what it is. Took a second to dial in the sound. I’m trying to make a Black Lips vibrator app for the phone that comes with the song.
You guys tour a lot, individually you’ve been busy, traveling all over, members have moved around the country, etc. So is it harder to just hang out and organically come up with tunes?
Yeah we never really practice. We write songs and show them to each other at sound check. We really have to make it count when we get together.
What did you do on AJ Davila’s new record? And do you like playing Puerto Rico as much as seemingly every other band who’s played there? Any stories of playing there?
I’ve actually never played Puerto Rico. Jared has with his band, the Gaye Blades. I heard it’s rad and the Coca-Cola is cheap. I sang some backround vocals for AJ, but got frustrated cause my Spanish was shit and I gave up. I didn’t even realize I’d still made the record. I’m glad though.
What are your plans with your solo thing, Old King Cole Younger?
I want to release a solo album of Old King Cole Younger, but I’ve been saying that for eight years. I’m gonna really try harder this year. My stuff is a little weirder than the Black Lips stuff. It’s also nice to have total control.
I saw that Facebook post you wrote about the thrift store in Atlanta that’s upping the record prices. Do you think they actually know about flipping records on eBay and shit like that?
I think thrift stores have just caught on in general that chic vintage stores nab their good shit and sell it for more. I asked the store and they said people were flipping records. It’s ludicrous because people are flipping clothes as well, and have been for years. But most items in there are unflippable, and that’s why it’s the thrift store. The fun is maybe every once in a while you might find a little treasure.
I’m always impressed by the way you guys have been so consistent—the records are good, you still put on a good show, your fan base sticks around, etc. But is “consistency” the word you thought you’d describe yourself as 10 years ago?
No. But yeah, we have been pretty steady.
What do you say to longtime fans who think you “don’t fuck shit up enough” on stage anymore?
We actually still do fuck shit up. We never did all those crazy things every single night, it was just sometimes. We never wanted it to be a formula where we have to do this or that on any given night. It just has to be spontaneous. Even GG Allin didn’t shit on the crowd every night. Trust me some shit still goes down at Black Lips shows.