Atlanta's Black Lips began in late 1999 as undies-streaked teens who displayed a well-developed grasp of all boss, raw rock maneuvers, mainly grounded in '60s garage-psych riffs and '90s trash-punk punch—albeit soaked in gunk-fi "production"—and a live show packed with peeing and equipment tossing. But now, after three CDs, loads of touring, a recent inking with hipster-heavy Vice Records (and the just-released live album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo), some national press, and slow-boiling instrumental acuity, the Black Lips' singer/bassist, Jared Swilley, is pondering the clown-prince title.
So after quickie deals with Bomp and In the Red, you're inching toward the big boys with Vice.
They helped us buy new equipment, which was essential because our stuff has always been broken and we've had to do tours where we scrounged up half the equipment and borrowed stuff from people.
And now you're finally getting a little more press, which inevitably focuses on the onstage antics.
Yeah. As time goes on, we focus more on the songs. I mean, we still want to put on a good live show because that's the main reason people are there. The peeing stuff really gets on my nerves. I mean, we did it a lot, and you have to mention it, but at some point when every article is about peeing... I mean, we've put out a lot of albums and played a lot of shows, and we haven't peed everywhere we've been. It's annoying especially because we don't really do it anymore.
Yeah, lighting firecrackers onstage, you don't do that as much.
Yeah, it's gotten to the point where we can't keep getting kicked out of every single venue we play, and that's what was happening. Like this thing in Rolling Stone came out, and the whole piece was just about peeing and throwing up and stuff, and it's kind of annoying. I couldn't show it to my parents and grandparents. My dad tells my little brothers not to Google us. I don't want people to focus on that, because we're not a "shock-rock" band. That was just what we did because we felt like doing it.
Do you think Vice will still push that angle though?
A little, but I think "crazy live show" is enough to describe it. I mean, it's not really that crazy to pee in your mouth. And now it's gotten to the point that we don't do that, but people in the audience are doing it. Last week at Maxwell's [in Hoboken, New Jersey] some young kid got onstage and took all his clothes off. We kind of just ignored it.
And Vice has left you alone about the recording of the next studio record?
I think if it were up to them they would've picked a fancier studio and had us with a producer. The studio we used for the next one was all two-inch tape, analog and all. It's a pretty natural progression. It just changes by the fact of how much we've been playing together, what we've been listening to. I've had a girl-group and doo-wop obsession of late.
You guys were one of those bands that, upon first listen, one had to wonder, "How do guys this young know about such cool old bands?"
Crypt Records was in full swing when we were in high school—y'know the Back from the Grave comps—and Nuggets had been out forever. I didn't find Norton Records until later. I guess through older kids we skated with we found out about the Stooges, and that led us to Bomp Records, and then we started listening to the '60s stuff, just because I like the Rolling Stones a lot, and the Troggs. And through Teengenerate we got into all the new Crypt stuff.
There's this assumption that young bands from the South with any kind of roots in their music must've spent their youth sneaking into old juke joints or hanging with old bluesmen on their creaky front porches.
Nah. I did get into old soul and gospel music through my family because all the males in my family are ministers. I was always around old music, and my dad liked old music. When I was a kid, all I listened to was the Beatles or Rolling Stones.
So do you feel like you're carrying on a family ministry tradition, preaching to maddening crowds?
In essence we're in the same business—the entertainment industry.