Listen to The Black Lips on MySpace...
By: Chris Pacifico
In one way or another, every musical act exhibits their influences when they plug in. Much to the chagrin of artist, they're going to get labels pinned on them by fans and critics. Of all the musical inspirations, starting a garage rock band that doesn't sound like every Sonics album or Nuggets compilation is a tough feat. But, Atlanta's Black Lips have conquered the obstacle with grace, fervently conveying that they're a band that loves the past but looks towards the future.
| The Black Lips by Daniel Arnold|
"I would say that we do have a very infinite love for '60s garage rock and garage psych bands like 13th Floor Elevators," says the gold teethed, Brillo haired, Black Lips guitarist Ian St. Pé. "From then to now, we like good music. And good music, of course, is in the third eye of the beholder."
St. Pé goes on to chide the lack of creativity and originality in other garage bands that are popping up left and right. "I think a lot of [today's] garage rock bands go in there and just listen to the '60s music and try to do what those acts do, and have the same equipment, spending too much time trying to do something. Whereas, we just are, and that the Black Lips aren't ones to limit themselves to one genre like the other 'garage rock nerds'."
On their recordings, including their latest album, Good Bad, Not Evil (released on 9/11/07 through Vice Records), the Black Lips keep a skuzzy flow of raggedy, beaten down, old fashioned rock & roll, mixed with everything from doo-wop garnished punk hooks and surf grooves to party hardy vocals from the whole band featuring a rough choir of voices so craggy and raspy its not inconceivable that they purchased their tour van with Marlboro Miles.
The new album's title was taken from a line in the Shangri-Las' song "Give Him a Great Big Kiss," from the talking part where the girls say, "Well, I hear he's bad," to which the others reply, "Mm, he's good bad but he's not evil." After a listen, it stuck with St. Pé, who says, "I was like, 'Man, that's like me! That's great!'" At this point in the interview we spin off into how certain "bad" things are justifiable at times as I share with him the old Italian principle of how sometimes in life, people need to "do the wrong things for the right reasons." He shoots back, "Exactly. We're very nice Southern gentlemen, but if we have to get in a fight we will. So, it's like we're good people but we can be bad at times."
| The Black Lips by Canderson|
The Black Lips are self-proclaimed "flower punks." They took that stamp because they like "hippy music and punk music," and decided that it wouldn't sound too macho or too wimpy. The Black Lips' sound is not just "lo-fi" but grimy, filthy worn down vinyl hiss with a genuine dirty ass, oil-stained garage feel. In a nutshell, it's the Black Lips' "art of deconstruction".
"We straight up will not record in a studio that doesn't use tape," proclaims St. Pé. Most digital technology is viewed as ruinous by the band. They also get incensed when studios use older technology with modern day advancements added to it. "To me, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Things were done right by the '60s. I think the '50s recordings were awesome but the refinements that they made in the '60s should have just stopped from there."
St. Pé says The Black Lips will deliberately use "crappy" amps and cheap guitars in the studio. During the recording of Good Bad, Not Evil, which they produced themselves, a little, old Ampeg amp was brought in so it would cut in and out. "The only way that you can really dumb down digital sound is by working against it," he says. "As recording advancements are pulling to the right you just use shitty ass things to pull it to the left. Hopefully you land right in the middle of good music that was done right the first time in the '60s."
| The Black Lips|
They bring forth the same mucky sonics at their often-salacious live shows. Having been anointed by The New York Times as the hardest working band at South by Southwest 2007 due to the fact that they played a dozen shows in a three day span, it can't help but look like small potatoes when compared to the Black Lips' regular touring schedule over the past couple years. They've only been off the road for a little under five weeks during this past year, and as much as they fancy old, cheap gear it just seems to fall apart during these long bouts of traveling. However, St. Pé notes the Black Lips retain a "trade secret" with the use of Fender amps and guitars onstage with a touch that gives things a flat and midrange feel without using midrange. "By this time, we know how to take an amp and make it sound how we want it," St. Pé cockily affirms.
"Our practice is sound check," continues St. Pé. "We stay on the road so I can't even tell you the last time we had a rehearsal." Most of the ideas for their songs come from their travels and their albums are "hashed out" in the studio. Instrumental chemistry is attained from all the members constantly being in each other's presence, noting, "When you spend that much time together you really know how each other works and the music flows without rehearsal."
We're very nice Southern gentlemen, but if we have to get in a fight we will. So, it's like we're good people but we can be bad at times.
-Ian St. Pé
While the constant traveling can be grueling for some artists, the rock & roll vagabond life is all the Black Lips ever wanted. St. Pé segues into a relevant yarn recalling a time when he was 16 on an ever-dreadful, useless career day. "I sat in the office because the adviser said, 'If you don't pick anything you're going to have to sit in the office because we need to put you somewhere.' I said, 'Put me in the office'," he recalls with the verbal equivalent of a middle finger. "This [touring in a rock band] is the only thing I've ever wanted to do."
When you attend a Black Lips show, whether you like them or not, chances are you won't ever forget the experience. The Black Lips, along with An Albatross and the World Inferno Friendship Society, hold the title for some of the most outrageous and controversial live shows today. On any given night, a gig can include - but isn't limited to – fireworks, nudity and any and all body fluids such as urine, blood and vomit flying around the place. Contrary to what anybody thinks, St. Pé claims they simply "take the moment and run with it. Nothing is planned and I think that's what makes Black Lips shows exciting. What happens happens. Some people will ask us, are we going to do this, are we going to do that? We're nobody's puppets."
| The Black Lips by Kelly Garrett Coffee|
Recently one of their feathered buddies, a chicken named Popcorn, made his debut at a Black Lips show at the Siren Festival this summer. Popcorn was purchased from a slaughterhouse on the Brooklyn outskirts for seven dollars since the band wanted to save him from being "that night's dinner." He was brought to the stage and given roaring applause. "We gave him a rock show and he performed well, and photographed well, too," offers St. Pé before getting a bit pissed about PETA, who contacted the Black Lips and gave them some shit about it. "They can kiss my ass because we saved that thing," barks St. Pé. Eventually Popcorn was let loose in McCarren Park after a recent Band of Horses show.
A band as dirty looking and sounding as the Black Lips aims to take their live shows to the most squalid places, as they did last year when they recorded the live album Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo (released 2/20/07 on Vice Records) in Tijuana with hookers dancing onstage and a boozed up crowd blaring mariachi and air horns between the songs. This all took place while Mexico was in the middle of a runoff election and in a state of political turbulence. "It was kind of a seedy vibe," states guitarist Cole Alexander.
Earlier this year they met an Israeli fan that hitchhiked with them all the way to San Diego, and paid them back by booking them a ten-day sold out showcase in his homeland. They even flew by the seat of their brass balls by venturing into the West Bank with their acoustics to play for Palestinian kids. St. Pé says it went over well even though they were a Western band playing in one of the epicenters of anti-American sentiment.
"It's kind of cliché to say but it's true - rock & roll and music really transcend everything. We played music and they dug it and we had a good time. The kids were floored," recalls St. Pé. "I don't know how many rock bands go into the West Bank. It's probably safe to say not many. I will say this: the wall on the West Bank makes the Berlin Wall look like a joke, like a little kiddie playground."
| The Black Lips|
In spite of everything, the Black Lips are eyeing a way that they can bring their rowdy rock to the Third World, and hope to one day play in Dubai, China, and Russia.
Aside from touring, they're already halfway done with their next album, and the band will star in a yet-untitled feature film set to go into production next year about the '80s DIY scene, where they play, you guessed it, a traveling punk rock band. On top of all that, some of them are taking part in a band called The Spooks with members of their hometown indie kings Deerhunter. The eccentric Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox has stepped in to lend his skills, though Alexander "sometimes doesn't let him" join in because of Cox's affinity for noise. "He played sax one time and I was trying to get him to stay on the sax" says Alexander. "It's hard to tell Bradford what to do because he's a man who knows what he wants musically."
The fans seem to be piling up, and the more fans they get the more unusual they are. For instance, the day before this interview, a 57-year-old man with a few loose screws put on a pair of inline skates and scaled the large globe statue outside the Trump Towers to toss out confetti and fliers for a Black Lips show. By the time the long arm of the law arrived, he pulled an orange from his pocket and ate it before being tossed into jail for criminal trespassing. Some people say it was a publicity stunt but the band vehemently states it's not. "The funny thing is I think people think we sent this guy to do this and we have no idea who this guy is at all," says Alexander. They wanted this odd fellow to attend the NYC show his fliers were promoting but feared he'd be sitting in a cell at the time. "We want to put him on the guest list but we think he's going to be in there for a couple of days," says Alexander.
The Black Lips tour dates are available HERE.
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