Black Lips: The Good Kinda Bad

Listen to The Black Lips on MySpace...

By: Chris Pacifico

The Black Lips by Daniel Arnold
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.

"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 Black Lips by Canderson
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 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."

The Black Lips
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."

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."

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