Punk slacker savants the Black Lips have been churning out their rough and ready blend of garage rock since the foursome were getting kicked out of high school together. Almost 15 years later the Atlanta, Georgia band are perhaps the most acclaimed outsiders in modern rock.
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Having by and large stayed off the mainstream radar, their most noted success came when their song Bad Kids was included on soundtrack for the hit indie film 500 Days Of Summer. But the Black Lips are an act who have staked their reputation on their live shows.
Fifteen years of near constant touring has seen them become a cult hit, with their unpredictable live shows gaining a near mythological status. Tales of on stage nudity, vomiting and inter-band make out sessions are all very much true.
“Things still get crazy, but the thing is, a lot of the really, really crazy stuff that we used to do happened really early on when there was only 20 or 30 people there” bassist Jared Swilley tells the me.
“So not a lot of people saw that. It still happens, Cole still takes off his pants sometimes if the show is really crazy. Right now it's more that our fans just go insane. It's gotten to the point that almost every night there's a fight with security and kids getting tackled. I don't know if kids just see it from Youtube videos or what, but it's great because I love when the crowd gets into and they just explode no matter where we go”.
But if the band can now attract a large crowd on reputation alone it's not without having paid their dues. They spent their early days touring the States in a van, playing tiny shows for next to nothing. Back then they would beg, borrow or steal just to get their next meal and keep the van on the road.
“We used to call it vulture mode. When we were on tour we'd do things like find places that leave food in the dumpsters and eat at homeless shelters. We really stayed on tour constantly in the beginning and it was sort of difficult to get by just because we didn't make money for a long time, it took a few years for that. But it was till a lot of fun. I couldn't do it now but as a teenager it was real fun to just drive around the country and live in the van with your friends.
“There was some pretty desperate times, we used to call them black Fridays. It was real bad like, if we were up north and we wouldn't have places to stay so we'd have to sleep in the van. It got pretty depressing, one day we were out in LA and our band fund was at zero and that day we couldn't eat, so we just had to beg. There was a few times when it got pretty dark. I call it self imposed poverty. We could have gone home and worked a job, but we didn't want to”.
Their dedication paid off, and the band released their sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain, in 2011. In a break from their traditional ramshackle self produced efforts, the group paired up with super producer Mark Ronson for the album. It's a move which might have caused alarm for some of the Black Lips' more hardcore fans, some of whom sent death threats to the band when they moved to major label Vice in 2007.
“I think any fans we lost for going to Vice were fickle enough that they were all gone by the time we worked with Ronson. I know people were worried about it, but I don't think it changed drastically enough to where people were angry about it. Maybe they were but I tend to not look at stuff like that. If fans are that fickle I don't want to deal with that. We're still having fun”.
The band were so pleased with the Ronson sessions that they're set to team up with him again to record the follow up to Arabia Mountain in the near future, citing his desire not to change the band as a major factor in their successful pairing.
“That's why we ended up working so well with him, he didn't want us to change anything. That was a big relief when that happened. Even if we wanted to I don't think we could be a mainstream thing really. Even if we tried, it'd be too weird for the masses”.
“I definitely like the way things worked a lot. We've always recorded the same way and with the same four people for so long that it was nice having a fifth person in there to kind of change things up a little. We liked the experience so much that we're doing our next record with Mark in a few weeks. We're going to London to work with him”.
It appears that Mr Ronson wasn't put off by the slightly morbid experience of the last album. The Arabia Mountain sessions were given an eerie twist with the presence of an unusual object dug up by guitarist Cole Alexander from a curiosities outlet in New York.
“It was mainly kind of like an aesthetic thing. We basically turned a human skull into a reverb tank. We liked the idea that we didn't know who that person was. They'd been dead for however long and these sounds were going on in their head. It was mostly for us to have a prop in the studio, his name was Jeremiah Crinklefingers. But I don't think we can bring that to London, we might get into trouble”.