Black Lips Still Refuse To Clean Up Their Act
We’re sat with all four members of the Black Lips in the lobby of their Barcelona hotel. They’ve just arrived from France, dumped their bags in their rooms and they’re now figuring out how they’re going to kill the next 10 hours before they arrive onstage at 3am for their set. “We’ve actually done that time slot before, it was awesome”, their husky-voiced guitarist and singer Cole Alexander enthuses. “I think they see us as the ‘party band’, that’s why they wanna put us on so late.”
He’s probably right. It’s not hard to under- stand why the Primavera Sound organisers have attached that label to the Atlanta garage-punk outfit. You’ve probably heard some of the stories over the years: puking, instigating stage invasions, making out with each other, exposing themselves and urinating into their own mouths during shows and having to abandon a tour of India due to genuine fears of arrest for such antics, being banned from ATP and branded ‘arseholes’ by founder Barry Hogan after robbing a chalet (they were later ‘pardoned’ once their friends Deerhunter pulled some strings), the legend of Cole setting off a military smoke grenade in their manager’s LA club, and so on. In recent years the band’s rebellious spirit has also inspired them to do something very cool indeed: connect with fans in the Middle East by touring across countries with ‘unstable’ political climates such as Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.
But alongside all the hype-generating stunts, there’s another reason Black Lips are able to demolish a crowd’s inhibitions. Since putting out their first 7” in 2002, they’ve consistently fed the eternal demand for deliciously raw, direct and dirty guitar music with a sincere intensity that few other bands can match. This year they released their seventh studio album, Underneath The Rainbow, around half of which was produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. And no matter how much budget is scraped together for their recording sessions (2011’s Arabia Mountain was produced by Mark Ronson), Black Lips’ music always remains satisfyingly rough. “Usually [producers] are pretty into us keeping our sound and not messing with it too much, and so far no one’s ever come in and tried to overhaul that”, co-frontman and bassist Jared Swilley assures us.
And while the sensationalism surrounding Black Lips seems to have cooled a touch, an air of notoriety comes naturally to them. The video for Underneath The Rainbow’s lead track Boys In The Wood was directed by the Sidney and Thurman Sewell, aka the social norm-defying ATL Twins. If you didn’t manage to see these guys star in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers alongside James Franco, Selena Gomez and Gucci Mane last year, here’s the deal: they’re identical twins who came from nothing and – now famous and fitted with gold grills – they’re living out a hedonistic deviation of the American Dream. The part that seems to shock even the most liberal-minded is the fact that they always share everything – including their many, many sexual partners.
“Oh yeah we’re good buddies”, Cole says of the twins with audible affection, “we actually asked them to do it [direct the video], I think they did a good job.” For the record, the video depicts meth smoking, bloody violence and – yes – someone urinating in another person’s face. “We hang out with them pretty frequently in Atlanta, it’s a small town” Jared adds, “they like to party and stay up late, but they’re just real nice guys. Y’know, I guess people think they’re all weird and crazy and stuff, but they’re pretty down to earth. And they’re really good at skateboarding too”.
“They’re really not that different to us, they just want to party like everyone else”, Cole continues, “I mean they’re pretty open about their sexuality”. “They’re real open with it” Jared chips in, “like, you go to their house and there’s only one bed. But we’re living in modern times, Facebook has like 25 or 30 different settings for your sexual preferences now”, he shrugs. “Yeah, like hitting a girl from the back is nothing revolutionary now, there’s no need to be puritanical about it”, argues Cole.
It’s at this point that we realise that the interview has, you could argue, gone a little off-track. But before it’s time to go, we’ve got to ask one more thing: what series of occurrences led to them covering T. Rex’s Bang A Gong (Get It On) with Boy George during a recent trip to Philadelphia? “We were playing the same radio show, it was totally random”, Jared explains. “He actually sent us a message a few days ago wanting to know if we wanted to do something in the studio…” “He said he would have sex with all of us on Twitter”, Cole interrupts. It feels like we didn’t quite get that scoop. But then again, it wouldn’t be a Black Lips story if it wasn’t smothered with a little dirt.
Underneath the Rainbow is out now via Vice Records. Catch Black Lips at End Of The Road Festival, Salisbury, 29-31 August