The Black Lips

Omar Almufti photographer
26 April 2011

When Black Lips passed through Webster Hall in Manhattan’s East Village last week to support their latest project, Arabia Mountain, out June 7th on Vice Records, it became clear from the outset that this it was going to be a wild fucking show. I had always heard these guys put it down, but hadn’t had a chance to catch them in the past. A few seconds into the first cut, the packed house was shaking, beer and all kinds of other shit was being tossed around… simply put, people were raging it. I hadn’t been to a proper rock ’n’ roll show for a minute and the set these guys played was definitely a reminder of all the best reasons that people are drawn to this music in the first place. Bassist Jared Swilley took some time to speak with me about the new record, some of the band’s travels over the years and their upcoming tour.

Talk to me a little bit about the recent release. I’ve read that you were working on it for over a year. Did the writing or recording process differ in any way from previous records you guys have worked on?
Well this is the first one we’ve actually… like, previously it’s always just been, we have a bunch of songs let’s go in for a week, kick em out, lay em all down to tape and then, you know… this one, we didn’t record it for a whole year, it was over the period of a year but we were touring in between it, when we had chances to actually stop and record and go into a studio we would do that. But it was cool this time because we could actually record stuff and then, you could reflect on it, ’cause there’s been times in the past where we just laid something down or finished something and it’s like, “Ah, I want to go back and fix that, and that isn’t right.” This is the first album we’ve actually had time to think about, ever, pretty much. Aside from our first one, because you know, we had all childhood and puberty to think our first one.

Any new styles or anything you were particularly excited to try out on this record?
My favorite thing we did on this record was we had a saw player come in, and that was really cool to see take place. And you have to be extremely skilled to be able to keep decent pitch or match a note on a saw. This one guy we had come in, he was an older guy, like an orchestral kind of dude, he was one of two people that could play a saw in perfect pitch, on the planet. I don’t know if that’s true or not, I have no information to back that up, but that’s what he says. He was really good at it.

Can you tell me about some of the subject matter covered on the record? What was the writing process like?
It’s hard to say about the writing process because sometimes it’s like really fast, or sometimes it’s real slow and… I will say that we worked together on a lot of these songs which made me happy, cause I like when we collaborate, it’s good to filter ideas through other people’s heads so you get a better product. One song, it’s called “Spidey’s Curse” and it’s about… when we were in elementary school, for sex education they gave out these comic books, they were like Marvel comic books that Stan Lee drew, they were about Spiderman getting molested when he was a kid and then saving other kids from being molested, so we have one song about that, about him overcoming that. We have a song about doing psychedelic drugs in art museums, stuff like that… stuff that we experience in everyday life.

Any museums, or drugs in particular?
No not really, I mean, I like the idea of psychedelic drugs a lot, although, you know, I don’t really partake too often just because it can be counterproductive, but I like the idea of all that stuff, I’ve never done, well I guess when I was a kid, when we were in school we used to like drink cough syrup and stuff and like, I think it’s funny to sing about drinking cough syrup or huffing and stuff like that cause they’re such like budget drugs. It’s just funny subject matter cause they’re the dumbest drugs you can do.

What was it like working with Mark Ronson? Talk to me a bit about the studio sessions.
I mean it was real cool, like I didn’t really know what to expect because I mean, we never worked with a producer before so like going into it I kind of didn’t even really know what a producer did cause it’s always been us going in there, recording and you know, the engineer doing fast forward and rewind, record and all that stuff. But it actually all went real well, like we kinda clicked like right when we started working and it was cool to have someone else in there to throw ideas out, and to work with us on ideas that we had, just kinda developing them. I really enjoyed the experience of it. And it was fun, we got to record in New York so we rented an apartment up there and got to kind of live there for a few weeks.

You’ve travelled a lot as a band, Have you seen anything in some of these international scenes that has influenced or affected your work in any way?
I mean, definitely all of our experiences for the most part have been positive, so it encourages us to want to go to more far off place and just try to reach anyone we can. Indirectly, It kind of opens your eyes a lot, gives you a different perspective on things, but I can’t say how that would directly affect, I’m sure subconsciously it does, for sure. I think it’s made us smarter and tighter as a unit, travelling all over the place. It’s just a cool experience.
In India there’s not so much of like a developed rock ’n’ roll scene at all, they haven’t listened to much more than like U2 or Green Day and stuff like that, there were some good bands in Israel, there’s this really good band in Brazil that I like a lot, this like psychedelic, tropicalia kinda garage band. I’ve seen cool bands in Mexico too, but there are a lot of times that like the name escapes me, and you know, we see so many concerts. As far as foreign countries, I think that France has a really good rock ’n’ roll scene.

I hear you guys like to put on a wild show, looking to Webster Hall on the 12th. How has New York treated you in the past?
I mean we’ve probably played in New York as many times as we’ve played in Atlanta, well maybe not, but… Actually when we were doing the record, we decide to throw a party at this warehouse and we just announced it day of the show, we played this illegal warehouse space somewhere in Brooklyn and that was really crazy, it was all ages, they were selling Four Loko and there were like 500 kids in there spray painting and just going nuts, it was a crazy show.

The first stop on this tour is next Wednesday in NC right? You guys approaching this run any differently from past tours?
I’m gonna try and eat better on this tour, cause we always eat like shit so I’m gonna try and fuel it a little better, but I’m excited to get back on the road, we’ve been at home for a long time, recording for a while, so I’m ready to get back out there.

Anything you want to add?
Give peace a chance.

Word, I’m going to run that.
Yeah, print that and see where that goes.