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The Black Lips - Road Warriors

Author: Nick Jarvis
Monday, March 30, 2009

It’s been an interesting year for Atlanta’s hardest working dirtbags, scuzzy garage fourpiece The Black Lips – they’ve been shaken down in Mexico, asphyxiated in an Israeli kibbutz and chased out of India by the law, and it’s full steam ahead with their latest album 200 Million Thousand, as bassist Jared Swilley tells 3D’s Nick Jarvis.

The Black Lips are in a car on their way from New York to Austin for mega-music-industry showcase South by Southwest when I get Swilley on the line. The fact that they’re in transit is hardly surprising for a band that, it seems, never stop touring. So the question is, are they looking to break their record from 2007, when they earned the mantle of ‘Hardest Working Band at SXSW’ by playing over a dozen shows in three days-

“No, no, no, no,” Jared demures, “we’re really excited about it, though, we’ve got some really good shows there, but we do have like two shows a day, so unfortunately I won’t be able to see a lot of bands I want to see. Like I want to see Jesus and Mary Chain, and we’re playing with Circle Jerks and this big industry showcase, but there are so many bands I won’t even get close to seeing all the ones I want to.”

In amongst seeing and playing shows this past week (including one which saw GZA join them onstage for an impromptu jam set of Wu Tang classics), they’ve been spruiking their latest album 200 Million Thousand, a sprawling, droning collection of two to three minute garage punk tunes recorded in a disused art gallery, the result being a record that captures some of the chaos and energy of a Black Lips live show.

“It came up sounding a little dirtier than the last one, but I was happy about that,” Jared says. “It was really a lot more comfortable, because we had as much time as we wanted and could record whenever we wanted, we had control of everything. The sound just kind of happened, with the way we were placing the microphones, we used a better tape machine and there were no computers, all analogue, we were just trying to get the room to create the sound. It’s really the way we like recording, I think it gives it that more human feel – warmer, dirtier – I’m really happy with the production.”

This’ll be the Black Lips fifth album since 2003, albums they’ve somehow managed to fit in between touring, on average, ten months a year. As Jared tells me, their only downtime is “maybe a couple months a year – I just hang out at my house, play Xbox, ride my bike, see my family, play in other bands.”

In fact, amongst the four band members, at last count they had nine side-projects on the go, one of which, a collaboration with Canadian punk-and-doo-wop duo King Khan & BBQ, is already in the bag.

“Yeah, we started this new band with King Khan & BBQ called Almighty Defenders – just after we got kicked out of India we recorded a full LP, it’s a gospel kind of music – I’m really happy with it…I like it more than the album that just came out! We’re gonna talk to some labels at SXSW about it, so that’ll be out this year.”

Signing with Vice Records in 2007 “opened a lot of doors” for the band, in particular the opportunity to record their tour adventures for VBS TV. So far they’ve documented escapades in Mexico, Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as the recent ill-fated tour of India, which saw the band fleeing across state borders in the night to escape prosecution for a riotous show that climaxed with onstage man-pashing and nudity. Even though they’re a band accustomed to chaos and the occasional hostile reception, it’s clear watching the footage they never anticipated being chased out of the country. As Jared says, “We’ve had to leave clubs before, but never anything like that.”

Scary for them, but great viewing for us. Another memorable moment was during their sojourn in Israel, when they crossed the border into the Palestinian Territories’ Israeli-occupied West Bank to do a little acoustic busking for the people of Bethlehem.

“I was kinda worried about it,” Jared admits, “since, like, our camera man had already been shot by the Israeli police in Ramalah City, shot by a rubber bullet, so we were a bit nervous, but everyone was really nice to us, they were all dancing and these shop keepers gave us some beers and made us tea; they were really cool, I’m glad we did it.”

So will they be filming all their tours from now on-

“Not every one, just if we go somewhere there’s a good story, we did one in Israel because it was pretty crazy going there, and visually it worked. We wouldn’t do ‘Black Lips in Germany’ or ‘Black Lips in the Mid West’. But we’re planning on going to China, so we’d do it for something like that – I’ve heard it’s good. We’ve spoken with a few American bands who’ve been to China before and they’ve said it’s not socially conservative, the only thing you can really get in trouble for is the political thing, but we don’t give a shit about politics.”

The great thing about the Black Lips is that, after you listen to their albums, read about their back story and see them do their thing live, you realise that they’re for real – there’s no grand scheme, no posturing or posing or pretending, they really are just four dirtbags from the Atlanta Suburbs still playing the same swampy punk rock music they were when they were 14 years old (admittedly with better musicianship now), never stopping in their headlong charge through life to ponder their ‘personal brand’ or even plan beyond the next show, the next tour, the next album. When I ask Jared what his grandest dream is for the Black Lips, he’s not thinking beyond even the end of the year.

“I really want to go to Africa, to play or record. I’ve always wanted to tour there, hopefully this year. Also Puerto Rica and Cuba – I just want to go everywhere I haven’t been.

“After this we’re going to the West Coast, then Europe, then in summer we’re hoping to do Japan, and then in September back to Australia. There’s nothing locked in, but we’ll be down there by the end of the year. It’ll be bad ass.”

WHO: The Black Lips
WHAT: 200 Million Thousand out through Vice / Speak N Spell / Inertia
WHEN: Out now