Since their beginning well over a decade ago, Atlanta’s Black Lips have been perpetually on tour, in the studio, traveling the world, or generally working like dogs—anything to avoid a day job. It’s a classic irony of the rock’n’roll dream, which the Black Lips are living in spades. They’re out hustling their new record, Under the Rainbow (out on Vice), as if it were their first. Under the Rainbow—produced in part by Black Key Patrick Carney—is their mellowest album yet, hard to overlook at first. In a perfect echo of ‘60s to ‘70s production expansion, I can hear a touch of Heart or Fleetwood Mac, or even those late-era Ramones records that sound weird in relation to the rest of the catalogue, but are still crucial parts of the band’s narrative. But at this point it’s not a question of whether or not a Black Lips album is “good” or not, but what are they trying to say? I had a few questions for bassist Jared Swilley, who I caught on the phone one day as they were headed somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina. We talked about the Black Lips’ commercial viability, where they would and would not play, and most importantly, what the future might hold.
Great, real good.
After all this touring time, any pet peeves you want share?
Not really. The biggest pet peeve is eating, or not being able to eat. Or laundry, but you know, it could be worse. Little things like socks…
Do you guys ask for socks on your rider?
Yeah. You don’t get them a whole lot, though. Sometimes you do. We became sock millionaires on our last tour. So I won’t have to go sock shopping for a long time.
when a gypsy comes up to you, if they say “Sacce le garre” you’re in trouble, because that’s what gypsies say right before they stab you.
There are parts of it I like. But we have a record coming out and you gotta go down there because basically the whole industry is there, as far as doing press and everything, it’s all in one place. As far as do I enjoy it? I’ve been so many times at this point that it’s just the same every year; it just keeps getting more of a pain in the ass to do anything there, like get food, take a piss, get anywhere. I enjoy seeing a lot of my friends there because every band is there at the same time, but I’d say on the whole the thing is a giant clusterfuck, it’s a pain in the ass.
I wanted to ask you about selling “New Direction” to T-Mobile. Is that something you have to think about a lot as a band or was that an easy decision?
I’m not sure what specific ad you’re talking about (I never really know which stuff our songs are in), but as far as something like that, I don’t give a shit. If it’s a song we’ve already written and someone wants to give us a check for us not having to do anything, than I really don’t care. I mean, my 15 year- old self reading Maximum Rock’n’Roll might have, but my 15 year-old self lived with my parents and I didn’t have a mortgage. I don’t really care about stuff like that anymore and I don’t think really any bands do at all. It’s different from the ‘80s or ‘90s, which I think is silly in retrospect. You don’t sell records anymore, so without stuff like that and corporate sponsorship, music as a profession would just have to be charity. And the US government doesn’t give a lot of subsidies to musicians… so that’s how you have to generate your income. You just have to stay on the road all the time and sometimes you get stuff like that. As long as you’re not writing a jingle for someone. We’ve turned down an ad before where they wanted us to change [something]. But if they want to use it as is, be my guest. I’m trying to think, what’s the most evil corporation in the world—
without corporate sponsorship, music as a profession would just have to be charity
Like Monsanto or BP, I don’t give a shit. If they want to use one of our songs, we didn’t do anything to them. We’ll just ask them for more money.
I was going to ask if that was important to you as a kid.
We’re always pretty apolitical. I got really disgruntled when I got into punk rock and started realizing that it had more rules than Christianity. So we’ve always made it a point to be apolitical and do our own thing.
Would the Black Lips ever play the Super Bowl?
Oh hell yes. That’s the top goal, about 2 years down the line.
Monsanto or BP, I don’t give a shit. If they want to use one of our songs… we’ll just ask them for more money.
If we did have to lip sync, we’d go so crazy and over the top that it would be so obvious that we weren’t actually playing. I’d be doing back flips and rolling around, playing a completely different song. We’d at least make it comical, have fun with it.
What if the Saints were playing the Super Bowl?
Yeah. I know the Falcons and Saints have a big rivalry but I’m not that big of a sports guy. The last time the Saints won the Superbowl we were in Australia and we were watching it in the morning. I was rooting for the Saints… Atlantans aren’t the most dedicated sports fans. We’re probably the most passe of anyone.
Would you ever play the White House if you were asked?
[Thinks for a moment] Yes, for sure. I mean, why wouldn’t you? You’re laying there and you’re 70 something years- old, looking back on life, talking to your grandkid or something like that: “I could’ve played the White House but I was too punk.” Well, actually I wouldn’t, because shit’s so insane now with security and terrorism and all that stuff. In a perfect world I’d want to do something like Grace Slick was trying to do, when she tried to dose Richard Nixon with acid. But if you did that you’d go to some black CIA prison somewhere in Lithuania and be tortured for the rest of your life.
I think you might’ve just spiked your chances.
You guys have been around a long time and have achieved a lot of success, but it feels like you still remember your last day job like it was yesterday. What was the last day job you had?
I think rednecks are awesome. Rednecks are usually hilarious
Has anything become of the Terrence Malick project the Black Lips played on, where the Val Kilmer YouTube spectacle came from?
We haven’t heard anything about that and they were so tight-lipped about it when we were doing it. We went to Austin four or five times that year for filming, but there was no script, I have no idea what a title would be; we haven’t heard anything about it in the news. He’s super secretive about a lot of his projects. I know it has something to do with music. That was fun: Cole made out with Val Kilmer and we taught Ryan Gosling how to shotgun a beer. I do know most of the movies he’s done, he’s notorious for taking a long time with editing. Hopefully we don’t get spliced out of it.
You still skate sometimes. Do you ever worry about fucking up your hands?
Yeah, that is a constant cause for concern. I haven’t skated a mini ramp in a while but there’s been a few times on tour where there will be a skate park in town or we’ve played a skatepark. And I’m dropping in but when I see someone else doing that, like on the edge of that transition, a part of me is real nervous. Luckily, I’ve never broken a bone. But when we were in Egypt, I went on a skate session with these Egyptian teenagers. The kids, they were probably all around 15 to 17; they were hitting this five stair that looked like what I used to do all the time. Without thinking about it or starting on something smaller, I went and did the five stair. I kind of landed it but then immediately crumpled to the ground and I thought I broke my ankle. I just sprained it really bad; I couldn’t walk on it for two days. So that was an eye- opener. But usually a lot of times when I skate at home it’s just to get from place to place. But one broken wrist and you’re in trouble.
What’s the best trick you can do consistently?
I can semi-consistently do a 180 kickflip. I can maybe land 1 out of 10. I can land a pop shove-it consistently. And I can kind of still do a heelflip a little. Man, this is kind of making me want to skate.
From all of your travels, do you have any favorite curse words, phrases, or insults in a foreign language?
In Southern Europe, when a gypsy comes up to you, if they say “Sacce le garre” you’re in trouble, because that’s what gypsies say right before they stab you. I like that one a lot… Australia has some hilarious ones. Australians call rednecks “Bogans.” Like anyone that’s bad or lives in the interior of the country or drives a truck.
we’ve always made it a point to be apolitical
There is a funny perception that some people outside of our region have about us. There are redneck qualities I have but I’m not like a true one. Atlanta is a big, urban metropolis so you don’t get that so much. Where my dad lives, where I halfway grew up, that was pretty redneck out there. I never wore full camo to school but I knew kids from around there who would wear that stuff. I like rednecks; I think rednecks are awesome. Rednecks are usually hilarious and really fun to hang out with. They have a way better sense of humor than a lot of other folks. A lot of Northerners have this perception of rednecks as klansmen driving around in trucks; mine are just hilarious dudes who say off-color things and slam beers, go hunting and shoot guns. And I think those are all really fun, awesome qualities to have. I like when people don’t have a lot of pretense.
What was the hairiest or sketchiest situation you’ve found yourself in overseas?
I mean there’s been a lot of them but I’d have to say when the police got called on us in India and going to jail was looking like a very real possibility, and then having to flee from one Indian state to another and having our passports taken and then getting them back and having to haul ass and fly out to Germany, that would be the hairiest.
Anything in the Middle East?
I didn’t experience any sort of dicey situation ever in the Middle East. Joe and Ian went out filming one day and I guess they were in the wrong neighborhood and there was a brief altercation. A crowd formed around them that was getting kind of aggressive and they had to get out of there. As far as me personally, I felt a lot safer in most places in the Middle East than I do in a lot of parts of Atlanta or New Orleans.
Are you a good haggler?
I’m terrible at it. So bad. I should be good, going to all these markets and stuff. Sometimes I realize that I’m okay at it when I’m looking at something that I don’t really even want; [when] I keep putting it down and I’m not going to buy it no matter what, I’ll get the price down to nothing. But it’s something I don’t want anyways. Usually if I want something I just ask how much it is and if it’s not insane, I’ll buy it. I generally don’t do a lot of shopping on tour because I don’t like lugging extra stuff around. I like to pack pretty light.
Would you ever play Afghanistan?
It depends. We actually got offered a show in Kabul. There’s a little festival but it’s really not worth the risk. Everywhere we were going was relatively safe. I live by the thing that anything bad could happen anywhere, but going to somewhere like Kabul— they’re getting hit inside the green zone, inside U.S. military installations. So, when it goes to doing something like that… If that’s your job, to be over there, that’s great. But for us to willfully go there just to say we played a show in Kabul, that wouldn’t be fair to my parents.
How did you meet Patrick Carney?
Usually if I want something I just ask how much it is and if it’s not insane, I’ll buy it.
This issue is actually going to drop the night you play here. What would you like to say to your future self ?
Jared, try not to do any shots. Take it easy, pace yourself, and for every two beers you have, let’s try and drink half a bottle of water. Let’s just go with that.
The Black Lips play Siberia on Saturday, May 3rd and at Hangout Music Festival on Friday, May 16. For more info, check out black-lips.com.