My interview with Jared Swilley of Black Lips got off to a less than auspicious start. First, my 1 p.m. phone call woke him up from a sound sleep. Second, he was hungover from the night before, as he was attempting to cope with a painful toothache. Lastly, he was severely dreading his upcoming oral surgery appointment to have the tooth pulled (the appointment was scheduled for immediately following our interview). Yikes! This had the potential to be disastrous.
Fortunately for me, Jared was appreciative that I acted as his alarm clock. We quickly bonded and found ourselves to be kindred spirits. I was also hungover from the prior evening, as I was recovering from having a tooth pulled just a few days earlier. I, too, viewed dentists to be the enemy and the dentist’s chair was something to avoid whenever possible.
We spent the initial ten minutes of the call cursing the seemingly uselessness of paying for dental insurance and then found ourselves exchanging our new found best practices when it came to maintaining our pearly whites. I even shared that I had recently begun utilizing my five-year-old daughter’s tooth-timer to ensure adequate brushing time.
Going into this interview, I might have assumed that things could get weird when talking to the bassist for the Black Lips but I would not have guessed we would be discussing oral hygiene.
At some point, I remembered that I called for a purpose. The Black Lips, the often controversial garage-rockers from Atlanta, were embarking on a joint tour with The Black Angels and were in the midst of recording a country album.
I was glad Jared hadn’t brushed me off after our unnerving start. And so, with the tooth talk out of the way, I figured it was time to brace myself and really bite down into the real reason I had called. I had to extract some info and have Jared fill me in with all the latest goings on in the world of the Black Lips.
Ok, no more rotten teeth puns. Read on, I assure you, it won’t hurt a bit.
Before we get into your upcoming tour with The Black Angels, I was wondering if you could share any takeaways from your recent run of shows opening for Kesha. While you have been friends with her for years, I can only assume you attract different crowds and I am curious to hear how that played out.
I was actually pleasantly surprised when we opened for Kesha. We have toured with friends of ours before this, bands who are way bigger than us, but are still rock ‘n’ roll oriented, and that always seems to suck for us. For example, we opened for Mastodon and their fans hated us. We even did a hometown show in Atlanta and my mom was there, and those fans just thought we sucked. So anyways, the Kesha fans were all young kids with glitter on their faces and they were just so stoked to be there and they really seemed to like us — they all just wanted to let their freak flags fly. So yeah, Kesha fans seemed to like us more than the Mastodon fans did, that’s for sure.
The upcoming tour with The Black Angels is billed as “Together At Last, The Birds and Bees Tour.” How did the idea for the joint tour come about?
We had been talking about doing a tour together for quite some time and it finally just worked out. It’s just a package tour that makes sense. I like touring with bands like The Black Angels because sometimes you wind up collaborating later on. It’s like once you are backstage hanging out with another band, you just never know what can come out of it.
Recently, the Black Lips have had a revolving door in regards to lineups. Jack Hines has been in and out, Ian Saint Pé returned briefly, and there was the addition of Zumi on sax. I’m sure this must keep things interesting but it also seems as if it might prove difficult, due to the constant change in band dynamics for each live show. Is this all a part of keepings things fresh or does the lack of consistency make it things difficult for you?
Good question. We kinda like the idea of having a revolving door when it comes to guitar players. Yeah, it was cool having Ian with us for one tour. And sure, it does make things weird when planning for a tour when things change all the time, but I do like having to try and keep up with each new person.
This tour we have Jeff Clark, the guitarist from Demon Claws, a Canadian guy, but he’s from Alberta so he’s like a redneck Canadian guy. Jeff is one of my favorite guitar players. He’s just a damn good country guitar player and that works because we happen to be making a country album.
Can you share any more details about this upcoming country album?
All of our stuff is basic country or at least based in roots music. When we say we are making a country album, it’s not purist country music, its country music through our perspective. I’ve always wanted to do this and it’s going really well. We have about five songs finished so far and writing is really all I’ve been doing lately. I’d be writing today if I didn’t have this damn dentist appointment today. Who knows, maybe after the dentist, I’ll write a badass song ‘cause I’ll be on so many drugs by the time I get out of there.
Is this a shift in the band’s direction or a one off due to a need for a change?
We needed some change. We are pretty diverse but still, we have to change it up. We needed a challenge. At this point, we are nine albums in, so what are we going to make, another garage rock record?
You have dropped a bunch of “country pleasers” on your social media pages to showcase your influences. Are these tunes that you grew up on or material that you were recently turned on to?
Everyone in my family is some type of preacher and everyone in my family also plays music. I grew up listening to gospel and country music. My parents did not listen to trucker-country when I was a kid, it was more gospel-country. I would play guitar with my grandma or we would all gather around the piano and sing. This kind of music is very near and dear to my heart. Country music is just so American. And for all that sucks in America right now, at least we still have country and gospel music to listen to.
In regards to making albums, the Black Lips have worked with high profile producers like Mark Ronson, Patrick Carney and Sean Lennon, and have had some interesting surprise guests including Brent Hinds and Yoko Ono. Is there anyone you have already tapped for this album? If not, then who would be on your wish list?
Great question. I want to get Blake Shelton… actually no, I wanna start a beef with Blake Shelton!
I don’t think we are going to have a producer on this album, we don’t really need one, it’s gonna be pretty standard and I think we got this on our own.
I wanted to work with John Cale but I don’t know, he’s like in his nineties now, is that too old? All the country music people I would want to work with are pretty much all dead now. Have you seen the show Tales from the Tour Bus? How did I not come up with that? Anyways, what astounds me is that with all that crazy shit those country guys were doing, not that many of them died young besides like Hank Williams. I think those country dudes lived into old age ‘cause they were so religious.
We are going to try and get Kesha to sing on this record, she’s got some Nashville going on, her mom was a Nashville singer-songwriter. Brent Hinds from Mastodon is going to play on this too, maybe some pedal steel.
The band has come a long way (sorta), from the shock and awe antics that you were synonymous for in the early days (exposing yourselves, public urination, etc.), would you even consider doing any of that wild stuff in today’s politically correct culture?
Absolutely not. Nothing is shocking now anyways. The only reason we did most of that stuff when we were younger was because we were teenagers and we weren’t that good at playing music so we tried to make it into performance art. But nowadays, no one wants to see four white guys being shocking, it’s played out. If we started as a band yesterday, I don’t think anyone would like us.
The Black Lips have somehow stayed together for nearly 20 years. What wisdom have you learned during that time with the band?
I really wish I had a good tip to share. One of my best friends once said, “Always keep a dry lip and a clean pecker.” I really do not even know what that even means but it’s sorta starting to resonate with me now.
While the band’s music has stayed away from the political spectrum, you have made a few comments that veer away from the stereotypical “punk rock” viewpoints (or maybe you were just trolling fans) so I was wondering your thoughts on today’s America and about your hopes for the future.
I think America is a great experiment in humanity. The thing I love about America is that we have a true multi-cultural society. The internet bums me out and makes it looks that things are just so bad and maybe even way worse than they are. This may be naïve of me but from what I see on the ground, I think we are all doing a pretty ok job. Sometimes I hear young kids say something like, “This is the worst time ever to be alive.”
Well, what about the bubonic plague? What about the Holocaust? Optimism and hope are good things to have. Everyone like music, everyone like laughing, everyone like eating, and everyone likes fucking. That’s a pretty good base to have to bring people together.
See, maybe you did pick up some wisdom during your 20 years on the road…
Yeah, don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t like doom and gloom, I’m a hopeless optimist.
I saw you made a few posts about the Winter Olympics. Was that something that was on your radar or did you just take note of them due to Shaun White reporting that he rocks out to the Black Lips?
I don’t care about sports, man. I would not have even known the Winter Olympics were going on except somebody told me that Shaun White said he was listening to our song. So I watched it and it was a fucking epic run. I think my dad might have even posted something about it on his Facebook page. Usually, my dad can’t gage what’s going on with me and my music career, but he knows what the Winter Olympics are, so he was stoked to hear us mentioned.
Before we wrap up, I have to ask… you once played in a band called the Spooks, where the band dressed as ghosts and played some gory Halloween shows. Any chance of a Spooks reunion?
Did you just mention the Spooks? Holy shit, you must be one of twelve people that heard that record. Even though I loved that band and it was so fun to be in, I don’t think that will happen again. Although, I was recently joking about the Spooks to Bradford (Cox) from DeerHunter, who was in the band and all the guys still live in Atlanta so maybe the idea isn’t completely preposterous. It started out as a Halloween thing and the whole premise of the band is very questionable. We were young and dumb and didn’t realize that it could look bad so yeah, I don’t think that will happen again.
Thanks for your time, Jared. Good luck on tour and good luck at the dentist office today…
Yeah, thanks for waking me up. Wait, if I could impart any wisdom to young kids, it’s that your parents are not lying when they tell you to go brush your teeth or you will get cavities. That is some real shit! I didn’t know how to brush my teeth, I would go in for like ten seconds. No dude, you need to brush for a full two minutes. Tell you daughter, the Black Lips said to brush her teeth, it’s no fucking joke!
The Black Lips join The Black Angels for the Birds & The Bees Tour which comes to Brooklyn Steel on April 5 and White Eagle Hall in Jersey City on April 7.