Six records, three live LPs and over 23 7-inch singles later, THE BLACK LIPS are still terrorizing mainstream surfers with professional amateurism. It isn’t super-clean (rhythms get scuzzy) and things do get out of hand (improv make out sessions), but the group are tethered to the idea you have to work for what you want as no Dr. Claw label-type is going to spoon-feed you commercialism or a memory fans will drool over. That may be why the Atlanta foursome are more conspicuously addictive than the potato chip. Catching up with the group on the final day of Bonnaroo, we got to know more about what makes their live set, their future release via Third Man Records and if they finally feel like veterans. To us, age doesn’t matter. There’s not 200 million thousand reasons why they won’t keep rockin’.
Freddie Mercury has been quoted saying, “A concert isn’t a live rendition of an album, it’s a theatrical event”. Do you guys think you sort of embody that statement?
COLE ALEXANDER: Freddie just stole the words from out of our mouths.
JARED SWILLEY: I didn’t know he said that.
JOE BRADLEY: Damn, that’s like something we’d say. Freddie said that?
Freddie said that.
JARED: He’s got it down to a tee because when you’re in a live setting, people want to come and see a performance. Like I know if I’m going to see a band, I want to see one, so what he said is exactly right.
IAN SAINT PÉ: You can stay home and listen to music but the experience happens out here.
COLE: You know what I don’t want to see? Somebody that just stands there.
JARED: Unless you have an awesome physical presence. Johnny Cash just kind of stood there but his voice carried theatrics. Queen was very theatrical and I appreciate that.
Have there ever been moments where you’re on stage thinking about how you need to kick it into a new direction because a crowd’s not quite where you want them to be?
JARED: No not really. Not with us anyway. Everywhere we go and at all the places we play, the crowd kind of goes with us. We’ve been very fortunate with that and that crowds kind of get where we’re coming from and what we plan to do out there.
JOE: We’re a people’s band and if you don’t know us, you better ask somebody.
COLE: You might see a hip bone shake or a girl put her back into it, and start shaking… with the hip bones…
I got to see you guys perform at the Which Stage earlier. How did it go for you?
JARED: It was good. It’s always difficult to translate rock n’ roll during the day, especially as we had just played a show in Portugal last night.
JOE: Well the night before we did as we flew all day yesterday and got here last night. Same thing. We’ve basically been playing for a while and really just got here.
JARED: We’re more of a night time band but we can work with anything you give us.
Have you guys had the chance to check out any bands?
COLE: No, we saw some of The Beach Boys’ set.
JOE: I think we’re going to make it out to Kenny Rogers tonight.
IAN: I actually heard that Kenny Rogers is doing “The Gambler” with Phish and I will check that out.
JOE: I heard Lionel Richie’s coming out…
JARED: Lionel Richie’s coming out with Kenny Rogers.
JOE: And Kenny Rogers is coming out with Phish.
IAN: Black Lips came out with Black Lips and it was fucking perfect.
As for the festival, how do you guys transfer your sound to a stage like Bonnaroo’s?
COLE: We lock eyes with the crowd…
JARED: When you see those people and see them get happy after abusing their bodies since the first day, you say you appreciate what they’ve done and that you’re here to see them as they’re here to see you.
IAN: Each one of those bodies works as a capacitor as it transfers the energy from one body to another.
JARED: And you feel that. As much as they try to stop us with these barricades, pits and these photo on-calls or whatever you call them, we’ll try to surpass and suppress that with our energy and mutual respect for each other.
With you guys having recorded a live album at Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville, what do you think makes “the south” special to write/record music when compared to the west coast or New York City?
JOE: That’s tomorrow.
COLE: We record tomorrow. Or are we supposed to act like it’s already done?
JOE: I think so but I don’t know.
IAN: It’s tomorrow.
JARED: The south is where people with a lot to say…
IAN: Weren’t afraid to say it.
JARED: Yeah. A lot of people came together and wrote a lot of great kinds of folk music that just converged and eventually rock and roll came out of that. And this is our home and it’s nice to come back here. You’ve got the blues, you’ve got the country, the gospel and the R&B – it all comes from here. All modern pop music comes from the south and it helps make what we all call home.
COLE: Yeah, like I got a wink from a waitress at one of the diners down here.
JOE: You wake up in the morning, get a couple DVDs and big boy drinks and just have a good time (laughs).
JARED: People in the south have a lot more soul and they’re so much nicer. This is our first big southern festival and we’ve been all over Europe which has been great, but this feels a little bit more like a family reunion or something.
IAN: You ever hear about people talking about the salt of the earth and representing what is truly organic? Well there’s nothing but salt in the food down here in the south so people become the salt of the earth.
How did the new live album come together? Did Jack just kind of pick up the phone and that was it?
IAN: Once upon a time there was a thing called rock and roll. It gave birth to us and we continued in the fashion of it and found out Jack White likes rock and roll too.
JARED: We’ve known Jack White for a few years as our first successful tour was opening for The Raconteurs about three years ago. Since then, we’ve kind of gained a mutual respect for each other.
Was another live album something you guys always wanted to do?
JARED: We weren’t really planning a live album but Jack asked us to do one a few weeks ago and it’s really an honour to do a live album at Third Man.
IAN: I made a promise to Cole a while ago that we had planned to keep.
COLE: Yeah, it’s that when a challenge arises, we have to step up and take it.
JARED: We weren’t going to say no especially as someone asked us to do something.
COLE: I don’t even think “no” is in our vocabulary.
See that’s the southern hospitality talking. You’re just bending over backwards.
IAN: It’s better than bending over forwards (laughs).
Have you guys hit that stage where you consider yourself veterans of the indie rock world?
JOE: You’re not a real band unless you’ve been around for a few years.
JARED: You haven’t passed that “oomph” until you hit the decade mark. Once you’re there, you’ve been through it all. You’ve been through life, death, everything. We’ve been doing this since we were 13-years-old and I’d definitely consider us seasoned veterans as our teenage years and adult life have been devoted to this.
COLE: Yeah, I can’t really remember anything from before I was ten.
JOE: Shit, I ain’t met a crouton yet that wishes he wasn’t as seasoned as we are.
Coming from your perspective, is the music industry we know today making life too easy on artists or is there just a lot of great talent surfacing?
JARED: It’s actually harder because there’s way more competition. You have way more people to compete against and you have way more genres to compete against and there’s a million different sub-categories of every genre that’s ever existed.
IAN: Yeah, you’ve got to compete against people like Johnny Sadface who’s sitting his apartment and recording a bunch of love songs.
JARED: It’s harder to make physical sales but in the ’80s and the ’90s you didn’t have as many bands and now you have a ton. But it’s not like this era isn’t good for artists.
IAN: It is more condensed but there’s more opportunity.
COLE: But it’s not like the industry has given people more of an opportunity because it’s actually the people who have given themselves an opportunity.
JOE: But now, you can’t get away with just writing and releasing one song like you could have done back in the day. People don’t get all crazy as they used to and instantly run to buy a record. Now, they go online, listen to your fucking record and decide if its worth going to see you live.
IAN: The live show – that’s where you make your money.
JACOB: Every moment at every show and everything you say or do on stage is recorded and posted online and seen immediately so you really have to be real. You can’t fake shit now.
IAN: Rock and roll is a lifestyle and it’s documented so you really can’t afford to half-ass things like you could back in the day. The media makes you look cool and then you become cool at a level and from then on, people are constantly documenting you if they like you.
JACOB: A lot of artists look really dorky these days though. Like there’s a ton of guys out there wearing makeup and shoulder pads. With that kind of stuff, you shouldn’t be fly right now unless you really own it and are really alien.
COLE: We’re not one of those bands you heard about last summer and you haven’t really heard of since. Us… we’re just trying to stick around for a bit.
In your minds, what does it take to be a rock n’ roll musician?
JARED: If you want to be a rock n’ roll musician, that goal has to be your number one goal in life, nothing else. Just music and playing music.
IAN: Blood, guts and glory.
COLE: Keep sweating tears.
JOE: It’s the sacrificial lamb of rock n’ roll.
JARED: This what we want to do and what we do all the time and it won’t change.
JOE: If you lay down 100%, you have to lay down 120% because 100 % ain’t good enough anymore.