Catching up with Jared Swilley of The Black Lips

The Black Lips are noted for provocative theatrics – including vomiting, urination, nudity, electric R.C. car races, fireworks, a chicken, and flaming guitars. Most of these antics, which are the center of attention in media coverage of the band, occurred in the band’s early days, a time when the group had not yet learned how to play their instruments. The frequency of their outrageous stage theatrics has declined significantly, as they claim to have matured “a little bit.” Bassist Jared Swilley says, “It doesn’t seem all that crazy to me. It’s not like we have ever done a human sacrifice on stage or anything like that.”

Well…yet. One thing is for sure, these kids are definately not anywhere close to boring as revealed in my recent interview with Mr. Swilley himself (after the video).

I’m curious as to the story behind your logo?
If you’re referring to the Arabic style one, it was kind of a theme for the last record. And we had been planning a Middle Eastern tour for a while so I guess it made sense. And we thought it looked cool.

How did the Squidbillies opportunity happen?
Cartoon Network is based in Atlanta so we know people there, and have worked with them in the past. And my ex-girlfirend works there so I think she may have helped with that.

Who would you say you are musically?
I am the white Elvis. We are Elvis from the waist down. The part they couldn’t show on TV.

Tell me a little bit about the documentary you filmed?
Our documentary, Kids Like You and Me, depicts our journey through the Middle East. Playing shows and hanging out with people. We’re the first Western band to ever do a tour in that region, so I guess that makes it interesting. I hope people like it.

Do you think that online presence is important for fans to find you and critics to find your music to write about?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty important these days. I’m not that good at it though because it’s not really a thing in my life. I didn’t grow up with the Internet, or even have a phone until five years ago. I know the Internet is important, but I’m not that great at [it]. I like playing outside more.

black lipsWhat do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why?
It kinda sucks that people aren’t buying as many records anymore, but you can’t fight change. It’s all out there and anyone can get it for free (even me sometimes) so what’s the point in trying to stop it or complaining about it? If someone downloads our record for free at least they heard it, and might come to our show. I encourage people to steal our music. You can’t replace vinyl records though. That’s for keeps.

What or where was the best show you ever played? Your favorite place to play and why?
That’s hard to say. We just played Mexico City and that was amazing as always. Tokyo is great, New Orleans, Melbourne, Sardinia, pretty much everywhere has something great to offer. Japan might be the funnest though, it’s kind of a tie between Japan and Mexico right now.

Do you have a crazy fan story?
We have a few pretty harmless stalker types. They follow us around to different countries and continents. They have nicknames. One is called “the nightmare” and another is called “the ghost.” I won’t go into the details, but our tour managers know who they are and we don’t let them come backstage. There’s also Richard, who is cool, he’s an older gentleman that does his own guerilla promotion for us. We first read about him in the New York Post because he was arrested for climbing on top of the globe in front of the Trump Tower in rollerblades and throwing Black Lips flyers and oranges off of the top. I also received a suicide note from a fan, and I have no idea how they got my address. I actually wrote back and tried to cheer the person up. I never heard back. I hope that  person isn’t dead. A lot of our fans are pretty crazy, but almost all of them are A-OK in my book.

Since everyone was a startup once, can you give any smaller or local bands looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
It sounds pretty simple, write good songs and tour a lot. If you really want to do it you have to give 120% at least, because 100% doesn’t cut it. Embrace poverty, forget about relationships and completely dedicate your entire life to it. There is no happiness without suffering. Also luck. And you have to find people equally as dedicated. Egos – you can’t have those if you want it to work. We run everything like a military outfit that is completely equal no matter what. It’s actually kinda hard. You just have to love it, and we love it.

Playing Atlanta’s Music Midtown is a HUGE deal…how do you feel about being on the bill with some of music’s rock and roll greats?
It’s really an honor. I can’t believe we’re actually doing it. I went every year as a kid and we always snuck in. That was almost the funnest part. I think I’m gonna try and sneak in this year just for old time’s sake. Great lineup too. I’m glad it’s back. I saw Iggy Pop and got arrested for underage drinking, Cole snuck into Courtney Love’s backstage, saw Willie Nelson, Toots and the Maytals, Patti Smith, Outkast, Joan Jett, George Thorogood, and now we get to play. Killer.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?
2 Chainz should be cool, I guess Weezer because I loved them in high school. We’re buds with Yeah Yeah Yeahs so it’ll be nice to see them, too. I’m getting excited already.

What new music are you listening to these days?
Not too much. Most of the musicians I like are dead. King Khan and the Shrines are amazing [editor’s note – look for our cover story on them the first week of October], and have a new record out. The Spits are great, the Nightbeats, Natural Child, Those Darlins, Oblivians, actually I do listen to a lot of new stuff. There are a lot of good bands out there right now.

Name three Atlanta bands that you would take a friend to see…
Subsonics, Deerhunter, Goodie Mob.

Name three Atlanta bands from the past that you miss…
Not really bands, but Little Richard, James Brown, and Otis Redding (they aren’t technically from Atlanta, but they all called Atlanta home).

Anything you would like share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?
We are going to Nashville tomorrow to finish our new record with Patrick Carney from the Black Keys. Everyone should buy it. Or at least steal it. It’s free on the Internet.

(photo by Matt Yoka)

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