Black Lips Explain How to Book a DIY Tour of the Middle East

by | Apr 8, 2014 | Interviews and Features

Black Lips are set to release Underneath The Rainbow [Vice Records] hot on the heels of taking indie music where it has never gone before with tour stops in Egypt, Lebanon, Dubai and Iraq – all captured in the film Kids Like You & Me.

The band was all set to work again with Producer Mark Ronson after the success of 2011’s Arabia Mountain when scheduling conflicts left the door open to work with Dap-Kings guitarist Tommy Brenneck, as well as Patrick Carney from The Black Keys.

Black Lips’ bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley had a lot to say about the band’s Middle East tour and what led up to the group’s latest recording in our recent interview.  [Read a previous interview with Jared Swilley here.]

Did you pick the director for the film Kids Like You & Me

Bill Cody was actually the guy that initiated the We Fun: Atlanta, GA Inside Out (2010) project. We stayed in touch with him and we started talking about how we wanted to play in Iraq and just go over to the Middle East. Cody taught film over in Iraq so we asked if that would be a possibility, kind of joking at first, then it started becoming more and more of a reality. He knew a Lebanese band called Lazzy Lung and they toured with us over there.

Could you see yourself going back and play bigger venues?

Yeah, we will definitely go back to Beirut and Cairo. Our shows were pretty big in Cairo, I mean bigger than some we played in the U.S. even. Beirut and Cairo have indie music going on already.

Iraq, that was cool that we got to go but there is not really a music scene there. For some people…it was the first rock concert they had ever been to. That was kind of cool because usually when you play overseas it’s like they’ve already seen everything, but over there it was like playing during the fifties and sixties. It was like rock and roll was just invented, so it felt like [musical] time travel.

Lebanon could still be problematic. 

The week after we left, there was a car bomb that exploded that killed the Vice President just a few blocks from the hotel that we were at. The proximity to Israel and Syria makes for a volatile mix, but culturally it is really liberal and a really cool city. I’m surprised that more bands don’t go there.

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If other bands wanted to go over there, what do you suggest they do? Connect through Facebook? 

Yep, Facebook. I booked our first show in Israel by connecting with people through Facebook. It’s really awesome that you can send a random message to somebody on your page when you see where they are from and say, “Hey, what would be the possibility of setting up a tour if we go over there?” and just taking it from there.

What about gear?  Was there a rental company over there?

In Cairo, we used a couple of rental companies. In Iraq, we didn’t have anything. We just plugged straight into the PA and used a couple of suitcases and trash cans for a drum set. In Beirut we borrowed equipment from our friend’s band.

It was really cool. A lot of kids didn’t like know how to mosh or how to dance really, so they were trying to figure it out. It’s like they were thinking, “I don’t know what to do with this, but the music makes me want to jump around.”

What was the most mind-blowing experience when you went over there?

Just that fact and that the whole tour went off without a hitch. Everything went pretty smooth except for some minor setbacks.  Our show in Jordan got cancelled a few times because every time a promoter would find out we had been to Israel before, they wouldn’t work with us. We finally got that sorted out and Jordan ended up being a good show. The Iraq show was supposed to be a government sanctioned show because we went through the Ministry of Culture, but then they saw one of our videos and they pulled the plug. So, through Facebook we met some random British girl teaching over there and she had access to the community center and ended up setting it up. I mean, really, the whole thing was pretty mind-blowing. It was pretty surreal. I couldn’t believe we actually pulled it off and everyone was really nice to us.

Did you get the feeling that the kids appreciated you?  

A lot of kids were really appreciative because we came over there with no agenda at all. I feel like people were really going out of their way to make sure we were happy and having a good time and we were really appreciative of that.

When did recording start on the new record? 

We started pre-production before we went, but it didn’t really start till late [last] spring; Mark Ronson was suppose to do this record but schedules didn’t really sync up so he ended up wanting to re-schedule for later. A couple weeks later, we played in Mexico City…we ended up arguing over one of our hotel rooms and ran into The Black Keys. We talked to them and told them that Ronson wasn’t available and Patrick Carney was just like “Oh, I would love to do it.”

What did you record with Tommy Brenneck? 

He was the one who came in and got all the drum tones. Mark uses him in his studio when he re-records in New York; Tommy Brenneck did some of the Sharon Jones stuff and all of the Charles Bradley stuff. Also, there is Daptone Studio. That is where the Dap-Kings do all their stuff they are kind of like in the same family of studios. We just played there when we would do horns.

Was any of the new album inspired by your trip?

I would say that I got a lot of writing done there. A lot of times we travelled to different places that were out of our element and I got more inspired [by them]. I ended up coming up with a lot of ideas, so probably indirectly. There was a song called “Smiling” that I remember putting together in Dubai. I was in the hotel because I thought I had broken my ankle and I couldn’t really skateboard around anymore. So, I [had a lot of time] to get stuff done.

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You are playing dates with Natural Child but you don’t have any dates in Nashville yet.

It’s weird because we used to not play Nashville, like a long time ago Nashville was kind of a so-so stop. We did Memphis all the time but now Nashville, over the past few years, has blown up so much. I mean, as far as rock scenes go, it definitely has Atlanta beaten by far right now.  I mean Atlanta is awesome but, as far as a rock scene goes, it’s a little quiet right now. I guess everything goes in waves.

Follow the band on Twitter: @theblacklips

photos by Mick Rock