Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

Talking to Jared Swilley about Black Lips’ upcoming release, ‘Arabia Mountain’, I couldn’t help but feel proud: This band has matured a great deal in the past decade. Swilley says that the album is the band’s best to date and that its recording re-energized the group. And although Jared can’t promise vomiting, pissing, man-kissing, or any of the band’s usual on-stage debauchery, he can promise that this music is the best thing he and his bandmates have ever done. He is not one to bullshit about albums, he mentioned publicly that he wasn’t totally proud of their previous album, ‘200 Million Thousand’.

The Black Lips were just teenagers when they formed in Atlanta in 1999: Cole Alexander on guitar and vocals; Ben Eberbaugh on lead guitar; Jared Swilley on bass; and Joe Bradley on drums. These four cut their first album in 2002, just before Eberbaugh died in a head-on collision on a Georgia highway. The band carried on, believing that Eberbaugh would want them to continue. Ian Saint Pé, the bands current guitarist, joined the group in 2004.

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

Their music caught everyone’s attention, starting Atlanta’s “flower punk” movement, and mixing in the sounds of blues, country, garage, and the 80s. Their performances were out of control; they gave their audiences the whole package of punk, rock & roll and controversial on-stage antics.

They took their time recording ‘Arabia Mountain’, working for the first time with an outside producer: Mark Ronson. Ronson, who has worked with Nas, Adele, and Amy Winehouse, wouldn’t have been the first guy I would have thought of for the job, but it worked out really well for the band. Their friend, Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter produced two songs on the album, which was recorded and mixed in Brooklyn and Atlanta in 2010 and 2011.

‘Arabia Mountain’ will be released in June through Vice Records. Touring behind this album, they’ll play with the Vivian Girls on the East Coast and Cerebral Ballzy on the West.


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R&G: Your sixth studio album is coming out in June. You’ve mentioned in several publications that you think it’s the best Black Lips record to date. What makes ‘Arabia Mountain’ a special album to you guys, or to you?

JS: I should speak for myself. Every record has been a different process, but I think we’ve kind of rushed through every album. We’re pretty frugal, so it’s always like bam bam bam, let’s get in here and do this. There’s not a lot of thinking about it. I don’t hate anything we’ve ever done, but sometimes we’ll finish a record and I’ll have a bunch of regrets about it. I can live with them. For example, our song “Bad Kids”: everyone likes that song a lot. I can’t really listen to that song, and I think the other guys feel the same way. We wrote the lyrics to that song the day we sung it in the studio, so we hadn’t really gotten used to doing it. I guess everyone else likes it, so that’s cool, but for me, there’s just stuff that I can pick out that I would change. We actually spent time on this record and made a conscious effort: if we don’t like something, let’s go back and fix it. That’s the main thing that I like, and the fact that we had a producer. It’s cool to change things up after making records for so long, having someone else in there, essentially, in a way, as a member of the band.

R&G: A fifth member of the band?

JS: Yeah, having a producer in there is in a sense like that. It’s someone besides the engineer who would have more input than an engineer would have.

R&G: The band originally planned to record the album yourselves before Mark came in.

Mark Ronson

JS: Yeah, we started doing it that way. We did our last record like that. I really didn’t like that because although we had the capability to do it, we didn’t know what we were doing at all. The engineer that we had working with us did everything and was great, but it takes a while to learn, especially what we had. At one time what we had was a shooting range and at one time it was a big warehouse with a tin roof and a train going by so it was hard to figure that room out. I didn’t like being in that room in the summer. It was so hot we had to be in our underwear and have all the doors open, but with mosquito problems real bad because we were in the low-lying swampy area. In the winter, we couldn’t use the heat or anything because it would be too loud, so we just had to be so uncomfortable we could see our breath.

R&G: How did you hook up with Mark?

JS: Ever since we first signed to Vice, right when we went with them, they were like, “What would you guys think about getting a producer?” I was kind of always open to it, but certain people in the band were just like, “Absolutely not. We do everything on our own.” I didn’t put up a fight for a producer because honestly I didn’t know. I had no idea what a producer even did until recently. It was never kind of a thing. I guess Suroosh [Alvi], that runs Vice always wanted us to have a producer and he just happened to come across Mark in the Creators Project and one thing led to another. At that point I was really into it because there was a certain point where we thought we were done with the record and it was really not ready to come out at all. In all we recorded about 30 songs for this record. I feel like what we put on there was the best representation of what we could have done. Mark kind of came in and saved the album, in my opinion.

R&G: When I saw the videos, you guys looked really fresh. I think it was on VBS. Did you feel like you needed to be on your best behavior and just really respect the process of having what you consider a big-time producer involved?

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

JS: No, not at all. We acted the same as we always act in the studio. I wanted to step it up as far as song writing and getting sounds down and all that stuff, but we still went out. Mark’s kind of just like us. We went out a lot of nights. He was a DJ a lot of nights after we got off and were done with the studio; we’d always go to that. I think there was one night where I didn’t go to sleep until I got into the studio the next day.

R&G: This was in New York?

JS: Yeah.

R&G: Did you meet any interesting people that run in Mark’s circle of friends?

JS: Yeah. We wanted a stand-in on this one song and he kept saying that he had a friend who could play. The guy came in and he was Sean Lennon. He hadn’t mentioned that it was Sean Lennon at all.

R&G: Did Sean bring his girlfriend with him?

Oyster Magazine #87 2010 - Kemp Muhl by Bec Parsons 02 []

JS: No, no, but she’s actually from Georgia.

R&G: She’s stunning.

JS: Yeah, she’s from the suburbs near where we grew up. Oh and the coolest part is that because he’s friends with Q-Tip, one night Q-Tip came in. Actually he came in a couple of the nights and hung out and one night we got to ride around in Q-Tip’s car. He took us to his DJ gig. That was pretty rad.

R&G: How did Lockett [Pundt – Deerhunter] get involved? I believe he produced two songs on the album? Was that before or after Mark was brought in?

JS: That was before Mark came in. That was when we were scrambling to do anything. They [Deerhunter] have a studio that was kind of like ours up in the suburbs. At that point, we were just trying to keep the momentum going, keep recording, and we didn’t even know if we were going there to practice songs or… It’s a pretty minimal set-up there. It’s a practice space with a four-track recorder. We also did one session out in LA where we did our third album, ‘Let it Bloom’, and the sessions weren’t very productive.

R&G: Were you guys having fun?

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

JS: [Laughs] Kind of an understatement.

R&G: On ‘Arabia Mountain’, what are the differences in terms of sound versus your previous five albums?

JS: Every album is a little different. The first one is pretty well produced, split sounding, which is weird because that was our first record. It was a pretty nice studio in Atlanta. The second one sounds completely fucked; I like that one a lot too, it’s just so weird. The tape machine we were using during that one broke so we had to use part computer, part four-track, and part this broken eight-track, and somehow we put them all together. That’s why that one sounds so fucked up. We just did that in our friend’s basement. The third one, which is pretty much my favorite, kind of sounds lo-fi or old. This one I think sounds old, but not intentionally low-fi. It gets annoying, especially lately, how people are really overdoing the low-fi thing. Anytime we’ve done low-fi, it’s more been either by accident or just by circumstance that that’s how it’s been. I like old sounds and I don’t like slick produced sounds and we’ve never used Pro Tools or any sort of computer programs, but I like old records that sound good and old and worn and this one may have that sound.

R&G: The majority of the band has been together for a decade and you guys are in your mid to late 20s. Did this album help reenergize the band?

JS: Yeah, I think it will. I think the last album, although we were never sad sacks, it’s just the last album was kind of a plateau. It didn’t get bad reviews, but it didn’t really take us anywhere. I think this one has definitely energized the band. I’ve noticed everyone’s been a little more enthusiastic and because we’ve had so much time to make it, we’ve had time to take time off and time to be creative. There have been some years when we’ve been on tour for eleven months. So this one is really in a good place.

R&G: When we ran into each other at SXSW, you mentioned that you had great time on the Bruise Cruise in February.

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

JS: Yeah, that was so much fun.

R&G: How many shows did you guys play over the course of the trip?

JS: We actually only did two. I don’t think I could have done much more, because I was pretty drunk the whole time. I think everyone was. It was kind of like the feeling I got the first time I ever went to summer camp or the first time I ever went to Europe with my friends. You get that weird juvenile elation where you can’t stop smiling and everything’s really funny. It was a really fun time.

R&G: I also saw on the video that you chucked your bass in the ocean. Was that planned?

JS: Kind of at the last minute, because in the video, we were all standing at the back, and I was like, “I kind of want to throw my bass in the ocean. That would be an awesome picture, and I have to get a new bass anyway, because that one’s been on tour with me for about two years and it’s just falling apart. I have to get it fixed every time I get back to Atlanta.” It was like a Hofner Re-issue. They’re pretty cheap. So I needed a new one anyway, and it ended up being a cool picture. I didn’t get in trouble.

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R&G: Hipster Runoff ran an article about Katy Goodman and they had a picture of you guys kissing. HR said of the picture, “Katy making out with one of the dudes from the Black Lips. Might be the other girl in the band [Vivian Girls], though. Can’t really tell.” Did you read the piece? If so, do you think the article was funny?

JS: No, I didn’t read it, but someone told me about it and sent me the picture, and it didn’t look like we were making out at all. It just looks like we’re talking.

R&G: But it’s interesting, now in this day and age of digital cameras and amateur paparazzi that it became a story, albeit a satirical story.

JS: Yeah, I’ve talked to other people that were on the boat – other bands and stuff – and I thought it was kind of dumb. Especially how they portrayed some of the girls that were on the boat, there were these stupid blogs that talk about them in bikinis and stuff. It’s like, what do you want them to be wearing? Burqas? They’re on a fucking boat. It’s hot and we’re by a pool. That was the one annoying thing about the Bruise Cruise. It seemed like about 25% of the people there had cameras and were just snapping away at everything. I understand if maybe there were a bunch of famous people on the boat, but it was just people in punk bands. It was kind of silly. They got a little gossipy.

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

R&G: Your dad, who is a preacher for the Church In The Now, recently announced publicly that he was gay. How did you feel about that?

JS: I was really proud of him. I thought it was awesome. He told me probably seven or eight months before he came out to the public about it. He didn’t know how to go about it because he’s a preacher in the Deep South and there’s not a lot of love for homosexuals outside of some of the big cities. I was really proud of him.

R&G: Is he a fan of your music?

JS: Yeah, he likes our music. He kind of got me into rock & roll because he’s such a huge Beatles fan. When we were kids the movie we would watch together was ‘Yellow Submarine’. He’s responsible for me being into music. He’s a musician too. He likes it. He thinks it’s cool. He doesn’t like some of the urine and vomit stuff. He comes to our shows in Atlanta sometimes and he knows that that’s not what we’re all about.

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

R&G: When you say the urine and vomit, is that stuff he reads about or has he seen it? Have you done anything like that in front of him at a live show?

JS: He’s only read about it and I think weird Christians send him links to our stuff sometimes. Stuff on the internet since we have the same last name.

R&G: When you had time to process the fact that your father was gay, did you think about the WAVVES incident and how your father might have felt or perceived your comments at the time?

JS: No, because he just got done raising two teenage boys. He never actually mentioned that at all. We never talked about that but it’s definitely something I wouldn’t really be saying again, just in light of that, just out of respect. Even before my father came out, it’s pretty obvious that our band is probably the least homophobic band around considering I’m sure a lot of people thought we were gay. I’ve made out with boys before in front of people, so I thought it was weird that people would even think that I was homophobic at all. I would think that there were bigger targets for that than someone in the Black Lips.

Rollo & Grady Interview With Jared Swilley of Black Lips

Download Black Lips music from iTunes (click here)
Black Lips Tour Dates (click here)

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