Jared Swilley, bassist for flower punk band Black Lips, isn’t going to let the big 3-0 slow him down, even though he’s given up the casual fight. In fact, he’s adamant nothing is going to tire out him or the band, not even the latest version of “fuck the system” — whatever that may be today or tomorrow.
Off the back of their latest record Underneath The Rainbow, released in Australia next week, Swilley chats to Music Feeds about his upbringing in Atlanta, Georgia and how that’s influenced the Black Lips sound, subverting the norm by doing what you’re not supposed to do, and the band’s upwards trajectory, which might just peak at the Super Bowl.
Music Feeds: How’s it going?
Jared Swilley: Pretty good. Just drinking on my porch with a few of my buddies.
MF: I just watched the video for the first single, Boys In The Wood off your new album Underneath The Rainbow. I did not expect to see atomic wedgies, drug dealing, and hyper violence at 8:30am. And then I find out that Boys In The Wood is about growing up in Atlanta. What was it like growing up there?
JS: Well, it was real tough. We had public school bussing so there were a lot of black kids that screamed ‘cracker’ and ‘white honky’ and would shove your face into the lockers and kick your ass all the time. Basically Boys In The Wood is the white version of Boyz N The Hood. It’s not easy being white here.
MF: A few of the songs on the new album tend to lean on the rhythm and blues of rock ‘n’ roll’s origins, embracing that Southern roots music. I feel this is something that the Black Lips tend to do very well compared to other bands. Why do you think the Black Lips lean on that more?
JS: Because we’re true Southerners. Rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, blues, jazz — all that came from the South and that is where we’re from and that’s what we do. We were a penal colony just like y’all were. Georgia was like Australia. The English cast us out to Georgia and they owned a lot of slaves so we have a bunch of white Irish slaves and west African black slaves making music together and that’s where we came up with country, and gospel and rock ‘n’ roll.
That turned into having people like Little Richard and James Brown and the Mighty Hannibal, all coming together and that’s beautiful. I mean, shame on history for doing that, that was terrible, but we got something beautiful out of it — Irish folk music mixed with west African drum beats and Creole traditions.
Watch: The Black Lips – Boys In The Woods
MF: Patrick Carney of the Black Keys produced half of the new record. How did that relationship start?
JS: Both of our bands were on the same label [Bomp! Records] when we both started. I like how the Black Keys started slow and then they started winning like a million medals and gold records. We haven’t done that yet but we’re on the same trajectory.
MF: So, 2014 is going to be the year you get the Grammy?
JS: You know what, David? I wanna play the Grammys. I wanna play the Super Bowl whenever they ask us. I wanna play y’all’s cricket championship.
MF: We do have an equivalent of the Super Bowl. Ours is the AFL Grand Final so we can try and do that. Going back to Patrick Carney, what was it like playing with him in the studio?
JS: Well, when you have a producer — and we’ve only had two before, the first time was Mark Ronson and that was, yeah, a different thing. We have known each other for a few years. We have been making the same kind of music for fifteen years so he was like a temporary fifth member, like our football coach.
MF: I did some very crude maths and you’re turning 30 years old this year. How’s it feel? How’s that changed the Black Lips image of you guys being scallywags?
JS: Not much has changed. I have stopped fighting because I’m getting too old to get my bones broken so much. I mean, you get hurt at 30 way different from the way you get hurt at twenty.
MF: I guess it’s that thing where if you’re drinking at the age of 20 and then you’re drinking at the same pace at the age of 30, the hangover is a bit worse.
JS: No, that’s not true. That’s people trying to have kids and shit. The drinking doesn’t change at all, and the drug abuse doesn’t change at all. The fighting does [but] I’ve hung up my golden gloves, unless someone says something about my mum or my girlfriend. I’m done with punch-ups.
MF: I think it’s fair to say that you have a fascination with the Middle East: looking at your typography of the band name, calling one of your records Arabia Mountain, and the doco Kids Like You And Me which follows your tour in the Middle East. What is the band’s fascination with the region?
Watch: Kids Like You And Me trailer
JS: Well, growing up in the West or where you’re from, you get the same information about that place [the Middle East]. It’s not a fascination about it, you’re just not supposed to do that. And I’ve always wanted to do what I’m not supposed to do.
I was like “I hate rules so I want to listen to punk rock”. Then when you get into punk rock there’s all these fucking rules: you have to be liberal, you have to be left wing. It’s annoying. So the only way to not have rules is to reject everything you ever see. That’s why I love the Middle East, I love terror. Anything that’s not right is what I want to do.
MF: It’s really kinda just subverting the norm, of “Oh, OK, we’re all meant to be liberal…”
JS: It’s always been about subverting the norm! In the 80s, everyone was “fuck the system”. Now “fuck the system” means “I don’t like cool people”.
MF: I’ve managed to catch you guys live a few times over the years. One of my favourite things is that you play with such fearlessness, which has led you to the Middle East…
JS: It’s not edgy. Going to Egypt is not scary or edgy at all — it’s going to a city. Atlanta is scary and there are places I wouldn’t go because I would get shot with a gun. Nothing is edgy and I don’t care if I die tomorrow.
MF: Well, you guys now have scented shows [the band worked with olfactory scientists to craft scents to be disseminated throughout the duration of their shows, evoking “ocean”, “cedar”, “moon”, “denim”, “squid ink”, “fire”, and “semen”]. Is that edgy?
JS: It’s just a good time. We are creating an escape for people, because the world sucks. And people want to go out and everyone has the same urges, the same desires: we all want people to fuck, we all want people to get drunk, we want people to just lose their mind and just have fun.
MF: And what do you think those scented shows will do?
JS: That smell will subconsciously remind them of us all the time.
MF: Including the semen scent?
JS: Yes, exactly.
Watch: Black Lips Behind the Scenes Recording the Squidbillies Theme
MF: I’ve recently seen you guys crop up in really strange places like Adult Swim, GQ and NPR. And now you’re working on a denim range with French brand April77. How are you finding working with brands that don’t necessarily work in music?
JS: You have to switch onto the world. They [April77] asked me to design a jacket so I designed a jacket for them which has a pot leaf on it and a skeleton skull with a confederate flag hat on. Then I wrote a song about an imaginary gang I thought of and then did a whole video. I told you before, we’re gonna play the Super Bowl. You can’t fight progress, you can’t fight the Black Lips.
MF: You’ve said that one of your favourite places to play is Melbourne. Why do you like Melbourne?
JS: The thing I like about Melbourne is the people have such a good sense of humour. Just everything, it’s all encompassing. You’re really laidback, you always want to do a barbie and y’all have backyards just like us.
MF: When can we expect you back in Australia for a barbecue even? You don’t have to come for any shows, just for a barbecue.
JS: We always come in December and January because we hate the cold so we come when it’s warm. You might actually be getting an exclusive.
Black Lips’ ‘Underneath The Rainbow’ is released in Australia on March 21. Expect to see them tour next summer.