Black Lips are sitting in an Austin, Texas, hotel lobby eating sandwiches. They're here doing interviews for a couple hours, and this is only the second one of the day, so they're still fresh. But these guys are pros -- they can probably do interviews all day and never get cranky. They've been playing this game for 15 years now. Stop and let that sink in: BLACK LIPS HAVE BEEN A BAND FOR 15 YEARS.
Unless you use singer/guitarist Cole Alexander's logic. According to him, they're much younger. “You're not a real band until you've been a band for 10 years,” explains Alexander, who's wearing a black vest, black sunglasses and several gold chains. “And we've been around for 15 years, so we've only been a real band for five years now. Or maybe we're more than a real band now. I don't even know.”
“We're more than real,” adds drummer Joe Bradley. “I think people wanted to ignore us for a while, but we weren't going away. Now we're here, so people have to deal with it. We set the precedent and everyone has to accept it.”
Yesterday, Black Lips released its seventh album, 'Underneath The Rainbow,' through Vice Records (listen below). It was co-produced by The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, whom they met in Mexico City after the bands shared a bill. Unlike in the past, when Black Lips have recorded entire albums in three days, they took their time this time. They made demos. They re-wrote lyrics and re-arranged songs. They used Pro Tools. They went to a few different studios and, as Alexander says, they "actually listened to what producers said. That was something new for us because we don't really like to listen to what other people have to say.”
Fifteen years (five?) later and Black Lips are still out here learning valuable lessons. Back in the hotel lobby, I ask them about some of the other important lessons they've learned over the years.
Bradley: “You have to have a good sense of humor. If you can't laugh about the worst possible things, it's gonna destroy you.”
Jared Swilley: “It sounds cliché, but you just gotta roll with the punches.”
Bradley: “Yeah, you have to roll with all of the punches, including metaphysical punches. When the spirits come punching, you gotta roll with that.”
We toured for six years before we made T-shirts. That was pretty stupid. We didn't have CDs, we didn't have merch, we didn't have anything. We didn't even have guitar cases.
Swilley: “Also massive financial loss. And humiliation.”
Alexander: “Fear. Panic.”
Bradley: “The fear and panic comes when we play third world countries...”
Swilley: “...and when we're trying to get into Canada. I've crossed at least 50 borders in my life, and Canada is by far the most difficult one to cross. They hate bands. Cole got kicked out once because he got caught stealing a tube of lipstick years before.”
Alexander: “I got taken to the can because I was drinking underage. But I was 18, and the drinking age in Canada is 18, so it was total bullshit.”
Bradley: “No, the drinking age there is 19.”
Alexander: “Oh, fuck. That explains it.”
Black Lips have toured everywhere. Last year, they released a film called 'Kids Like You And Me' documenting a tour through the Middle East. They've played almost every continent, but Metallica beat them to Antarctica. “We found a way to do it,” says a disappointed Swilley, “but Metallica swooped in like a fucking eagle and took the worm out of our mouth. Just because they're made of Versace, they can do anything they want, so they just stole our idea.” They all want to tour Africa again. And Alexander says he'd love to play Cuba.
After all the miles Black Lips have logged since 1999, and all the years spent rambling the globe on tour and exploring strange, new places, do they have any regrets?
Alexander: “My biggest regret would be if I told you my biggest regret right now... No, seriously, everyone always says 'I don't regret anything, if I had another chance, I'd do it all again just the same.' That's bullshit, man. If I'd known to hit the Google stocks back in the day, I'd fucking do that, but I didn't have any foresight.”
Bradley: “I wish we had been more organized and more efficient, but you don't know those tricks until you get older.”
Alexander: “We toured for six years before we made T-shirts. That was pretty stupid. We didn't have CDs, we didn't have merch, we didn't have anything. We didn't even have guitar cases.”
Oh my God, I was on an airplane the other day with Pauly Shore, and he was obnoxious. He is actually the character he plays in all those movies in real life. He was like 'What's up, bro? What's up, bro? What's up, bro?'
Swilley: “Here's another cliché: We really learned the hard way. We didn't have food, we didn't have auto insurance. We struggled hard, but it was our own fault.”
Bradley: “I think we knew all along it could be way easier, but we liked it that way. It was romantic.”
Alexander: “Some people pay their dues, but we overpaid ours.”
You can hear it loud and clear in their jangly, sloppy, garage-y rock music: Black Lips is a band that makes many, many mistakes. That's why so many people like them. It's a life not many people really want – because it's insane and you're always on the run and there are serious consequences in pursuit of infinite kicks – but that we want to get as close to as possible.
Black Lips have provided this connection, and they continue to provide it on 'Underneath The Rainbow.' They're older, but just as wild and reckless, and the cops are still waiting around every corner. They've lived it, so now we can watch (listen) and not fall victim to all the dumb shit that's happened to them.
There's this family in North Carolina who follow us around. The parents are in their 60s. That's cool with us. It's kinda weird when parents are at festivals pushing strollers, though.
Bradley: "We definitely make mistakes, and we're honest about that, and that's why people like us. Bruno Mars doesn't seem like he's made any mistakes, which is why we don't like his music. Actually, the other day I saw a video of him when he was like six and Pauly Shore was in it...”
Alexander: "Oh my God, I was on an airplane the other day with Pauly Shore, and he was obnoxious. He is actually the character he plays in all those movies in real life. He was like 'What's up, bro? What's up, bro? What's up, bro?' He kept saying that to me. It was so terrible.”
Swilley: "He's one of those guys who won't go away, though. We're kinda like that too. I think people think 'Fuck, won't these guys just go away, already?' People want us to trip up and it's not happening. Sorry everyone, you're gonna get another 10 years of Black Lips.”
Another 10 years? The first 15 have certainly been tons of fun. But can first generation Black Lips fans handle another decade of Black Lips hijinks? Is Black Lips the kind of band people can grow old with?
Bradley: “Definitely. But it's really strange to meet 15-year-olds who are really big fans but who were just being born when we started.”
Swilley: “We have whole families that come out to our shows now. There's this family in North Carolina who follow us around. The parents are in their 60s. That's cool with us. It's kinda weird when parents are at festivals pushing strollers, though.”
Alexander: “It's like this: back in the day, there was this 18-year-old girl who came to our show, and we hooked up with her. And now 18 years later, she brings her daughter to the show, and we hook up with her daughter. We want people to grow old with us like that...
"But really, if you bring your whole family to a Black Lips show, you're probably a bad parent.”