The Black Lips have always been an in-your-face garage rock band willing to break the rules.
The Atlanta-based group’s live shows are the stuff of legend, filled with energy, angst, antics and bliss that leave crowds wondering what just happened to them. Sometimes crude and menacing, sometimes beautiful and sad, The Black Lips are hard to pin down and feed off their unpredictability.
Released in October 2022, “Apocalypse Love”, their 10th studio album, is a surreal adventure that swerves through genres and emotions at reckless speeds covering everything from lo-fi outsider acoustic-punk to down-and-out drunk country to weirdo dance-floor disco.
In advance of their show at the Mangy Moose on Saturday, Feb. 11th, founding member bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley joined us over the phone.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: You have an affinity to switch things up as a band and refuse to be pigeonholed into one category or a specific genre. Unpredictability seems to be a major theme of the band that you thrive off of. Where did that initially come from and how do you keep that energy alive and well after all these years?
JARED SWILLEY: We’re into lots of different kinds of music and we do it so much and we’ve been doing it so long, you know, it keeps things interesting for us. We were a garage rock band for a long, long time. And especially in Europe, we didn’t really fit in with the garage rock bands, and I like a lot of those bands, like they do it really to a “T”. They dress the part and it’s real revivalist and we didn’t really do that. We were kind of always the odd man out there. Like we’ve had lineup changes over the years, but everyone that joins the band becomes like a full [member]. I kind of look at us as more of like a collective than a band because everyone writes and there’s never really been a front person. So those influences come through when someone joins the band and I’m kind of open to doing whatever.
I pretty much like every genre. There’s good artists in every genre, like I love country music, but there’s really bad country music on the radio. There’s hip-hop I like, but most of it I don’t. Basically it’s stuff that’s raw and primitive and passionate. You know, years ago we made a gospel record because I grew up in the Pentecostal church down here [in Atlanta] and grew up singing gospel music on stage and stuff. We made a gospel record and I’ll, you know, try anything once.
KHOL: When doing my research, I came across David Lynch references a lot, comparing you guys to the surreal and edge-of-your-seat style of his landmark films. Are you personally inspired by Lynch directly or indirectly, in zooming out? What inspires you creatively outside of the music world?
SWILLEY: Yeah, definitely. Inspired by David Lynch. I mean, I love the soundtracks of his movies. There’s just the surreal nature of it. I mean, I’m still like in awe that “Twin Peaks” was on a major network when I was a kid, which is nuts and I don’t think that would happen now. Yeah he’s he’s amazing but yeah, stuff like that inspires me. There’s this Austrian art movement in the sixties that we were all really into, called “The Actionists” and it was pretty extreme, it was public performance art and a lot of it had to do with self-mutilation, stuff like that. Just the bizarre, you know, I’m really interested in like snake handlers, which is kind of from my region, just outsider culture in general, especially because everything’s really homogenized now.
Like we don’t even have regional accents and dialects so much anymore. Those are fading out. Like I used to have a Southern accent when I was a kid. I’ve noticed watching old family movies recently, with my parents and me, I had a really thick Southern accent and I don’t know how over time that somehow disappeared. I hate to keep griping about the internet and sound like some sort of Luddite grumpy old man. That’s why I guess I’m so into outsider art, people that aren’t in touch with the mainstream and not people that are trying to not be in touch with the mainstream.
A really good example of that would be this guy named Hazel Atkins who’s this hillbilly guy from West Virginia. He played in a one man band, like. That kind of weird rockabilly and Elvis stuff. We were big fans of his. He actually ended up staying at our house, me and Cole’s house, when I was about 17, but he didn’t realize he was an outsider. His songs are awesome, but all of his songs, they were written in the fifties. A lot of them were about Mars and his “big song” or whatever is called like “No More Hot Dogs,” and it was about cutting a girl’s head off so she couldn’t eat hot dogs anymore. There’s all these letters he wrote to RCA and like these big labels in Nashville. He genuinely thought that he wasn’t weird and he could be like an Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis guy. He even got a letter back from Johnny Cash’s management. I’m sure in the fifties, they got this guy’s recordings and we’re like, “What the hell is this?” And the reason he played as a one man band, he played drums with his feet and guitar, he thought all those records he heard were actually people like one person playing all the instruments.
Someone that out of touch I don’t think you could have that now. You’d have to be like living in an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon now. But that kind of disconnect I think was really amazing, that kind of stuff, because that comes from a genuine place. Like he had kind of loosely heard of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and Elvis, but he was just so naive and so cool but he actually did write really cool songs and had an amazing voice. So that’s just like this really unique thing [that existed] with minimal outside influence.
KHOL: You make it a point to play and hard to get to in challenging places like Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and actually in March, you’ll be heading over to Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. You’ve said that it’s the best way to travel. Can you expand on that for us and tell us how you approach booking and performing in these nontraditional towns and cities?
SWILLEY: I mean, it is the best way to travel. And, you know, if I ever wanted to go to Iraq or Lebanon, like, I probably could go there. But then, like, what do you look at a Fodors, like a tour guide? Every time I’ve gone to a place like that, when I’m in Lebanon, I’m meeting up with someone who’s kind of interested in the same stuff I am. And I’ve gone to their family’s house and I’m getting shown their neighborhood by them and, you know, that would be expensive to pay for your own personal tour guide but it’s also like a friend that you make that you can stay in touch with.
It’s this priceless kind of thing. there’s a lot of elements to touring that kind of suck, but that’s been the one [good thing about it]. Like sometimes touring can be monotonous and there’s places I’ve been to a million times. Like if I went to Cairo by myself, I’d go to the pyramids or whatever, but I wouldn’t go to all these other places that I would have no idea about and be hanging out with people who I’d probably hang out with if I would have grown up in that city. I mean, that’s the biggest gift. The travel and experience has been the biggest gift as far as having this career and lifestyle for so long.
And it’s crazy how a lot of those get booked. I booked a tour of India through MySpace. Like some guy wrote me on there and I think he was kind of joking. Like, “it would be cool if you guys played India” and I was like, “How can we do this?” And it took like a year or two of back and forth, but we put together a tour of India and now in Vietnam and Thailand and Indonesia we’re playing these little festivals there. But then in Vietnam, I get a week off and I’m sure I’ll meet the people putting on the festival. I don’t know what to do in Ho Chi Minh City but I’ll be able to be shown around. And that’s really, really cool. And it’s something I’ll always take with me. I’ve gotten a chance to see the world and not only see the world, but see the world with locals there and getting to play a show. Like what a cool way to get to do it.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Jared Swilley of The Black Lips.