Zumi Rosow of The Black Lips Wants You to Free Your Ass
Zumi Rosow walks on runways and plays in a punk band, wears Gucci but isn’t rich. If being punk is about contradiction and rebellion, she’s a bona fide provocateur. Rosow started playing the sax with The Black Lips 10 years ago, around the same time she got her first pair of leather pants (though, as she explains, she’ll always prefer tights and leotards). We FaceTimed the night before The Black Lips concluded their tour with a New Year’s Eve show in Los Angeles, where Kesha, a Black Lips fan, jumped on stage to join on “Bad Kids.” Down at the Lodge Room, a cigarette hanging from her mouth, Rosow showed off her extensive tights drawer and told me about her Bat Mitzvah.
MIRA KAPLAN: So you’re doing it all yourself. Do you have a tour manager?
ZUMI ROSOW: The Black Lips had the same tour manager for years and years. His name was Matt Williams, a pro and a great tour manager. We basically couldn’t afford it anymore. We weren’t making any money. Jared, our bassist, is pretty much doing the job of tour manager now.
KAPLAN: How do you decide what to pack?
ROSOW: You would think at this point I would have it down to an art but both Cole [Alexander] and I get very anxious before trips. We end up staying up all night. I go through old articles of clothing that I’ve held onto, hoping that I’d wear them on stage. But I end up packing the same shit every time. The girl who I get my leather from is kind of my savior because she makes stuff like what I was getting from random sex shops, but she customizes to your measurements. Having things that are personal and unique is so important to me. There’s something sort of spiritual about it.
KAPLAN: What does live performance provide for you?
ROSOW: It’s a way of being connected to other humans and tap into the human experience. It’s the same as in the old days, when people saw Greek tragedies or Shakespeare. I like to watch old BBC plays from the 70s. British programming was so amazing, they had like, play of the week, play of the month, Wednesday play, play for today, all adapted for TV. It gets me out of myself. I feel that way when I perform and when I see live music. I didn’t grow up religious, I grew up a very secular Jew. So it’s a spiritual experience.
KAPLAN: Did you have a Bat Mitzvah?
ROSOW: Yeah, but because we didn’t do the Torah, we got to choose a topic involving Judaism that interested us. And then we wrote a thesis about it. Mine was on Jewish humor, how humor is the ultimate survival mechanism.
KAPLAN: What did you wear?
ROSOW: This sleeveless, baby blue Chinese-style dress. I randomly decided I needed to get my armpits waxed the day of my Bat Mitzvah, even though I’d never gotten anything waxed before. But I insisted. [Laughs] It was so painful that I couldn’t put my arms down. It’s probably why I don’t shave my armpits. Fuck that.
KAPLAN: You wear a lot of tights now, things that flatter the body. Have you always been comfortable revealing your body?
ROSOW: I used to cover my butt up all the time because I had like, butt-phobia, which is now the opposite. My ass is out all the time. When I was little, my mom’s best friend, who has a great, big, juicy booty, told me “Zumi, you have a booty! Big butts are the best.” And I was suddenly self-aware of my butt. That same year, this kid Justin, who was a good friend of mine, kept trying to grab my ass. So I would try to kick him in the balls. It was just weird. I’m this object of desire all of a sudden? I feel like Cole actually made me feel less self-conscious of my butt. I can’t tell you a specific moment when it happened, but all of a sudden, “Oh yeah, let me release my ass.” Butts are great. Freeing the ass or any part of your body, it’s powerful.
KAPLAN: And you drop to your knees when you play sax a lot. Mobility is important.
ROSOW: Totally. I hate wearing pants on stage. I’ve worn leather and it’s always amazing to me that Jim Morrison and all these people would wear leather. It feels like I can’t breathe and It really does inhibit my performance. I wish I could wear this suit I have onstage but I know it would drive me insane. Do you know Rosecut? My friend Judy [Pierce] made me a suit.
KAPLAN: Oh, yeah. She has a great Magic 8 Ball print.
ROSOW: I lived with her. She made me a custom suit with a fabric that has stretch to it so I could move easily. But then the knees inevitably get all fucked up. I wore it in Mexico City on stage for the first time and was like “God dammit, the knees, shit.” I really am constantly buying new tights. When I had a contract with Gucci they dressed me in these tights and I asked to keep them. They’re my favorite pair of tights.
KAPLAN: Do even Gucci tights run right away?
ROSOW: No! Look at my tights drawer. They didn’t run right away. Here they are. But Wolford tights, they’re so expensive. I thought I was investing in something that wouldn’t immediately run, but they did.
KAPLAN: You’ve talked openly on Instagram about not having money. People see Gucci and think, “Oh, you make a lot of money.”
ROSOW: Before my contract with Gucci, I had never been really paid before. I’d never made money in that way ever. We survived off of that money during COVID. I put some away for a retirement fund and was able to buy myself really special garments. Once that Gucci money was gone, we were literally eating out of fucking trash. I had minus $400 in my bank account. When the Black Lips first started, they were sleeping on floors, eating out of trash cans. Cole had this move where he would wait outside of restaurants and couples on dates would end up giving them his leftovers.
KAPLAN: Okay, it’s late! I’m distracting you from packing. Are you wearing the matador pants for the New Year Eve performance?
ROSOW: The matadors, their costuming, even the ritual of making the garments, is a holy thing. I have this other matador outfit, a jacket and these pants I got at the same place. I might wear that but I forget if I wore it last New Years.