New Horizons for The Black Lips



It’s shaping up to be quite a year for Atlanta’s rabblerousing foursome, The Black Lips. An unlikely pairing between the Lips and glam pop-soul devotee/80’s revivalist producer Mark Ronson has made the boys’ upcoming sixth album, due in April, their most talked-about to date. It marked the first time the band had worked with a producer at all, generally opting for the bash-it-out-fast approach, and it resulted in greater collaboration between band members, plus the addition of horns, a theremin, a saw—in short, says the Lips’ Jared Swilley, “the best thing we’ve done.”

Coinciding with the album’s release will be a tour with kindred spirits and longtime pals Vivian Girls, and both bands will head out on February 25 on the three-day “Bruise Cruise,” joined by Surfer Blood, Ty Segall, Strange Boys, Turbo Fruits, Jacuzzi Boys, Thee Oh Sees, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, DJ Jonathan Toubin, and a few hundred of their rowdy friends. We spoke to Jared Swilley on the phone from Atlanta, only two days after he sent the new Black Lips album off for mastering.

JOHN NORRIS: Jared! So this record is finally done? You guys have spent some time on this one.

JARED SWILLEY: Usually, we just go in for a week or two and bang ’em out. But we were traveling a lot over the past year, so we’d only get small sessions here and there. And then we started out doing it at our own studio, but we weren’t really happy with it, and then ended up doing it—just canning that. And then, Mark Ronson talked about wanting to work with us, so we just, we did that, and now it’s all done.

NORRIS: And working with Ronson came about via The Creators Project?

SWILLEY: Yeah, he was working on The Creators Project, and someone from there just mentioned it to him and he seemed into it. And we really wanted to do it, just because we’d never worked with a producer before, and we wanted to see what it was like. And it turned out being really awesome, it’s my favorite thing we’ve ever done.

NORRIS: In the in-studio piece up on VBS, Mark says at first he was a little nervous about coming in to work with a band that have been together for a long time. Was it a smooth process, or was there some tension?

SWILLEY: I can’t speak for the other guys, but for myself, it was smooth—just because I was really into trying something new and having new input. It has been, for the most part, the same four people for six albums, and other studio stuff, for so long. It was just really interesting to me. Everything meshed together really fast. It went really smooth, and then Mark came down to Atlanta last week, and we just finished it and mixed it, and that was really cool.

NORRIS: How much of the album did he have a hand in?

SWILLEY: I would say, there’s like 16 songs on it, and 11 or 12 are ones that he did with us, so the majority of the album.

NORRIS: Is it dramatically different from what people have come to expect from you? People hear Mark Ronson and they think that could be quite a shift.

SWILLEY: No, I don’t think so. There’s a few little things maybe, but it doesn’t sound like an arena-rock record, or electro or anything. I just think it’s arranged really well and the sounds are really good. It’s not a radical departure, but I think it’s by far the best thing we’ve ever done.

NORRIS:  There’s not a title yet, is there, or one you can say?

SWILLEY: There’s a little sheet of paper with a lot of potential ones. We’re actually all meeting in a couple hours at a bar to figure that out.

NORRIS: And at the time of the Atlanta show you played in November, there were some song titles announced.

SWILLEY:  Yeah those are mostly in there, one was “Family Tree.”

NORRIS:  “Dumpster Diving”?

SWILLEY:  Yeah, that one, “Raw Meat,”  “Modern Art,” and then some of the others. I’m not sure, they’re just listed on there with the working titles that we were using.

NORRIS: And like in the past, you have your songs, Joe has his songs, Cole has songs?

SWILLEY: Yeah yeah, Ian has some songs on it too. We each have songs, but the thing I liked about it is that there was a lot of collaboration with each other on this album. The last one was really rushed, and everyone had their own songs, but we didn’t really work on them together at all, so the songs weren’t developed. This one, some of the songs have been recorded over a few times, and they’ve evolved a lot. I’m pretty happy about that, a lot of working together on this one. I mean, we did that a lot on Let It Bloom and Good Bad Not Evil, and those are my two other favorites.

NORRIS: Were you not happy with the response to the last album, 200 Million Thousand? People seemed to like it.

SWILLEY: Yeah, but I was surprised by that, because I don’t think it’s a good album. I mean it has its moments, but just the way we did it was real half-assed and it was just to get it out, to go on all these tours that we had booked. So surprisingly to me, it got reviewed all right, pretty fair, but I just wasn’t happy with how we did it. And it wasn’t like we set out after that to get a producer, get someone, we just felt, “We’re gonna spend time with this one.”

NORRIS: I think Mark mentioned in that piece that he brought a theremin in? Is there theremin on the record?

SWILLEY: Yeah there’s theremin, and we found this saw player, Mark knew him. He plays with the symphony and on Broadway all the time, but he’s one of only two people in the world—or so he says—that can keep perfect pitch on a saw. It was really cool to get him to come in and play, and just to see it, it’s so crazy. And we have horns in some places.

NORRIS: Do you think, as a result of this experience with Ronson, that you guys are going to want to work with producers in the future?

SWILLEY: I think so, I like it. And also, in the studio, we’re with each other all the time and have been creatively involved with each other. It’s like our whole lives are pretty much all the same, so it’s nice to have some more people in there, someone who can see it from an outside perspective.

NORRIS: I know a few hundred people heading out on the Bruise Cruise are hoping to hear some of those songs—will you be playing them?

SWILLEY: Yeah, we’re probably going to play a lot of stuff from the new album. We’ve already played a few one-off shows in the past couple of months and we’ve started to work them into our set, so there should be a good chunk of new stuff.  

NORRIS: And of course in addition to the Bruise Cruisers, there will be a few hundred “regular” cruise passengers on board.

SWILLEY: Yeah, it’ll be interesting. We’ve actually done this—not on this scale, but—I think two summers ago, in Sweden, they had this punk festival, and it was on this boat from Stockholm to Turku, Finland and back. But it was overnight, and there were like twelve bands on it and we were playing with The Misfits and a bunch of other punk bands. So it was a lot of kids with Mohawks and stuff amongst the normal Swedish and Finnish families who were already on the boat.

NORRIS: And this one? Any special plans for you guys?

SWILLEY: A lot of water sliding and a lot of sitting by the pool!