Do or die: An Interview with Jared Swilley of Black Lips
Black Lips. The seemingly indefatigable garage-punk band from Hot-Lanta, GA who redefined the genre and helped spur a movement of bands who pirouette on delay pedals and project distortion as though it were a national anthem. Who took on an idea of what a punk band could be for millennials in a new generation still vying for a component of authenticity in everything they spin. Who don't just take the stage simply to perform but wholly take it over with live-wire antics that would make Sid Vicious blush. And who now find themselves a little older and wiser on their latest album, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art. After nearly two decades spent on the road, bassist Jared Swilley chats about working with Sean Lennon, being professional amateurs and never going back. Black Lips play the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill on Monday, May 15.
Kevin: I'm loving the new record -- what's the inspiration for the title?
Jared: I lifted that from a marquee outside of a church in northern Georgia. I just thought it was weird and hilarious and kind of neat. We were on a road trip so I couldn't stop to pop in and find out but I really wish I could have listened to the sermon. I think it's open to interpretation.
Kevin: Is the new record a tried and true Black Lips album or is there a sense of newness for you?
Jared: We were kind of stuck in a big time rut. We were going through personnel changes and things in our lives. We've been together 18 years and this really felt like our do-or-die record.
Kevin: Like, "The Death of the Black Lips"?
Jared: I mean, I don't think we would've broken up but when you're trying to put out new stuff, you really have to breathe new life into it somehow. We kind of found ourselves in this rut and then Sean Lennon came and kind of saved our lives.
Kevin: How did you get hooked-up with Beatles royalty?
Jared: We met Sean a few years ago through Mark Ronson. It really came together when we played this show at SXSW a few years ago. After that day, Sean just kind of started recording all of us and we became this really weird recording family.
Kevin: That sounds weirdly awesome.
Jared: It was great! We're weird guys and sometimes it's not easy to make friends and then sometimes you meet people -- when you automatically see someone or don't even talk for very long -- and just decide, you've got to friends with this person now, because that's just the way it works.
Kevin: Was he a big fan of Black Lips?
Jared: He must've been because he invited us to go live with him and record in upstate New York. But certain people -- especially when you're making art -- you kind of just know who your people are. It's kind of unwritten, there's no script. There's just this understanding that we're gonna do stuff together. Creating art can be really hard and very vulnerable. It's hard to even do it with people you grew up with.
Kevin: Black Lips isn't a band I think about being artistically vulnerable. Is that a result of getting older? Have you gravitated more towards maturity now or do you ever wish you could go back to some of your crazier days?
Jared: We're just us but I don't think we're that mature yet. I wouldn't go back to being a teenager. We did what we did at that time and it was good that we did that. But now we are where we are and it isn't that far from where we were before. Except now I don't get peed on or sleep in a frozen van anymore. That stuff that I dealt with when I was 17 was awesome and I wouldn't take it back for the world. But if someone told me that I could travel back in time, I would say, "Hell, no. Fuck that."
Kevin: Sounds like you guys are going full-steam ahead.
Jared: The struggle made us who we are now and I'm glad that we did that. Most people wouldn't do that because most people are pussies and can't deal with anything. The reason we worked so hard was so that we could have the luxury of doing this and creating cool music and be able to eat and sleep in the places that don't have dogshit in them. It made us tougher. That's why nothing can really affect us, nothing really fazes us.
Kevin: How about this new record being your 'do-or-die' record? Did that idea faze you?
Jared: Not at all. Because we've been there a million times. We've had band members die, we've had breakups, we've had deportations, arrests. If nothing had broken us before, nothing will now. But we were in this transitional period -- we weren't ever gonna break up, but I'm not about to put out a record that isn't good or that I don't feel proud of. If that certain spark isn't there, I'm just not gonna put out anything half-assed. I've worked a lot of shitty, manual labor jobs, but I did that with all my heart. If you're a garbage man, then fucking chuck that trash. Do your job well. Because that's what you do.
Kevin: Some might think of Black Lips as graffiti or art. How do you characterize of it?
Jared: I think it's both. We've always called ourselves professional amateurs. Art is really whatever it means to you, it's open to interpretation, that's why I've always liked it. People view things in different ways, it's all based on your perception. Some people think we're garbage, some people think we're good. And I think both -- I think we're shitty good.