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Black Lips

Black Lips

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 20th February, 2012 12:42PM

When the Black Lips first released Arabia Mountain we had a terrible conversation with one of the members which made us conclude that perhaps the Black Lips were the worst band to interview ever. When they announced 2012 New Zealand tour dates and another interview opportunity arose, we accepted the challenge precariously, and are glad we did because we got a decent insight into the band in 2012, working with Mark Ronson on Arabia Mountain and the Atlanta scene when they were starting out.

Hey, what have you guys been up to?

Well, I think we’ve just had the longest break we’ve had in quite a few years. We did the European tour in December and that’s about it this whole Autumn and early Winter.

You had a big year touring in 2011. Do you have any highlights from the year?

Honestly, all of 2011 was one big highlight. We started off this time last year with this crazy week-long trip to Hawaii and then straight from there we went on this bruise cruise to the Bahamas which is basically a bunch of punk bands playing on a cruise ship. Then we did SxSW and then we went to Japan and Europe – we actually went to Europe four times. Basically January to September this year was one really long, continuous series of really awesome trips. It went by really fast.

Touring and the live performance seems to be one of the more important part of the Black Lips deal, right?

I love recording and I love being on records and making records but live experience is something people need to have and it’s fun for us; it gives us something to do, especially because we like travelling and meeting people. It’s like a big bonus for us.

You recorded and released Arabia Mountain a while ago now but tell me a little bit about writing and recording that one.

Well we never really look at it like we’re going to make 'this' record and 'this' record is going to be an entity. We just always write songs and every year or so get together and record a bunch of them for an album. It’s never been premeditated like ‘we want this album to sound like this'. Basically whatever songs everyone has just defines the album. None of us are ‘album’ people. Some people look at albums as a complete thing but I’ve never really thought about albums like that so much. Most of the artists that I like pretty much just made a few singles. People weren’t putting out proper albums until the late sixties so we look at writing more in terms of the individual songs. I guess we spent more time on this album than on any other.

We went into a bunch of studios but half way through the recording process Mark Ronson got in touch with us and said he wanted to do the record so we just kind of dropped everything and went to new York with him for a few weeks and that was that. Nothing was very organized or planned out – we’re kind of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of band.

What was working with Mark Ronson like? How did he affect the sound?

Prior to this I wasn’t totally clear on the concept of what a producer was or did so I didn’t know what to expect. Going into it we just clicked instantly. We’d spoken on the phone a few times before we met up and the main thing he wanted to drive home was that he didn’t want to be responsible for messing up the Black Lips sound and our fans hating him. When he starting working with us he’d just finished doing stuff with Beyonce and Adele and we couldn’t be farther from that. But he came in and we liked his aesthetic and that Amy Winehouse album was done really wonderfully, and I knew he used old stuff and likes the same things as us so he just kind of like reigned us in and showed us a lot of really cool things. It ended up being such a great experience that we’ll definitely use a producer again.

Now that the album has been released, how would you compare it to your earlier work?

I mean there’s a slight progression but I think part of the thing with us is that we don’t really progress. I think it was good that we did this one because it shows that we could sort of clean things up. This seems like the most coherent thing we’ve done and I think it’s great we managed to do that. The album we recorded before that was totally ridiculous, like we just built our own studio in a warehouse in Atlanta and just did it all ourselves with like two weeks to do it so this was like leaps and bounds. We definitely tried harder with this one.

You guys have been a band for ages now. Overall how do you think yourselves and the industry has changed?

Things have changed a lot since we started. When we started the first tours we were booking were pre-internet, so we had to put together press packs and send them out to clubs and we didn’t have cell phones so yeah things have changed completely. We didn’t actually use the internet until recently. I don’t think we’ve really changed that much; being in this world and being on the road all the time kind of arrests your development a little bit at times which is good and bad. We've obviously grown up and I’m not a teenager anymore – we don’t pee on as much stuff.

You mentioned the internet before. What are your thoughts on the impact the internet has had on bands?

I guess it’s been good and bad but I’m not one to fight progress so you’ve got to kind of accept it. The only thing I kind of see in terms of how the internet hurts music - apart from downloads which I don’t really care about because artists never made that much money from record sales - is that bands don't have as much time to progress and come to fruition as a band by going out there and doing it on your own. It's good because you can just sit in your bedroom and make a demo and it can be available to millions of people just a mouse click away, but I think for punk bands and rock bands it’s taken a little bit of character out of some of them because there’s not that brutal work ethic. Some bands still grind it but I think that builds character and it’s also important to have time to suck for a little bit.

Some bands blow up and they’ve had no time to play live and have never played in front of people. They might have made a cool recording but they don’t know how to perform in front of people and you need that. Like we were horrible for the first five years we were a band – if you saw us you would have thought we were absolutely the worst and I think that’s good for bands. Deerhunter were the same too. We kind of came up with Deerhunter and they were like the worst band I’d ever seen in my life when they first started. If they were to have made a good recording immediately and got picked up everywhere and went and played a show people would have been revolted. We had heaps of opportunities to play to 15 people and suck and I really think that helps build a band.

You mention 'coming up' with Deerhunter. Tell me a little bit about the scene in Atlanta – was it a supportive scene?

No it wasn't a supportive scene at all. Also we were underage so that was hard in itself but all the bands in Atlanta were like skinhead bands which hated us. We never really had a scene – we just did house shows. Then we started hanging out with Deerhunter and a couple of other bands and made our own scene. But when we were first started we couldn’t play places and if we did it was for punks that didn’t like us. We started touring really early – I was still in high school – and through the internet we started finding there were other bands like us in other towns and that’s how we kind of spread out and eventually a scene built up in Atlanta.

What are the plans for 2012?

Everyone’s been working on new material on their own and we’re going to get together really soon and start recording. I know we’re recording during Coachella and we'll hopefully do some stuff in February. We’re in the infantile stages of the next album.