Sunday, March 15, 2009

Black Lips

By Samson McDougall


Atlanta rockers the Black Lips smacked Australian shores in 2007, taught us how to party and left a trail of carnage in their wake. The Meredith Music Festival show was the business that myths are made of—a vomit soaked, man-pashing, up-tempo sweat-fest. The follow-up performances at the Arty and the Tote set new precedents for touring rock bands. They came, they got drunk, they experienced the city for a week and they punched out some of the performances of the year with a range of local supports including Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Stabs and Straightjacket Nation.

            Needless to say, touring with the Black Lips is not your average fly-by-night routine. There is a commitment amongst the foursome to thinking, and playing, outside of the square. Their resultant ethos has pushed them to the extremities of comfortable rock-n-roll destinations, including a trip to underground clubs in Israel and an emergency exit from India upon accusations of public homosexual acts.

            It’s from the American interstate on the back of their latest release 200 Million Thousand that Faster Louder caught up with gag-jerking singer-guitarist Cole Alexander. Despite the Black Lips’ relative longevity (it’s hard to believe they’ve been doing this for almost a decade), Alexander remains adamant that age is not yet slowing them down. “We’re stronger than ever, we’re still robust and fertile,” he laughs almost imperceptibly through the crackle and delay of a mobile phone from the tour bus. “It’s actually getting easier. We try and stay chill and save energy until we’re on stage. I won’t talk a lot and just try and relax on a couch. I’ve had a lot of problems with sustaining my voice but it’s gotten stronger over the years and now I can sing a lot better. Some guys work out at the gym a couple of hours a day; I just play on stage for forty-five minutes. I just save all my energy for when I’m on stage.”

The Georgian roots of the Black Lips transcend their sound with equal portions of country, blues, old-style rock and punk. Still, Alexander recalls, it was no easy feat to break free of the Southern mindset and actually get their material noticed. “From a musical standpoint it [Georgia] was rich in resources like blues and country music. But as far as an industry for what we were doing, it was kind of tough. It felt like if we had’ve been in New York in the early 2000s and picked up on the whole rock thing there, we could’ve got big. We needed an outlet and once we started getting out of Georgia we started meeting with some success.”

There exists a nostalgic grainy finish to the Black Lips’ recordings that’s reflective of their adoption of analogue techniques. 200 Million Thousand pushes this ideology to the extreme with the newly released CDs being recorded directly from an original vinyl press. So is vinyl likely to (re-) take the World by storm? Is it the way of the future, or simply a grasp at the past? “There’s definitely been an increase in our vinyl sales,” Alexander continues, “but a lot of kids still download our stuff for free. I’ve always loved vinyl personally; if you listen close to the new CD you’ll hear a little crackle.”

“As soon as I started buying vinyl records I was hooked. It really wasn’t the sound quality that was the issue. In high-school I wanted to hear Grandmaster Flash and I couldn’t find the CD anywhere, so I went to this friend’s uncle who was a DJ or whatever and I could buy hip-hop records from him. I’ve always liked vinyl for the fact that you can find the stuff that’s not on CD or on the radio. I think eventually the CD will become extinct; we’ll be left with digital and vinyl.”

To be swept up in a Black Lips live experience is to be beaten about the brains with some unstoppably enticing tunes and an insatiable urge to get rotten. After all, if the kids on stage are in a frenzy then why not? Alexander explains that while the raucous nature of their reception in Australia was outstanding, the Black Lips harbour a similar response wherever they go. “We had a great time in Australia and it’s always good for us to go to rock towns and rock cities where people are really enthusiastic about rock-n-roll music. In saying that it’s pretty hard to differentiate as to whether it was much different or any better than anywhere else. The reaction is kind of similar all over the World. Even in India where it’s stricter, we played this one show where everyone went crazy and let everything go. There exists this kind of Universal rambunctious-ness.” Indeed.