Black Lips continue to elate fans with beer-spitting antics
The phone interview has been running along smoothly for about 10 minutes when Cole Alexander barks, “Fuck you!”
Hmm. A touch of Tourette’s?
After a pause, the singer/guitarist for the Atlanta garage-punk band Black Lips says, “Sorry, man, I wasn’t talking to you. It’s a friend of mine fucking with me.”
Turns out, the friend is Bradford Cox of the indie-rock group Deerhunter. The two have known each other since shortly after high school and are now out thrifting in Atlanta. Cox then yells, “Dead babies!” and, “Dead 15-year-olds!” a few times until he apparently tires of disrupting the interview and moves on.
Alexander’s freewheeling, irreverent discourse, not to mention the company he keeps, suggests that entering his 30s has not sanded the edges off his punk attitude. Black Lips will celebrate their 10th anniversary this year, which Alexander says is “crazy to me.”
Unlike most bands who start out under decidedly amateur circumstances, barely functional on their instruments, Black Lips have resisted the seemingly inexorable march toward musical sophistication. With a résumé that includes six albums and gigs throughout the world, the quartet still play the same sort of raw, unfiltered rock & roll heard on their early-2000s 7-inches—on which the guitars and vocals aren’t always in tune, the lyrics skew snotty, and the production is lo-fi and visceral.
“I guess, first off, we like the sound,” Alexander says of Black Lips’ adherence to the garage-punk ethos. “We feel like we’ve gained success from the sound and not doing something more commercially viable. You could say crude is our forte. We’ve done a few one-off songs that are a little poppy, thinking, ‘Maybe this one’ll get radio play,’ but they never do.”
The four original band members were high-school friends—bonded by boredom in suburban Atlanta—who sought salvation in punk rock. First drawn to the genre’s late-’70s glory days, they then delved backward into 1960s garage, ‘50s doo-wop, blues and country. “We were very interested in the underlying roots,” Alexander says.
They were also interested in mayhem. Alexander’s first band, the Renegades, co-helmed by current Lips bassist Jason Swilley, landed a slot in the Dunwoody High School talent show, but the guys got drunk, kicked stuff around, were hooked from the stage and cut from the video. One of their classmates was American Idol host and radio personality Ryan Seacrest, heard locally on KIIS-FM 102.7 and Live 105.5. “We were freshmen, and he was a senior—a total douchebag metrosexual,” Alexander says. “We used to fuck with him in the halls, but he was a senior and had some big friends, and we were scrawny, so we didn’t fuck with him too much.”
Alexander has a provocative take on his expulsion from high school during his senior year: “About two weeks after Columbine, they kicked me and Jared out for no apparent reason. All I had were some absences and bad grades. They just figured we were up to some sort of subculture danger and didn’t want to take any chances, so they got rid of us. But I think that helped us become a better band.”
Even though Black Lips’ musicianship crept past remedial, they still relied a lot on stage antics. “To make up for our lack of musical skills, we’d put on crazy shows,” Alexander explains. “We’d get naked, light our dicks on fire, pee in the crowd. That kept ’em entertained. Over time, as we’ve gotten better musically, we don’t rely on that sort of thing as much.”
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But don’t ever let a Black Lips show get mistaken for shoegaze. Something sick or wild might break out at any minute, depending on band/crowd interaction. And Black Lips have gotten a bit more imaginative with their bandstand zaniness.
“One thing I did recently that came to me spontaneously was that we were playing a bar somewhere in England, and I noticed the stage was close to the bar,” Alexander says. “We were jamming out at the end, just making noise, and I jumped onto the bar, laid on my back and started convulsing. Then I realized my head was near the tap, so I put my head under it and poured beer straight into my mouth. Then I spit beer all over the crowd. The crowd went wild.
“I do it whenever I can now, although I have to say that not all the bartenders appreciate it.”
Black Lips play at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; detroitbar.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $15. 21+; also with Nobunny and Audacity at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7 p.m. $12.