The Black Lips "Navaho" from the album Good Bad Not Evil
In the world of rock 'n' roll, stupidity is a virtue. That is, if you do it right.
Some bands are stupid, but they're completely unaware of their own idiocy (See, Nickelback, Guns N' Roses, Weezer). Some play the stupid card with a wink and a nod (See, Ween, the Butthole Surfers, Weezer). Others embrace stupidity in all of its meat-headed, slack-jawed glory (See, the Stooges, the Ramones, Weezer).
Atlanta's Black Lips can be put in the latter category. In their quest for "flower punk" perfection, a curious blend of 13th Floor Elevators-style oops-I-ate-the-brown-acid psychedelia and let's-put-a-paper-bag-filled-with-poo-on-old-man-Cressbeckler's-porch-and-set-it-on-fire juvenile delinquency, the Lips conjure up a righteously rockin' and mind-altering hybrid of '60s pop and late '70s punk. But as songwriters, the boys are no prog-rock Poindexters, and they're just as far removed from the English-lit world inhabited by the typical indie rocker.
"We always have to tell ourselves, keep it simple, stupid, like don't overdo it," says Black Lips drummer Joe Bradley. "When you start to overdo and over-produce stuff and think about it too much, it kind of ruins it. That's why, most of the time when we do our lyrics for our vocals, we won't write our lyrics until five minutes before we actually record them. And the same goes with our songs."
The drummer adds, "All four of us write the songs, and we don't really share the songs together until we're all in the studio together. And then we show each other the songs and we practice it three or four times and we record it."
The Black Lips, featuring Cole Alexander (guitar/vocals), Jared Swilley (bass/vocals), Ian St. Pé (guitar), and Bradley, are touring in support of Good Bad, Not Evil, a garage rock flashback that hit the streets back when Sarah Palin was wondering whether to name her next child after a branch of mathematics or a zamboni. Highlights of the album include the Hee Haw-style waltz "How Do You Tell a Child that Someone Has Died," the politically incorrect fuzz-rock sing-along "Navajo," a go-go-boots rave up about the most devastating hurricane to hit the U.S. in the last decade "O Katrina," and the haunted house carbon copy of "Love Potion No. 9" titled "Daddy Longlegs." And it would all sound delightfully at home on oldies radio if it wasn't so snotty.
An as-yet-untitled LP will drop in February. So far, the Lips have recorded 24 some-odd tracks.
This week, Bradley and company roll into the Holy City. And when it comes to the Lips, their live show can feature ample amounts of vomit. Some bands go for pyrotechnics, some go for tossing out fried chicken, but the Black Lips have evidently incorporated hurling into their stage show. (And if the liberal media is to be believed, spit and piss.)
"That type of stuff doesn't happen intentionally. Cole, one of our guitarists, has acid reflux, and if he eats too soon before he plays, and he always overexerts himself when we play ... it's going to make him puke. That's the way it is," Bradley says. That said, the drummer wants everybody to know that no bodily fluids will be exchanged with the crowd during their Charleston show.
Of course, the world of the Black Lips is about more than tossing cookies and golden showers. It's also about taking their show to places few other American bands are willing to go — like Israel and Palestine.
"I lot of people think that going over there is going to be way too dangerous, you're going to be like running from door to door covering your head from bullets," Bradley says. "It's not the case. I only heard one gunshot the entire time I was there, and it was in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night."
He adds, "We figured that if we were going to be in Israel, we may as well be fair and play one show in Palestine, so we rented a bunch of acoustic guitars in Jerusalem and went across the border and went into Bethlehem, which wasn't far, and set up on the street and started playing for the kids.
Surprisingly, the Lips were well received. Bradley says, "I don't know if they were happy, but they stuck around. We weren't asking for anything. We bought some things from some local stores and some shopkeepers invited us up for some mint tea."
As for why the band hit that most trouble-plagued area of the globe, the band apparently didn't have any highfalutin, let's-bring-peace-to-the-Middle-East intentions. They did it out of a spirit of adventure, nothing more, nothing less.
And according to Bradley, that devil-may-care attitude is going to take them to India after the start of the new year. "We love adventure. There's no sense in only playing New York, Chicago, and L.A. all the time," Bradley says. "You might as well hit the entire world."