I interviewed the Black Lips for Inland Empire Weekly in the early summer of this year. I always enjoy talking to the bands that have a punk streak. I feel like we all went to the same high school, since I ran around in the Southern California punk scene back in the day.
Don’t Be Afraid of a Kiss from the Black Lips
The Black Lips are famous for their high-octane brew of hardcore, country and American rock. The band is also infamous for their shocking live performances where onstage nudity, urination and vomit are all possibilities.
Their music is often called “flower punk.” Cole Alexander, rhythm guitarist for the Black Lips, admits it’s a label the band created because they believe people like labels. “It’s just a tag word. I think to sell products you have to have labels. A lot of non-musical people need analogies. We just write what we like and they can call our music whatever they want.”
With their latest tour, the Black Lips are delivering the provocative power of their unique sound to fans all over the planet from the U.S. to countries as far off as Japan, Norway and Croatia. “We were trying to get to the Middle East. We were told we could visit the Kurdish region of Iraq, and we also want to hit up Lebanon.”
The chaotic essence of original rock and punk music that energizes the style of the Black Lips has entertained fans all over the world for good reason. “We are really into 60’s garage rock, early 70’s punk, that sort of thing. We try to find those roots and just explore. We really like the screaming and yelling you can find in early punk music.”
Many critics and fans of punk music feel that the scene has devolved. “Punks not dead, it’s exploited,” is a claim that's often heard by people who still love the music. Cole understands. “A lot of it is pretty watered down. There are only a handful of legitimate punk bands, there are certainly always good bands in little towns, but they don’t get heard enough.”
The Black Lips reputation for their rather graphic onstage performance is well known. For Cole, that’s just part of the show. “When we play we want it to seem like the circus came into town. We’re into entertainment. We grew up on James Brown and just watching him perform inspires us. We study performances by Prince, Jerry Lee Lewis and even Jimmy Hendrix. Alice Cooper is also a huge inspiration.”
The band doesn’t plan the craziness, though. “We’ll plan a few things, but we don’t really plan any of it. We don’t want to cater to expectations. I’m not going to pee or vomit if I don’t have to. Sometimes we just stand there and play, without doing anything crazy, and it shocks the audience more.”
The Black Lips are playing at The Glass House in Pomona on the 25th, and Cole is looking forward to the show. “That’s our all ages, suburban L.A. show. All the skater kids come out. The audience has a lot more energy at The Glass House.”
The latest tour is going to be a showcase for their new album, Arabia Mountain. Already a critical success, Cole admits the band engineered the album for a wider appeal. “We wanted to reach more people, so this album is more accessible.”
Arabia Mountain has been praised by fans and critics for it’s original sound and retro rock roots. To Cole, the formula is simple: “It’s just a rock and roll album. It incorporates hip-hop, country, blues, psychedelic. There’s so many different facets. Sometimes you record a song one way and it comes out better, so we spent a lot of time on it. We felt like we didn’t really grow up enough after our last album.”