Interview: The Black Lips

Over past the past nine years, few bands have managed to come close to garnering the live reputation earned by The Black Lips. It’s really almost more of a myth than anything else—urinating onstage, public exposure, vomiting, band members kissing and everything else in between. But anyone who has seen the Lips during their career can attest to the craziness of their shows, along with the energy brought by the band to each and every show. While the Atlanta quartet has grown in popularity over the past several years, they still approach every shows that same attitude.

During his time at Austin City Limits, One Thirty BPM writer and photographer Max Blau managed to catch the band’s Saturday performance as well as briefly talk with The Black Lips drummer Joe Bradley after their set. During their conversation, Bradley discussed the band’s upcoming album, bringing their rambunctious act to larger venues and performing with a human skull (yes, you read that right).

One Thirty BPM: How do you approach a large festival like this as opposed to the more intimate venues that you usually play in? Do you approach a show like this much differently?

Joe Bradley: Intimacy comes with the closeness. Being in a small venue, you definitely are closer to the crowd. Unfortunately, what nullifies that is when you move up to a bigger venue and start getting these barricades and security guards. Even [at our ACL aftershow], there was a lot of security and kids were crowdsurfing, and they were ripping them down and throwing them out. But you know, I’m not here to judge whatever was driving them to do such, but you lose that that sometimes when you get to festivals and bigger venues.

These are fun for different reasons. One, you’re outside, and its fun to play outside as long as the sound’s good. And there’s usually tons of people there just having a great time—and really what matters most is that they’re enjoying themselves. It goes back and forth—if they enjoy themselves, we’ll probably enjoy ourselves. If they project good energy, we’ll project even better energy. It’s a tradeoff, you know. What do they call that…symbiosis

I’ve heard that you have a new album in the works.

Yeah right now we’ve done three different recording sessions over the past year. We have got one more recording session left.

How do you think this album will be similar or different from past albums?

Oh man, we’re working hard—we’re hoping this album will blow you away. That’s why we’re trying to record as much as possible—to get as many songs written as we can…you’re going to hear some of the same stuff like rock n’ roll, a little bit of psychedelic, some country of course and some straightforward pop songs. Should be fun to dance to, and good to listen to.

You guys have traveled all over the place over the past few years—from Europe to India and beyond. While you grew up and made your name as part of the East Atlanta Village music scene, do you still feel a sense of attachment to that area?

Scenes change. Younger kids give up and it’s up to the older people to give the reins to the younger musicians and artists, and let them make their mark. But the scene in which we grew up in, with Die Slaughterhaus and everything, most of them are still in Atlanta and are still in bands, but they’re not necessarily the focal point to what the scene in Atlanta could be. I’m not trying to come down on them or anything; but new bands, different projects and collaborations—there’s still all the same great people who were there in the beginning when we started all in the family. But now there’s some new kids and some different ideas. I’m happy to see people are still trying to be creative and haven’t gotten stuck in a rut.

The Black Lips have had a penchant for collaborations with others like King Khan (in the Almighty Defenders) and GZA, who’s one artist you’ve never collaborated with before that you would like to work with in the future?

We did some stuff with GZA, I would love to do something with RZA. But who else…I don’t really know. You see, music is not like an active part of my thinking process—it’s like breathing, it just comes natural. But sometimes you make a connection with someone that you won’t even think you could do a collaboration with and it works out really well. So really, I’ve got to rely on time and just fate. Plus we don’t have that much clout so…we’re still working on that.

I’ve heard about this human skull that The Black Lips have been playing with. Tell me more about that.

It’s more like an echo chamber, kind of like how the 13th Floor Elevators had their jug player. He wasn’t really making those noises out of the jug—they were coming out of his body. But he was using the jug to reverberate and make a cool sound—he had an SM57 mic right up next to it too. Kind of like the same concept. But Cole [Alexander] manage to score a human skull in New York from some oddities shop, got it back to Atlanta, put a microphone in one side into the bottom by the spinal cord…and then sing into the eye socket or the ear. Hopefully it makes a cool sound.