Black Lips Clean Up (A Bit) For 'Arabia Mountain'

Categories: Q&As
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Zach Wolfe
Atlanta's Black Lips are notorious for grimy garage pop matched by equally dirty antics--puking on stage, making out with each other, making fun of Wavves. For plenty of us, this was exactly how a band such as theirs should act, and sound.

So we could be forgiven for being dubious at the notion that Mark Ronson (the guy who helped make Amy Winehouse and Adele household names) would be helming a large chunk of their newest album, Arabia Mountain. Would this end up dulling Black Lips' ragged edges, dredging them up from the vintage bin to sound like Jet?

Au contraire: Arabia Mountain is one of their finest albums and is still plenty (and terrifically) shoddy. Ronson drizzles horns over four-chord stomp-alongs like "Mad Dog" and gives songs like "Modern Art" Ramones-crisp production, sneaking in flourishes like theremin, without encouraging the boys to tune their guitars too much.

We took a minute to catch up with singer/bassist Jared Swilley about the album, their tour (which hits Detroit Bar June 23, with the excellently named Cerebral Ballzy) and all that gay stuff.

OC Weekly: How did you guys approach working with Mark Ronson on Arabia Mountain? What were the conversations like you had with him before recording?

Swiley: We walked up to him in a dark alley in the Lower East Side. He was leaning against a wall, blowin' on his tenor sax, and we said, "Hey pal. Let's work." He nodded his head and we walked out into the night and performed brutal magic on the decks.

I was afraid he'd try to overly smooth away your rough edges, but I love the way the album sounds, the production is not obtrusive. So what did Mark bring to the recordings that you think may have been missing before?

He got what we were about and has good taste. He gave us that extra oomph.

Have there been changes to the live show to reflect any changes in the recordings or recording process?

No, we just do whatever we feel like doing.

If the sound of the recordings has been tidied up a bit, however minor, should we expect your onstage antics to be less extreme, or kissing and vomiting as usual?

Everything depends on whatever is happening. Things are always different. There are a multitude of factors involved and we will never be puppets.

I thought it was weird that people got flustered when you dropped an f-bomb, which seems pretty in line with the rest of the bands so-called antics -- making out on stage, getting kicked out of India for alleged homosexual acts, sort of overall irreverence. But it was pretty cool that Jared made out with The New Gay's Zack Rosen to show that it's all good. I know a lot of gays that love Black Lips; do you guys still get flack from your gay audience about that, or did that sort of smooth things over?

We have nothing but love for everyone. My father is gay.

Arabia Mountain seems to be getting the best reviews of your career. Do you think it's the best record you've made?

I am very happy with this record. That being said I love all my children and can't pick a favorite because it isn't fair to them.

You guys have had a weird history with commercial use of your songs, with Tesco dropping "Veni Vidi Vici" from a campaign for being too controversial. Would you guys be open to doing it again?

You bet your butt we would. We don't write jingles, but if some dunce wants to use a song we already wrote, then go on with it.

I read someone complaining that your catalog is exhaustive. I've always like that you pack your albums with songs instead of the eight or nine-song albums you see now. Are you guys actively against that sort of iPod-ization of the album, or is it just like whatever songs you have ready to go?

You hit the nail on the head. We actually always record about 30 songs and then use half.

Black Lips perform with Cerebral Ballzy, June 23, Detroit Bar, 9 p.m., 21+, $15


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