The members of Black Lips continue to insist that they never actually peed in each other's mouths onstage, but the truth is as debatable as it is unimportant. What matters more is that people could totally see them doing that. While they might not urinate, they do spit, bleed, throw things, break instruments, light things on fire, kiss each other, crawl on the ground, exit stage unpredictably and cause a generally substantial ruckus. (The word "ruckus" might actually have been invented for them.) And though they have created four full-lengths, two live albums and a badass live reputation in the past eight years, they have never grown up. Nor, if you believe bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley, are they likely to do so in the near future. We tracked down Swilley before the group's show at the Firebird this Thursday to discuss the band's polished new album, its consistent old sound and why Black Lips will never make the mainstream.
Kelsey Whipple: Arabia Mountain has been praised as Black Lips' most widely accessible album to date. Was that an intentional direction on the band's part?
Jared Swilley: We just made a conscious decision to make a good record, not that we tried to make bad recordss in the past or anything. Usually we just make our records fast and get them out there, and we schedule only the amount of time we think we need. This time we spent a lot of time trying to guarantee quality and make sure we put more thought into what we're doing. We recorded the last one in a warehouse by ourselves, and that shows when you listen to it. I like all of our records, but that's a huge difference this time around: time.
How does that time show itself in the results? It seems simple, but the album sounds better, and there are not as many mistakes. I just like the warm sound of this album. I like the last albums all, too, for different reasons, but this one I think overall is the best quality. (producer) Mark Ronson's influence is not that obvious on this record because when you get down to it, the record is the same as what we've always been doing, which is another quality I like about the final version. It is important to us to always do whatever the hell we want, and Mark just helped to not really polish it -- I wouldn't say that -- but to help us smooth the edges and create a stronger album.
What was the best part of working with Mark Ronson?
Basking in his glory. The producer is kind of the fifth member of the band in some ways, so that relationship is really important. I really liked working with him, and he helped us a lot without it even showing. That's tough to do.
The rumor is that there was a human skull in the studio during the recording process. Is that true, and how did it get there?
Cole found a human skull at this oddities shop in New York, and we put a microphone in it and turned it into a reverberation chamber. It's kind of inspired by this other band we like who turned a jug into a reverb chamber, and we thought it sounded interesting. It's kind of like communicating with the dead. We have another song on this album called "Raw Meat," and we went to the butcher and got a whole bunch of steaks and stuff and just just beat the shit out of it. You can hear it on the album, too: The percussion sounds like meaty hands. There was blood everywhere.
It goes without saying that the band has a huge reputation for out-of-control stage antics. If there were no limits at all to what you could do onstage, what would your stage show look like?
It would probably look the same because I've never really thought about getting in trouble by police in stuff. We get in trouble by people who own the venues. We're not going to kill anybody or sacrifice an animal onstage or anything. I've done pretty much whatever I want to do every single time I'm onstage. We tour a hell of a lot, and I'm going to keep doing the same thing.