Interview: Cole Alexander of Black Lips

The trippy punkers rock the Varsity this Saturday.

PHOTO COURTESY VICE RECORDS

PHOTO COURTESY VICE RECORDS

Jay Boller

What: Black Lips When: Saturday, April 3, 8 p.m. Where: Varsity Theater Tickets: $15 Atlanta-based Black Lips might very well be the best band in indie rock. The wild quartet functions under the self-tabbed âÄúflower punkâÄù genre, a fitting descriptor given their penchant for converging wild, lo-fi punk with dirty psychedelics. Topped off with a relentless touring drive and a killer live show? ThatâÄôs a canâÄôt-miss date at the Varsity this Saturday. Lifelong friends, the group went from getting kicked out of high school back in Georgia to getting kicked out of India last year. Black Lips are famous for their debaucherous live antics âÄî kissing, pissing, etc. The Indian government frowned when a penis appeared on stage last year and they were literally chased out of the country. The boys are still on the road in support of 2009âÄôs LP âÄú200 Million Thousand. âÄù Frontman Cole Alexander caught up with A&E from the road to talk African proto-punk, sad clowns and college girls. WhatâÄôs it like to constantly be playing shows? ItâÄôs unreal. ItâÄôs a strange, wild ride. Take me through the day-to-day. Day 1: Staring at cars, 18-wheelers. Truck stops. Get out of van. Sound check. Eat. Play. Rock. Woman âĦ love. Sleep. Night night. You guys have toured all over the world. How do audiencesâÄô reactions vary given the place? Sometimes they stare at us. Usually people dance âÄî thatâÄôs kind of universal. But if we get really far out, like Palestine , people just stare. ItâÄôs uncomfortable to put yourself out there. Does that make you wanna play those places less? Makes me wanna play there more. We feel more like an oddity. But weâÄôre trying to bring punk to new places, punk rock exploration. I read you guys are playing The Replacements in a movie? False. We considered a movie that was roughly based on an âÄô80s indie band. But weâÄôre not actors, weâÄôre re-al-itors. Are you guys âÄôMats fans? I like the Replacements OK, but weâÄôre nothing like them. WeâÄôre more like [1960s Minneapolis psychedelic rockers] The Litter. Or even more like [1960/âÄô70s Minneapolis noise rocker] Michael Yonkers . WeâÄôre more on the Yonkers tip than the Replacements tip. He did a great split LP with a band called the Blind Shake. He should have done a split with us. Would you wanna do that? Yeah, can you talk to him? If you ever do an interview with him, toss it out there. You guys toiled a lot before getting to the top of the indie heap. WhatâÄôs it like to see bands like Vampire Weekend blow up immediately? First thereâÄôs the bitter sting of jealously. But I give it to âÄôem, might is right; find your way to make things happen. IâÄôm not really into their band, but I find it refreshing that they support the upper crust. No band does that. Especially rock bands, itâÄôs all about, âÄúWeâÄôre so poor, blah blah blah.âÄù I thought it was refreshing to see a band be like âÄúWeâÄôre upper crust, whatâÄôs up?âÄù As far as their music, I donâÄôt know. TheyâÄôre into African stuff and weâÄôre into African stuff, too, but IâÄôm more into African rock. ThereâÄôs proto-punk from Africa that nobody knows about. TheyâÄôre into, like, Paul SimonâÄôs version of what Africa is. WeâÄôre more into like Zambian early âÄô70s proto-punk. We cut our teeth, kinda paid our dues. We got tight, and we became a stronger unit. It was really shitty at the time, as far as funds were concerned, but it kinda made us stronger in some ways. Once you get through the worst, like, you can kinda get through anything. ThatâÄôs why weâÄôve been around for 10 years. Black Lips have a very young sound. ItâÄôs hard imagining you doing this when youâÄôre 40. I think youâÄôre right. If they start paying us mad money when weâÄôre like 60 to play, weâÄôd probably do it âÄî but it probably wouldnâÄôt be as good. If weâÄôre like old and tired, I donâÄôt know if I could sing âÄúBad Kids.âÄù Jared [Swilley, bassist] described the band as âÄúThe happy clown that cries âÄù a couple years ago. WhatâÄôs your short, snappy descriptor of the group? Yeah, like a happy clown âĦ heâÄôs playing with himself in the mirror, heâÄôs crying. ThatâÄôs what you think of when you think of your band? Yeah, like the makeup on the clown drips. And why is that? Well, life is nothing without comedy and sadness. The great Homer once said, âÄúIf you fail at first, destroy all evidence of ever trying.âÄù And now thatâÄôs Homer Simpson , not the poet. That relates to your music âĦ how? Comedy and sadness. Some phony philosopher said everything is love and fear, but for us itâÄôs comedy and sadness. WhatâÄôs the highest point and lowest point for the band, thus far? The highest point was playing Conan OâÄôBrienâÄôs show, âÄúLate Night.âÄù After we played our show, Conan said thereâÄôs a lot of phony stuff out there, but he said weâÄôre the real deal. I donâÄôt know if he was just being nice, but I took that with pride. And the lowest point? I guess when our first guitarist died. [Ben Eberbaugh died in 2002 after he was struck by a drunk driver.] I read about that, truly terrible. Shifting gears, tell me about your bandâÄôs drink âÄî Detune: Black Lips Magical Potion. I guess itâÄôs on a hiatus; there are certain chemical properties that the FDA didnâÄôt find safe for the public. WeâÄôll let them deal with that. There are some Russian herbs, basically, that havenâÄôt been approved by the FDA. We had a test bottle on tour. It was a shit-kicker. WhatâÄôs actually in it? IanâÄôs [Saint Pé , guitarist] brotherâÄôs a nuclear engineer and he fused these Brazilian sex herbs with these Russian amphetamine herbs. ItâÄôll knock the [expletive] black off your ass. I gotta ask, are you just messing with me? I swear to God itâÄôs real. When can we expect a new record? Next year. ItâÄôs gonna be kinda mid-fi, some pop hooks, some lonely jams. Do you have a message for the campus? Bring some girls from college. Tell them itâÄôs gonna be a boys-gone-wild party.