The Psych Night and Vans recently brought out the Black Lips from Atlanta, Georgia to South Africa for three epic shows. Great planning resulted in fun, energetic and sweaty shows.
INTERVIEW: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: LEIGH TAYLOR
Formed around fifteen years ago while still teenagers, the band’s immutable sound and almost unchanged line-up since their inception in 1999 is evidence that hard work, relentless touring, good music and sticking to your sound can get you places. And by places I mean playing shows on all seven continents including Antarctica.
Carfax in Johannesburg was the first stop on their SA tour where they were supported by local acts The Moths, Sol Gems, and BCUC. Followed by two shows in Cape Town, the first one at The Assembly supported by Sakawa boys (the best indy shoe gaze band in recent musical history), The Sisters, a two piece formed from the now disbanded Black Math, and The Gumbo Ya Ya’s. The other show was a secret show at Colourbox studios in Paarden Eiland with Medicine Boy and Retro Dizzy.
Their low fi, bedroom recording, garage punk sound is a mix-match of influences and attitudes ranging from the soundscapes of Roky Erikson to the energy of a punk band and even Charlie Manson.
Donning leather boots and jackets, knitted pullovers with slicked hair, trainers and military jackets, oversized shirts and bandannas, the Black Lips resemble a bunch of bad boys or bullies at a milkshake bar in the 70s. Except milkshakes have been replaced with liquor and cigarettes, and the juke box, with guitars, mics and drums. Their style suits their sound and after seeing them at both Cape Town shows I must say they are a band that actually looks the way they sound.
The Black Lips have a reputation for partying and getting loose on stage. There weren’t too many shenanigans on this trip like vomiting or bloodshed, only some french kissing between Alex and Jack. None the less Black Lips played hard and made new friends and fans. Here follows some words I had with Alex:
Black Lips have been together for 15 years. What would you say has kept your line-up consistent over the years?
It’s kind of like being married. I feel like it’s for life, we get mad at each other and fight sometimes, but we haven’t broken up like some bands.
This tour introduced me. and I am sure others too, to Black Lips, it must be good to know you are still gaining fans?
Yeah we like exploring new places ‘cause there’s always new fans hiding under rocks.
What would you say is different from fans when you started to your current fans?
Our early fans were older record nerds. Now our fans are a lot younger.
“‘Good Bad Not Evil’ is where we really got off the ground, but the album before, ‘Let It Bloom’ is where we came through musically.”
I read in an interview you are strongly opposed to the “Let’s shelter and not share our music” attitudes found in many fans of the psych and indy sub cultures?
Yeah! We want to get our music out there to the fullest extent.
Where and how did the name Black Lips originate?
It was kind of an homage to the Rolling Stones logo but an alternate version.
Like I mentioned Black Lips have been together for a decade and a half. At what point would you say a band goes from being a new band to an old band?
We say after ten years together you’re a grown up band.
What stage in your career would you say was a turning point, in the sense that you guys are doing it right and it’s worth it to continue as a band?
‘Good Bad Not Evil’ is where we really got off the ground, but the album before, ‘Let It Bloom’ is where we came through musically.
What were you guys doing job- and education-wise when you started Black Lips?
Dishwashing, waitering, construction, business school.
Jack Hines was part of Black Lips from ‘02 to ‘04 and joined again in 2014. Why the departure and what has he been up to in those ten years?
He left for more or less family reasons, he got married and moved. Once he got settled in we invited him back and he obliged.
Black Lips have a really energetic set. You play a low fi supped up psycedlic sound with a punk attitude. Where would you say your sound and influences sprout from?
70s punk mixed with 60s grave rock
You have performed with Roky Erikson who is considered one of the pioneers of the psych scene. What was that like? And how did it come about? Was he amped on you guys?
I don’t know how aware he was of us, but we were super pumped on him. He’s a big influence. We were able to play with him because we share the same booking agent.
Your songs Bad Kids and O’Katrina from the 2008 album Good Bad Not Evil, seemed to be crowd favourites at your South African shows. What were some crowd favourites before those songs where written?
‘Dirty hands’ and ‘Hippie hippie hurrah’.
What were the influences behind those songs?
Beatles, Dutronc, French 60s Pop, and low fi bedroom recordings.
Is it true that you guys paid a visit to Charles Manson for some lyrical inspiration?
No, although we are fascinated by him.
You guys tour feverishly and you just finished playing in South Africa for the first time. How did the idea of a South African stop come by?
Psych night crew asked and we were stoked. Our friends Night Beats came too and they said it was awesome.
You have stated you would like to play countries where rock music doesn’t exactly feature a lot?
Yeah. I want to go to Cuba next and hopefully Malaysia.
How was the after-party in the Middle East?
Hahah. Kind of chill, we had to go to Christian neighborhoods for booze.
Did you ever play the show in Antarctica?
No. We wanted to and still plan on it. Then we can say we’ve played all 7 continents.
It’s said that you guys got pretty raucous on stage in your early years? Care to elaborate?
We pretty much do all the same stuff – it just happens when it happens.
What is a stand-out incident or the craziest shit you got up to or endured as a band?
Violence and bloodshed.
We Did Not Know the Forest Spirit Made the Flowers Grow
Let it Bloom
In The Red
Good Bad Not Evil
200 Million Thousand
Underneath the Rainbow