If there’s one message the garage-rock four-piece proclaims, it’s that it’s okay to be bad.
“I like the media because it’s a game,” says Cole Alexander, singer-guitarist of the Black Lips. The Atlanta garage-punk rockers are no stranger to the spotlight, and often make headlines for their out-of-control, onstage theatrics. “When we do certain things, journalists will write about it,” he says. “And then the crowds will assume it will happen every night. They’ll be like, ‘Why didn’t you vomit on us tonight?’ Well, I didn’t have to vomit, so I didn’t vomit on you. It’s a fun game to play.” These high energy, grunge-punk champions return to play One Eyed Jacks on New Year’s Eve for the second year in a row.
And as 2012 comes to close, it’s only fitting to reflect on what the year held for the Black Lips. The band has most recently worked in the studio as they begin to lay out demos for a new record, Alexander says. It’ll be the band’s first album since 2011‘s well-crafted-but-still-gritty Arabia Mountain, a record they made with Amy Winehouse’s retro-inspired producer Mark Ronson. Earlier this year the Black Lips embarked on a tour through Europe and the Middle East, with stops in less-frequented countries including Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq– riskier places where an American rock show is a rare experience.
The Black Lips thrive on the energy that comes from these unfamiliar places, though. “I like tension, and I think I’ve kind of mastered rebellion,” Alexander says. “For instance, sometimes when we’re playing a show, security will get tough on the crowd. The crowd will get up and crowd surf, and security will try to stop them. I almost like when they’re assholes. It gets the kids riled up, and they act more rambunctious. It creates attention.”
Rebellion is a topic the Black Lips come back to regularly, and few tracks present the idea better than their hit “Bad Kids.” “When you’re young, I think it’s a good time to act like a fool and do bad stuff,” Alexander says. “Especially when you’re a minor, you can’t go to prison. It’s a good time to do all of the crazy stuff, better than when you’re older and have too many responsibilities.”
According to Alexander, “Bad Kids” mostly pokes fun of the band’s own childhood. “I wasn’t very good at school,” he says. “I started getting into punk rock, like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, and it seemed more interesting to me than a lot of what I was doing in school.” When he and Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley were kicked out of high school, it only made sense to pursue music.
A Black Lips show is where the band is best understood, where the low-fi recordings come alive and the wild behavior makes sense. Since forming in the late ‘90s, the now-13-year-old band has always used live shows to their advantage. “Even early on, we’d get a shitty fog machine and bring it in,” Alexander says. “We weren’t very good at our music, so that’s why we did more of the theatrical stuff. We learned about music and crowds. Psychology.”
Psychology is a subject that Alexander knows well, and a subject he says he’d at least consider a minor in if he decided to eventually pursue a college degree. The Black Lips have an understanding of what crowds want. “When people are in groups, they react certain ways,” Alexander says. “Crowd mentalities, you have to interact with those. When there’s a fear of panic in a crowd, it creates tension, laughter. You can learn to utilize these certain emotions. Even your choice of lighting can affect the show. If you throw a green light on, you create a feeling that things are strange. And then there’s been times when we’ve used explosives and violence, but it’s spontaneous in every situation.”
There’s no limit to the antics a crowd might witness at a Black Lips show. “Anything could possibly happen,” Alexander says. “I’ve never killed anybody, though.”