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Interview: Get A Whiff Of The Black Lips This Saturday

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 25, 2014 9:55PM

Atlanta’s Black Lips have been hammering out provocative garage punk for a decade and a half, and they return to Chicago this Saturday for a sold out show at the Logan Auditorium. The band’s latest release, Underneath the Rainbow, delivers their jangly scuzz with refined production and elements of blues, doo-wop and country.

While the Black Lips’ notorious onstage antics have included nudity and vomiting, they’ll be offering up a signature scent on this tour. An aroma machine will pipe in a smell the band has customized for a preferred sense memory experience. Chicagoist spoke with Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley about recording the new album and being a deadbeat dad to his fans.

Chicagoist: How is the tour going so far?

Jared Swilley: The tour has been great. It’s been a packed house every night.

Chicagoist: Your Chicago show has been sold out for a long time.

Jared Swilley: I heard it sold out a while ago. That’s awesome. I mean it kinda sucks for kids that wanna get in, but maybe next time. Sorry to everybody who couldn’t get a ticket and I hope no one is price gouging or scalping because that’s not ethical.

C: You guys have toured a lot of less-visited parts of the world for a rock band. Why is it important for you to play places like the Middle East or Southeast Asia?

JS: Just because we can. Last year we got invited to go to Bangkok for a tour. We were there for eleven or twelve days but we did one show. Rather than go there on our own with a guidebook there are kids who are our age that will show us around. It’s like you have an automatic group of friends when you travel and it’s a cool way to experience a country. You get to go to their family’s house and appreciate the local standpoint.

C: Did the tour experiences seen in your Middle East tour documentary Kids Like You & Me have any impact on your new album?

JS: We did some writing over there, but we don’t have any specific songs about it. We learn so much more on a tour like that as opposed to the standard drive, soundcheck, play, sleep, repeat. It can be kind of soul-sucking at times except for the hour that you’re on stage. That’s always awesome. When we do our more exotic shows it definitely ignites a creative spark. Usually when we go to a place we’ve never been before we’ll spend a lot of time there. The first few times we went to Europe I would stay an extra three or four months just to see the whole place.

C: Do you have any favorite moments on Underneath the Rainbow?

JS: I like them all; it’s hard to pick. That’s like telling one of your kids that you love them more than the other one. I like it as a whole package. I don’t want to hurt any of the other kids’ feelings.

C: You guys did everything in-house production-wise for the majority of your career and then made the move to work with (producer) Mark Ronson on the last album. What was your motivation for working with two different producers (Patrick Carney of The Black Keys and Daptone’s Thomas Brenneck) on this album?

JS: There was no rhyme or reason for that, happenstance sums it up. We were planning on doing it with Mark and then scheduling and stuff fell through. Mark usually works with Tommy when he does stuff in New York and Tommy did some stuff for Arabia Mountain that we liked. We admire his attitude and his appreciation for music. We ran into him in Australia when he was playing with Charles Bradley and he agreed to do the record. Then a few weeks later we were doing a show in Mexico City with the Black Keys and all the bands were hanging out at the hotel. I told Patrick we were recording and he said, “Oh I’ve been wanting to record some stuff with you.” So it all just resulted from talking backstage.

C: What do you gain from bringing on outside perspectives?

JS: We did everything by ourselves for so long, so it’s cool when you add a producer it’s like having a fifth member. You get stuff each time that’s unique. They’re kind of like a coach. We were initially opposed to the idea. Vice would suggest it and we would say, “No we’ve got this.” Then finally being kind of cheeky we made a short list of every famous producer that we could think of. We had some mutual friends with Mark and he liked us, but we were kind of surprised when he said yes.

C: I can’t tell by listening to it, but I read that half of the album was cut in analog and half in digital?

JS: Yeah Patrick does Pro Tools, which we’ve never worked with before, and Tommy is strictly, strictly analog. We were so dead set against [digital recording] for so long out of principle or something. At the end of the day it’s a lot easier and cheaper and you can’t tell the difference. I like analog but I don’t want to be a purist about anything.

C: What’s the idea behind the scent machine you’re touring with? My gut reaction is that the inside of your van can’t smell good.

JS: We’re trying to hit you with every sense. We’ve already got the sight and sound down. In casinos, department stores, and the military they use scent to influence people and give them a sense of familiarity. At the W hotel they use a white tea fragrance, so any W hotel from Taipei to Tampa will smell the exact same and give you that sense of familiarity. When someone sees our show or buys one of our records and they have a really good time they’ll subconsciously have that familiar comfort from the scent and bring back the positive emotion. Hopefully, unless something really bad happens at the show.

C: Like walking into a mall in high school and smelling that shit Abercrombie & Fitch sprays everywhere?

JS: Yeah, like when I smell hot tar or roadwork it reminds me of summer school. I didn’t like summer school but it reminds me of summer when I was a kid because they would always re-tar the roof during the summer. They didn’t care if all the kids had to breathe all the noxious fumes. It brings back fond memories of being a kid.

C: Did you work with people to design this scent?

JS: We’re still refining the technology. We went through a long list of samples and we chose one that’s a cedar musky kind of smell. It’s kind of like a fatherly type smell.

C: So you’re aiming to give your audiences daddy issues?

JS: Well I don’t really know many people that grew up with a dad. Maybe we’re the deadbeat dads that are late on their child support.

C: Cole’s A.V. Club interview generated a lot of controversy accusing you guys of perpetuating racist stereotypes. Do you have any response?

JS: I just kind of ignore it. It seems like every time I check the internet there’s an outrage about someone saying something. Basically Cole just said what kind of raps he likes. I didn’t want to do that piece because they’re asking you to diss something. I prefer to talk about stuff I do like.

C: You guys have been playing together forever. Do you still learn things from each other?

JS: Oh yeah, every day. I’m still trying to teach Cole to learn how to tie his shoe. We’ll get there, it’s a winning battle.