It's a universal, time-tested truth in rock 'n' roll: If a band's guitarist takes out his penis during a show and pees into his own mouth, then sprays it onto members of the audience, the music is bound to be overshadowed.Black Lips guitarist/vocalist Cole Alexander infamously pulled this stunt, and it's likely the first thing anyone hears about the Atlanta quartet. With any luck, the next thing they hear is the band's terrific, slop-bucket punk style, which sounds as if the last 40 years of music never really happened. Says drummer/vocalist Joe Bradley, "Not that we're purists or anything, we just want to follow the music back until we can find out exactly where it came from, and work forward from there." And where the band usually ends up is the mid-'60s, on the B-side of some obscure, scratchy 45 rpm record, where the music is played fast, the words are loudly slurred, and the recording is done as quickly, and cheaply, as possible.
Black Lips' newest album, Good Bad Not Evil, hints at a tiny progression forward. Songs like "O Katrina!" and "Cold Hands" display the most focused songwriting of the band's career, and there's even a lo-fi drum loop on the fantastic, droning "Veni Vidi Vici." Meanwhile, "How Do You Tell a Child that Someone Has Died" sounds like a country goof, complete with Louvin Brothers-type narration, until you realize the song refers to original Lips guitarist Ben Eberbaugh, who was killed in a traffic accident in 2002. And the cornpone schtick on the track is genuine. Bradley explains, "There's a lot of that element in the songs we write, 'cause we're really big fans of old country."
Last year was a busy one for Black Lips. Not only did they record and release Good Bad Not Evil, they also put out a live album (supposedly recorded during an out-of-control gig in a Tijuana dive, although the album has better playing and cleaner fidelity than anything else they've released), and toured so much, it put all other bands to shame. The New York Times called them the "Hardest Working Band" at last year's SXSW, where they played 12 shows in three days. As far as what keeps them going, Bradley says, "Some artists have already reached the point where getting work is always going to be an option, regardless of how long they've been out of the game. We have yet to reach that established point, so until we do, we have to keep working as hard as we can."
Meanwhile, Black Lips are looking forward to sharing the bill at Dante's with local legends Pierced Arrows. Says Bradley, "We're huge fans of Fred and Toody [Cole, formerly of Dead Moon]. We played with them last year, and their story is great, and they are just incredibly wonderful people." And as if the evening's show wasn't enough, they're doing an all-ages in-store acoustic set at Jackpot Records before the show.
So they're not exactly taking it easy. But like Bradley says, "Well, what else are we going to do? We're a band, you know? Might as well get out there and work."