For their 2017 album Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, Georgia garage-rockers the Black Lips found themselves recording atop an isolated mountain in upstate New York, at Sean Lennon’s home studio. It had been three years since the band’s last full-length, and original drummer Joe Bradley had just parted ways with the flower punks. With new members Oakley Munson (drums) and Zumi Rosow (saxophone) onboard, the group sounded reinvigorated on Satan’s Graffiti, and is now preparing to enter its third decade of existence.
The Weekly caught up with bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley to chat about the Lips’ Lennon-produced LP, the next album and the oft-overlooked parallels between rock ’n’ roll and religion.
How did pairing up with Sean Lennon impact the trajectory of Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?We didn’t really have any trajectory at all, because we were kind of without a drummer or even really a label at the time, so he kind of saved us, in a sense. It was a blessing, and he came through and made it work.
You have Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family and even Yoko Ono on the album. How did all that happen? It just kind of happened naturally. It’s just all of our friends, and we collaborate with each other whenever. With Yoko Ono, that’s because we were at her house.
The energy of the room really comes through on the record. Did it feel like a unique experience compared to your other studio sessions? It was probably my favorite recording experience of all time ,just because we were up on this magical mountain, isolated from everything, and we really had no contact with the outside world. It was quite an experience. It’s probably the first time we recorded and I never carried my wallet or phone anywhere. I didn’t know what day it was; time didn’t really matter. It was a like very productive and creative summer camp.
Why do you think being isolated was important to the process? Because we were the only people in the world. If we were recording in New York or LA, there’s always friends stopping by, which is cool, but there’s always that thought in the back of your head, like, oh I’ve got these plans tonight; I’m going somewhere. But when we were there, you’re just completely immersed, and there’s nowhere to go except the studio. It really just changes the whole process.
Sax player Zumi Rosow is now full-time member. Talk about her addition. We started adding saxophone before she joined the band; we’d have some people play sax now and again. But then [vocalist/guitarist] Cole [Alexander] and Zumi started dating, and she plays saxophone and she was on tour with us a bunch. I thought she would be a good addition to the crew, because she got on with us and obviously she gets on with Cole, and it changes the vibe. I think it’s good to have a little bit of feminine energy in the group.
What’s the impetus behind the current tour? I just want to stay on tour and keep working as much as possible. We have a new album coming out soon, but not as soon as I thought. It’ll be out early next year—I want to say January—but we just stay on the road; that’s what we do. We haven’t been to a lot of these places in a while.
Does that mean we’ll hear new songs on this tour? Yeah, we’re going to be playing a bunch of new stuff.
What’s playing Vegas like for you? One time we played at the Hard Rock Hotel, but they made us leave the stage after, like, two songs. And one time we played this Sports Illustrated Swimsuit [show, at the Cosmopolitan]. That was super-weird. I was there for a wedding last year, which was pretty fun. I have a lot of vices, but gambling’s not one of them.
All the men in your family are preachers. How has that informed your approach to life and music? It was a huge influence on me. I grew up in a … it was a Southern gospel Pentecostal church, so it was real wild. The music was crazy, and people were speaking in tongues, having seizures and falling over. I always thought if I could incorporate just a fraction of that into my show … because they’re going nuts on Sunday morning with no booze or drugs. Just the aspect of growing up being on the stage and being in front of people, I guess that’s always been my calling. I would never be behind the pulpit, but we’re essentially doing the same line of work.
Every rock ’n’ roller or singer that I really like, from Little Richard to Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, came up in the church singing gospel music from the same region. Ray Charles, James Brown—we’re all kind of from the same area. So it’s the same feeling.
You guys have been a band for 20 years. What do you make of the music industry today and where rock fits in? It’s definitely not the most popular form of music anymore, and I don’t think it’ll ever be what it once was, but people will always be doing stuff like that. I tend to have a pretty positive outlook about things. I don’t pay a lot of attention to trends, and I guess I never have. We’ve just always done our own thing, and it’s worked.
BLACK LIPS with Blue Rose Rounders. October 25, 9 p.m., $20-$25. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.