The Black Lips have been around for 11 years, and those years have been nothing if not eventful. The band members got kicked out of high school after Columbine for resembling “subculture danger.” They lost a member, who died in an accident. They caused journalists to invent the phrase “flower punk.” But now the guys who earned a reputation for peeing and fighting during shows are growing up. The band’s new record, Arabia Mountain, is rumored to be its slickest yet, counting Mark Ronson as a producer, and the band members swear they’re cutting down on the pre-show boozing. Lead singer Jared Swilley chatted with The A.V. Club over the phone, while he was drinking tea in his living room, in advance of Black Lips’ April 23 show at Varsity Theater. Not only did he have a lot to say about breast milk, Odd Future, and the Tasmanian Devil, but he also betrayed a sincere passion for music historians and Peruvian punk.
The A.V. Club: Ok, let’s start with some conceptual questions. If your album was a candy bar, what would it be?
Jared Swilley: A Snickers. That’s my favorite candy bar, and this is my favorite album we’ve done. It’s a full meal.
AVC: Why is this album your favorite?
JS: We got to work longer on it. I don’t have a lot of regrets about it. If there was something we didn’t like, we had time to go back and fix it. Our songwriting and mood in the studio was good—everyone got along really well.
AVC: If Mark Ronson was one element of a Snickers bar, which one would he be?
JS: The chocolate coating. He puts the sweet touch on the outside.
AVC: If your album was an aged but still active celebrity, who would it be?
JS: Is Warren Beatty still active? He’s real handsome and refined.
AVC: What about a mixed drink? What mixed drink would it be?
JS: It would probably be a white russian made with breast milk. Breast milk has a lot of probiotics in it. It’s real natural. It’s a life force.
AVC: A life force, huh? So what’s your favorite track on this life force?
JS: My favorite song on this record is called “Don’t Mess Up My Baby.”
AVC: How appropriate for a breast-milk record.
JS: In a way, that song could be about breast milk. It’s kinda like—it’s a hypothetical situation, where you get a girl pregnant, and she’s a party girl, and she keeps partying when she’s pregnant and staying out and drinking. She’s turning her baby into potentially having cerebral palsy and birth defects.
AVC: That’s pretty dark.
JS: It’s actually a happy-sounding song.
AVC: Do you like to create that contrast between dark lyrics and happy sounds?
JS: That’s what we go for. It’s bittersweet. If it sounds happy and it makes people choke up, I think it’s kind of powerful.
AVC: I heard that you guys have a special drink that you invented.
JS: Yeah, Ian [St. Pé]’s brother is a nuclear engineer or something like that. Ian wanted a drink that gives you the energy and protein but not the nasty speedy feeling, but the calming effect of Xanax. So he made this drink called Detune. We could never get it approved by the FDA. It was vodka-based, infused with Brazilian sex herbs and some sort of calming drug from Russia. The first batch, we drank them with people from Vice and our floor manager in Canada. It made us horribly sick. Then we got a weaker batch, and it was actually kind of good. We gave up, because it would never get approved or anything.
AVC: If your drink was a person and Four Loko was a person, what would a fight between them be like?
JS: Four Loko would be the Tasmanian Devil, and ours would be more like Spiderman when he was really hungover. It would be the Tasmanian Devil just whipping Spiderman to shreds cuz he has a pounding headache and doesn’t wanna get out of bed.
AVC: Is Four Loko stronger then Detune?
JS: I’ve never drank it, but I’ve read reports on it and seen people on it. It seemed like the PCP of alcohol drinks. It seemed like the videos of people on PCP getting Tazered by cops.
AVC: So why didn’t you try it?
JS: I don’t like drinking sugary drinks. They give me a bad headache and hangover. I got drunk off Sparks once, and I really didn’t enjoy it. It put me up for half an hour, and then I felt horrible. Also, the look of the packaging is disgusting. It looks like a crack headache.
AVC: Do you have a pre-concert drinking ritual?
JS: I like to have at least a couple beers before I get onstage. We usually take a shot of whiskey before we go on. On this next one we are gonna try not to drink too much before we play. I used to wanna get drunk before we played to help me calm my nerves. I’ve realized it’s so much easier to play when you’re not drunk. There’s this golden buzz place you can be. I don’t want to be stone sober either.
AVC: If you had to pick just one band that’s your favorite up-and-comer, who would it be?
JS: Can I pick two? Davila 666. They’re from Puerto Rico. They’re my favorite punk band. One of the bands I’m most excited about this round is the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. They’re exciting and young and are gonna come out with a lot of cool stuff in the future.
AVC: If you were a college grad student and you had to write a thesis on Odd Future, what would it be called?
JS: “How To Intimidate Your Audience.”
JS: There’s a tone of them, and they go nuts, and out of the three times I saw them, they broke one guy’s nose and gave another guy a black eye. When you roll up with a whole crew and there’s 80 of you and everybody’s going nuts, it’s an intimidating spectacle.
AVC: You guys seem to know a lot about Latin American bands. You follow that scene well.
JS: I guess like Peru and Argentina—well mainly Peru, but Argentina too. They had a great run of cool punk bands before punk was even around. Brazil’s tropicália stuff is pretty rad.
AVC: I heard that you guys have an encyclopedic knowledge of old punk bands.
JS: Our heroes were Crypt and Norton; they saved so much music. The Smithsonian should give them an award for saving all these tapes from someone’s attics, and tracking them down and saving them from being gone. Those are the people I look up to more than entertainers or musicians—the musical historians. I’d say Cole knows more about old punk than me, though.