Jared Swilley plays bass and sings in Atlanta’s The Black Lips. Tonight, The Black Lips are playing in either Toronto or Montreal. These facts do not explain why, right now, Swilley is sitting in a New York University dorm room, listening to Dion & the Belmonts
“I’m not allowed in Canada. I got a DUI when I was 17. I tried to go through as a tourist while the other guys walked through customs, but they checked my passport,” says Swilley, who took a Greyhound back from the border to a friend’s place in the city. Then again, this is The Black Lips: There’s something tough about this gang of dudes, these self-styled “flower punks.” Most groups would have faltered if a member had been banned from two gigs.
But, for the Lips, this is small stakes compared to the tumbles to which they’re accustomed. They’ve been banned from clubs before for on-stage wild-man acts like urination, public exposure and fireworks. Even when original guitarist Ben Eberbaugh died on the eve of their first big tour, they pressed on, believing it was his wish.
Maybe it’s the skate-punk past of their teens (just a few years ago, really). But they were just bored, Swilley says, going to see “kind of your standard punks shows. But luckily, we got into good music through older brothers and skating.” Or maybe they just don’t care about being rejects.
Then again, maybe it’s the music that pushes these dudes. Cheshire-grin cunning tempers the Black Lips’ bravado and a frantic and soulful je ne sais quoi element marks their sound like a perfectly shaped rug burn. Scrutiny just doesn’t work with this band: Though tagged with the much maligned garage rock title, they exclude themselves from the buttoned-up stiff suit crowd by a mucky line of cerebral tissue and jizz (being well-versed in rock’s true chaotic sex quotient and its delivery). But pin them down musically, and the bent element of early rock ‘n’ roll lies slithering under their three-chord guise, the same sweaty reptilian otherness that spit out stooges throughout the ages. Jerry Lee drunks, pre-Pistol punks, the rogues gallery of losers that hit people in the chest.
The Lips’ “no trend” ethic is their authenticity, and rightly so, as the consensus on 20-something musicians tends toward social-networking street teamers whose lexicon doesn’t include LP. Sure, a glimmer can come through The Black Lips’ music, as they know enough to quote a ’60s girl-group phrase next to a French freak-beat.
Still, to the general population, their shocking rep precedes them. They’ve eased back, though, at least temporarily: “We haven’t been peeing on people much on this tour,” Swilley says with a snicker. “[Teenage tourmates Be Your Own Pet] have lots of kids for fans, so, ya’ know.”
The Black Lips open for Be Your Own Pet on Friday, Oct. 6 with Psychic Hearts at the Cat’s Cradle. The show starts at 9:15 p.m. and costs $10.