Black Lips want a return to the animal kingdom: visceral, carnal, occasionally non-verbal. They've leaned towards it for almost two decades, turning their garage-rock into something mischievous and occasionally sinister, guitars dipped in fake blood and vocals covered in ash, sepia-toned pranksters with art-punk sensibilities.
On their forthcoming eighth LP, Satan's graffiti or God's art?, they're better equipped than ever. Produced and recorded by Sean Lennon at his compound in upstate New York, the process saw the band cut off from the outside world, pushing themselves as songwriters and musicians. With new lineup in place—Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley are now joined by guitarist Jack Hines for the first time since 2004, saxophonist Zumi Rosow, and drummer Oakley Munson—there was a rejuvenating new dynamic, only aided by the presence of Fat White Family's Saul Adamczewski and, brilliantly, Yoko Ono, who guests on "Occidental Front." The video for "Can't Hold On," premiering on Noisey today, gets at Satan's graffiti or God's art? core. There's no clear narrative, but there's plenty of explosions, lots of dressing up, and an apparent arrest. As they do on record and onstage, Black Lips are shortcutting to the brain and the body.
We called lead singer Cole Alexander to talk about the recording process, Yoko Ono's guest performance on the record, and election night at the compound.
Noisey: So, you recorded the album upstate at Sean Lennon's compound?
Cole Alexander: Yeah, it's kind of just out in nature so we were able to get away from distractions of parties every night in the city. We were able to just focus on the record, which was awesome. Kind of away from everything.
What's Sean like as a producer?
He's a really good musician. He grew up around music and playing music, whereas maybe not so much for me. So he drove us to be better musicians. He pushed us from a technical, more musicianship standpoint. We've been pretty rudimentary for the last 15 years. I think we we do some stuff that's technically more surprising for us I think from a music theory standpoint. Like on a song like "Wayne," I was like, "That's us?" We actually sound like we know what we're doing. We know how to play for the first time ever. I think that's one quintessential thing that Sean brought as a producer. Like, we did a Beatles cover on there, "It Won't Be Long," and even just the structure of a Beatles song is actually way more complicated than I ever realized. What's great about The Beatles is that it doesn't even sound complicated, but there's all these weird song structures and then I kind of learned about that. It needed explaining to me a bit more. I feel like we learned something there.
You can take that forward.
Yeah. And in terms of taking things forward, I also feel like we got that with Mark Ronson [who produced 2011's Arabia Mountain].
Yoko Ono guests on "Occidental Front." What was she like to work with?
She's just very Zen, she'd say real esoteric things, but things that kind of made sense. She's very wise. We definitely look up to her as a role model and we always have. We were just honored and enamored to work with her.
What sort of wisdom was she bringing?
Well, we were together when Donald Trump got elected. She just let out this shriek. It totally embodied the sentiment and feeling of I think half of America and the world. Or most of the world probably. I think she put it on the internet. We were inspired by that. We did our own little protest song that we put on the internet. That was totally inspired by her abstract way of dealing with the political turmoil that faces us in this day and age.
Wow, so you were all at the compound the night of November 8?
We were at the compound. It almost felt like "Is this going to be a fallout shelter in 10 minutes?" I remember being kind of depressed the next day. But the music kind of helped us get through it.
What was it like recording an album around that moment, balancing the real shock of the political with the musical?
I mean we were never a political band by any means but sometimes there's just no way around it. So that's why we released that protest punk song ["Deaf Dumb and Blind"]. But it didn't really have any clear message. It was kind of like Yoko's. It was just a feeling that we felt. It wasn't to guide anybody any way or anything. It was more just a feeling of distress. Again I think it was inspiring to see Yoko Ono's visceral reaction instead of having to put something into intellectual words you can just convey things more in feelings.
Disclosure: Black Lips are signed to VICE Records.
Lead photo by Lance Laurence.
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