If you search for information about The Black Lips online, chances are you'll find stories of getting kicked out of India, bar fights, nudity, vomiting, urination, male-on-male kissing and other outrageous antics. As the stories go on, they're usually followed with statements about how the band has calmed down in recent years — perhaps a maturing of sorts.
If you ask Jared Swilley about the band's antics, he almost laughs despite his just-woke-up groggy state (at 3 p.m.). "The thing is, all the crazy shit the journalists have written about and tag words people have put with us -- no one ever saw that happen," he says from his Atlanta home during a recent break from touring. "All the super crazy stuff I see written on the Internet -- we were teenagers and nobody came to those shows. There were maybe 20 people at those shows. No one actually saw that; it's just a convenient catchphrase for journalists to be shocking. It's not us trying to be shocking -- it's more of the journalists trying to be shocking."
Those stories haven't stopped a club owner or two from getting nervous before the band performs though; however, Swilley says most club owners calm down once the show gets started.
"It was an issue for a little while, but I mean little things happen," Swilley says. "We've never gone out of our way to hurt anyone or do anything that's downright malicious. I think other bands that seem tamer than us are worse at that. I just want people to jump around and have fun and be real wild. The only times we ever have problems with club owners is if they're, like, way too uptight or just don't get it. That's a bad clash. That makes it worse -- if they use excessive force on us or try to restrain everybody before they're even doing anything. It just blows up in their face."
Swilley was also recently involved in a bar fight with a member of the band Wavves that was blogged about ad nauseum on the Net. About that situation, he says, "It was over before it even started. It was a drunk bar fight that a lot of people blogged about. It was really stupid. A lot of people have been in drunk bar fights and that one got too much attention."
A year ago, after two band members started to kiss on stage in India, threats of them being arrested for "homosexual acts" were thrown around and the band wound up fleeing the country a few days ahead of schedule. The Black Lips flew to England and stayed at the home of King Khan & BBQ, where the two groups formed a new band, The Almighty Defenders.
Swilley says he's grown tired of talking about the India incident. "Aside from the last 48 hours we were there, it wasn't a totally negative experience," he says. "We probably lasted eight or nine days. There were supposed to be four more shows. We got to see India and hang out. I'm not totally bummed about it."
And the formation of the Defenders was definitely the positive result of the negative situation. They are scheduled to perform at Coachella this year and Swilley suggests that the band will probably do one tour a year with more one-off shows when schedules line up.
"King Khan & BBQ are touring all the time with their own thing so it's kind of tough for us to get together," he says. "Sometimes it all falls into place that we're all in the same place at once. It's funny how that happens."
For the self-proclaimed "flower punk" group from Atlanta, the focus is more on the music. The band's most recent release, 200 Million Thousand, ended up with more of a raw sound than its polished predecessor, Good Bad Not Evil.
"The reason the last one sounded so raw is that we built our own recording studio and recorded it ourselves," Swilley says. "That's why it came out sounding like that. This one, we did one session on our own, we did one session with the guys from Deerhunter. There's talk about going to some other studios we've used in the past. We don't calculate anything -- this is going to sound dirty or clean. It's just how it ends up sounding."
The band is spending its current break working on the next album, though they don't have a set timeline in place for its release.
"We've already put out five albums -- one or two albums a year," Swilley says. "I think we have a little bit more time on this one. We recorded a bunch of songs and we're just going to keep recording until we have exactly what we want. We're taking it easy on this one -- not taking it easy, but not rushing. We had a deadline on the last one 'cause we booked a tour before the album was done so we had to rush it. This one, we're going at our own pace. We've been recording in a lot of different places, too."
The Black Lips hope to release that next effort later this year, but with tours coming up in the U.S. and Europe, it's a matter of finding the time to finish it up. They also may try and book a tour in China -- "I've heard good reports from other bands that have been there," Swilley says, adding that it's just a way to vacation for free and see different parts of the world.
The band spent a few years practically homeless as they tried to make something of their musical aspirations. Instead of giving up, Swilley says the band considered any alternatives and music seemed like the best option. Now, they're enjoying the ride. "I think we were just stupidly optimistic," he says, "but it ended up panning out. I have no regrets at all. It's been a fucking blast."
The Black Lips will perform at the Neighborhood Theatre on March 17. Box Elders and Temperance League open. Tickets are $12.