Black Lips: "We Love Our Job"

Feature by Jason Morton | 09 Mar 2009
  • Black Lips

…And if you spent January evading authorities in India before jetting off to Berlin before a UK tour, you would too. Jason Morton talks shops with Ian Saint Pé

Talking to Ian Saint Pé of Black Lips is like catching up with a mate about what happened at the weekend: “Whisky got the best of us. We decided to have a good time,” he says. But his tale gets more interesting by the second. “I still don’t know if they were mad about Cole pulling down his pants… they can’t like that. But the fact that Cole and I made out is, like, jail time.”

Saint Pé is referencing the Atlanta quartet’s recent sojourn to India, a trip cut short by a raucous gig where their stage antics didn’t go down well with the locals. His tone is still playful as he recounts a tense situation. “We went in the back room and got word that the sponsor had pulled all the money out, the promoters were pissed, and that the cops were being called. So we high-tailed it, seven hours to get out of the state of Tamil so we couldn’t get arrested.”

So much for a ho-hum tale of a weekend drunk. The Lips, a southern-fried rock band revisiting garage and doo-wop sounds of yore, have long been known for a wild live show, begging the question ‘Why India?’ — a country where public displays of affection, let alone partial nudity, can be taboo. To answer this, the group’s guitarist says he sees the band as a mode of transportation. “Being in a band, going to the club and meeting the kids afterwards, and they take you to that local bar, maybe take you to their house, maybe have sex — you see it for real. We made it part of our mission to go where bands haven’t gone.”

And Black Lips have made good on that threat/promise, so far visiting India, Brazil, Israel and Palestine, but they’re still looking for more. “Where else do we wanna go? We wanna do China next. After China, we’ll see.” But couldn’t a trip to the People’s Republic end in carnage a la India? Well, despite the sordid circumstances, Saint Pé doesn’t chalk the visit up as a loss: “You don’t just go to India. We made it a mission to try, and it worked… we do hope that more Western bands can come through to India, keep it going.”

After it “worked”, the band sought refuge with old friend King Khan in Berlin, recording an album of gospel music in the process. The project’s been dubbed The Almighty Defenders, and — though they’re currently without a label — the group hopes to have it out this year. Somewhere between Black Lips’ exploits and side-projects, they’ve also managed to work in a new LP — 200 Million Thousand — for release this month.

Mining elements such as garage, southern rock and punk, the record still takes its chances. For example, late album track The Drop I Hold finds the Black Lips trying on hip-hop for size. “The foundation’s actually an old country song that we just looped, and Cole kinda scats over it," explains Ian. "We’ve had some people say that song sounds like Wu-Tang… GZA, from Wu-Tang, is going to be on the remix. It’s going to be great.”

Aside from coordinating a session with the renowned lyricist, the band plan to spend the foreseeable future gigging, where Saint Pé feels they’ve found their niche, even if they’re not quite flawless. “Nowadays, you close your eyes, and you’re hearing a goddamn CD. It’s miserable. We’re not perfect: We eat, we shit, we throw up — life’s not perfect. I don’t want to hear note-for-note professionalism …I think we’re a real band.”

200 Million Thousand is released on 16 Mar via Vice Records.