photography / MONET LUCKI
story / ALY VANDER HAYDEN
Discovering that you are not as reverent, composed, or polished as the slightly debased gentlemen who make up Southern garage punk band The Black Lips can be a little shocking
“You know what boat stands for?” 29 year-old singer and bassist Jared Swilley asks as he treads water with a wrench in his hand. “Bring Out Another Thousand.”
The Loch Fyne has made it across Jamaica Bay with a busted rudder and five people over its recommended capacity. After all of the beer, tequila, and Percocet, I would say we have done pretty well for ourselves so far. 30 year-old vocalist and guitarist Cole Alexander and 28 year-old drummer and singer Joe Bradley are just becoming human following a two hour nap in the hull, while 35 year-old lead guitarist Ian St. Pe catches me up on their current tour as he moves his gold VICE ring up and down his finger.
“That was in our contract when we signed with VICE records,” St. Pe says. “Only the big executives and owners get these rings, but we said we would only sign if we got them too.”
Being the quintessential VICE band, the boys did not make it back to the Tribeca Grand until 7:00 AM after playing a 4KNOTS party the previous night. Aside from typical hungover irritability, Bradley has gracefully bowed out of taking any more photographs with the band, and he drawls about the current fucked up state of the nation.
From the dock we can still hear live music coming from the restaurant’s patio where we had dinner, and St. Pe instantly recognizes the artist of the hit: Matchbox 20 à la acoustic guitar. It doesn’t stand up to the Ramones playlist we were listening to on board, but it is a fitting soundtrack to the melodrama of Swilley trying to force the rudder out of reverse.
When Koko told me I would be spending an afternoon watching The Black Lips wake board behind their friend’s boat, a faint taste of Bacardi and MAC Cyber lipstick resurfaced. Hopefully they wouldn’t remember me from Webster Hall last Halloween weekend picking up my roommate after she tripped over Bradley’s drum set, or that I somehow ended up backstage with my zombie face melting and their stolen beer in my arms.
Over a year since landing the cover of SPIN’s “Success Issue” and the release of their sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain, the Atlanta-based “road warriors” have hardly had the chance to settle down. But just because they are constantly on tour doesn’t mean their performances have become a processed package of sideshow antics.
“Crowds, you know, they can smell bullshit,” St. Pe says, removing his shades. It is the first time any of us have seen his eyes today. “We’re a good and honest band and we do what we love. That’s why our fans like us.”
Revered and criticized for their onstage fondness of urination, vomit, and indecent exposure (apologies to the family on the passing sail boat), the boys vow to be more than a bunch of monkeys throwing shit, or in this case, guitars, at each other.
“People [who think the only thing we do is party all of the time] can rest on their laurels,” Swilley says, water dripping from his American Apparel swim trunks.
“We open doors for girls, and people always think we’re crazy,” St. Pe adds. “But we’re really nice people. We’re very sweet. We talk a good game.”
Hailing from the conservative suburb of Dunwoody, Georgia, where the generation before Swilley’s did not even drink in front of each other, the topics of sex and pornography are not easily delved into.
“Sex is a weird thing in the South. It’s something that’s not talked about that much. It’s very traditional,” Swilley explains.
Still, it was surprising to find that when it came time for Swilley and St. Pe to lose their virginities, neither of their experiences involved BDSM or cobra blood.
“My [first time] was with my first girlfriend,” Swilley says. “I was 14, and we were under the guise of ‘studying.’ We were upstairs and her mom came in after we had done it and my shirt was off. She was like, ‘Excuse me what are you guys doing?’ I was just like, ‘Thank God she didn’t come in 10 minutes ago.’”
“I was 15. I asked if I could stick it in,” St. Pe tells. “She finally said yes. It was to Nirvana’s Nevermind. She had on green Docs—I didn’t take those off. They looked good, legs spread open with them on,” St. Pe laughs. “It was the first time you know. It was a learning experience.”
We can only hope that their first full Middle East tour can go as smoothly. The boys left on September 17 hitting Cyprus and continuing on to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Lebanon.
“We’re following the exact journey that Alexander the Great did through the Middle East. I’m not saying we’re conquerors, but…” Swilley shrugs.
“We’re on a mission,” St. Pe explains.
Though Syria had to politely decline the Black Lips’ invitation of spreading their message of acceptance and eternal love, Swilley is determined to make the stop.
“I have a huge wager with someone involved in the government over there on when Assad’s gonna fall,” Swilley laughs. “I have 50 bucks on two weeks, so let’s hope it falls because I need 50 bucks.”
After police chased them out of India in 2009 over some cultural misunderstandings during a performance in Chennai, you would think they would want to keep their escapades Stateside.
“That’s what our music’s all about though, bringing people together,” St. Pe declares.
“I think this Middle Eastern tour is going to be the muse for the next album,” Swilley adds. “It will spark a lot of inspiration. Hey, did you ever hear you can’t start a fire without a spark?”
The Loch Fyne finally coughs up water, and Swilley receives a weary round of applause. The rest of the editors finish up left over drinks they swiped from tables in the restaurant while Alexander and Bradley peel themselves off the floor of the dock.
“You should have asked me about my best sexual experience,” St. Pe says. “Though you need to get more liquor in me before that happens.”
As we head home, I decide to leave it at that. Some things really are better left off as fantasy.