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An interview with The Black Lips—America’s most dangerous country band

Find the Black Lips on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In April The Black Angels and Black Lips rolled through Saint Petersburg, Florida to play the State Theatre on their most recent tour of the US. The Black Lips, comprised of Jared Swilley (Bass Guitar/ Vocals), Cole Alexander (Guitar/Vocals), Oakley Munson (Drums/Vocals), Zumi Rosow (Saxophone/Percussion/Vocals) and Jeff Clark (Guitar/Vocals) put on an energetic and captivating show that had the whole crowd in a frenzy from start to finish. Playing a set that incorporated both new and old tunes, the Black Lips are musically all over the board. Like a gang, their chemistry propels their music and creates a live atmosphere that is uniquely theirs. Before the show I got to catch up with Cole and Oakley behind the State Theatre.

How has tour been so far? You normally do your tours alone, so how is it touring with the Black Angels? And how have you liked touring through Florida so far?

Oakley Munson: It’s been great. It’s really great to be with them in Florida too. There’s strength in numbers, so we’re teaming up. Florida is kind of a far out place so it’s cool to do the shows together. It’s a big show, with two bands co-headlining, it’s been a ton of people and a ton of fun. They’ve been really great to us too.

Cole Alexander: Yeah, it’s really nice to tour with The Black Angels because we’ve known them for so many years now.

Oakley: I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, really.

Cole: Yeah, we’ve been playing before them so it’s been nice warming them up a bit. Usually, it’s like you said, just us, but it’s cool to be co-headlining. We’ve been playing before them because they have a more recent album out and I think they’re probably a little bit bigger than us. It’s been nice just warming up, it kind of feels like a different job, you know?

Oakley: It’s easier. We don’t have to wake up as early. Normally we have to get in at 2 or 3 which is hard after a night of partying but we’ve been sleeping in ’til noon every day.

Yeah, it’s good to see you all in Florida…or as Homer Simpson calls it, “The Wang of the U.S”

Cole: Yeah, I heard that the other day. New Jersey is like the armpit and Florida is the wang, and Miami is like the tip.

Oakley: It’s a good place to be, on the wang. We like it here.

Cole: We love the tip. You were saying that Florida is the wang…we’re like a genital wart on Florida right now. Black Lips and Black Angels, like the herpes coming on your wang right now.

Have you all gotten to do any “Florida things” with your time here?

Cole: We went on a boat with my dad and that was cool. We went from Florida, and went to Cumberland Island which is off the coast of Georgia, saw a bunch of wild horses.

Oakley: We saw wild horses and dolphins jumping out of the water. It was my first time meeting Cole’s dad and my impression of him is he’s basically like a pirate. Well not anymore, he’s mellowed out now, but he was captaining this boat, this rickety boat. We were all the crew too, like grabbing ropes and tying knots.

Cole: That boat was barely running too but he got it going.

On tour, do you ever have anything you specifically do just to keep a good head or to try to stay healthy with being on the road so much?

Oakley: I like taking walks and seeing new places, and sometimes it’s easy to be “I’m tired”, but if you just walk around a strange city, even though most people wouldn’t walk because they don’t know where they’re going, but it’s exercise and travel. That’s the only thing I do health-related. Everything else is pretty much anti-health.

You guys have toured a lot and to a wide array of places, in this hectic political climate, have you all had any troubles going anywhere?

Oakley: Yeah, we couldn’t get into Istanbul on this last tour because of Trump. It was supposed to be the last show of the tour and we were so disappointed about that. It was because Trump expelled one of their diplomats.

Cole: It was reciprocated, tit for tat basically.

Oakley: They were essentially like “If you’re not letting Turks into the USA then we’re not letting US citizens into Turkey,” which makes sense to me. I don’t blame them.

So, if The Black Lips were president for a day, what would be your first decree?

Oakley: Free all non-violent offenders from prison.

Cole: Yeah, like all the people in jail just for marijuana and stuff like that. You ever actually gone to a rodeo in Angola? It’s a prison rodeo, and they let all the prisoners out for one day that have all been well behaved. But we might start doing some positive stuff in that world. Like Wayne Kramer from the MC5 has a thing where he gives guitars to people in prisons, like a music program, so we might try to correlate something soon. We have a sponsorship with Eastwood and maybe they can help out or give instruments to people in prison.

Where did the rodeo happen?

Oakley: Angola, Louisiana. It’s the biggest prison in the United States, and they let the prisoners that know how to ride horses participate in the rodeo. They are cowboys, they risk their lives, but they win a prize and the money goes to them and their families.

Cole: They also sell their arts and crafts there. Like leather goods and painted goods they make.

Oakley: Hopefully we’ll get to play a prison soon.

Are there any other places you all would like to tour to that you haven’t yet?

Oakley: Antarctica.

Cole: Yeah, Antarctica would be cool. I would like to go play in Cuba. That needs to happen but again Trump has been tightening that up too now.

Oakley: Oh, I’ve also always wanted to play in Alaska.

When you guys are on the road for a while, how is it on the writing process/recording process?

Oakley: It’s scattered, but we’re definitely working on it in a roundabout way. We bring a little recorder with us and record ideas on our phone. We also brought an acoustic guitar with us. We talk a lot about recording then we don’t do it.

Cole: Yeah, we brought an 8 track with us but have yet to use it, but I think we will probably get in the groove of that. We got another tour in Europe and we’ll finally get it off the ground. I got a little digital 8 track recorder, portable, real easy to bring around.

Do you have a preference for how you record?

Cole: Four track cassettes is one of my favorite ways to record. Oakley helped us record some stuff on our last album on this 4 track I brought and I kind of like the sound of that best personally. I kind of want to learn how to mix hi-fi and lo-fi, like the lo-fi to a cassette and hi-fi in a studio, I want to start on 4 track cassette and maybe load that into the studio.

Do you normally record reel to reel?

Cole: Yeah, a lot of times we’ll go to like a 2-inch reel to reel, or even pro-tools, at least these days we’ve done a little more of that.

Oakley: It’s honestly getting harder to tell the difference between the two.

Cole: Yeah because honestly 2-inch tape and digital, I have a hard time telling the difference sometimes, but I can tell the difference between a 4-track cassette and a digital set up. You can feel that difference, it’s like a tiny magnet and your crushing a lot of sound into that thing, it has a very clear, audible aesthetic.

Oakley: And RadioShack mics are really good too. Like the cheap 20-dollar mics.

Oh damn, I thought they went out of business.

Cole: As like a corporate franchise I think it’s done but there’s been a couple of stores left open, like personal franchises, like if you owned one and did well then you can keep it going, but I’ve seen a couple, there was one my friend saw at the truck stop the other day.

And how has the process of collaborating with different musicians outside the band been for recording?

Cole: We want to do it more then we have in the past.

Oakley: Yea, on this last record we collaborated with Saul from Fat White Family and Sean Lennon.

Cole: Yeah. Yoko Ono sang on our last record, that was cool. We’ve been talking to Kesha about maybe doing a song on our country record, because she has some ties to Nashville and maybe we could do something cool.

What was the catalyst for you all recording a country album, was it something you always had in the back of your head or just more spontaneous?

Cole: We’ve always had a little bit of twang to us, but we’ve never done a concept record so I don’t know how that idea came about, but it’s just been evolving and growing, this idea, more and more.

Oakley: I don’t know why we want to do it, but maybe it’s just something, it’s in the air, we got to do it. I guess also, what makes me want to do it, is how bad country music has gotten. I really don’t want to go about it in a purist way, I want to fuck around with country, you know? I’m not trying to be “we’re going to make a real country record.” I want to mess around with it because it’s not country music, you know, anyone can make a country record, even us.

What was some good advice you ever got along the way or anything you’d want to tell people who are trying to tour and be musicians?

Cole: I would say just don’t try to worry about success too much in the beginning, just try to have fun with it, only good stuff will come from that.

Oakley: (laughs) Don’t.

The Black Lips play the Rocks Off Concert Cruise on July 27th. Tickets and details here.

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