Black Lips aim to entertain with on-stage antics

Black Lips talk punk hippies, entertainment, and white kids with machine guns.

By Bradford Rogers

Black Lips first got their start in Georgia in 1999, the same year half the band’s current lineup got kicked out of high school for being a “subculture danger.” Guitarists Ian St. Pé and Cole Alexander, bassist Jared Swilley, and drummer Joe Bradley have carved a niche for themselves as raucous and crude garage rockers. With influences ranging from Peruvian punk band Los Saicos to the Viennese hardcore punk activist GG Allin, Black Lips craft a sound reminiscent of early Hives and ’60’s beach rock.

Black Lips take the guitar-smashing traditions of rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend to a whole new level with their infamous live performances. Their wild stage antics have included everything from vomiting and urinating to necking band mates, racing Radio Control (RC) cars, and setting their guitars on fire.

Recently, the band has talked about dialing down the craziness of their shows as their career matures, but Black Lips are entertainers first and last. The Maroon talked with Ian St. Pé, lead guitarist of the shocking rock ’n’ roll outfit, about punk hippies, entertainment, and white kids with machine guns.

Chicago Maroon: The band is self-described as “flower punk.” Where did that term come from?

Ian St. Pé: Yeah, we were talking about that the other day. Flower punk is being too hippie to be punk and way too punk to be hippie. We’re here, motherfucker, but we’re also pretty good.

CM: Your first album produced by someone outside the band, Arabia Mountain, is set to drop in June. What was it like working with producer Mark Ronson?

ISP: Yeah, June 7. Yeah, it was cool. He didn’t really change anything, it was just nice to have a fresh ear from the outside listening in. He just kinda made the drums sound bigger and some other parts more tight. But it’s still a Black Lips record.

CM: What sort of new sound is explored on the album?

ISP: It just sounds big. You’ll be able to put that shit on in the club. I think people will be quite happy. Mark’s a real good guy and it would be cool to work with someone like him in the future.

CM: Band members have recently said you might be dialing back your onstage antics a bit. What can fans expect on this spring’s tour?

ISP: Nothing but entertainment. We do like to push the envelope, if you want to call it that. You’re going to get whatever we go with that night. I always say musicians are the ones who will help you pick out strings at a guitar store, entertainers are the ones you go see live. That’s what we are: Entertainers.

CM: You’ve toured all over the world. How has touring changed since you first hit the road?

ISP: Well, we have a little bit of respect now. We don’t have to sleep on floors. But we’ve always toured lots of places. We always try to travel the world and see lots of things. We’ve always set up wild tours. Like, we’re going on a Middle East tour in September which should be quite exciting. In the past we’ve done Israel, Palestine, Russia, Brazil, Japan. We like to just get up there and get something, but the only difference is, yeah, we’ve got a little more respect.

CM: What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever played?

ISP: Russia was pretty wild. Instead of big black bouncers at the front of the stage were young white kids with machine guns. That was pretty wild…What else? Playing in Israel…Brazil was awesome. Everywhere’s cool. Just everywhere, being able to play music. You wake up every morning happy.

CM: Any last words?

ISP: We like to have fun, so come party with us. We love Chicago, so definitely come say hi.