It’s lunchtime in Atlanta and Jared Swilley is finally home—but not really, because he’s preparing to head back to the airport right after he hangs up. Also, what even is home when you’re in a band that tours all the time?
“Touring runs in the family: Every male in my family is a preacher, and they go hard,” Swilley says. “For me it’s the same kind of thing, except I’m not preaching the gospel. But yeah, I get real antsy when I’m not on the road for, like, two weeks. I don’t like sitting still very often.”
Swilley, who plays bass for the Black Lips, is fresh off the plane from a trip to the Baltics. It was partly business (he says it was “way cheaper” overseas to take care of the busted front tooth that popped out after a heated argument), partly just for fun. He’s on zero hours of sleep, but he’s as animated as ever. Swilley tells me he’s back in town just to pick up a few belongings, check in with the neighborhood (specifically in regard to a “grizzled old redneck” neighbor who’s getting on his nerves) and to say hello to the houseguests he’s had the past few months.
“My house has basically been a hotel for Europeans all summer,” Swilley explains. “I don’t really have a home so much anymore. I mean, I technically do—because I’m at my house right now—but I’ve always been a nomad. And it always seems to work out.”
For the Black Lips, the nomadic way of life has been front and center for the better part of their two decades as a band. Swiley, along with vocalist and guitarist Alexander Cole, formed the group in the late ’90s from fire and brimstone in the heart of the Bible Belt (that is to say, formed out of a whirlwind of teenage debauchery and angst in the middle of a hot and sticky Georgia summer), and they’ve never looked back.
The Black Lips’ current lineup includes Oakley Munson on drums, Jeff Clarke on vocals and guitar, and Zumi Rosow as saxophonist and sometime vocalist. Rosow, a model and jewelry designer, is also the band (and Gucci’s) unofficial muse. (Back in February, the Zumi bag debuted in the fashion house’s fall 2019 ready-to-wear collection.
The Black Lips’ sound might be described as avant garde fashion meets rock & roll. Musically, the band has had a longstanding romance with quintessential sounds of the South—think gospel, blues and soul—but also draws inspiration from the glitz and glam (or lack thereof) of punk.
The result is a lo-fi, rollicking, jangly amalgamation that’s as raw as it is enduring. Influences from the 13th Floor Elevators to Bo Diddley coalesce with the anti-establishment attitude of the Ramones to form something all its own—and damn catchy to boot.
If you’re still wondering what that means, just listen to “Bad Kids,” arguably the Black Lips’ biggest commercial hit and most accurate self-descriptor. The sing-song hook laments, “Bad kids, ain’t-no-college-grad kids/Livin’ life out on the skids/Kids like you and me,” and every word rings truer than the last: Swilley is a high school dropout, the band was homeless for a period of time and their bad behavior and onstage antics defined much of the early part of their career.
“The thing about us is that everything you see is what we are. This is the lifestyle we chose,” Swilley explains. “We’re honest, and what you see is what you get. We just try to live our best life.”
These days the band is a bit more mature, both on and off the stage. After 20 years, they’ve also spread all over the globe, from Los Angeles to Canada and even Germany on and off. While Swilley’s technically the only one left with his Southern roots intact, the Black Lips’ sound has stayed true to its foundations across the span of eight full-length albums—each with more soul, scuzz and power than the last. Though they haven’t had a full-length release since 2017’s Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, Swilley says that two albums are on the way—one of which is the Black Lips’ rumored country album.
“The whole record’s done! In fact, right before you called I just approved the final artwork, and I think it’s out in the first week in January,” Swilley says, clearly excited. “And then we have a whole other record already done. So we’re kind of like in a really good creative spot right now.”
Their upcoming country album, The Black Lips Sing and the Whole World’s Falling Apart, is country on The Black Lips’ terms, as one would expect.
“It’s our version of country,” Swilley explains. “It’s like, weird country, you know? And I think it’s great. I’m really happy with it. I think this one’s really going to knock everyone’s socks off.”
The Black Lips
Oct 10, 8pm, $20+
The Ritz, San Jose