The Black Lips' Jared Swilley explains why there is violence in the world: "Young dudes that aren't getting sex very often like to smash shit."
The Black Lips (due Wednesday, April 2nd, at The Bluebird Theater) are the notorious rock and roll band from Atlanta, Georgia who had to flee India for fear of persecution over on stage antics involving band members kissing each other. Their show at the club Heaven in London in September 2008 ended in a riot. The band has generally courted mayhem, and they're in town this week in support of a new record: Underneath the Rainbow. Prior to the recording of that album, the group did a series of shows in the Middle East, which were filmed by Bill Cody, the director responsible for Athens, GA - Inside/Out, at the time of some of the most eruptive actions taken by opponents of the established government in Egypt. We had a chance to chat with bassist/vocalist Jared Swilley who offered us a more ground level perspective on what it's really like to play in the Middle East.
Mick Rock The Black Lips
Westword: You've had a desire to play places most bands wouldn't go. It also sounds like you had a good experience in the Middle East, and that it wasn't as crazy as some people here would assume. Specifically, that it's not all violence all the time or anything really like that.
Jared Swilley: No, it's not at all. And I don't see why, outside the cost of tickets, why other bands don't go there more. Everywhere you go is pretty normal. We've had good and bad experiences different places we've played, but Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria are totally viable places to play and there's no reason people shouldn't go there. Even two days before we went, if you looked on Al Jazeera, BBC or CNN, it was like they were storming the US embassy, setting it on fire and putting up an Al Qaeda flag. It wasn't that at all. No one reported on the fact that it was just young males and just wanted to break shit. They were football hooligans. That happens anywhere. Young dudes that aren't getting sex very often like to smash shit. Even if they are getting sex, they like smashing shit.
But that didn't fit the [official] narrative so they said that it was Islamic extremists. It wasn't. It was dudes that were bored and they wanted to break some shit and get some attention? What a better place to do that than at the US embassy. We were there two days later and it was fine. I was even hanging out with some of those guys and they were like, "We don't hate America. That's not even a thing. The news invents that stuff." I think a lot of the time it's Liberals that want this narrative. Conservatives too. Why would you make up a lie about groups of people doing stuff? I smashed mailboxes when I was eighteen. That's exactly what those kids were doing. I was doing it in the suburbs, they were doing it in central Cairo.
What is something you would say people should know about that part of the world on an everyday experience level that isn't necessarily tied to political turmoil?
One thing that stuck out to me, one of my best memories of that time, was when we got to Alexandria and by the seaside checking into a hotel, I was sitting alone and this elderly couple comes up to me. The woman has a burka on. They asked where I'm from. I told them I was from America. They said, "Oh!" Then they pulled out a pack of cigarettes and ordered tea for me. They said, "You know what? Why do we not like Americans? I like you." I told them I liked them too and we had a great conversation about how people are people and fuck our governments. That pretty much sums up my trip to the Middle East: People are rad and governments suck because we hate bureaucracies.
Demonizing people from other places, whether another country or another state or another town or another anything is pretty common.
In the 80s, when I was a kid growing up, most of my video games were anti-Russian video games. Even Red Dawn, I love John Milius. The guy that filmed our documentary was John Milius' writing partner for that movie. I was taught to be scared of and hate Russians when I was a kid. I still don't like Russians and the Chinese? Eh, on the fence about them. But people are people and governments are a whole other world.
Have you had a chance to play places like Russia, China or Africa?
Yeah, we've done all those. People have the same urges everywhere. People like fucking, people like drinking, people like dancing. It's the same everywhere. We were told that everyone in Japan just stands there and politely clap. When we went there everyone crowd surfed and moshed. But it's the same from France to Florida to Tokyo to Melbourne and Santiago, Chile--kids act the same. When I say "kids" I mean anyone that can walk.
Your shows also seem to be the sort of thing where you blur the line between performer and audience to create a kind of shared experience.
Oh yeah, we're part of the audience but we're the entertainers. We're not musicians, we're entertainers. People spent good money and worked for that money and if they go to a show -- we come from Atlanta, Georgia so before us there was Little Richard, James Brown, Otis Redding, The Mighty Hannibal, those guys put on a show -- we're there to put on a show. We want to give everyone they're dollar's worth or their peso's worth or Yen's worth or Euro's worth or whatever you call the currency. They're taking a night out of their life.
We played Atlanta recently on a Friday night and my sister and my parents and all the other guys' parents and brothers and sisters came out. They had to get babysitters. It's a big thing to come out for a night, especially if you have kids. So you're goddamned right we're going to give you your money's worth. You've got to. Otherwise just put on the record at home and listen to it.