Atlanta’s Black Lips are undeniably one of the most exciting live garage rock acts of the last decade. Their raucous performances have earned them a rep that walks the line between infamy and awe, and brought them a dedicated fan base that is only growing in the new decade.
To start the 2020s off, the band recently put out its ninth album, Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart, on Jan 24. It marks a new era for the group, and so I recently reached out to bassist and vocalist Jared Swilley ahead of the upcoming Cambridge show. We covered everything from his leaning toward country with the new release, to being prolific out of necessity, to his family’s run as a gospel group back in the day and the dangers of country music.
There’s definitely more of a country vibe in Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart. What made you want to go in this direction?
It’s the music that we grew up on. We’ve always been a little bit country because that’s how we learned how to play guitar through relatives and people we knew growing up. It’s the music of our region. We never really had an aim to make a certain kind of album or have a plan, because we never have a plan, but we figured to kind of have a theme. It’s not pure country by any means, but it’s our interpretation of it.
It’s not typical honky-tonk stuff, but it definitely has a noticeable influence on the record. Who came up with the idea to have an old-school, tacky portrait of the band on the cover?
That was me. My family made a lot of gospel records from the ’60s up until the early ’80s; they were known as the Swilley Family and they were a gospel group. I always thought they were cool, but they had these campy album covers while having a good design layout. I actually got the idea for the title, Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart, from a record called The Swilley Family Sings. … There’s a lot of them that started like that.
Where did you get the outfits to wear for the photo? Was it all stuff you had laying around or is it all from going to a thrift store?
It wasn’t my stuff. We were in Barcelona and they had a bunch of clothes, but I kind of liked it because I had this idea to do it after I saw Dolly Parton in Berlin. There were all these Germans and they kind of looked like cowboys with this western wear. It was a little bit off because of this European twinge on it. I wanted to look like Europeans who were kind of into the idea of country music but didn’t really know how to get it.
The album is also the band’s first release with the British indie label Fire Records in a partnership with Vice, who’s the main label. How did this partnership come about? Is it just for distribution in the United Kingdom or is it something else?
Vice for many years has been our home label, and they’ve really done a lot for us, but I think we’re the last release from their label. They’re getting away from the music thing, so this partnership is putting us into the next chapter.
Black Lips have nine full-length albums, including the most recent one. You’ve done this all in a 17-year span, which is a lot for a band these days. What do you think inspires the band to have such a prolific output?
Because you have to, it’s really a necessity to live. It’s what I love to do and I gotta put food on the table.
If I didn’t have this outlet—I’m too old to go to the military now, and I don’t want to go jail, so this is it.
As a songwriter, do you find yourself getting ideas either from reading the papers or walking down the street, or is it more personal?
My songs mostly come out of experience or someone’s experience that’s close to me. A lot of my songs are stories or they bear some weight that comes from my life. I’m not that creative of a person, so I have to take it from real life, and I know a lot of weird characters from living all over the world and being around a bunch of them. I have a big pool of inspiration to take from.
With the new album having more of a country vibe, does it change the band’s live performances at all? Will it be a little more toned down this time around or will there still be that energy that Black Lips are known for?
We still have that energy. I still want to ballroom brawl every time we play. I don’t mind having as many space invasions; I think country music is the last rebellious style that has a shitkickin’ vibe. A lot of bands are kind of weak now, and country can still become a dangerous thing. The most dangerous music you’ll hear on the radio is hip-hop, but country can be that. I could never do hip-hop, but country still has this outlaw element to it that can still stay classy.