The wild and unpredictable characters who make up Atlanta four-piece the Black Lips have often claimed the band’s recordings and live shows are an attempt to uncover the roots of punk rock. “Nothing’s more punk than gospel music,” assures bassist Jared Swilley. “The screams they conjure up, you can’t beat that passion. Not when you’re singing about eternal life and damnation.”
Learning about Swilley’s past helps put that musical genealogy into context. He comes from a long line of preachers and entertainers. His love for music came from hearing his grandmother play the church organ and his father sing at church.
Swilley grew up with Black Lips cofounder and guitarist Cole Alexander, and both found themselves kicked out of high school in the wake of the Columbine shootings. “Shit got real after that in Atlantic public schools. They put up security cameras and had cops on campus. They had a zero-tolerance policy. Cole was kicked out for tardies, I was kicked out for skipping and smoking... School was so bad, we wanted the band to do well out of spite.”
And what did his churchgoing family think of these rebellions? “I was never rebellious toward my parents,” he says. “They thought it was dumb, but they were always supportive of me.” Swilley returned the support to his father when he came out as gay, not only to his family but also to his congregation. Swilley couldn’t be happier for his father, who remarried just a few weeks ago.
When the Black Lips hit the scene about a decade ago, that same subversive attitude gained them many fans. Seven albums later and days away from recording demos for an eighth, the guys have maintained the favor of critics and attracted superstar producers like Mark Ronson and the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney.
And they’re inspired by the screams of those church singers and the energy of old-time greats like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. Swilley swears Berry heckled Alexander and him for dancing up-front at his show with, “Hey, frat boys, where are the frat girls at?” Whenever those legends passed through Georgia, the Black Lips watched and learned how to give it their all when taking the stage. Provocative performances are their forte. The last time they played South Florida was in 2013, during Art Basel Miami Beach. The crowd was jumping into the hotel pool when Alexander peppered it with projectile vomit.
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Swilley insists the vomit is no GG Allin stage gimmick. “Cole has a gag reflex. He’s on medication. It used to be worse. It’s terrible for his vocals and teeth. He tries to control it. I guess it worked as a stage thing, but it’s not a put-on like people think.”
The band is excited that these Florida shows are its first American dates of the year and is happy to be making a family affair out of it. At the Culture Room show Friday, not only will Alexander’s dad be in attendance but opener Black Linen includes Swilley’s brother among its members. The four are equally excited about creating new material. “We never think about what we’re doing. Everyone writes a bunch of songs, and we never veer too far away from our sound.” And so they continue the quest toward the roots of punk while invoking the holy spirit of rock ’n’ roll.
The Black Lips, with Black Linen and Plastic Pinks. 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 20, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $18 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit cultureroom.net.