where the Black Lips have set up a portable analog studio to record
their sixth album, 200 Million Thousand, looks and feels
exactly like the record sounds—sloppy, spacious and hot. Empty beer
cans and pizza boxes are piled in the building’s sun-drenched
foyer, where lead singer Cole Alexander is laying down vocals for
“Let it Grow,” the closest thing on the new record to the band’s
self-described flower-punk roots.
200 Million Thousand settle in to watch the Black Lips work. “I mean, we’ve had other
records, and they’re all great, but that last one kind of put us on
And all over the map, too. In 2006, the
Lips signed to Vice Records and then toured three continents to
support their 2007 breakout album Good Bad Not Evil and the live Los
Valientes del Mundo Nuevo. Their shows became legendary (largely
based on dares, stomach incontinence and tomfoolery), many ending
with the band being kicked out of whatever club was hosting them.
To the Black Lips, quality control means making sure the songs sound
trashy enough to match their aesthetic—think Nuggets-era Texas
psychedelia with a Wu-Tang twist. Engineer Mike Wright ducks in to
ask if Alexander needs some water. “No,” he says. “I need
The album is shaping up to be an
era-defying mix of garage-punk sing-alongs and sock-hop bouncers.
Early mixes sound great on playback, but the only real way to test
them is to play them live.
The Black Lips book an off night at
Atlanta indie-rock haven The Earl, billing themselves as The
Renegades—a name they haven’t used since they first started
playing together as young teens.
Their first set includes the original
Renegades lineup playing songs they haven’t played together in 10
years. Drummer Joe Bradley seizes the opportunity to chide the
loyalists in the audience who have been with the band almost as long.
“Last time we played these songs, you were all a bunch of cowards,”
he says. “Not much has changed.”
record, the Black Lips' songs will become more polished and their
live show more tame. From sitting in on the sessions, I can vouch
that this hasn’t happened. The other fear—attendant to any Black
Lips show—is that the band will do something so outrageous the
whole place will be engulfed in flames.
The show’s second set is all Black
Lips material. The band members return to the stage with black
circles drawn around their mouths to illustrate the point. As they
launch into “Take My Heart,” Alexander hocks a loogie in the air
and catches it in his mouth, without missing a chord on the guitar
he's furiously strumming.
A girl standing next to me politely
asks if I’d like to throw her beer at the band. I oblige, smiling
as the cup leaves my hand.