The Black Lips are no strangers to travelling off the beaten touring circut. In recent years the adventure-seeking punk rockers have travelled to India, Israel and Palestine, running into their fair share of hassles and hang ups along the way.
Unfazed by red tape or conservative cultures that might not be very accommodating to their on stage antics, the band has decided to take to the region once again. On Sept. 14 they’ll kick off a Middle Eastern tour on which they’ll visit Jordan, Dubai, Lebanon, Cyprus, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq. Do they know what to expect? Of course not, but that’s why The Black Lips are drawn to undertaking such daring musical escapades to begin with.
Earlier this summer we caught up with bassist and lead singer Jared Swilley to talk about the band’s previous forays into the region, getting the cops called on them in India and what they’re expecting out of this fall’s tour.
Paste: You guys have been no strangers to touring off the beaten path. Why do you think more bands don’t try to tour in places like India or the Middle East?
Jared Swilley: I don’t know why. I guess some people don’t even think about doing that. I guess a decade or so ago it would have been harder to do it, but we’ve been in touch with so many fans…Indonesia is probably where we get the most e-mails and stuff from through Twitter and Facebook. We like to travel. I’m surprised more bands don’t do it because it’s pretty easy.
Paste: Yeah, I’d think most bands might think there would be too much red tape and that would be too much of a hassle, but I don’t know who wouldn’t want to travel to some of those places.
Swilley: Yeah and on this tour it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to travel. We’re going to have a few days in each city, so we’re going to get to see more stuff. When you’re on tour in Europe or North America, you’re in a new city every day and you don’t really see anything. We got the opportunity to do it. We’ve been wanting to do it for a while and things kind of fell into place. I’m not too surprised because we’ve been some other places before. I don’t know if we are the first American punk band to do it, a Middle Eastern tour, but if there are any others…I’ve been trying to find evidence of it happening before, but other than a few USO shows in Iraq or maybe something in Dubai, I haven’t really seen anything like that.
Paste: And you guys tried to make this happen last year but it didn’t work out?
Swilley: Yeah, last year it was looking real good. We went to the Syrian embassy in Washington D.C. and all the people that worked there were really cool. They were really excited about it happening and all came out to our shows and stuff, but then a few months later the Assad regime started really cracking down. We had to put it on hold. It was funny because when we were talking to the ladies at the embassy about it they were laughing about it. They were like, ‘Well, hopefully this will work but we don’t even know if we’ll have a job at this time next year.’ So we were kind of crossing our fingers.
Paste: When was the last time you were over in that area?
Swilley: I think it was in 2007 or 2008 when we were over in Israel and Palestine. We’ve been to Turkey a few times. Just in Istanbul, so that’s basically like being in Europe.
Did everything go smoothly in Israel and Palestine? What was the reaction over there?
Swilley: Everything, for the most part, went smoothly. We kind of had to lie. We didn’t end up getting work permits so we got detained for a few hours and we didn’t know if they were going to send us back. Eventually after they checked all my e-mails and stuff like that they let us in.
Our camera man got shot by the Israeli security forces with a rubber bullet. Nothing like that happened to any of us, though. Actually, Israel was amazing.
Why did he get shot?
Swilley: He was on the Palestinian side of the West Bank and he was filming a protest—every Friday they have a protest in this town. I guess they just started firing into the crowd. The guy that runs our label almost had his head taken off with a tear gas canister, but he ducked.
Were you guys laughing about this or was it pretty serious when it happened? Were you in fear of your safety?
Swilley: Well at first you can see it in the camera—you can see the camera drop. You can hear him going, ‘Oh my god! I’ve been shot!’ I guess he thought it was a real bullet but then some kid ran up and brought him the bullet that hit him. Later that night we were cracking up about it.
You guys did have an incident while touring in India the other year, though, right?
Swilley: Cole and Ian kissed each other on stage. I didn’t know how Indian culture was with stuff like that, and we were at a university and we were kind of doing our own thing. It was just a rock show. Our handlers told us, this was like five or six shows into the tour, that if you’re not having fun just do what you do. They knew all about what we do on stage. So we did that, and it wasn’t them that freaked out. We didn’t know there was some Indian company that was sponsoring the show and they freaked out and called the police and we had to cancel the rest of the dates.
How was India aside from that?
Swilley: Oh, it was amazing. It was so cool to get to go there. We travel so much that it’s fun to get culture shock every once in a while and really feel like you’re out of your element.
Is there anywhere in particular on the upcoming tour that you’re especially excited to visit?
Swilley: I’m excited for the whole thing, but I guess I’m pretty excited for Beirut because that’s the city I know the most about. The band we’re touring with is from there and we have almost a week there. I’ve heard that it’s just a really cool city and that we’re going to get to see a lot of ruins. We’ll be in the locals so we’ll probably get to eat some amazing food and go to some awesome beaches.
I’m really looking forward to going to Iraq, not because I’m nervous, but that seems like it’s going to be a lot of adventure. We’re going to ride horses and stuff.
Yeah, of all the places I think Iraq would be the one I’d be most apprehensive about…
Swilley: Well we’re going to the Kurdish region in the north and the war never came there. It’s pretty peaceful. They were as pro-American as you can get. They were the ones that wanted Sadaam out the most. And I know some people who have gone to those cities. I think just saying that you’re going to Iraq is the scariest thing. I’m fairly confident and we’re with good people who have been there a lot.
So are you guys going to be going out of your way to be respectful of all the different cultures and customs, or you just kind of going to get up on stage and do your normal thing, regardless of what the consequences might be?
Swilley: We’re going to do our normal thing as far as playing our hearts out and putting on a good show, but we know that Cairo isn’t New Orleans or London so, you know, we’re going to have to respect a lot of the local customs a lot more and be on our behavior a little more than we would be normally. We’re one of the first Western bands to go over there. Whatever they tell me not to do, I’m probably just going to listen to that.
Do you almost expect there to be some type of incident when you go on a tour like this? Is that something that you go in expecting to have to deal with?
Swilley: I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. I’m hoping at the most we might have some bureaucratic headaches with visas and stuff. I don’t know. I don’t know if my parents know I’m going yet, so when they find out they’ll probably grill me pretty hard about not doing anything fucked up.
Are you guys writing any more songs? Do you have plans for another album in the works?
Swilley: Yeah, yeah, we’ve already done a couple of demo sessions when we were in L.A. for Coachella. So we’ve got probably an album’s worth of songs, but we usually keep recording until we’ve got an album’s worth of really good songs. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to record some when we’re in Lebanon. We might do a Middle East EP or something like that.