Black Lips' "Cold Hands" | Song of the Week | Indy Week

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Black Lips' "Cold Hands"

Jared Swilley on racist literature and Kim Fowley's ego

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"Subconsciousness been splayed on cankered brains," shouts a swaggered Jared Swilley for the opening line of "Cold Hands," the second U.K. single off Good Bad, Not Evil, the fourth proper studio album from Atlanta, Ga., miscreants Black Lips. The track is Funhouse-cool, somehow finding the missing link between The Mummies and Ennio Morricone. It Frankensteins a fantastically psychedelic Wild West surf-punk burner, and Swilley sings his lackadaisical white-boy blues with conviction.

It's funny, then, that even he's not sure what he's saying. The song is about nothing. But Black Lips isn't a band rooted too far in Shakespearean thought: Elsewhere, you've got tracks like "Bad Kids"—a semi-autobiographical tale of popping pills and spray painting walls with penises—and "O Katrina," about that "ruthless old bag" that tore apart New Orleans. The four Georgians write crude masterpieces for themselves and like-minded troublemakers. That mischief has spread like a venereal disease in the last couple years, especially after the band traded up from garage-oriented In the Red Records to the better financed Vice Records—the a la mode monster that backs Bloc Party, Justice and Death from Above 1979—earlier this year. This is their second with Vice. Their first was a tequila-drenched live album recorded in Tijuana, paving the way for some mellowed musical shifts on Good Bad. Swilley swears it wasn't intentional, but he need not worry: It's good good, either way.

INDEPENDENT: Good Bad, Not Evil isn't as saturated in feedback and reverb as your past albums. It feels just as cohesive, but it also seems to make each song stand on its own a little bit more. They feel more confident. Was this something you were actively trying to do?

We weren't really trying to. We recorded it pretty much the same way as the last album, Let it Bloom. On pretty much on the same machines, too. I think the only reason this one wasn't all fucked up and crazy is because the guy that recorded the last one does all the In the Red bands. I think after we left they added more reverb and fucked-up-ness. We weren't really intending it. I didn't really think it sounded clean, either, but I guess that's the general consensus. Everyone says it does. We were just trying to record it pretty straight forward. We like analog, warm stuff.

While the imagery in "Cold Hands" is definitely strong, the lyrics seem a bit subtler than most Black Lips songs. What is it about?

Actually, it's about nothing. I didn't have lyrics for it, and it was time for me to do the vocals for that song. We had this semi-racist book called Might is Right. It was about Übermensch and stuff like that, so I was just flipping through that and picking phrases from it. It's pretty over-the-top, the way that book is written. I don't know why we had it, but it was somehow in the van. It had cool pictures and stuff.

Originally, I wanted to write it about Fred Cole from Dead Moon because that's one of my favorite bands, but I didn't really have anything to write it about. I had to throw everything down to that meaninglessness. I think it's supposed to be about failure, which is the opposite of anything I wanted to write about Fred Cole. He's one of my heroes.

Were the any direct musical influences on the song?

Not really. It was just a last minute song. We needed more songs for the studio, so it kind of just popped out. I guess it's kind of western and cowboy. Yeah, I like cowboys a lot.

What about the title?

I was just humming it, and that's the phrase that came to my head. I had to mumble lyrics when we were playing live because we played it at shows before I had words for it. It was just mumble, gobbledygook stuff.

Do you play a lot of songs before you really have the lyrics down?

Yeah because we don't practice. We play 300 shows a year, so that's how we practice ... in soundchecks and stuff like that. We don't see each other when we're home.

In the liner notes, you write, "We played this song while entertaining a prominent ‘European' music critic and upon completion he jumped out of his seat and screamed ‘Hit!'" What was the deal there?

That's not really true, but there's this Kim Fowley album from 1975 called Sunset Boulevard. It's entertaining, but it's horrible. He had so many absurd albums. In the liner notes for that one, he reviews every single one of his songs in a little blurb before them, so that's how we got the idea for that. One of them was like, "I was sitting in my posh Kensington flat when a prominent European music critic jumped up out of his chair and screamed, ‘Hit!'" It's all kind of like that. He's really pompous about all of his songs.

I wish we put more stuff in there like that. He calls himself an evil genius like six or seven times in there. One time he called a friend of mine—it was this chick, actually it was a friend of a friend—and the first thing he said was, "How would you like to have the golden cock of a genius in your mouth?" And that was his opening line.

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