The Black Lips returned this week with their sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain, and for the first time, found themselves paired up with a producer: retro-funk expert Mark Ronson. While one might not expect the hit-record mentality of someone like Ronson pairing nicely with the raucous, Nuggets-inspired sounds of a band like Black Lips, the result is a surprisingly diverse collection of (more) throwback rock that find the band, of all things, polished. Hive recently spoke with Black Lips singer/guitarist Cole Alexander as he was visiting some thrift stores with his girlfriend.
Judging by the record, it sounds like Ronson really got you guys. How familiar was he with your work and vice versa going in?
I think he heard Good Bad Not Evil this year, and he liked it a lot. We knew his work with Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We were just actually happy that he wanted to come on board with us because we’d never used a producer before, so to start out with a Grammy-award winning producer was an honor for us.
One of the more interesting aspects of Arabia is the use of the saxophone, particularly on “Family Tree.” And it sounds like “Yakety Sax,” strangely enough.
I was inspired by this Bolivian folk song on an old 78 shellac record that [Atlanta reissue label] Dust-to-Digital put out on this record of all string music. So, it was this indigenous Indian instrument that was inspired by Spanish classical instruments like guitars and mandolins and stuff, and it had this kind of ethnic vibe. We had this guy Ira [Raibon] come in to play horns. He used to kick it with Earth, Wind & Fire and shit. He was, like, in their clique or whatever.
One of the new tunes is called “Spidey Curse,” which has to be one of the most earnest Black Lips songs to date. Are you a fan of Spider-Man?
I was as a child, and I wish I actually could’ve conveyed this better, but the song is only three minutes; it’s actually about a sex education class we had when we were nine years old. They gave us a comic book by Stan Lee about sex education, and it talks about Peter Parker as a child getting molested. It’s kind of a coming-of-age story. It was a sad day for us. I had friends in class who got molested. It made me realize the world is kind of sick. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll hear that line, “It’s your body / no one’s body but yours anyway,” and that’s from a song they used to sing to us in sex education that I incorporated. But yeah, I just bought the comic off of eBay for two bucks. It’s interesting because it was a government-issued comic that wasn’t sold in stores to the public. A lot of people don’t know that about Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
That’s a really dark thing to have a superhero conveying to children.
Yeah. And Bono and his little Spider-Man play, maybe if he dove a little deeper, he could’ve found some of the psychological mess that haunts Peter Parker to this day. That could’ve made his play a lot better. That’s pretty much what they did with the last two Batman movies; they brought a neurotic thriller aspect to it and they’ve had a lot of success. That was our way of reintroducing that element of Spider-Man to people.
Another odd reference point comes with the song “Noc-A-Homa,” an ode to a controversial former Atlanta Braves mascot. Doesn’t seem like typical Black Lips fodder, either.
Well, it’s an interesting story that needs to be told. A lot of people didn’t find him very politically correct, but a lot of those people weren’t Native American and Chief Noc-A-Homa was. It was just interesting to us how he came, he got popular, but apparently he was kind of tipsy a lot of the time, so he wasn’t that popular with the administration and they ended up getting rid of him. But we had a soft spot for him. That was the end of an era for baseball. Players were fat and they spit and they got into brawls and they drank beer. There was a drunk mascot in a teepee that stunk like piss. It’s a tribute to that era.
Have the Black Lips peaked?
I don’t think it could ever be U2, but it could get bigger. I don’t think we’re really on the same page as the world right now, so I can only see getting so big but I wonder how big that is. My objective is to get our music to a mainstream-enough level to where small children could hear our music, because that’s how I got turned onto Nirvana — watching MTV, coincidentally enough, when I was nine. My goal is not to play for snooty, educated hipsters who like niche music. That’s cool and all, but I want to play this music for everyone — parents, children. That’s why I like doing major network television, major radio. I’m not into keeping it underground at all.
Arabia Mountain is out now on Vice Records.