The Black Lips are legendary — for their travels. Channeling garage rock of the ’60s along with some straight psychedelia and ’70s street punk, the Lips famously played at West Bank in Israel back in August ’07 and more recently did a six-city tour in India this past January. According to the Guardian, guitarist Cole Alexander stripped naked onstage during their show in Chennai and proceeded to leap into the audience. Following the very rock ‘n roll incident, the boys had to flee the country without making a single rupee. (It’s a good thing Indian society isn’t too keen on letting lady-folk into shows, or they would have REALLY been in trouble.)
It kind of makes you wonder: are the Black Lips a politically defiant touring band? Or do the boys just want to have fun? So we headed over to the Vice offices in Williamsburg for a sit down with Alexander in order to find out.
Flavorwire: So, have you guys been out on the road for a while?
Cole Alexander: We’ve been on tour since January 14th. But really since the year 2000.
FW: And before the US you were in India.
CA: Yeah, we were in India from January 14 through the 26, then we were in Berlin till February 3rd or 4th. Then we took our horseless carriage around Europe for a while, went home for a couple of days, and now we’re here.
FW: You were supposed to be in India a little while longer, right?
CA: Well yeah, our trip got cut short due to cultural backwardness, I guess. And not to be insulting to them but they just weren’t too down with us. Actually, you know what, fuck that, they were down with us and all the kids really liked it. But the company that was sponsoring the tour (and we didn’t even know there was a company sponsoring it) didn’t like it. So they pulled all the funding, and that made the tour managers sour, they asked us for a bunch of money. We tried to work something out, an agreement, but they stole our passports. When you steal someone’s passport, then they basically lose their status as a human being. So we decided not to even think about covering their losses. So, we just got bummed out, took a flight to Berlin, and had a lot of fun there.
In India, we were trying to forge a new path, open up some corridors within world for rock n’ roll, but they’re definitely not ready for it.
FW: Well, it’s funny you say that because it has been said that “music is the world’s universal language.” Your time in India would very much negate that.
CA: Well, it’s more like the business of it. The kids actually really liked it. We got a lot of positive feedback emails with kids saying stuff like, “I had no idea you could do that, thank you.” So, if we reached a couple of kids, then our job is done. Culturally, I really respect a lot of things about India; it’s really beautiful, the aesthetics are amazing, and although I’m very anti-religion, their religious icons are just gorgeous. The food was pretty good… uh… it’s just certain things like… they’re so sexually repressed over there. It’s infuriating! The class system is completely medieval… it’s extremely racist and those are the ugly things about India. I mean, I love America, but there are some ugly things about it that I don’t like here either, just like in India. There are things I love and things I hate.
FW: Did you ever study any Indian folklore? Naked gods, goddesses, hermaphrodites, etc.?
CA: I have a book on it in the van. I skipped ahead past all that stuff and was just reading about the Raj. That’s why I thought they’d be little more open to us, the folklore being sexually liberated. I mean Karma Sutra is from there. But seriously: all of our concerts were male only and if there were any girls they were in the back. Men walk ahead of women, you can’t hold hands in public and you can’t kiss in public. And I know somebody there is fucking because there are like 1.3 billion people. So, [society] needs to grow up and stop acting like children.
FW: You also played at the West Bank. Do you harbor any political views of your own? Would you consider it part of the mission of the Black Lips to break societal boundaries?
CA: There aren’t any politics involved. Everybody has something they’re supposed to do in life and I think ours is just to bring good times to people and let people have a really good night and just to be happy. We’re not trying to be defiant or in-your-face and crazy. This is just the way we live, we live free. We do what we think is right. There are lot of things I don’t agree with. I remember being a kid and being told some rules that just didn’t make sense to me at all. So, I decided not to follow them. I was always getting in trouble in school. I was never disruptive or mean or get in fights. But I got kicked out of school for dumb things. I got in trouble for reading I don’t understand why you’d get in trouble for reading in school but… I got in trouble for smoking… not walking in the halls with cigarettes, but you know… So, it’s not about being defiant, it’s just about doing whatever you want and not following any fucking rules that don’t make sense.
FW: I know what you mean. I actually used to read under my desk during math class and get in big trouble for it.
CA: I used to get my books taken away! I went to a really bad public school where there was no learning going on. It’s daycare for teenagers and they’re just trying to keep you busy. Our teachers were underpaid and unhappy individuals. I was so happy when I got kicked out of school. I mean, it’s for some people but I definitely wasn’t cut out for that. I see kids around that I went to high school with and they did the whole college thing and they’re fat now… they have fat wives… they have ugly kids… they’re unhappy… paying off years and years of college loans. They have the worst jobs, really mundane lives, and I’m so happy that never happened to me. I want to personally thank all of my teachers for making me so disillusioned with the educational system. They made me work harder at what I wanted to do, and then I eventually became successful. The only help my teachers gave me was with negative reinforcement.
FW: I think a lot of bands could tell the same story. But not every band would travel to less desirable countries and perform for a straight-laced society. Have the recent months deterred you from traveling to a country like India in the future?
CA: No, not at all. Even in the end, as frustrated and scared as I was leaving India, it only made me want to go to more places. We have active plans and an open invitation to China right now. We really want to go to Uganda. We want to go to Japan, but that’s an obvious one. We’ve actually gotten a lot of emails from Indonesia. There are a bunch of bands in Jakarta that keep emailing us. We don’t really have time to do that right now, but it’s something I would like to pursue in the future. But yeah, China’s definitely in the works right now. I think that will be better because there’s no real state religion. They’re politically conservative, but we’re not a political band. I don’t give two shits about Tibet…that’s their problem. I just want to go to China and have a good time. Not that I have anything against Tibetans. I have no involvement with that. Like Bjork’s stupid ass “Free Tibet.” Like, she doesn’t know anything about what’s going on there. Neither do half the Hollywood actors who keep bitching about it. That’s such a hipster left-wing pseudo-liberal cause. Were they bitching about the Rwandan genocide or all the fucked up shit that happened in Burundi, or what’s going on in Zimbabwe now? Why is that the cause they’re choosing? People are dying everywhere. It’s like… Angelina Jolie cannot save the world. She needs to shut the fuck up and go get some Botox. I dunno. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I’m just not into all that stuff.