The Atlanta-based garage band Black Lips stirs up controversy both on stage and online. They’ve urinated, vomited, and made out with each other at gigs. Founding members Jared Swilley and Cole Alexander were kicked out of high school, and the band has been held by police following indecent exposure charges at a gig in Chennai, Ind., resulting in the cancellation of a 2009 tour.
None of these incidents have deterred them from causing a stir on the Internet, either. By now most nationally recognized bands hire teams to run their social media accounts, yet the Black Lips’ Twitter feed is refreshingly unfiltered.
Late last year, the band was caught up in a Twitter spat involving musicians Ariel Pink, Grimes, and Madonna, after Grimes accused Ariel Pink of being a misogynist for essentially saying that the music she’s produced since her debut self-titled album sucks. (Perhaps unwise, considering Ariel was asked to contribute toward her new comeback album.) Black Lips chimed in, expressing their disbelief that Ariel is a misogynist, much to the annoyance of Grimes’ abundance of feminist fans.The microphone swinging approach is a dense, raw strategy, and so I asked bassist-singer Jared Swilley and guitarist Jack Hines 15 questions about their social media hustle.
Do you think that your behavior at gigs and carefree attitude translates into the way your social media accounts are run?
Jared: Well I guess, kinda, sometimes we’ve gotten a little bit of heat for stuff we reply. We don’t try to, we don’t go out of our way. I don’t actually like offensive things. Sometimes I’ll get drunk and write something on Twitter and regret it the next day.
Who actually posts the tweets?
Jared: Me and Cole. If it’s spelled really crazy and there’s no punctuation then it’s Cole, but if everything’s spelled correctly and using the right grammar, then it’s me.
Do you ever worry about how getting involved in arguments like the Grimes-Ariel Pink feud will affect opportunities to collaborate with other artists or people’s willingness to work with you?
Jared: It wasn’t so much of a feud. It never went back and forth. We just said that because I thought it was kinda dumb. All he said was he likes her first album but he doesn’t like her other stuff. There are tons of bands that I don’t like their first album. I agree with Cole (who posted the tweet). We’ve never really had any real bad fights with other musicians, or at least not in a really long time. We played a cruise ship with Grimes once. We went on this cruise around the Caribbean and she was on it, but I never saw her because I was usually hanging out by the pool or gambling.
Jack: If we wanted to collaborate with somebody we probably wouldn’t be picking on them in that way.
What’s the most outrageous or sexually explicit tweet you’ve ever been sent?
Was it as weird as the time Boy George said he’d sleep with all of you (in a series of tweets to the band after discussing his desire to work on a song with them—not a conventional means of persuasion)?
Jared: That was just really flattering. It made me feel really good about myself, I was really confident for the next couple of days.
Would you though?
Jared: No, no, I’m not really gay.
You’re fairly open about your political views—on Twitter, in particular. You’ve expressed how you support the Kurds and voiced your opinion on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and voting legislations. You also tweeted, “Hey Saddam, how does it feel to be dead you fucking piece of shit?” Was that just for your own entertainment?
Jared: We have Kurdish friends, and we’ve played in Kurdistan before. I think it was just Cole being mildly political. I also asked dinosaurs how they feel to be dead and called them “idiot assholes.” It was one of the dumbest things I could think of. The Saddam thing was just for a laugh.
Other than for the pleasure of viewing your online antics, if you had to tell someone why they should follow you on Twitter, what reasons would you suggest?
Jared: Sometimes we have strokes of genius from time to time. We’re not super active on it. I don’t even look at the main thing [homepage] anymore, because Cole started following 4 or 5 thousand people, just random things. At first I had news stuff or comedians I liked, and now it’s just too smart, so I don’t even look at it, really.
You say you’re not very active on Twitter—what about about other social media platforms? Jared, I know you have Instagram. What about you Jack?
Jack: No, I’m actually way out of my depth. I don’t use social media at all so I’m going to take off. See you later, I’ll find Cole.
Alright, see ya.
Jared: I do a bit of Instagram. Me and Cole have Instagram accounts, not like personal ones, but it’s a lot of band stuff because we’re on tour all the time. I tried Snapchat for a day, I didn’t really get it. I wasn’t into it. I was told that teens use Snapchat to send nudes.Did you hear the news about the Snapchat photo leaks via third-party app?
Jared: I kinda heard about that, yeah. I’m 30, so I didn’t start using social media until real late.
Which do you think social media has personally furthered more—your opportunities with the band or hooking up with fans?
Jared: It helps a lot with the band. Twitter helps with the band, like with the Boy George thing, that was over Twitter. He just tweeted us and asked if we wanted to do a song with him. So a lot of random things like that, and you can talk to people and have weird interactions. I guess Facebook helps a bunch. Sometimes, I haven’t done it in a long time, we post songs and videos we like, so that’s kinda cool, we have a little interesting fan interaction. But we’re not like experts. There are some other artists, they’re always on social media. I don’t know how they juggle their time with that. I like to read books more.
I see that sometimes you find time to respond to people who send hate messages, but is that more for your enjoyment and to get retweets than because you’re actually annoyed with them?
Jared: No, If someone talks shit about us, I don’t care. That’s a bad look, arguing with fans. We actually had the most advanced form of social media, and we’re going to bring it back next tour. We had a Black Lips hotline, because this phone company gave us this free phone with a plan on it. We put it on our Facebook and Twitter and gave the number out. When we were driving in the van we were just taking calls all day and passed the rest to our friends. Fans could just speak to us whenever.Was it just Americans ringing you or fans from all over the world?
Jared: From all over. We even had a guy from Iraq call. He was a soldier. He said he listened to one of our songs, “Veni Vidi Vici,” before he goes to battle, which is weird because it’s a real chill song and it doesn’t really sound like a battle song.
When will the hotline be coming back, then? This year?
Jared: Yeah. We just dicked around for too long and didn’t get one for this last tour, but next tour we’re definitely going to do it. It was like two years ago when we last did it, but it was fun. It was just for boredom.
Which company supplied the phone?
Jared: It was Boost Mobile. I don’t know if they’re still around. They gave us a free phone because they were trying to market toward urban youth and hip-hop culture and try to make it the cool phone kids use, but I don’t know if it really took off. People called from Europe and Australia, all over.
Final question, would you say you’re reliant on social media, or could you easily live without it?
Jared: We’re not reliant on it at all. We’re not really a social media band.
Photo by Daigo Oliva/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)