The Growlers’ Snow Ball III (Night Two) at the Wiltern

The Growlers bring their signature Beach Goth style to Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre for two nights of Christmas-themed theatrics!

It’s the second week of January. Christmas is over, and you’ve got the credit card bill and weight gain to prove it. The excitement of New Year’s Eve has disappeared, replaced with morning-after regrets and the realization that you’re making the same bad decisions that you were in 2018. All you’ve got to look forward to now is the upcoming semester of school and, if you’re me, your impending return to Canada. The going is getting tough.

Allow me to transport you back to a more magical time. A time full of whimsy, mischief, and light debauchery. It’s December 22nd. Christmas is approaching, you’re finished with school and work, and your best friend Mariah has just arrived in San Diego despite almost having her entire vacation cancelled the day it was supposed to begin. You drive to Los Angeles for what will become one of the most special concerts of your life: it’s night two of The Growlers’ Snow Ball, the self-proclaimed “beach goth” band’s third annual holiday extravaganza at the Wiltern Theatre.

Havin’ a ball at Snow Ball III.

The Growlers are big in the Southern California surf/garage/psych rock scene, and for good reason. Formed in 2006, the band has developed a unique sound that’s immediately recognizable as distinctively their own. Despite numerous changes to their lineup, frequent label switches, and explorations of new musical styles, one constant that underpins The Growlers’ music is vocalist Brooks Nielsen’s signature raspy vocals. When they’re not making music, The Growlers also host their annual Beach Goth festival (now put on independently by the band after legal issues with the Observatory in 2016) and frequently tour the globe. During their live shows, the band is known for their wild costumes and elaborate stage designs. Even knowing this, I still wasn’t prepared for what I’d see at Snow Ball.

Leading up to the show…

Despite not being die-hard Growlers fans, Mariah and I planned to make the trip to LA for the second night of Snow Ball. When tickets went on sale, we were aghast at the roughly $60 price tag. “Who do they think they are, Beyonce?” “No openers? How egotistical!” Surprisingly (to us), the Saturday show sold out and people were reselling tickets for upwards of $100 each. Despite this, we set off for Los Angeles on December 22nd with the hope that we’d end up at the show that night. After dealing with numerous people from Craigslist who we believe were scammers, we finally secured tickets from two people we found on The Growlers’ subreddit (pro tip for finding legit resale tickets!). An hour before doors were set to open, we found ourselves in a line that extended down Wilshire Boulevard and wrapped around the corner.

The big reveal

Have you ever actually stopped in your tracks? I used to think that was just a phrase used in novels for hyperbolic effect: “She stepped through the doorway and stopped in her tracks.” However, upon having my ticket successfully scanned to enter the Wiltern, I stepped through the doorway and stopped in my tracks. I had not anticipated the level of production The Growlers had curated for this show.

Red and white striped candy canes lined either side of the path into the main lobby. Upon closer inspection, these “candy canes” were actually joints, or “doobies” as Mariah called them. She is actually a middle aged dad. “Snow Ball” was spelled out in glittery letters suspended from the ceiling. To our right was a spot to take photos with Biker Santa, straight ahead was a spot to take photos with the Grinch. Christmas carolers covering The Growlers’ songs greeted you as you descended the stairs to the lower level of the venue. Balloons, signature holiday-themed drinks, inflatable snowmen – there was so much going on we surely didn’t see it all. Decorations aside, the Wiltern is a beautiful and historic venue worthy of commendation on its own. Mariah and I immediately realized why ticket prices were so high for the Snow Ball shows and felt bad for being so ruthlessly critical of The Growlers in the weeks leading up to the show.

“Candy canes”

The DJs that kept us occupied before the main event were spinning straight bangers for an hour and a half – fun old tunes, Motown, The Smiths, nothing pretentious. Just after 8:30, they made an abrupt exit as the lights dimmed. Christmas music began playing, and a feeling of excitement and suspense was palpable throughout the sold-out crowd. As the curtains were whisked open, shrieks and gasps could be heard throughout the venue.

The stage was unveiled, revealing a life-size recreation of the hotel and vacancy sign from the Problems III music video, now dubbed the Snow Ball III Hotel. Set against a mountainous backdrop, the color of the lights illuminating the set would change throughout the night to fit the mood of each song. The musicians were wearing white pants, bow ties, and red, fur-trimmed coats. However, this wasn’t quite The Growlers yet – after dealing with some lineup changes in 2016, the “official” members (as far as I know) are only Brooks Nielsen on vocals, Matt Taylor on lead guitar, and Kyle Straka on keyboards and guitar. We’d have to wait a little longer for the full band.

Rooms 4 rent by the hour.

The never-ending setlist

The night started off with a rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, complete with a horn section and a cameo appearance by the Grinch himself. The aforementioned carolers then took the stage for a few songs, closing with “We Wish You a Merry Growlers Christmas”. Finally, we were asked to welcome to the stage “what’s left of The Growlers” as Nielsen, Taylor, and Straka joined the rest of the band (lineup changes, am I right?). They opened with “Night Ride” from 2016’s City Club amid deafening cheers.

Standout songs from the night’s setlist were plentiful and included: “One Million Lovers” and “Pet Shop Eyes” from 2013’s Hung at Heart, which everyone sang along to. “Black Memories” and “Love Test”, both from 2014’s Chinese Fountain. A cover of The Shirelles’ “Mama Said”, the perfect song for my preferred style of dancing. The 2017 single “Monotonía”, which I’d only been introduced to a few weeks before. “Navaeh”, heartfelt and acoustic, from last July’s Casual Acquaintances. The songs were really just a vehicle for Brooks’ top-notch dancing, which Mariah and I spent the night mimicking. I’m happy to say I’ve added some new moves to my arsenal (left hand over stomach, right hand in the air as if holding a microphone, rocking side to side).

The only two songs they didn’t play that I would have liked to hear were “The Daisy Chain” and “World Unglued” from City Club. Other than that, I heard every Growlers song I’ve ever wanted to hear. In one show. Talk about bang for your buck. I’m surprised I didn’t burst into spontaneous tears when “Someday” started and I finally heard my favorite Growlers song live. I’m more surprised I didn’t cry during “Lonely This Christmas”, as Brooks serenaded each and every one of us while fake snow cascaded over him.

The only snow I ever want to see is fake snow floating down onto Brooks Nielsen’s head.

Like I said, The Growlers were never my favorite band. I like their music a lot, but there was just something about them that prevented me from entering obsession territory. Since Snow Ball, everything has changed. Mariah and I listened to their cover of “Lonely This Christmas” on repeat (literally, we put it on repeat) for seven days.  I’ve begun my descent into watching every video related to the band on YouTube. If your Tinder anthem is a Growlers song, I’m swiping right. The obsession grows each day. There is only The Growlers.

The Growlers closed out Snow Ball III with “Going Gets Tough” from Chinese Fountain. It’s a song of hope and happier days to come, and also a song that gave me momentary comfort during the hellish two hours on December 20th wherein I thought Mariah’s vacation to San Diego was cancelled and I was going to be Lonely This Christmas. It was a beautiful and pure send off after a dreamlike, awe-inspiring night. Post-Growlers, the opening notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (naturally) rang out. Mariah (not Carey) and I grabbed each other’s hands, I kicked off my shoes for some reason, and a holiday dance party and sing-a-long ensued.

All in all, The Growlers played for about two and a half hours with no breaks. The costumes, the stage design, and the decorations throughout the Wiltern were completely over the top (in the best way) and exceeded any expectations I had had for the show. Whatever your opinion of their music is, you have to respect the level of effort, planning, and heart that The Growlers put into these Snow Ball shows. And while I’m sure the band does get enjoyment out of playing them, I like to believe shows like Snow Ball exist as a way to give back to their fans at the end of the year. So thank you to The Growlers for giving me what ended up being one of my favorite memories of 2018.

Andrea Renney loves crying to The Growlers, writing for KCR, and crying about not writing for KCR anymore. She wishes everyone at San Diego State a beautiful spring semester.

Written by: Andrea Renney
Pictures by: Andrea Renney
--From all of us at KCR, we'll miss you Andrea!

Top Music Picks of 2018 (That I Actually Listened To)

2018 was a year of new music from established favorites, debut full-lengths from up-and-coming artists, and singles in advance of forthcoming releases

As 2018 comes to a close, so too does my time at KCR, at San Diego State, and in San Diego in general. Between bouts of crying and while avoiding thinking about returning to Canada (the land of arctic boredom and a much more affordable healthcare system), I’ve spent some time reflecting on the new music released in 2018 that has soundtracked my California existence.

Southern California is a melting pot for the surf, garage, and punk genres, music that’s perfect for cruising down the freeway in the sunshine to (check out the undercard for this year’s Tropicalia Festival lineup and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about). As such, the majority of the new music I’ve been listening to and seeing live this year has come from bands based in California. However, the Golden State is almost always a stop for touring bands, so I’ve also had the chance to hear new stuff from those that hail from outside our perfect West Coast bubble.

So as a final parting gift to the loyal readers of my KCR blog posts (read: people on my Facebook friends list), I present to you: California Andrayah’s* favorite music released in 2018. As a fun bonus, I’ve included the most fitting freeways and neighborhoods to serve as a backdrop for your listening, based on my personal experiences. Let’s be real: you need a car to get around in San Diego, and since you can’t pick up AM 1610 all over the county, you’re going to need to play your own music if you can’t listen to San Diego’s Best AM/FM Radio Station according to The San Diego Union-Tribune 2018 Reader’s Poll. I’m talking about KCR here. It’s us. We’re the best.

*as an (un)interesting aside, every person I’ve met in California has pronounced my name like An-DRAY-ah. Technically, I am actually AN-dree-ah. I might stick with my new moniker, though, in an effort to try to convince myself I’m still in San Diego, going to Better Buzz four times a week and drinking alone at the Ugly Dog Bar when they’ve got a sour on special for $3 Tuesdays.

Records:

hoodratscumbags – Beach Goons

hoodratscumbags

Logan Heights’ Beach Goons released hoodratscumbags this August, and my introduction to the band was through this record on the day it came out. If you were lucky enough to catch them at The Live Wire, KCR’s new flagship concert series, back in September, you know that Beach Goons offers SoCal surf/garage rock with a Cumbia twist. hoodratscumbags marks the first release for Beach Goons in a couple years and the new record was highly anticipated by their fans. Founding member Pablo Cervantez sought to recognize Beach Goons’ Chicano/Mexican heritage with their new music, and songs like “Chunti” and “A.M.” really emphasize this influence.

Top picks: Vatos Tristes, Hrsb

Best use: Is it lame to listen to Beach Goons while driving down Logan Avenue? Maybe, but I’ve done it. Otherwise, hoodratscumbags is a good choice for driving around Ocean Beach. Consider playing it as you roll up to the Robb Field Skate Park so the skaters know you’re down with the local music scene. I recently bought my first skateboard, and this is a fact that I like to make known as much as possible.

My Own Mess – Skegss

My Own Mess

Australian garage/surf trio Skegss released their debut full-length back in September before embarking on a tour of their homeland with Chicago’s Twin Peaks. Maybe it’s Australia’s similar climate and its cultural emphasis on surfing, but My Own Mess fits right in with our SoCal music scene. It’s chock-full of slacker anthems about partying, watching TV, and fucking up. My favorite track on the record, “Margarita”, is one of those rare songs that I heard and instantly fell in love with, immediately qualifying it for Banger Status. If you’re a fan of bands like The Frights, SWMRS, or FIDLAR, you’ll probably be stoked on Skegss.

Top picks: Margarita, My Mind

Best use: Skegss is the band you want to start your day with. Not if your day consists of school or work, but when your day will be spent doing something fun, like laying on the beach or skateboarding. I have a skateboard now, so I can relate to this. My Own Mess is reserved for the 8 West (never the 8 East – this ain’t for driving home at the end of your fun day) on your way to the beach, or maybe the 5/805 North, if you’re bougie and heading to a beach in La Jolla.

I Don’t Run – Hinds

I Don't Run

This April, Hinds released I Don’t Run as a follow up to their debut record, 2016’s Leave Me Alone. Their sophomore effort is similar to Leave Me Alone musically, but it’s not a carbon copy. The all-girl garage rock group from Madrid, Spain digs a little deeper on I Don’t Run, and lyrically the songs get personal and serious at times. That’s not to say the music is slow and sad – the record still largely consists of the irresistibly fun and catchy songs Hinds is well known for.

Top picks: Tester, Rookie

Best use: Take a girls-only day trip to Los Angeles and put on I Don’t Run as you roll down Melrose Avenue scoping out your next Instagram photo op. Otherwise, a fun and semi-manipulative idea is to play “Tester” when driving with a guy who you suspect could be cheating on you, particularly for the lyric “Should I have known before you were also banging her?” I’m not actually speaking from experience here (give me a little credit), but I could see myself doing this. Or at least considering it.

Onion – Shannon and the Clams

Onion

I think Shannon and the Clams is one of the most underrated bands of our time. They blend doo-wop, surf, and garage rock into a unique sound that’s perfectly nostalgic, a sound that’s not often heard these days. I’m usually more of a music person than a lyrics person, but the lyrics on Onion‘s tracks stand out with their raw emotion and poignant themes. Set to the Clams’ signature retro instrumentals, the result is foot-tapping, danceable songs that are painfully beautiful underneath.

If I had to pick one record from this list to recommend to someone who hadn’t heard any of them, in the hopes that they would discover a new band to obsess over, it would be Onion. Send tweet.

Top picks: If You Could Know, The Boy

Best use: I like to listen to Shannon and the Clams during the rare times when I’m in 5:30 PM traffic, because I can be safely reckless and dance along to it while driving. A favorite spot is getting off the 163 and onto the 8, near Fashion Valley. It takes fifteen minutes to move half a mile – you can dance through the first five songs on the record while you wait.

The Dream and the Deception – The Aquadolls

The Dream and the Deception

Like Shannon and the Clams, I think The Aquadolls don’t get nearly the amount of recognition they deserve. The tracklist for The Dream and the Deception features nineteen songs that span the emotional spectrum, from sad to silly to pissed off. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Melissa Brooks’ commitment to The Aquadolls is admirable – she self-released this record online in October and has plans to press it in on vinyl via her own label in the new year.

Top picks: Cigboi, Communicationissexy/Idkhow2communicate

Best use: My top picks above are fitting for driving home on the 94 East on a moody, rainy Friday night. You’ve left-swiped through everyone on Tinder and you’re feeling hopeless and lonely. “Why am I so alone?” you cry, as you ignore everyone and make no effort to meet people. Switch over to something more upbeat and positive, like “I’m a Star”, to remind yourself that you are, in fact, a star.

3 – Sextile

3

Good god, do I love Sextile. I love getting into music that’s a lot different than the usual things I listen to (see every other record on this list), and Sextile stands in stark contrast to the reverb-heavy surf rock that’s so popular in Southern California.  The Los Angeles based duo is not like anything I’ve ever heard – all the headbang-inducing and moshpit-inciting energy of punk with the added twist of a new wave dance beat. If you’ve ever wanted to go to a club and dance all night amid cool visuals, but you’re a bit too punk rock for something like that, check out Sextile.

Top picks: Spun, Paradox

Best use: Don’t listen to this in your car. See them live! Dance around in the strobe lights! Inhale the smoke machine smoke! Get slammed into and have your front row spot taken by a psycho ex! It’s all part of the experience.

Hypochondriac – The Frights

Hypochondriac

The Frights put out their third record, Hypochondriac, on Epitaph Records after signing with the punk label earlier this year. It’s quite a departure from 2016’s You Are Going To Hate This, and an even farther trip from 2013’s The Frights. Many of the songs are a lot softer and sadder, with the exception of the pop-punk/emo track “CRUTCH”. The new sound is good in its own right, but if you’re looking for the same surf-inspired tunes that put The Frights on the map, you’re going to need to look elsewhere.

Top picks: Alone, Whatever

Best use: The Frights will always remind me of driving on the 8 East and taking the College Avenue exit to get back to State (shoutout to “Cold” from The Frights for being my spring 2018 anthem). Otherwise, the driving vibe can vary: sometimes I’m shouting along angrily to “Over It” as I drive to the Taco Bell at University/College, sometimes I’m crying to “Goodbyes” on the 5. It’s a spectrum.

Singles:

“Drip” – The Marías and Triathalon

Drip

A definite outlier on this list, but if Statistics 101 taught me anything, it’s that…outliers exist? They validate your data? I don’t know. Anyway, this is a cool song. The Marías call themselves a “psychedelic soul” band, and Triathalon makes lo-fi R&B. The union of the two results in a multi-layered song that coalesces flawlessly – The Marías come in first with their signature funky-yet-smooth sound, Triathalon enters with a slowed-down, dreamy verse, and they link up in the outro. It is, in a word, a vibe.

Best use: This one’s a bit tricky. It’s definitely a nighttime song, but it’s not a party song. Play this at the end of the night, when you’re winding down and driving home after drinks at Sycamore Den in Normal Heights. The freeway is nearly empty and you can really feel the groove.

“Are You High?” – FIDLAR

Are You High?

Where can I download this damn song, FIDLAR? One of four tracks released by the band in 2018 (together with “Alcohol”, “Too Real”, and “Can’t You See”, from their upcoming third record Almost Free), it seems “Are You High?” was only released along with a music video on YouTube. It’s a shame, as this song is catchy as hell. It’s FIDLAR through and through, with strong guitars and lyrics referencing struggles with addiction. Guess you’ll just have to catch it at one of their live shows.

Best use: I’ve only ever listened to this on my Macbook while sitting in bed. So that, I guess.

“Glo Ride” – Hot Flash Heat Wave

Glo Ride

When I asked Nathan Blum and Ted Davis of Hot Flash Heat Wave (flex) if “Glo Ride” was indicative of what was to come for the band, Davis confirmed that their next record would be full of “headier, but still pop-oriented songs” like it. That appears to be the case, as they’ve since released two more songs that are in the same vein as this one. HFHW definitely seems to be heading in a more psychedelic direction, and “Glo Ride” is leading the way.

Actually, now that I’m listening to it again, this song is more similar to “Drip” than it is to the other music featured in this list. I’m not sure how this data affects the validity of my claims here. Oh well. Who really needs statistics? Just kidding. Stay in school, Aztecs.

Best use: I don’t really want to say this is a good makeout song, but… this is a good makeout song. Find a spot to park, and I’ll leave it at that.

Check out this Spotify playlist for all of the songs mentioned here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

Black Lips at Marty’s on Newport

Black Lips @ Marty's on Newport

Black Lips return to their wild roots with a rowdy, intimate bar show, showcasing new country-inspired songs and old favorites.

Atlanta’s “flower punk” rockers Black Lips are currently on the road on a co-headlining tour with Danish punk band Iceage, supported by Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort. The tour kicked off on November 5th in Vancouver, British Columbia and continued down the west coast, including five California dates. As is apparently customary for me (I did the same thing in 2015), I chose to see my favorite band twice: first in Tustin, then in San Diego. While the San Diego show was sufficiently fun and memorable, the show in Tustin felt like the kind of special night that I might not get to experience again anytime soon.

When Black Lips announced this fall tour in June, I researched the venues for other Southern California dates to decide if the House of Blues in San Diego on November 13th would suffice as the lone date I’d attend. Marty’s on Newport in Tustin, California on November 11th stood out to me. I’d never heard of the place, and my only connection to Tustin was stopping at a Denny’s there on the way to Los Angeles in February. Some Google searches quickly revealed to me that Marty’s has a capacity of 150, and is basically just a bar that somehow manages to book pretty well-known touring bands. I bought my ticket the minute they went on sale.

Fast forward to November and I was curious about what this show at Marty’s would actually be like. Upon arriving to the venue just after 8:00, I realized that Marty’s is, in fact, just a bar. It’s located in an old strip mall next to a nail salon and an Indian grocery store. Parking is scarce, and various Yelp reviews warn that parking in the other businesses’ spots will result in a tow and a $375 charge. Yikes. Once inside, however, Marty’s felt intimate and homey. The u-shaped bar takes up a decent amount of the already-small space, and there are four or five booths along the back wall. It reminded me of the single bar in my small, northern British Columbia hometown, where classic rock cover bands rule the stage and you know 75% of the people on the dance floor. Throughout the night, members of all three bands on the night’s bill could be observed wading through the slowly-growing crowd. I pulled up a stool at the bar and kept a careful watch on “my” (mentally reserved for me, by me) front-row-center spot in front of the stage, which stood at knee-level for me and shin level for taller folks. There were no barricades or security in sight – be still, my heart.

Just before 9:00 I took my spot against the stage, and Surfbort began shortly after. Lead vocalist Dani Miller’s sequined hot pants and suit jacket covered in pornographic images were immediately eye-catching, and the photographers descended upon the front row (no photo pit here, either) to get their shots. Surfbort’s music is loud and effervescent, pure punk fun complemented by Miller’s dancing and gesticulations. The band recently released their debut full-length record, Friendship Music, and we were treated to a lot of their new songs during the half-hour set.

After a short break (quick turnaround between bands, a major benefit of a small venue), Iceage began their set. I think the sound was a little off, as Elias Ronnenfelt’s vocals were sometimes difficult to make out. Regardless, the music sounded great, with Iceage’s vaguely post-punk sound getting the crowd moving. The area directly in front of Ronnenfelt was somewhat of a danger zone, as the lead vocalist slipped a few times and nearly fell into the crowd. There was also a close call with his mic and my face towards the end of their set, but thankfully I was uninjured and Ronnenfelt made sure of this before continuing. All in all, Iceage provided an exciting experience to go along with their music. What’s a punk show without a little danger?

Around 11:15, Black Lips took the stage amid cheers from the tightly packed crowd. Vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley addressed us with his usual greeting, “We’re the Black Lips from Atlanta, Georgia. Thank y’all for coming out!”, as the first notes of “Can’t Hold On” (from 2017’s Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?) rang out. The moshpit opened up behind me soon after and it remained there for the rest of the night. I’d spend the next hour getting jostled around by the 21+ crowd that could still bring the rowdiness I usually only see at all-ages shows.

“O Katrina”, “Dirty Hands”, “Family Tree”, and “Stranger”, all staples at a Black Lips show, were met with the expected enthusiasm and singing along. Songs from their upcoming country record, including “Delia”, “Georgia”, and “Gentleman”, were well-received and gave some indication of the new sound Black Lips is exploring. In the end, songs from seven of the band’s eight full-length records were played, leaving out any selections from 2009’s 200 Million Thousand. It’s not their most well-known or commercially successful record, but I’d love to see “Drugs” make its way onto their setlist again. Also curiously missing from the night’s setlist was “Sea of Blasphemy” from 2005’s Let It Bloom, which the band often opens with. However, I suppose as more songs get added to the rotation, some unfortunately have to be retired.

Throughout the night, the band seemed to be in very good spirits, and I had a feeling this was the closest I would ever get to the wild, messy, sloppy Black Lips shows of yesteryear that I’ve only read about. Mic stands fell, caught by the hands of fans and the feet of the band. Necks of guitars swung out dangerously close to faces in the front row. Beers on stage were spilled, beers in the crowd were thrown. I was propelled forward onto the stage countless times, landing in a push-up position with my knees slamming into the sharp edge of the stage. Over a week later and I still have the bruises.

At the conclusion of any show, literally the only thing in the world I ever want is water. The leftover, unopened bottles of water that littered the stage called out to me as beacons of hope. Perhaps my adoring gaze was obvious, because as Black Lips’ tour manager Matt Williams cleared the stage of bottles and cans before the encore, he handed a full bottle of water right to me. I’ve never felt more VIP (and hydrated) in my life. I then reached over and took a setlist, because I’m a selfish person. You have to go after what you want, you see.

As I enjoyed my free water and ignored the throbbing in my heavily bruised knees, Black Lips returned to the stage for a couple more songs. As the crowd shouted out their requests, I was in the perfect position to make mine to Jared. “Wild Man!” I called out, referring to the 1967 single by the Tamrons – it’s one of my favorite songs that the band plays live. “Yeah, we’re going to play that one!” he replied, to which I visibly swooned (hand against chest, eyes up towards the sky). Be still, my heart. After “Wild Man”, which was as fun as I’d remembered, the band launched into “Bow Down and Die”, a song they’d recorded and released as The Almighty Defenders, a garage rock/gospel supergroup with King Khan and Mark Sultan of The King Khan & BBQ Show. And with that, they were gone, likely off to Los Angeles to prepare for their show at the Regent Theater the following night.

I’m usually happy with the size of venues that Black Lips plays, and their shows are always a great time. However, I don’t know that a band that’s reached the level of success and notoriety that Black Lips has will play many more 150-capacity bars. For this reason, their show at Marty’s on Newport will forever hold a special place in the already-large part of my heart reserved for Black Lips.

Black Lips Setlist Etc.

KCR recently spoke to vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley in advance of this tour. Check out that interview here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

Interview with Black Lips’ Jared Swilley

Black Lips’ Jared Swilley discusses covering the Beatles, the importance of music videos and radio for connecting with fans, and the band’s upcoming venture into country music.

Atlanta‘s Black Lips have proven to be a resilient force in the tumultuous and challenging world that is today’s music industry. Despite numerous changes to their lineup, the band is known for seemingly endless tours which established their reputation for rowdy live shows (including a 2012 tour of the Middle East). Meanwhile, production on their own records with assistance from big-name producers such as Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney from the Black Keys haven’t managed to slow down a band that’s been in the garage rock scene since 1999.  After 8 full-length studio records, a live record recorded in Tijuana, various side projects (The Almighty DefendersThe Gartrells, and Crush, to name a few), and the creation of a new genre dubbed “flower punk,” the band’s legacy and influence upon younger musicians is undeniable.

Now, almost twenty years since their inception, Black Lips seems like a completely different beast. Only two founding members remain (bassist Jared Swilley and guitarist Cole Alexander), the wildness of their live shows has been toned down considerably, and the band has now set their sights on releasing their interpretation of a country album. Despite the group’s departure from the violence and rebellion of their younger days, the punk ethos which Black Lips was founded upon still shines through in their work.

KCR’s Andrea Renney recently spoke with vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley in advance of their November 13th show at the House of Blues San Diego. The following interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

KCR: So your next tour starts next month. I was kind of surprised to hear that you were co-headlining with [Danish punk band] Iceage, since Iceage isn’t really a band that I would associate with Black Lips. How did that come about?

J: Well, we’ve known each other for a long time, and we have some mutual friends. We had met them in Denmark before. They were going out on tour around the same time as us and I like them a bunch. I kinda like going on tour with bands that are a little different; it just changes things up. We don’t really have the same sound at all, but I think they have a really great live show. Every band that we end up going on tour with is just from us hanging out and talking and saying “Oh yeah, we should tour sometime.”

KCR: I guess Kesha’s a good example of that; not someone that you would necessarily expect [Black Lips to tour with]. But I do think that there is a certain similarity there. I know Kesha has her roots in Nashville, and she is, despite being so pop, kind of rock and roll. It was something that was surprising, but at the same time, it made sense.

J: Yeah, she has really good taste in music. I was surprised when I first met her years ago; we started talking about music and I just thought she was this pop star or whatever. But she was really into Dead Moon and all these bands that I like… We’ve been on tour with bigger bands that are rock bands, and we’ve gotten heckled by their fans. Their fans didn’t really like us. But with Kesha, it’s all really young kids that are really stoked to be there. They’re just there to have a good time.

KCR: I think Black Lips are the perfect band for Kesha’s fans. Like you said, they’re just there to have a good time.

J: Yeah, they were all real sweet.

KCR: It’s been over a year since Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? came out, so I’m not gonna ask a bunch of questions about that. I feel like you’ve already discussed that record at length. But I do have one question — I wanted to know about your cover of “It Won’t Be Long” [by the Beatles] and how that kind of came about? Did Sean Lennon [music producer and John Lennon’s son] approach you guys with doing a cover, and was it that one specifically?

J: I never would have been like, “Hey, can we cover one of your dad’s songs?” but he really wanted us to do that. When we were playing it at the studio we were doing it exactly like they did it, but obviously they do it a ton better, and ours just sounded like a carbon copy of it. So we kind of started messing around with trying to make it sound like an evil version of it. I would never in a million years have thought to bring that up or try to do that, but [Sean] did a lot of the arrangement. We didn’t try to do a Beatles copy, we just did a sinister version of it. I was happy with it. And Yoko gave us the blessing to do it so that was real cool to hear her say “Yeah, you should do a Beatles song.”

KCR: Yeah, absolutely. What an honor, really.

J: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Overall, it was pretty surreal. But it was awesome.

KCR: On the topic of records: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? came out last year, and now all I’ve really heard is about your forthcoming new country record. I haven’t heard too many details, but is that still the plan?

J: Yeah, yeah. The whole thing’s written and we’ve already done a couple songs. We did a session in Berlin this summer with King Khan [of King Khan and the Shrines, The King Khan & BBQ Show, and other projects], and we did another one at Oakley [Munson, the current drummer for Black Lips]’s house. But yeah, the whole thing is written. We’ve got tons of songs, and we’re just right in the middle of finding what label’s gonna put it out and what studio we’re gonna go to. But it’s definitely gonna be out by spring next year.

It’s not, like, serious country. It’s definitely all country influenced, but it’s kind of our take on country. It’s different, but we’ve always been into kind of twangy, southern style stuff. For this one, we’re more focusing on that. There’s not gonna be synthesizers on it or anything.

KCR: I know that some people were surprised about the whole country record thing, but I feel like on every record you’ve ever done, there’s always at least one song that’s pretty obviously influenced by country. On the last record, “Rebel Intuition” – that’s pretty country. And songs like “Workin’’’ [from 2005’s Let It Bloom] and “Drive By Buddy” [from 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow] – definitely. So to me, it seemed pretty natural. But what made you decide that now was the time to do this one?

J: I guess just because we’ve done so many garage rock records and stuff like that. We just kept talking about it, like, “Yeah, let’s do a country record.” It kind of worked out real good with having Jeff [Clarke, also of Demon’s Claws] in the band, because he’s great at writing songs like that. He’s really good at playing those kind of things. So it just felt like a natural thing for us to try out. Kind of like us doing our “mature” country record. But it’s not all that mature.

KCR: Growing up and becoming country stars.

J: It’s easy to age gracefully in country music.

KCR: Definitely. While we’re on the topic of changing sounds: you’re still in Atlanta as far as I know, but Cole and Zumi [Rosow, saxophonist] are in LA, and you said Jeff’s from Alberta, while Oakley’s in New York?

J: Yeah, he’s in the Catskills. And Jeff’s been in Germany for the past couple years, but I guess he’s kinda living at my house in Atalnta. But yeah, everyone’s scattered all over now.

KCR: Do you think that spreading out has been helpful for changing your sound and keeping things fresh? Or does it make it difficult to reconcile all those different perspectives?

J: No, it kind of didn’t change anything… I mean, Cole still has a house here so he’s back a lot to visit his family. But we never really practiced before, like at all, unless we were just about to go in the studio or had new stuff to work on. So really, I haven’t noticed that much of a change. I guess we’re usually in Atlanta before a tour, and then we leave from there. But as far as music scenes, I’m not really all that involved in the Atlanta music scene at all. I don’t go out too much when I’m not on tour. I know Cole and Zumi are pretty involved in the LA scene and stuff like that, but not me.

KCR: Just working on your own stuff?

J: Yeah, I’m mostly a homebody when I’m at home.

KCR: I think that’s pretty typical for people who are on tour as often as you guys are.

J: Yeah, going out’s like… I do that for a big part of the year. So when I’m at home, I hang out with family a lot, friends.

KCR: So, I’ve always loved your music videos that you guys put out. Most recently I loved the one for “Crystal Night;” About music videos though: obviously music television isn’t really a thing anymore. So why do you guys still continue to release videos? Do you think it’s just an artistic expression, and do you still want to keep putting out videos like that?

J: I still like watching videos. If we’re in hotel rooms and stuff, I’ll watch the music video channel. Even in Europe, where I don’t like any of the music, I like music videos. And I like making them. We always direct our own videos. I mean, there’ll be directors, but I did the treatment and everything for “Crystal Night.” And the other one we did was “Can’t Hold On,” and Cole did that treatment. It’s just fun. I enjoy the video aspect thing. It’s harder and harder to get money for that stuff nowadays, because there is no MTV. But we’ve been lucky with Vice [Records], because they have resources to let us do that. And sometimes, like, I think we had Ray-Ban help fund a video for us. But yeah, if we can find the money for it, it’s just a neat little tool to have.

KCR: And I think fans appreciate it too. It’s interesting to see what the artist interprets as the visual side of their music.

J: Yeah, me too.

KCR: I know I mentioned this earlier, but I’m calling from KCR College Radio. It’s the college radio station for San Diego State University, and I think that it’s such a cool thing that we have. So I just wanted to know – obviously music streaming services have kind of become the primary way for consuming music, especially for young people. Do you think that radio is still an important resource for getting your music out to a new audience, even your current audience, and reaching new fans?

J: Yeah, I think it’s still really important and a good thing. In Atlanta we only have half of a college station now – it only becomes music after 7 or 8 now. During the day NPR bought it. And we lost our cool AM station, so that kinda sucks. But there’s still KEXP and KCRW and WFMU. I mean, I still listen [to radio]. I don’t stream music, but I guess I could figure it out. I’ve just never done it. I just pretty much listen to WFMU out of New Jersey because they have everything up on their site. I mean, it’s important for me, but I’m 35 years old, so obviously the kids are listening to something else. College radio was a big thing, especially growing up. I never went to college, but me and Cole had our own radio show, and it’s actually still going on.

KCR: Really?

J: Yeah. We started it fifteen or sixteen years ago, and there’s still students doing it with our same format. So that was always awesome for me – I got my own radio show and I didn’t even go to the school. I was really proud of that. So I think that’s still real important and I think that it makes a big difference. Because people are loyal to their local stations, which is now usually almost always college stations.

KCR: I just joined it this semester, in September. And it’s actually kind of crazy how well-regarded it is. In the major newspaper here, it won best station in San Diego, even against the commercial stations. Like, this college radio station did. So it’s pretty clear that people really do appreciate college stations and even radio in general.

J: Yeah, I love the format. And I think it’s good for record sales and promotion and things like that.

KCR: I did an interview last week with Zac [Carper] from FIDLAR, and I asked him the same question. We were talking about how the cool thing about radio is the curated aspect of it. How you don’t really get that with streaming, or with just finding music on your own.

J: Yeah, you don’t get that at all with streaming, really. I guess you can do the algorithm thing.

KCR: Yeah, but it’s not the same. You know, you can look ahead and see what all the songs are. It loses that aspect of wondering what the next song is gonna be.

J: Yeah. I got into so much music when I was a kid that really turned me on. When I was in middle school and high school, there was this show called “In the Aquarian Age” on 88.5, which is the Georgia State station. At that’s how I got into so much cool, weird, old ‘60s music, through that.

KCR: I think radio’s good for stuff like that, a genre or a time period that you’ve never listened to before. It’s hard to just jump into that. So radio’s great for guiding you and guiding your taste.

J: Yeah, you definitely don’t get that on streaming.

Catch the Black Lips at the House of Blues on November 13th on their co-headlining tour with Iceage, supported by Brooklyn’s Surfbort.

Written by: Andrea Renney
Photo courtesy of: Grimy Goods