Black Lips, Shawnthony Calypso, Johnny Conqueroo
For their ninth studio album, the Black Lips have teamed up with Sean Lennon, who got on board to produce Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? in 2016. The Black Lips had formerly worked with Lennon on Arabia Mountain, where Lennon played theramin on several tracks. The band moved up to Lennon’s studio compound on a remote farm in upstate New York, and spent several months living and breathing the new record. This removal from the outside world, plus the return of beloved early guitarist Jack Hines and the exciting addition of new members Oakley Munson on drums and Zumi Rosow (the first female Black Lip) on saxophone, infused the project with a focused, intoxicating liveliness, similar to the spirit that had brought the Black Lips to life in the first place, way back in 1999.
Only this time, the band is drawing from nearly two decades of experience and musicianship, and the newness is tethered by familiarity: Munson is a longtime friend of the band, and Rosow has been playing live with the Black Lips for several years now. There’s even a dash of kismet: unbeknownst to the band, after being off the grid for some time, Munson had just recently moved to a cabin a short distance away from Lennon’s compound, and the first time his phone ever rang after he plugged into the wall, Alexander was on the other end, asking him to play.
All of this excitement and immersion created the perfect storm for the Black Lips’ most musically evolved album to date. “It was a really beautiful experience. We were very far from civilization, and we were all living at the studio. We weren’t going home to our own beds every night; that was our whole world, 100% of the time,” says Swilley of the experience. “Making this record was the most wonderful few months of my life. It was by far my favorite time recording an album so far…It was just magic.” The Black Lips were joined by Saul Adamczewski of Fat White Family, who helped co-produce the record with Lennon, plus another rather magical guest: Yoko Ono. “She’s very cosmic,” Swilley says of the celebrated artist and musician, who makes an appearance on a few of the tracks.
The final product is urgent and thoughtful, reflecting the growth the Black Lips have experienced since bursting onto the scene (once or twice quite literally on fire), but it’s also true to their original blistering, careening take on rock n’ roll: fuzzy, dirty, and rife with three and four part harmonies. Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? proves that while they may have grown up a bit and changed a few things around, the Black Lips are still as creatively unhinged and exhilarating as ever. Satan’s graffiti or god’s art? is out now on Vice Records.