Since escaping the suburbs of Dunwoody, Ga., back in the late '90s, the Black Lips have preached the gospel of party.
The Atlanta-based band plays psychedelic-tinged garage rock that feels earnestly in love with its own classic influences — such as Roky Erickson, Dead Moon and the Sonics — a rollicking style they once termed "flower punk."
They've done this well through seven albums, including their recent upbeat rocker, "Underneath the Rainbow" on Vice Records and they've toured every continent but Antarctica, aborting plans there after Metallica beat them to it.
Still, what they're most known for are crazy, provocative shows that have included bodily fluids. Or to put it bluntly, urinating in their mouths onstage, sometimes vomiting, getting naked while playing gigs and occasionally starting riots. In 2009 they had to escape from India after kissing each other onstage and being chased by local authorities and promoters.
At least one band member is tiring of the notoriety, however.
"I have a lot of respect for G.G. Allin as an entertainer. I would say we're a preschool version of him," bassist Jared Swilley says from a tour stop in Salt Lake City, referring to punk's dead king of onstage transgression. "I don't like to do gross things on purpose. We're just entertainers, we just want people to have a good time. We're not out to shock or offend anyone, especially in this day and age. Everything is so passé. We just want people to dance and have fun."
This will be the band's debut show in Richmond, and it's bringing a great Southern rock band to open from Nashville, Natural Child, whose members Swilley refers to as "some of the last true Americans."
He recalls the only other time the Black Lips attempted to play the River City. "We were booked there on the first tour we ever did. It was supposed to be the last date on that tour, and we pulled up to town and the venue had just been shut down," he says. "So we just drove back to Atlanta."
Since then they've grown as songwriters, the music getting catchier and more confident. Some critics are writing that the new album, produced partly by Patrick Carney, drummer for the Black Keys, and Tom Brenneck, guitarist from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, is the latest proof of the group's maturity.
"Cole [Alexander, the guitarist] wanted to get Phil Spector to produce it. I'm glad that didn't happen, it would've been the worst idea ever," Swilley says. "Logistically it would've been terrible. And he's a murderer. That's bad mojo."
The album is filled with upbeat guitar numbers featuring particularly crisp and memorable drum sounds ("Patrick is really into that, we had minimal mic-ing, so Joe had to hit the snare repeatedly for hours some nights to get it exactly right"). Lyrics revolve around sad subjects mostly, from a jail stint to several friends of the band who recently died.
"I like the dichotomy between a sad subject with an upbeat tempo. It's kind of therapeutic," Swilley notes, although he's a little perplexed why so many critics have called it a Southern rock record. "That's from one little sound bite I gave NME or someone. They just ran with it. I also said it was going to be like an Ibiza club record, for whatever that's worth."
The band's profile does seem on the rise. It was asked to perform for an upcoming Terrence Malick film shot in Austin, Texas, and wound up with actor Val Kilmer ranting onstage at them, Jim Morrison-style, during their set.
"It was pretty crazy. We still don't know what the whole deal is with that. They said go onstage and he's going to fuck everything up," Swilley says. "Then we were doing scenes with Ryan Gosling, teaching him how to shotgun beer. We have no idea what the movie is about — we're completely in the dark."
Alexander recently closed the Austin Psych Fest by dropping his pants and sodomizing his discarded guitar. Then last week, the group found itself in an online furor after Alexander participated in an Onion A.V. club series on the most "hated songs," saying he thought rapper Drake was fake and he preferred "more ghetto, ratchet-sounding" rap that wasn't "too smart."
Swilley says the whole thing was stupidly overblown. "Everyone has a platform today — the Internet is just an outrage machine. It's silly to me. … People complaining about it, if they had heard it in casual conversation, it wouldn't have been a big deal. But written down it's different somehow. All he was saying was he liked a certain kind of rap."
One person not complaining is Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, who just tweeted that he loved the Lips' song "Dandelion Dust" off the new album.
"Yeah, Ian [StPe, another band guitarist] was excited because when he was in sixth grade he went to a Crüe concert in a stretch limo. And here we are this many years later and Sixx is tweeting about his band. I asked if we could open for them, but we haven't heard back yet," Swilley says, adding, "Crüe fans are the best, fuck the rest."
Another thing Crüe fans might love about the Black Lips is that they have their own smell, pumped out from an onstage machine. Swilley says it was his idea from many years ago, when his ex-girlfriend's brother-in-law worked for a company called ScentAir that "sold ham smells to Boar's Head," the meat company.
"Casinos, Starbucks, the military: All these places pump out scents to affect peoples' emotions and what they think about. So we wanted a scent associated with us so they'll remember us," Swilley says. "Also our cassettes are scented with that, and hopefully our next run of LPs, and our T-shirts too."
So exactly what's the trademark smell of the Black Lips?
"It's a kind of a cedary, musky smell — kind of manly, fatherly," Swilley says. "People should know we're there for them. We'll protect them. That should always be in the back of your mind." S
The Black Lips play the National on Monday, April 14, with opener Natural Child. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $25 with fees.