Interview: Elena Savlokhova, Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Photo: Ljubov Dzuzhynska  | Video: Elena Savlokhova

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Cole Alexander
Jared Swilley
Oakley Munson
Zumi Rosow
Jeff Clarke

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Out January 24th 2020

Jared: Born ready. 

If you had to choose between sex or music for the rest of your life what would you choose and why?
Jared: Sex.
Cole: I think they’re kind of the same thing.
Jeff: Sex with what?
Cole: Sex with my guitar.
Zumi: I say music for me. Because you can fuck yourself and listen to music forever. 

In this case, you can’t.
Oakley: That’s a trick question. You can’t have one without the other.
Cole: It’s paradoxical because music brings the sex and the sex brings the music.
Oakley: So can you still masturbate? 

No, you can’t.
Jared: Oh, well then sex.
Cole: But sex causes problems, music doesn’t. 

What have you learned through Black Lips on a personal and professional level?
Jared: I’ve learned to always keep a dry lip and a clean pecker.
Jeff: Was there a point when it wasn’t a clean pecker and a dry lip?
Cole: Yes, there was a time like that.
Jared: I’ve learned that you can do all things through Black Lips that you want to do. Cole and I, at least, had an incredible opportunity to travel the world, meet amazing people and do everything we wanted to do. Everyone told us that we couldn’t do it and we couldn’t fucking get it. So that was a really nice lesson to learn. And we’re not even rich guys. We just do okay.
Zumi: And that you can connect with people truly everywhere. I’ve traveled a million different places that you wouldn’t expect. It’s sort of an obvious thing to say but sometimes you go somewhere and think, ‘fuck, how is this even happening’, but you can always connect with people to some capacity. 

Are you still being told that you can’t do something?
Jared: Yeah, but anytime someone tells us we can’t do something, we have a disease called ODD. Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which means if you tell us not to do something – we have to do it.
Zumi: Both Jared and Cole are working on a novel separately. t’s unwritten.
Jared: Well, the thing is, we do whatever the fuck we want to do. And it’s always worked out well enough.
Cole: If you want us to do something, just tell us not to do it. 

Who was or is your biggest teacher in life?
Jared: Coach Bass. He was our baseball coach when we were in high school. All the other teachers told us that we were shitty. They were like, ‘oh, you’re never gonna do anything, you’re gonna end up pumping gas’, which is a lie because only in Oregon and in New Jersey you can pump gas. So first off, you’re lying to me. Second off, we proved them wrong. Cole and I got kicked out of school and we ended up making more money than our teachers made. Coach Bass was the only one that said, ‘you know what, you guys are doing an awesome thing, you guys are fuck ups, but you are good guys’.
Jeff: They still had to pump gas.
Jared: You can only do it in two states!
Cole: We don’t have that many art programs in the United States, but a lot of athletic ones.  Artistic people would just end up being a default art teacher. That’s how it was when I was coming out of school. It would be the football team that would actually enter the cinema and music stuff. So coach Bass tried to promote our artistic tendencies.
Jared: He got us to perform at a film festival and it was the biggest show the Black Lips ever played as kids. We played the high school talent show. There were around 600 people there and we were like the house band.

Kyiv 18.06.2019

What was the most memorable gig you’ve ever performed?
Jared: Iraq. I was curious about the Middle East so we booked a whole middle eastern tour. We made a movie about it. We were supposed to play in Erbil, Iraq, we had a huge show there. But they canceled the show right before we came because the ministry of culture in Iraq saw that we kissed each other on stage and stuff like that. They didn’t like that because of the whole religious thing.
Cole: Funny enough, we ended up playing.
Jared: Yeah, and there were all these women in burkas and their whole families came.
Cole: Nobody had ever seen a rock and roll show in the whole crowd ever.
Jared: But we did the whole Middle East thing ourselves. We just checked it out. I’m not big on being judgmental. I want to judge things based on how it was for me, like, ‘Oh, I’m curious. I’m going to check it out and I’m going to go to Iraq’. And we did that and it was okay, it was pretty cool.

Is there a music scene there?
Jared: No, hell no. They didn’t even have a drum set.
Cole: There was that guy who opened up for us and he played this kind of bouzouki looking thing. We just saw a guy in the street playing music and asked him if he could open for us.
Jared: You know what we are? We’re open mind yet. We don’t judge nobody.

What about the most memorable gig you’ve attended?
Jeff: Probably Tom Connors.
Cole: You saw him?
Jeff: Yeah in 1998 in Edmonton, Alberta. And he was yodeling.
Jared: Tom Connors is the Johnny Cash of Canada.
Jeff: Everyone is laughing at yodeling but when I saw him, it was an entry to the spirit world.
Cole: People in the States don’t even know about him.
Jeff: He’s a Canadian national treasure.
Cole: Jared is like a southern Tom Connors of sorts, he writes songs based on history and stuff like that. Songs I can’t write.
Jared: That’s why we’re a good team: Jeff writes songs of weird poetry that are beautiful, Cole writes songs that are catchy as hell.
Zumi: My most memorable concert was seeing Prince at the Forum probably 10 years ago. He did 21 nights straight and it was honestly the most insane performance I’ve ever seen. I had to hold on to a railing to keep from melting into the floor. He’s the sexiest, most incredible performer. I was crying tears of joy and ecstasy and happiness and bliss. I wish I’d gone to like all of the nights but I couldn’t. He had five encores or even more. I had to leave after the fifth one because it was just exhausting. There was no serotonin left and I was just burned out. 

Did that night change your life in some way?
Zumi: Yeah, definitely.
Jared: I have to say one thing about my most memorable show ever. My family took me to New York when I was like 13 and I wanted to see the CBGB, which is an old punk club. That night was a Ramones tribute night. I went there and I was right at the front stage. I think you guys saw some pictures of that. It said it would be a Ramones cover band, but it was Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone. And I think Marky and some other guys. But they were just there unannounced. I saw the Ramones at CBGB and I was by myself. It was the most religious thing I ever saw.
Jeff: I smoked a huge joint once and there were 20 Indians around one big drum with one female singer singing around the thing. It was called ‘Aboriginal days’ and there was like a bunch of them, so everybody could go. When I saw that it was mesmerizing.
Oakley: I think my first memorable concert was sneaking when I was 15 into a show in Albuquerque, this band Demolition Doll rods was playing. And I was sort of an innocent kid who kind of thought I knew what rock and roll was like, I knew the Ramones. Not only was I in a bar for the first time and my friends gave me a beer but, the girls weren’t wearing shirts, and they had pasties on. One of the girls was a guy who was the guy from The Gories. People think they’re edgy now with gender crossing lines and stuff – they had a blind girl playing drums with no shirt on, and it was the sexiest band. I was way too young or maybe just the perfect age, but it opened up a whole new world of smoky bars that we still play now to this day. We see them in Detroit now and they came to see our show. It was just full circle. We had a good time.
Zumi: I talked to her about how what I was wearing.
Oakley: She still looks good too.
Zumi: She’s amazing. What I was wearing when we were playing, and I don’t wear a lot of clothes when I play because it feels really restricting. Anyway, it was cool because she was parting some wisdom and she’s a badass.
Cole: I think it’s all laid out. Well actually, talking about The Demolition Doll Rods, it sounds a little bit self-congratulatory, but we played with them once and sometimes there are these shows where it’s like you’re watching yourself. We played with them and Jared used this old wrestling trick called icing, where you slice your head and it’s supposed to bleed a little bit for theatrics. But he did a little too hard and just started bleeding too much and he was losing too much blood and we almost couldn’t play anymore. So the sound guy held his head together, and he finished the show. Then he went to the hospital really, but it was in a way transcendental because I remember watching him more than I was playing. Very strange. I don’t remember playing but I remember watching him.
Oakley: There are photos of that too. Alex Brown has those photos and it looks like you’re about to die.
Cole: Another very similar transcendental experience was when we played with Demon’s Cause in Montreal and Jared took mushrooms and he said he watched himself play.
Jared: Oh yeah, it looked like I was watching myself play when we were playing. You guys were all just tiny. That was so weird. I thought we did ok.
Jeff: That was a great night. That’s when I first met them.
Jared: But I had done so many mushrooms. 

Could you share a fucked up story from your tours?
Jared: Hands down, for me and Cole it’s getting kicked out of India. That one sucked. I got deported from Canada about seven times. That sucked. 

Why though?
Jared: Oh, I’m a criminal, and I have a lot of felonies.
Jeff: He uses the underground railway now to get to Canada.
Cole: One time we were gonna play a show in Memphis.
Oakley: Communistic threats.
Cole: We got pulled over by the cops and they found mushrooms, Xanax and marijuana. I was looking at potentially two to five years in prison. And that was a little bit nerve-wracking. We didn’t have legal representation so we brought my mom and she came and represented us.
Jared: Cole and I went on a trip together.
Cole: My butt was so swollen from that tour.
Zumi: His mom is badass. Cole got arrested once for stealing flags from their neighborhood.
Cole: We’d steal American flags for fun at night.
Zumi: So she went to pick him up and she is a black belt in karate, so Cole is like a dojo baby, as in his mom and dad met in a dojo. Anyway, she is tinier than Cole, and Cole is tiny. So she karate chopped him in front of the cops.
Jared: No, the cops found pot, and I was walking with my mom to her car and he was walking to the car with his mom. And his mom turned around and just knocked him out.
Cole: My mom always told me not to get caught.
Jared: And we’re pretty good at it – we only got caught a few times.
Cole: I get in trouble for getting in trouble and not for causing trouble.
Jared: Yeah, I don’t care about the trouble.
Oakley: Now we’re good at being bad, so there aren’t too many problems.
Jared: And we’re grown-ups now too. Put this on record: we’re adults. 

What’s the most important lesson your parents have taught you?
Jared: Tough love. Don’t ask me for shit.
Oakley: Right before my grandma died, right when she had her funeral when I played my first tour with this band, and I remember I found a letter and she was like, ‘Oakley you’re doing something really good but you need to go a little farther’.I think she kind of foresaw what these guys do – a little more showbiz and more fun. She was saying that I needed to blow bubbles on stage and more glitter and be more theatrics.
Jeff: That makes sense now that you’ve said it, I understand it now. My mom told me to treat other people’s stuff like I would treat myself. All right. I’m gonna treat myself like shit. And therefore I will treat people’s stuff like shit. And then my shit too.
Jared: The biggest thing with Black Lips is that we’re a very moral band: we don’t steal, we don’t lie and we don’t cheat. That’s our whole thing.
Zumi: That’s bullshit! That’s complete bullshit. I steal fancy cheese to give to my friends. Just for a good time.
Cole: Like my mom said – don’t get caught. We saw a place in Germany and they had a nazi plate and we thought that those guys sucked for having it so we stole it. It didn’t feel bad karmically.
Jared: We are criminals.
Cole: My dad told, and I don’t know if it’s the most important thing, but he told me never to rat someone out.
Jared: Cole’s dad is a criminal. Snitches get stitches.
Oakley: His dad taught us how to punch someone really effectively.
Jared: Cole’s dad is a pirate.
Oakley: So it’s punching upwards and breaking all the ribs so if someone’s hurting…
Jeff: Break them with the elbows.
Oakley: Break four ribs with one punch.
Jared: This asshole punched me the other night and he just hit me in the face. What a stupid punch. 

There are 7 deadly sins, could you pick one for each other?
Jared: Mine would be whatever the violent one is.
Cole: I’m sloth!
Zumi: Because he is like a baby sloth.
Oakley: I covet thy neighbour’s ass.
Cole: Sexy.
Jared: You don’t have any neighbours.
Cole: Billy Goat’s ass.
Jeff: Chicken coup.
Jared: That’s why you had to kill that chicken.
Jeff: You want to tell the stories. We just have to figure out one for everyone.
Cole: Zumi, you get sadness.
Zumi: I’ll take sadness.
Cole: But Jared gets raith.
Oakley: I’ll take dejection.
Cole: No, you get fornication.
Oakley: No, dejection.
Cole: What is the grotesque one? Maybe Jeff gets that one. Or wait, Jared gets pride and Jeff gets raith.
Jared: I’m a Leo after all.
Oakley: Jared gets them all. No one gave me dejection which proves my point.
Jared: I’m the most simple member of the Black Lips. 

With all of the sins.
Jared: I’m okay with that. 

Could you share the most bizarre or awkward story from your childhood?
Oakley: Oh, when I was a kid in pre-school the teacher said, ‘okay, who wants a ponytail?’. So I raised my hand and everybody just laughed at me and I remember that humiliating feeling. Just so humiliating.
Zumi: I played soccer when I was a kid on Saturday mornings and my parents were usually up and one time they weren’t. Their door was locked, which was a weird thing. So I snuck around and looked in the window and they were 69ing. I saw my parents 69ing, which was a really traumatizing thing. I think I was 8 or 9.
Oakley: I thought it was a school thing.

No, from when you were a kid.
Cole: I remember one time my cousin who was older, he was 12 and I was 4, and he was into weapons like nunchucks and Chinese stars. I didn’t understand violence and I’ve only seen violence in movies. So one day I walked into his room and I see those stars like in the movies and I just threw a Chinese star right into his guts and he started crying and I got spanked by my mom. Punished.
Jeff: I’ve completely blocked out my childhood.
Zumi: Bullshit! I’ve heard many stories.
Jeff: Such as?
Jared: I grew up with a very violent childhood. I’ve seen my being choked, being pushed down from the stairs and my sister and I had to put on motorcycle helmets and try to fight this Italian man who was married to my mother.
Jeff: I have a humiliating story! One time I got beat up by a toddler when I was 12.

A toddler?
Jeff: Yeah, I was teasing my friend’s brother, I was 12 and his brother was two or four, or something like that. And then he attacked me and I got on top and I couldn’t get off and he was beating on me.
Jared: Cole, what about you having to sing ‘My Kind of Town’ with Johnny Rocket?
Cole: That’s not from childhood, but yeah, I worked for a corporate interest group called Johnny Rocket. It was in their best interest for me to sing a song about Chicago, so I sang a song by Sinatra called ‘My Kind of Town’.
Jared: Anytime you came into this fifties diner…
Zumi: He would have to perform every time this song came up and do a dance to the song.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from each other?
Cole: We only learn the hard way.
Zumi: To have a brain like a sponge.
Jared: I’m a difficult person so thank y’all for being patient with me, but I’ve learned to deal with people that you have to deal with all the time. I’ve tried to learn patience with people.
Zumi: Now I know where to punch you every time you’re being impatient.
Jared: You know, the thing I’ve learned is I’ve learned to love. And I know I didn’t sell that super well, because I was screaming my butt off, because I get impatient. 

So about love, what is your perception of it?
Jared: Love is family. That’s all it is. Family is all that matters and this is my family. I have a big family that is actually blood-related but this is my family. Love and family is everything.
Jeff: Well you have to spank someone directly on the anus. The cheeks have to be really spread. If you love them that’s what you gotta to do. If you don’t give direct anal spanking that’s not real spanking.
Jared: Okay, Jeffrey…
Jeff: Well I’m from Canada, that’s how we do it in Canada. That’s what they’ve learned from me. Sometimes you have to spank someone you love, you know, directly on the anus. Directly. I think it’s rude to touch the cheeks.
Zumi: You have to eat each other’s scabs off the flesh, pick the fleas out of each other’s hair…
Jeff: Yeah, you have to eat the dender.
Zumi: And pull the dress off the body
Jeff: They pull my dress off every night.
Zumi: I pull his sailor dress off.
Jeff: I’ve become obese over the past few years, and the dress doesn’t come off easy, especially when it’s moist. She helps.
Zumi: He’s got the best legs in the biz so he wears these sexy sailor dresses but then after the show, you sweat like crazy. So then taking this tight sailor dress off is like touching the impossible. I have to use my hip as an anchor and then I pull the dress off.
Jeff: And God bless you. That’s not an easy task.
Cole: I guess when someone has nothing to give but you have something to give.

Do you think that real love is better than an imaginary love?
Cole: Imaginary is better. 

Cole: Because you will never get it.
Zumi: That’s the stupidest answer I’ve ever heard.
Jeff: The flowers Cole imagined are way better than flowers that blossom.
Cole: Well it’s the same with music, it sounds way better in your head. 

If you could travel in time, where would you go and why?
Cole: Right now I would go to 1929 Paris.
Zumi: Me too!
Cole: Just for the convergence of cultures and ideas.
Oakley: I’d like to travel into the future – thousands of years ahead. I can read books about the past and I’m sure it wasn’t as pleasant. Almost every place I go, expect maybe Kyiv, and I’m like ‘oh I want to go there’ , and then I go there and it’s just ‘okay, I went there’. You know, I’m sure 1929 Pariss was cool, but I want to know what the future is. I’m impatient and we’re going to die soon and we’ll never know so…
Jeff: I’d go right back to when my dad was fucking my mom, right before he ejaculated I’d pull his dick out and be like, ‘ you know what, let’s not bother’.
Zumi: Dejection.
Jeff: Haha then I would change my mind but it would be too late. Bummer. There I am on my mom’s stomach! Goddammit. 

Is there a technology that you anticipate?
Oakley: I anticipate when bluetooth technology will work. I can’t wait to be able to listen to music.
Zumi: I hate bluetooth.
Oakley: No one listens to music anymore because it doesn’t work.
Jeff: One time I turned my microwave on for 20 minutes and then I just beat on it with a baseball bat.
Cole: I’m waiting for a time when artificial intelligence would be so destructive that the only way we can beat it is through sarcasm.
Zumi: They can analyze facial expressions.
Cole: That still would be the weak spot and intelligence wouldn’t understand that it was just a giant joke. Like they wouldn’t get when people are playing dumb.
Zumi: The most important thing about survival and being an animal, being a human is all about these like subtle things that you read with body language and stuff like that. Artificial intelligence could learn even that, but really, we as humans are losing our ability for primordial survival, things that you are not aware of because we’re always on our fucking phones or whatever. But it’ll be an interesting battle between humans and artificial intelligence. I can’t anticipate. I’m aware of things that are happening already but let’s see how it turns out.
Jeff: Try the microwave technique.
Zumi: I’ve always been scared of microwaves.
Jeff: Me too, that’s the only way to overcome them.
Cole: I’ve been thinking today about training artificial intelligence and avant-garde techniques because there’s a bit of randomness in the avant-garde. There is this robot dog that you can buy and basically when people smile at it, the robot loads it into the memory. It’s just so abstract and it does it for no reason.

There’s this film by Yorgos Lanthimos ‘The Lobster’, where single people are meant to find a partner in 45 days, and if they don’t, they must choose an animal to transform into. What animal would you choose and why?
Zumi: I would like to be a seahorse because they are romantic with each other and they’re beautiful. That might not be my number one choice but I’ve always had a fascination with seahorses.
Jeff: But it’s a forest, you can’t be a seahorse in a forest. I would be an ant.
Zumi: I wouldn’t want to be an ant.
Jeff: I would be a lazy ant though. Always working like you’re working but you’re not.
Zumi: Cole would be a sloth for real. You know that sloths, at least baby sloths, go down the tree to take a shit. Since they’re very low on energy they eat very little, and they grow algae on their bodies. Also, moths live on them. It was thought for a long time that it was just a parasitic relationship but really, the moths would die on the sloths and fertilize and because of the algae they could camouflage themselves. Anyways, so they just crawl down the tree once a month to take a shit and it’s a big deal because they need a lot of energy.
Cole: I actually have a great story about my spirit animal. I was very depressed for a long time. It was a long time ago. And then I had this dream that was swimming with dolphins and I was kind of scared that they were going to rape me for some reason based on some stuff that I’d read. When I woke up, I was kind of happy. Afterwards I started looking up dream interpretations about what dolphins mean in your dreams. All the dream interpretations are kind of trivial but then I came across a Chinese dream interpretation that said, if you see a dolphin in a dream, then it means a dolphin is in an ocean and it’s psychically trying to contact you. My friend Lou had a boat so the next step that I made was look up the last dolphin sighting near where his boat was. There was one a couple of miles up from the boat in Hudson River. So he took me on his boat out into the ocean and he let me jump out in the ocean and I was swimming around searching for these dolphins for about an hour. The dolphins didn’t come. But by the time I got out of the boat, I was no longer depressed. I was totally happy. And I think they kind of did the psychic contact or something.
Oakley: I don’t know. A kiwi bird maybe. They’re nocturnal birds who just dwell in New Zealand.
Jeff: They want to fly but they can’t.
Oakley: But they seem happy to me. They did a study on birds on why do birds fly 80% of the time for no reason and they assumed it was for fun. But to me, it seems like torture, it doesn’t seem like they’re flying for fun. It seems like they’re searching in vain for something. But the kiwi bird is in its little nest. It doesn’t need to fly. It knows where it belongs.

And a cliche question for you, Zumi – what’s the whole Gucci experience like for you? Is there some sort of contradiction?
Zumi: I wouldn’t say there’s a contradiction. Well. It’s a weird thing to me because I’ve never been into fashion. Ever. So it’s sort of strange to be immersed in this. 

How did it all start?
Zumi: Alessandro’s right-hand woman, her name is Michaela, is a huge music fan so she’d been following the Black Lips for a while and has been watching me for a long time. I don’t know if that’s really how they found me, it’s all very mysterious to me and I still don’t really understand it. The only thing that I could say is that I’ve always been myself, I lived my life being who I am and I don’t give a fuck about what people think. Things are changing in some capacity in how people perceive each other and I just hope that I have some positive impact. Being on tour after all this stuff is happening – everywhere I go, girls, boys, whoever, come up to me and thank me for being who I am and they say how I’ve helped them in some way.
I’m a weirdo. I didn’t really know what to expect and it sort of freaked me out. But it also saved my life a little bit. 

How so?
Zumi: It’s complicated. It’s probably too complicated. I think I’m both an early and late bloomer. It freaked me out at first but, it’s a good thing. Cole gets to come with me everywhere I go which is awesome. They’re very supportive of artists and musicians and that’s the most amazing part of it. 

What interests you outside of music?
Jeff: Anything, actually music is something that doesn’t interest me that much. It’s true.
Zumi: Everything is interesting. A lot of things.
Jeff: We’re just interested in everything in general.
Zumi: Cole is really interested in 1980s synthesizes from Russia or Ukraine.
Cole: Just curious.
Jeff: He is wide awake at night thinking about them.

What was the most memorable question you ever asked?
Jared: The last one you ever asked me.

Which one was that?
Jared: I can’t even remember.
Oakley: ‘What kind of animal would you be’
Cole: The seven sins.
Zumi: That was a good one.

Could you share some funny or awkward stories about your fans?
Zumi: We were playing a festival in Germany somewhere, and as I was setting up my sax stuff a guy came up to me being so upset and said: “Please, tell them not to flame the drums, why must they flame them?!’. I had no idea what he was talking about, no one was flaming any drums. Then our friend who worked at the festival illuminated the fact that in the brochure of the festival the write up for the Black Lips said something about the old drummer Joe setting up drums on fire at some point in his life, a long time ago. It had nothing to do with anything, they just decided to pick this random element of all of the Black Lips stories. He was so freaked out, he was pleading. We started playing and his fear turned into ecstasy and he was totally fine. It’s also weird when an 8-year-old kid has your picture on Instagram. Flame the drums!
Oakley: Equipment is very special, we can’t take it for granted.
Jeff: I don’t have any fans personally.
Zumi: Bullshit.
Jeff: I just have an awkward and hilarious story. One of my bandmates one time, and I don’t know how hilarious this is but, he just got a call while we were on stage that his wife was giving birth to his child and instead of going to the hospital, he got into a car with some friends and went looking for prostitutes on Ontario street in Montreal. And that’s what he was doing. The fact that I had to know it was the awkward part. Also one time I was so stoned and drunk that I couldn’t play, and there were 300 people there, but I couldn’t even plug my guitar in. Pretty soon people started leaving when they realized we wouldn’t be able to play and then a guy wearing a band t-shirt came in and said that he was super disappointed. That’s what you get for expecting something. I punished the punisher. What better show than seeing someone who can’t even plug a cord in? You don’t see that every day. Punish the punishers.
Oakley: I can’t top that one. 

And the final question – what question would you want to be asked in an interview and what would the answer be?
Jared: Oh that’s too heavy and loaded.
Cole: My question would be ‘what question would you want to be asked in an interview and what would the answer be?‘.
Jared: I got it! Why is a raven like the writing desk?
Cole: ‘Who’s your daddy and what does he do?’.
Jeff: Do I forgive my uncle and the answer is no.
Oakley: You could ask us about the new record and it’s the best record ever. Everything you’ve heard about it is true. Best record. 

Photo: The Black Lips