Cooked With Love: The Black Lips Release Arabia Mountain

It was a windy afternoon in Austin, Texas during SXSW when I found myself sitting poolside at a swanky hotel with Cole Alexander and Ian Saint Pé of Black Lips in a cabana that was clearly marked as being reserved for someone else. “We like to come in and improvise. See, this was reserved,” Alexander says as he picks up the sign. “This was reserved for us.” According to Alexander and Pé, despite working with a producer for the first time ever, this “improvisational” attitude played a big role during the creation of their sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain, due out June 7 on Vice Records.

“We’re going to take you for a few loops on this ride, but I think this will be our most successful album to date,” says Alexander regarding the finished product. Arabia Mountain marks the first time Black Lips worked with a producer when recording, and when it came to finding one, they didn’t skimp. Mark Ronson—who produced Amy Winehouse’s Grammy award winning Back to Black album—produced nine of the 16 tracks on Arabia Mountain, including the first official single “Modern Art.” Although the pairing of Ronson’s pristine production with the lo-fi psyche sound of Black Lips seems unlikely at first, according to Pé and Alexander the experience was positive. “I believe Mark Ronson is a real motherfucker. A real dude. He said he genuinely liked us, so [the album] sounds good,” says Pé. Alexander continues, “Everything Ronson knew about recording he had to rework to work with us. It was a whole other planet. He learned a lot from us, and we learned a lot from him.”

According to Alexander, one of the reasons that Black Lips were interested in working with Ronson was because of the Amy Winehouse record, which he described as simultaneously having both a retro and modern sound.

Arabia Mountain has a more polished sound than any of the band’s previous releases but maintains their signature sloppy rock n’ roll. The album bounces from songs like “Family Tree” and “Spidey’s Curse,” which shimmer reminicently of The Beach Boys, to tracks like “Raw Meat” and “Bone Marrow” that channel the bouncy high energy of the Ramones. When we spoke in Austin, Pé and Alexander seemed genuinely excited about it when compared to their last release, 200 Million Thousand. Pé described how during the recording of that album the band would be flying off to foreign countries to tour before flying back home to record. “To me, [Arabia Mounatain] is kind of where Good Bad Not Evil left off,” says Pé before clarifying that he does still like 200 Million Thousand and that he looks at it as though it were one of his children. “That child was bad, though. We had to put that one in rehab,” says Alexander.  Black Lips took approximately a year and a half to record Arabia Mountain, ample time to slow roast it and “cook it with love.” “We didn’t want to fuck with anything. We wanted to make sure it was perfect. Now it is,” says Pé.

In addition to working with Ronson, Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt worked on production for two of the tracks on the album—“Bicentennial Man” and the feel good, surf rock song “Go Out and Get It.” But the most unusual contribution to the upcoming album comes from nothing less than a human skull Alexander found on a trip to New York City.

“We use it as a reverberation chamber,” says Alexander. “The 13th Floor Elevators, who are a big influence on us, used a jug as an echo chamber for reverberation. We did the same thing with a human skull.” Pé says that they hope using the skull will imitate the way that sound reverberates inside of a live human skull. The skull makes an appearance in the video for “Modern Art” and, according to Alexander, may be making a few appearances on stage during the band’s upcoming tour. “If we can get past the transportation issues, we’ll try by all means to get that skull wherever we can,” says Alexander. Pé adds, “It’s like drugs, you can only bring as much as you can eat. We can’t eat that …” 

Although Arabia Mountain drops a week and a half before Black Lips play The Urban Lounge on June 18, their set list will encompass more than the newest material. “Growing up, I never liked when a band would come on tour and just play the new shit,” says Pé. “You build a fan base from your past. Give yourself, and the fans, some of what built you as a band, the past records, and showcase some of the new.”

The night marks the second time the band will play Salt Lake City. “I want the Mormon ladies to come say hey. I’ll be back stage with some shrimp and white wine,” says Alexander.

Check out Black Lips at Urban Lounge on June 18 with Cerebral Ballzy and openers Spell Talk.