Ole Alexander, singer and guitarist, Jared Swilley, bassist and singer, Ian St. Pè, guitarist and singer.
The Black Lips are known for touring some of the more interesting parts of the world. Just in 2009, they went on a tour in India and back in 2007, they performed in Israel and Palestine.
This year the band decided to head east, packing their bags and embarking on a tour of the Middle East.
“It seemed like a challenge to us and we like to be adventurous with our touring, it’d be really easy to just play in North America all the time but it can get boring,” says Joe Bradley, drummer and singer. “We just like to experience the different cultures, different foods, meet different people. We wanna see the world.”
The quartet had originally wanted to tour the Middle East last year, but due to the turmoil of the Arab Spring they decided to postpone it.
“We all came up with the idea because we were very interested to come to this region, we were always really into the music that came out of here,” adds Bradley. “It’s really interesting to come closer to the source of things.”
Which explains why The Black Lips are leaving Egypt with a CD of the great Om Kulthoum’s most famous songs.
The band started off in Cyprus on September 19 before making their way to Egypt on September 21. The Black Lips debuted in Cairo at the Sawy Culture Wheel, with local bands Zero 50 and Faking it, then travelled to Alexandria where they performed at the Bibliotheca on September 22, and it was back to Cairo again on September 25 where they performed at the Cairo Jazz Club.
Traveling along with them is filmmaker Bill Cody, who already has some experience working in the region, shooting a documentary on the band’s journey through the Middle East.
“[The purpose is to] bring home a different perspective to people who know very little about the region, what we get through western media is terrible as it shows all these people with beards screaming and throwing rocks,” says Bradley.
“This region wouldn’t function like that, you have to have normal people living normal lives, he hopes to show that, and the cross of cultures and the sharing between them, and show us in a more interesting setting,” he adds.
Cody didn’t just bring his camera on the road, he is also responsible for finding the opening act that came along on the tour.
“I got an email from Bill Cody through myspace, which was kind of freaky because I was like, is this guy legit?” says Allan Chaaraoui, frontman of the Beirut-based band Lazzy Lung. “He mentioned that the Black Lips were doing a tour and thought that we would be the ideal band to be a part of it.”
Although Chaaraoui was born and raised in Canada, he found himself in Lebanon in 2006, right around the time the Israeli war broke out.
“I started trying to express myself about how I felt about things,” says Chaaraoui. “It was a strange part of my life, and that’s how the idea of ‘Strange Places’ came about, our first album.”
Chaaraoui collaborated with Lebanese musicians Anthony, on lead guitar, Imad, on bass and Mark, on drums.
Lazzy Lung has since been a smash in the underground music scene, and in 2011 they won the Rolling Stone Middle East competition, Battle of the Bands. Through that opportunity, they got to meet other musicians from the region which opened their eyes to the music scene in the Middle East.
“I wouldn’t call it evolving, I would say that people are becoming more aware of it,” says Imad. “People never gave it a chance, but now that we’re here, it was the first time we discovered how much people love music here. It was always there, but nobody gave an effort to find out.”
Mark echoes the same sentiment. “I’m having a lot of fun on this tour, and I’m amazed by Egypt, I can see a lot of people who came to our Alexandria show here [in Cairo],” he says. “I can’t wait to play some more music on this tour.”
After their shows in Cairo, the two bands headed to Dubai and are also going to perform in Iraq and finally end in Lebanon.
The Black Lips are particularly excited about performing in Iraq. “That was the first place in the Middle East that we were always trying to get to,” says Bradley.
But unlike most bands based out of the United States, The Black Lips won’t be performing a show for American soldiers but rather for Iraqi people.
“I have a real problem with going to play for soldiers, soldiers who are occupying a country,” says Bradley. “Nothing against the soldiers, but it just seems a little empty to me … if you’re going to Iraq, play for Iraqis.”
The drummer does assert, however, that the band is not in any way involved, nor interested, in making a political statement. “No politics, only cultural sharing and caring,” he adds. “We’re not a political band. Just rock and roll.” et