The Black Lips Talk Mark Ronson and the "Unpredictable and Violent" Rock'n'Roll of 'Arabia Mountain'
Published Jun 07, 2011They seem as different as night and day, so when it was announced last year that Mark Ronson, the guy behind those slick pop records by Lily Allen, Duran Duran, Robbie Williams and, of course, Amy Winehouse, was in the studio with scuzzy garage band Black Lips many heads were scratched.
According to Black Lips guitarist Ian St. Pé, the band were going for broke on their sixth album, Arabia Mountain, and so they made a master list of the producers they wanted to work with.
"We literally were thinking of trying to get Dr. Dre, the guy who did the Gnarls Barkley album, Danger Mouse, and there were one or two others and, of course, Mark Ronson," he tells Exclaim! "Mark actually said yes, so we were like, 'Hell, yeah!' Doing every other album ourselves, we're like a gang, so we're not just gonna let anybody work with us. We figure that if someone has Grammys, we'll give him a shot."
As they entered the studio with the London producer, the Lips were adamant that they didn't want Ronson to make them sound like Duran Duran. But they quickly learned that the Grammy winner was on the same page they were.
"When we talked to him, before we even started production, he said, 'I do not wanna change y'all,'" explains St. Pé. "And we said, 'Good, because we're not gonna be changed.' We don't understand his world, we don't understand that crisp world, we don't understand the Grammy Award-winning world, we don't understand the being on a major label world.
"So, take Mark and throw in us, who eat, shit, sleep, breathe, I think the good kind of rock'n'roll, the old-school, dirty stuff that's unpredictable and violent, where you just don't know what's gonna happen... That's the real stuff. So, take that and take the major label shit that he does and we just thought it might work. I'm not saying it's perfect, but rock'n'roll was not supposed to be perfect. I think it came out good. If it wasn't going correct, we would have ditched it."
The result is Arabia Mountain, their strongest, most dynamic and sweetest-sounding record to date. While only half of it was produced by Ronson, he doesn't hear much variation between the tracks he produced and the ones produced by the band and Lockett Pundt (Deerhunter, Lotus Plaza), who chipped in two.
"I don't hear a whole lot of difference sonically of what I did compared to the songs that I didn't produce," Ronson tells Exclaim! "In fact, I kind of think a song like 'Family Tree' sounds even bigger than some of the ones I did."
He adds, "The thing I really worked on most was song structure and arrangement. Whereas they just would have just written a song and just played it because that was how they wrote it. I didn't want to fuck with their songs at all, just help them craft a few more pop nuggets."
Arabia Mountain is out today (June 7) via Vice Records. In support of the record, the Black Lips are currently on tour in North America and will play a Canadian date in Vancouver on June 15. You can see the band's complete schedule here.
To read Exclaim!'s recently published June cover story on the Black Lips, click here.