US - Texas - Full Moon 85 - 09/10/03
Liptstick traces - an interview with...
They're twenty years ahead, but fifty years ahead and they hail from Austin, Texas. Black Lipstick
was formed out of the ashes of another great band, The Kiss Offs, in 2001 and released a fine e.p.
that same year, Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick.
A little background... Singer/guitarist Phillip Niemeyer grew up eight blocks from Doug Sahm
in San Antonio, Texas. After being kicked out of the elementary school choir and twice failing to
qualify for the high school talent show, Phillip learned to sing by belting along with the only
examples he had -- those "singers who couldn't sing," as David Berman put it. He does more damage
with his God-given monotone than the whole cast of American Idol. But do not confuse his vocal
limitations with sarcasm. He means every word.
Elizabeth Nottingham played drums for the first time the very day Black Lipstick started and
coaxes her beats out of days spent driving around with her windows down, listening to the hip-hop/R&B
station BEAT 104.3.
Travis Higdon steps to the mic on a few songs and is responsible for most of the major riffage.
He also adds the occasional (and occasionally convincing) drunk Nicky Hopkins impersonation on
Steve Garcia joined the band just two months before they began recording Converted Thieves
(released 2003) and proves himself the rightful heir to the Telecaster bass he bought from Mike
Watt for $150 (true story). Steve also acquired the bass amp Watt used on Double Nickels
but pawned it to pay rent.
Critics from The Village Voice to Seattle Weekly placed the band on par with its vaunted influences,
a short list of rock's great trash-poets (Velvet Underground, Television, Modern Lovers, the Fall).
Time Out New York named their debut EP, The Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick, one of the
ten best releases of 2001. Still, praise does not pay the bills, and the band was (is) broke. During
the recording of Converted Thieves, Travis was on the dole, Beth made below minimum wage,
Steve couldn't even afford a phone and Phillip was the only attorney in town commuting by bus &
LK: What are the origins of Peek a Boo records?
Travis: "Peek-A-Boo Records started in 1995, when I put out a 7" for a crappy band I was
in at the time. I loved making records and wanted to do something to support all the great Texas
bands that people might not otherwise get to hear. It's been a steadily sinking sinkhole of debt
ever since, and I love it."
LK: What are the best things about running the label?
Travis: "Limos, hotel parties, pockets full of pills, liquor in the morning, and liberal
sexual encounters with strangers... you know, the typical stuff."
LK: ...and the toughest things?
Travis: "Counting piles of money."
LK: Do you only put out records by bands from Texas?
LK: Is pressing/selling vinyl harder than putting out and selling cds?
Travis: "Vinyl is more expensive to manufacture, it's harder to sell, and even if you can
sell it, you make less money than you would off a CD."
LK: Why did you start making music?
Phil: "One day, I think I was 23, I heard this beautiful sound eminating from the tree
outside my window. I looked and saw a funny little bird with grey mottled plumage. Not able to
resist its sweet tweetings I climbed the tree where it was perched and asked: "Little bird, who
are you and what is this enchanting sound you make?" The bird answered, "I am a nightengale, and
I make music." It continued: "And you my son, have been called to join me." The bird then taught
me to sing, my throat to the heavens warbling praise to God's greater glory. Before then I never
sang a note. If you wish to hear my golden voice hit notes Pavoratti could only dream of, please
purchase the Peek-A-Boo Industries CD EP, The Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick."
Beth: "I started making music because I thought it would be fun to be in a band with Phillip.
I didn't know how to play drums when we started Black Lipstick, but since I played in an Indonesian
percussion ensemble, also called a gamelan, I picked up the drums pretty quickly."
Travis: "I started when some friends formed a band and wanted me to be the singer. I learned
how to play three chords on guitar by playing along to our first record one summer and learned
enough to be the 2nd guitarist. It's been downhill ever since."
LK: Would you call the Kiss Offs and Black Lipstick a retro-band? What do you think of this
Phil: "We are twenty years behind, but fifty years ahead."
LK: The Austin music scene is pretty colorful, could you tell a thing or two about
it? (How it has been the last years. The bands, venues, labels etc.)
Phil: "Austin is a lot of fun. It's small enough that you know a lot of other musicians
and music fans, but it's big enough that there's plenty to do andyou don't suffer from Small
town-its. People in Austin are extremely savvy about music--more so than even most New Yorkers
or what not - and starting bands is as much a social activity as joining a bridge league or
Travis: "It's hot as shit here, too."
LK: Are there any bands that you would like to put out a record by or any records
that you would have liked to release?
Travis: "I'd like to have put out an album for Spoon, Trail of Dead, Knife in the Water...
but those guys all have other options, so they're not suffering. I had been talking to David Bean
of The Judy's about re-issuing their Washarama LP, but he liked the idea so much that he's
going to re-issue it himself."
LK: Are there any labels that have inspired you, local and others?
Travis: "In the beginning, I looked to all the other successful indie labels, like Estrus,
Teen Beat, Merge, K, Sympathy, Matador, etc. Now I just try to stay afloat, putting out music I
love and hoping people can find it."
LK: Which bands/artists would you consider inspirationally great?
Phil: "Rolling Stones, The Fall, the Velvet Underground are my top three favorite rock
bands, for sure. I also find a lot inspiration in the music of Sonny Sharock, Jay-Z and Al Green,
amoung others. The contemporary groups that really kill me are the Country Teasers, the Octopus
Project, ...And you will know us by the Trail of Dead, and others. As far as songwriters, two
local guys, Steve Garcia of Meow Meow and Milton from Big Drag/Where the Action Is, are both
touched by genius."
Beth: "Art Ensemble of Chicago, R.E.M., Susie Ibarra, Television, Sonic Youth, Pharoah
Sanders, Elmore James, Jay-Z."
LK: Are lyrics important to Black Lipstick? Why and what are they about?
Phil: "The lyrics are extremely important and they are about lots of really important stuff,
like partay-ing, the ladeez we love, drugz, how much work sux, and how cool we are. We really do
work hard on our lyrics and there is a lot of meaning in them that cannot easily be summarized in
just a couple of words -- there are lots of word plays and puns in the songs. A lot of the time
we try to use cheap slang to try to say something deeper."
LK: Are you planning a European tour?
Beth: "Yes, we would love to tour Europe. We plan on spending a lot of time in Hash bars
and subways. If anyone would like to help us set up a show, please contact our Booking Agent
Extrodinaire, Noel at email@example.com."
Phil: "That would be a dream come true. I have never been to Europe. We would love to go
to Iceland. Is it true that the Fall was huge there in the '80s?"
Travis: "Yes, if someone would help us book shows in Europe, we're there!"
LK: Many journalists have been saying things like "The White Stripes, Strokes and
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are the bands that will save Rock and Roll". What do you think of
Phil: "It sounds like typical invent-a-trend rock journalism. If you read enough music
magazines over the years you can see it's just the same story over and over again: (Insert band
name here) (saves/destroys) rock and roll. Some journalist has to make a deadline and some record
company istrying to sell some CDs, etc. Whatever. I like all three of those bands, though. I don't
think the stupid hype or whatnot should reflect at all on their music, which is good. I hope that
they can sell a couple more CDs or whatnot; they all deserve it for making good, honest rocking
Beth: "Rock and roll never died in the first place, but I am glad that there are rock bands
out there that are still popular."
LK: Is there anything that you want to add?
Phil: "Is it true that people in Iceland are smarter, better looking and cooler than people
from any other country? Is that fair? How about an exchange program? Some of y'all come live in
Texas get fat off Tex Mex food and work a shitty job in an over-air-conditioned office, and we'll
move up to Iceland, hang out in hot springs and talk about Voltaire or Foucoult or whatever, while
listening to Fall records. Cool?"
Copyright © 2003 Benni