The Truth Behind Indian Chaos
Fleeing Chennai with Cole Alexander

Words by Martin Halo

Athens, Georgia — Georgia’s outrageous and rebellious Black Lips marked the release of their fifth studio album, 200 Million Thousand, (Vice Records) with buzz still ringing from a controversial trip to India back at the end of January. Reports, which filtered back to the United States, were confusing and some blatantly untrue. In a press release slipped to the media back on February 3, initial reports across the wire stated that the Athens quartet were forced to flee India; running from the authorities after a string of onstage lewd acts committed by guitarist Cole Alexander.

The American media seemed skeptical at the situation as a convenient stunt to promote the release of a new album. But with conflicting reports stemming from Indian authorities, news agencies, and the spin of publicity we decided to break it down straight from the horse’s mouth. Back in Georgia, preparing for the kick off of a US Tour that will take the band through New York City on March 9th, Cole Alexander lays out the chaotic experience.

“We were contacted on the internet from a promoter in India who was interested in our band and offered to bring us out”, Alexander begins. “It was an opportunity for us to take our music globally and we jumped at the chance. We bought tickets and went.”

“Kicking it in India was incredible”, he says. “The beaches, the food, and listening to the music while being driven around in taxi cabs; it was amazing. It is just a beautiful place and very spiritually enlightening. I loved the country, I just think in retrospect they were not on the same page with us with the whole punk rock thing.”

Known in the United States for their outrageous live shows, which include urinating, vomiting, and sheer audacity in their pursuit of the traditions stemming from the rebellious nature of punk rock, The Black Lips unprecedented Indian excursion seemed destined for chaos from the onset.

“From the start it was a little different experience than we were expecting. As far as culturally, we got exactly what we expected, but as far as bands doing tours, they were pretty much making it up as they went along. Bands don’t really tour there”, he says. “If you are a big band you might do one city, but we were trying to pull off a tour. We were flying by the seat of our pants which is why I think we ran into chaos.”

The Indian countryside is a mixture of densely populated cites, indigenous bush tribes, and youth culture. But in the midst of Bollywood and Western influences, the country prides itself in core traditional values. Arranged marriages, male control, and low divorce rate sit alongside a pluralistic belief system with the influx of progressive thinking.

The band noticed the cultural differences in the live music forum immediately. “There was no drinking or smoking at shows in India, and they all ended by midnight”, Alexander explains. “That threw us for a loop right away. We had never seen anything like that. The social make-up of the country is hard to explain. You blatantly see atrocities of poverty or somebody defecating on the streets over there. To me it was hard to draw the line between the areas that were conservative and those that were more liberalized.”

The band was supporting the upcoming U.S. release of 200 Million Thousand. “We went back to our roots with this record”, said Alexander, “a dirty garage sound. It ended up being really free and more lo-fi because of that. It was the first time we have owned our own studio and we had a lot of time to just hang around the studio instead of being on the clock. We were kind of behind the knobs a little more.”

“We took these songs on the road and the shows we were playing the audiences were just kind of staring at us. We were getting plastic bottles thrown at us in Pune”, he recalls.

The root of the outrage from Indian concert promoters and authorities in Chennai, India was sparked from the growing unrest within the artistic nerve within the band. “We were becoming frustrated because people were not getting us”, explains Alexander. “We are a really sloppy band. We are scrappy and all of the bands that were on this tour worked really hard to be tight and professional. So when we got up onstage everybody thought we sucked! When we play in America a band like ours is thought to be refreshing to some people.”

“We were so frustrated we decided to go balls out and show them what we were all about. We said ‘fuck it’, lets just do what we do and be ourselves instead of trying overly hard to be on our best behavior. Everybody was waiting to see it though”, comments Alexander. “Everybody had read the press about us and knew we put on a wild show. In the back of our heads, even though we were advised against stuff like that, they were expecting it.”

With the bubble about to burst the band was scheduled to play as part of ‘Campus Rock Idol’.

“We drove all night to the state of Temil. We got to the airport where we were supposed to be flying out of and people immediately started hassling us for money. They wanted money to keep the cops away from us, for the lost fees of the shows, everything you could imagine. We all looked at each other and basically said let’s just cut our looses and get the hell out of here.”
– Cole Alexander

“The gig that it happened at wasn’t televised”, clarifies Alexander. “It kind of got back to the States that it was an American Idol type program but that wasn’t true. It was a bunch of college kids.”

“At this particular show where we lost it” – meaning an onstage kiss with guitarist Ian Saint Pe and a span of attempting to use one’s unit as a full-frontal guitar pick – “everybody in the crowd was going crazy and going nuts. It was our best crowd reaction of the tour. People were going ape shit”, says Alexander.

But the million-dollar question stands clear. On the plane ride over wasn’t the discussion that no matter what the tour would hold, whipping out your cock after kissing your band mate probably wouldn’t be the best idea for the Indian excursion?

“People hinted at stuff like that”, responds Alexander. “We actually made an agreement to be on our best behavior. We only slipped up after we became so frustrated from the crowds being really stiff towards us.”

“There was all of this security trying to calm the kids down. When we were done some of the security guards were telling us that we were cool and shit. All the kids were excited and everybody came back stage in good spirits. Everything was cool until about 15 minutes later. The only person we knew that spoke English was telling us that we needed to leave the state. The promoter who sponsored the tour was pissed that we did all of these lewd acts in front of the media.”

“It looked bad on his part. I swear to you the next thing we knew security guards were banging on the doors and we had to sneak out of the venue through a side exit. Our tour manager was advising us that we need to get out of there quick, it would be stupid to sit around like assholes to see if the police were called.”

“So we did just that, we fled. We made it back to our hotel and this feeling of relief came over us that we got away. Our tour manager was like ‘no, no, no. I just talked to the booking agent and he said that everybody was losing their cool and the whole tour was being cancelled. Nobody wants to book you guys now’ he said”, explains Alexander.

“All of the shows were falling through. All of the money we were supposed to be getting paid was no longer there. The sponsors were backing out because of what I did. We were told the cops were on their way to our hotel, but we weren’t sure.”

The band then sent an email to their label back in New York City. For their handlers back in the States the situation was becoming even more confusing and uncertain as the band stated they were fleeing the country.

“At that point the decision was made to flee the state in order to get past the reach of the police’s jurisdiction”, continues Alexander. “The only thing that was going through our heads at the time was even if there was a slight chance the cops were after us we needed to flee. In India there conviction of a lewd act is in a minimum 3 months in jail.”

“We drove all night”, shares Alexander, “to the state of Temil. We got to the airport where we were supposed to be flying out of and people immediately started hassling us for money. They wanted money to keep the cops away from us, for the lost fees of the shows, everything you could imagine. We all looked at each other and basically said let’s just cut our looses and get the hell out of here. I mean, people were just swarming us and there was all of this confusion.”

“When we got back and started telling people about what had happened, folks in the media shrugged it off like we were exaggerating about fleeing from the police. When you are in India and the only person you know that speaks the language and guiding you around is telling you to flee, you kind of follow your instincts at that point.”

“We never saw them hot on our tail be we were not going to sit around like assholes and wait to see if they were coming. We were just following the best interest of our safety and just got the fuck out of there.”

“Basically the guy who was responsible for us didn’t want to take the fall if we all got sent to jail”, concludes Alexander.

200 Million Thousand hit the street back on February 24, 2009. | India