The Black Lips have been one of the hardest-working indie bands in the business for the past 15 years, cranking out seven studio albums, hopping in the van for countless tours and, as it turns out, becoming a go-to favorite for music supervisors and show runners in search of that indefinable flower punk/garage rock je ne sais quoi.
“I didn’t really start listening to them until 2010 when I heard ‘Veni Vidi Vici’ in Scott Pilgrim [vs. The World] — and then I heard ‘Bad Kids‘ [from 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil] and I knew at that moment I wanted to use it in a video or movie or something I was going to make,” says Zach Holmes, 27, creator of MTV’s new Jackass-style show, Too Stupid To Die.
When the stunts-and-pranks series debuted on Nov. 2, viewers were treated to an opening credit sequence that is not only cued to the raucous “Bad Kids,” but features the cast singing along to Holmes’ favorite tune.
“That song reminded me a lot of my friends and all the crazy shit we would do, good and bad — so when I got an opportunity to make this show it was the the only song I could think of that I wanted to use in the opening,” Holmes tells Billboard. “It just fits us to a T…it’s the only song I could think of that made any sense.”
And the singalong bit in the intro? That’s based on reality. When the crew were driving around in one of their production vans during filming they would frequently break out into the song together.
The high-profile sync on the show that racked up 404,000 viewers in its first airing came just two days before the band landed another prime placement on the penultimate episode of the Showtime dramedy Kidding, Jim Carrey’s return to TV. That ep featured one minute of the jangly garage rocker “Make You Mine” from the band’s 2014 Underneath the Rainbow album cued to Carrey’s on-screen son painting numbers on a group of chickens and causing mayhem by releasing them into the school cafeteria; the song was also featured on the first and only season of Showtime’s rock drama Roadies.
“It’s surprising how much they do get placed…it usually comes out of nowhere from some music supervisor who is a long-time fan who finds a way to place them in a show,” says Brian DeRan, the band’s longtime manager at Leg Up Management. “They’re in that zone where they play traditional rock and there’s not a lot of that out there now…they live in this area where it’s guitar-based, energetic and they’re it.”
Over the past few years, that unique style has led to more than 50 prominent placements in TV shows, film trailers and national and international ads for Ray Ban (“Veni Vidi Vici”), Volkswagen (“Time”), AT&T (“Raw Meat”) and two T Mobile spots (“New Direction,” “Dandelion Dust”), as well as the films 500 Days of Summer (“Bad Kids” & “Veni Vidi Vici”), Scott Pilgrim (“O Katrina”), Netflix’s Kissing Booth (“New Direction”) and the network series Chuck (“Raw Meat”), About a Boy (“I Don’t Want to Go Home”) and The Following (“Boys in the Wood”).
“They’ve built a cult following with their shows, and one thing that appeals to music supervisors and music creatives is that they’re authentic,” says Madison Norris, vice president of creative, East Coast for Zync Music, which has placed the band’s music for more than a decade. “People are really drawn to how they’re always themselves, with music that is raw,”
Zync’s senior manager of licensing, Jackie Feibus, adds that the wide range of mediums the band’s music has been used in is very rare in her world. “One of the coolest things is that they’ve had success in commercials, TV shows, film trailers…not every band can have that versatility,” she says.
Despite their early reputation for on-stage hell-raising that included fistfights and copious amounts of airborne saliva, Norris says the Lips’ dedication to working with brands and music supervisors has resulted in another income generator that can vary from the high five figures to six figures on good years, which makes for a nice stream of added revenue in years when the band is not on the road or is in the studio. “Success leads to other syncs and allows us to get bigger fees,” she says.
Considering how lucrative the revenue stream has become for the two remaining original members, guitarist/singer Cole Alexander and bassist/singer Jared Swilley, DeRan, who has managed them for 11 years, has to laugh when he recalls the first time he saw the Lips perform. At the show in Baltimore, he watched in amazement as Alexander urinated in his own mouth, leading to DeRan begging the bouncers to let the guys finish the gig, but only after he paid the stage manager $80 to replace a urine-soaked microphone.
They love it,” he says of the band’s interest in sync deals. “They want nothing more than for people to hear their music in any way shape or form possible.”