Jim Swilley is the father of Black Lips bass player and frontman Jared Swilley, and he’s about as charismatic a speaker as they come. After watching the video, it’s impossible to deny the uplifting nature of his talk, regardless of sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Over the weekend I had a chance to catch up with Jared, who was in New York, tracking the next Black Lips record (set for a possible April release date on Vice Records) with producer Mark Ronson, and talk about his father’s coming out.
Chad Radford: You’ve been out of town playing shows and recording, but I assume that you’ve watched the video of your dad’s church service in which he tells his congregation that he’s gay.
Jared Swilley: Yeah, I watched it the day after it happened.
Church of the Now seems to be pretty progressive. His congregation was very supportive — they’re not Southern Baptists!
Yeah, it is a pretty progressive church, especially now. My dad’s philosophy is kind of what you call “inclusionist.” It’s a universal thing and basically he doesn’t really believe that people are bound for Hell. He’s got a pretty positive message.
My dad was born in the ‘50s, in the deep South, to Protestant celebrities in the South, so you can’t really get any more hostile than that, at least in this country. In Uganda they’re trying to make homosexuality a capital punishment. And apparently you can get in trouble for not outing someone if you know they’re gay.
Do you come from a long line of church leaders, bishops, preachers and the likes?
On my father’s side of the family, I think pretty much every male is involved with the church. I don’t know how far back it goes, but it does go back a long way.
Was there pressure on you to go into the church as well?
No, I never felt any pressure from my dad, but really what we're doing isn’t all that different. He leads praise and worship, and he put out a whole bunch of records when he was my age, back in the ‘80s. There’s even a picture of me on the back of my dad’s first record, when I was a baby. He played piano and saxophone and had a full band. My uncles and my great aunts and uncles also had a band called the Swilley Family Singers. People sometimes bring those records to Black Lips shows and give them to me.
I always liked the energy at my dad’s church. People would speak in tongues, the music was loud and people were going crazy. But it was in the morning time and there was no alcohol… I always wanted rock and roll show to have that much passion.
Have you known that your dad was gay for a while, or was this news to you?
I had no idea at all. He had been married twice and he’s a preacher. When he called to tell me that he’s gay I was in Berlin on tour. It was definitely shocking, but I was actually glad when he told me. I feel closer to him now because he’s being honest with himself and everyone around him. It took him a long time to do it, and I honestly think he’s hoping to live his whole life and never come out and do it, but now that he has I think he’s a lot happier.
It can’t be easy to tell your congregation that you’re gay.
No, most Christians are not cool with that, and I’ve seen some people on Christian blogs saying some of the most hateful, hurtful things about it. Insane things; the kind of things that you can’t believe this is someone that you see on a daily basis, and they’re spouting that kind of stuff.
When my dad told me he was gay, he asked me if it would affect our relationship, and I said, “Are you kidding me? No, it’s not going to affect our relationship.” But it does take a lot of balls to come out in an environment like that, and I think I respect him a little more now. He’s tougher now that he came out of the closet, which was probably one of the toughest things he could have done. I thought it was pretty bad ass.
He’s faced some criticism for it, and even in the video a few people walk out on the service, but I talked with my grandma on Sunday and she said that it hasn’t made anything that different.
How long ago did he tell you?
It was back in May, when I came back from tour. He took me and my brothers out to Mary Mac’s and then over to Piedmont Park and we all sat around and talked about it. It was the closest that I’ve felt with my family in a really long time.
There are a lot of practicing Christians out there who are also homosexuals, and I can’t think of anything that would cause more internal or external conflict.
It seems like you would really hate yourself all the time if you felt that if you acted on what you’re naturally inclined to do, you would burn in hell. That’s scary. I think it’s good for kids who in a Christian household—it must be terrible to be a gay teen and have intolerant Christian parents.
Editor's note: According to Black Lips' publicist the release date for the new record is not yet solidified, but confirms a possible April release date.
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