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By Dennis Cook
"Rebellion might be our defining characteristic since day one – wanting to do it differently than how it's usually done, as far as how you treat the music and what it means to people," says Peter Hayes, guitarist/singer behind charmingly serrated rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He follows this mission statement with an oddly placed laugh. One senses BRMC takes the piss out even the most serious topics. Surely, true rebellion must include a degree of skepticism for our own preconceptions.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Hayes quickly snaps back into superpolitic mode. Down deep, where it counts, BRMC are true believers in music's ability to effect people and the world at large.
"I hope so. That's where the rebellion kind of starts," continues Hayes. "Music is being sold in a completely different manner than that. It's about money and fame, and I've been against that since day one."
A couple of the sounds that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I'm a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass
Elton John's paean to hoodlums loose on a Saturday night jumps into my head when I see the name Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. A going concern since 1995, BRMC has always possessed a tough boy charm, tapping into rock's nogoodnik soul with a sneer. Their big, slippery sound draws from the Jesus and Mary Chain, T-Rex, Spiritualized and the Velvet Underground. 2005's excellent Howl revealed a newfound gift for California country rock, an acoustic heart hidden below their leather jackets.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
2007's Baby 81 returns them to rippling arena-sized rock full of tribal drums and reverberant electric guitars. The title stirs images of Logan's Run and other dystopian '70s sci-fi, where infants are given numbers instead of names, a depersonalized future we may already be living.
"Nick [Jago - drummer] came across a story about a baby that was stranded after a tsunami that was numbered 81. He brought it to us and suggested calling the album that," offers Hayes. "We hemmed and hawed for a while but didn't have anything better than that [laughs]."
Baby 81 is a very different album than Howl, abandoning the bedsit intimacy for a massive, aggressive sound reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine with more bile and less fuzz. The new album continues his songwriting partnership with bassist/singer Robert Levon Been, the son of Michael Been of The Call, the '80s radio staple that once gave U2 a run for their money. Michael Been (who film buffs will recognize as the Apostle John from Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ) produced Baby 81 and imparts some of his band's hyper passionate spiritual fervor to things.
"I think Howl would have turned out like this one if we'd had all the electric guitars. But, we had to do Howl before we did this one. Howl sort of freed us up," Hayes says. "Songs like 'Ain't No Easy Way' had no bass on it. It's just us doing this vocal, Motown type thing. We put on xylophones or whatever and all the experimenting we did with vocals. Doing that album made this better. We learned we could get away with that experience."
Howl freed them to go anywhere afterwards. "That's the hope of it but it can be debated," offers Hayes. "A lot of people didn't like that album, a lot of people did [laughs]. For us, it was great. The cool thing was the fans got it. That was the worry, that we were going to lose all our fans and everybody was going to go, 'What the fuck? This is bullshit!' [laughs]."