Listen to Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club on Rhapsody

By Dennis Cook

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
“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.

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.”

Delinquent Days

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

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
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.

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].”

“[Baby 81] is heavy in the head but we’ve always had moody characters, for lack of a better word. From the first album, we also always wanted to be about hope. This is a way of getting the thoughts out and connecting with people. At the same time, you hope the music creates some sort of light in the tunnel. Hopefully that gets across.
-Peter Hayes

Roots And Causes

Peter Hayes – BRMC
I was utterly convinced BRMC were an English band when I heard their 2000 debut, B.R.M.C. To find out they’re from San Francisco was just plain odd. “The only American bands we liked at the time were Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails,” chuckles Hayes. “Other than that it was Joy Division, Ride, The Verve, so I guess you are what you eat [laughs].”

Hayes is prone to slip into soapbox mode if given half a chance. One senses there’s a manifesto tucked away in his closet, and he’s plenty passionate, if not always easy to follow.

“I don’t necessarily believe there’s any such thing as governments. I think it’s money, capitalism. I’m of the belief that if you control the art you control the people,” says Hayes. “Record companies are businesses promoting bands and music, and they try to make a little money off it, too. But, to me, it’s a culture thing. If the culture becomes so obsessed with money and fame AND art is only there for money and fame, then that’s culture’s problem not a record company’s problem. It’s an artist problem if they get into it for money and fame, and do everything they can to get in everybody’s face to preach about money and fame. That sells more records these days but that’s not the record company’s problem. That’s what the majority of people give a shit about [these days]. That’s where the problem lies. The big business of government is what drives that thought.”

Bad Reputation

Peter Hayes – BRMC
Hayes’ phone voice has a Brooklyn-esque bark, low and a little dinged up. You can almost smell the whiskey and cigarettes that’ve produced this timbre. It fits their rough name though Hayes cautions folks against pigeonholing them.

“Sometimes our reputation of being dark, moody and angry precedes us but if you listen a little further past that there’s a little more to it [laughs]. We go back to pirates, who were the first biker gangs. That’s the fun of it. You go into town and you destroy what you can, in a mental way. You go into the record company business and you try to pillage from it what you can.”

However, their name is a bit of a mouthful. “That’s been – and still is – a debate sometimes,” Hayes comments. “Is it easily forgettable? Yes, but maybe that’s a good thing. Makes you go search for it if you really care. If it really hits you then you’ll wonder how the fuck to find us. It makes it a hunting game.”

Unexpected Sunlight

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
“From day one, we debated being on an indie label because that’s the cool thing to do and you’re not feeding into the business of it so much,” Hayes says. “We’ve seen friends do that, and then their indie label gets bought up by a major label. In the end, it doesn’t matter to us. What mattered was working and doing it.”

That work has taken them into the stuff of amphitheatres and multistoried coliseums. Baby 81 is agit-pop that might find a place on MTV. There’s a sturm and drang to their new tracks that may find favor with the black eyeliner MySpace boys and doomy blog chicks. But that sense of dread is only the surface according to Hayes.

“[Baby 81] is heavy in the head but we’ve always had moody characters, for lack of a better word. From the first album, we also always wanted to be about hope. This is a way of getting the thoughts out and connecting with people. At the same time, you hope the music creates some sort of light in the tunnel. Hopefully that gets across.”

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