For all the hyperbole of the last twelve months, the key acts which became ensconced within such a manic excitement of relentless press-support have had some explaining to do. Yet, despite the hypers’ usual delivery of accolade to those that fizzle out in a short amount of time, recently, the people succeeding are the ones that the media expected special things to happen to in the first place. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are one of these vital new acts that have justified their continually-rising and prominent existence in modern alternative-music. Though, to date, it hasn’t been an easy ride.
Despite obtaining underground and commercial hit singles, as well as producing an extremely well-revered, self-titled debut LP, BRMC have been plagued by a few major difficulties internally – and externally. The most notable of these from within the band arose due to drummer Nick Jago’s inability to join the band on tours and promotional-duties outside of the US, occurring due to unspecified past occurrences. To cope and spread the band’s message, the group’s two vocalists, guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist Robert Turner, covered all the live-work, taking with them former Verve sticks-man Pete Salisbury to help out. Although tours and performances were received rapturously, Hayes and Turner haven’t been as ecstatic in their response to how the situation presented itself.
In addition to this, despite the ardent praise received from various media-platforms on the Black Rebel material so far, there has also been a negative perception of their personalities, some plaguing their being as ‘aloof’ and ‘moody’. The reason for such criticisms stems from their responses in the interview-process; hardly the most rambunctious of speakers, their usual answers to various journos’ onslaught of mind-numbing questions are cool, calm and collected. Naturally, this allows them to be seen by the less ably-researched as ‘boring’. Because of these two specific instances, our mission today was to source out the honest truth and fight beyond the threshold of conventional perception – so, does BRMC stand for a ‘Bright, Resplendent, Motivated Creation’, or merely ‘Blinkered, Reclusive, Mundane Catastrophe’?
Tonight is incidentally the three-piece’s first ever UK show all together – for, yes, Jago has been brought back to British shores – as well as the opening night of a short tour, taking in their largest headlined-venues so far in the act’s life-time. One of the luxuries to experience at evolving through hard work to such a level is most evident, aside from the idea of a sold-out London Forum stage to be graced later on – and that’s the dressing-room. Decked out with riches of food layered over the table, only the allurement of a comfortable leather-settee and buzzing fridge full of alcohol is more tantalising. This is the room that rockfeedback has been trusted to wait in until the boys arrive, and – when they eventually do some minutes later – they’re in good spirits.
Prior to the interview, photos are taken of the band-members in various seated positions. The myth that they overtly pose for all images to convey coolness is immediately exposed as fraudulent – they just appear honestly, remaining in natural positions. Yet, so, on with the conversation – let’s see if any other aspects of the group’s collective enigma can be uncovered…
And, first things first: Peter and Robert have stated during most of the last year that their main goal was to get playing with Nick again on their worldwide tours – this seems to be achieved. How does it feel?
‘Mission accomplished,’ smirks Robert, with a sense that there’s more to tell.
Peter continues, dropping the bombshell. ‘Yeah, but we’ve still got work to do – he can’t go back in the US… So, we’ve had to make a decision to do the rest of the world and forget about the US for as long as possible…’
‘It looks like it’s gonna be all right and that it’s gonna clear up, but I don’t know,’ Nick, the centre of it all, suddenly begins. ‘Before, originally, it just seemed like a no-win situation, but there’s more options. It’s hard to say – it’s an always changing situation; whatever we say now could be different next week: the laws change a lot…’
Such an ambiguity as this to the potential outcome of events – does it create a sense of tension or excitement over the dealings that your career has to cope with?
Peter sighs gently. ‘We try to handle it better, but, yeah, it’s something to keep your mood in check!’
‘It helps keep yourself in the moment more,’ contributes Nick, intriguingly. ‘… Where you don’t worry about what’s happening in the future or what’s happened in the past.’
Incidentally, however, what changes does it make for the band playing together when you’re all reunited again?
‘You get to just step out of it,’ responds Turner, ‘Which is what everyone wants; you just fight for perspective in life and that’s what happens when you’re forced to play without someone, because you know what it’s like without it… It just gets real (clicks fingers to help provide answer) tangible how much it could fall apart at any minute…’
Assumingly, such an experience has made you closer to each other in your personal relations?
‘Not at the time,’ Robert smiles, ‘But now it has! I guess that’s what happens when you put a couple of thousand miles between us…
‘On the last tour, we just said that the only thing we were concerned about was getting this situation cleared up because when you get asked, ‘What are your influences, what are your aims,’ so many times, you can start to lose the plot and lose what really matters… Just knowing that playing music together is the most important thing: it keeps things pretty simple.’
And, Nick – how has the whole encounter been for you?
He glances at the floor for a moment, contemplating on what’s being asked. ‘It’s been frustrating, because we weren’t able to do all the things that we wanted to do…’ He pauses and then laughs to himself for a second. ‘I’ve just been following the band as much as I can… And spending the time with my other half!’ The band giggles quietly at the response.
Already, many misconceptions have become dispelled in just the space of a few minutes; although BRMC are conservative in many of the comments that they make – and, indeed, occasionally cryptic to the point of curiosity – their demeanour is consistently gentle, relaxed and sincere – hardly the portrait painted by certain publications. Speaking of which…
What are the questions most commonly put to yourselves during press-engagements?
‘Usually, ‘So, whatever happened to rock and roll,’ Pete states, obviously linking a reference to the band’s song of (almost) the same name. ‘Yeah, that and, ‘Do you like Jesus & Mary Chain?!’
‘But, we can go anywhere (in topic-matter) – we’re pretty open to anything, in terms of the government or whatever: I mean, we don’t read the paper every morning so we probably wouldn’t talk about that for very much, but there’s plenty of other things that tie into music: dreams, religion, so much more…’
Interesting that the ‘religion’ topic has been brought up… What with lyrics such as ‘If I’d been Jesus/I wouldn’t come back/I’m the kind of guy that leaves the scene of the crime’ existing on the current album, is there a spiritual side to the Club..?
Robert emphasises a rather general overview. ‘There’s loads of different sides to it if you try and, like, hide in it, but I don’t know if some subjects need to be hidden a little bit more in case some people aren’t ready to sink their teeth into it all at once…’
What kind of subjects?
Sadly, the sound of the drummer throwing the remains of otherwise consumed strawberries against the window distracts his bandmate’s response. Robert sneakily grins and gets his bandmate, who has momentarily lost attention, to take over.
‘What do you think, Nick,’ he asks.
Translation by Yep on the BRMC official forum…
– Probably smth changed in your tour life with Leah Shapiro on drums, didn’t it? Or you aren’t gentlemen?
– We wrote our last album in 4 days just because she was with us. Leah constantly nagged at me and Peter for smoke-breaks and even threatened to tan our hides if we’d not work. We are courteous with her like true gentlemen, but the problem is that she’s unpretentious and isn’t capricious most of the time. I act more like a girl in comparison with her – I need a comfort and attention, especially on tour (laugh)
– There are so much different musical styles and directions, it’s easy to get lost in that variety: disco-rock, new-rave, emo-scream, so on. Do you keep track on that?
– We try not to pay attention to radio, TV and modern music. Besides, we are told that we sound too dark for the mainstream, so let it adjust to us, because we feel good and without it.
– Do you need special conditions to create such a music?
– In our rehearsal room the light is always turned off and only lamps of amplifiers shine in the darkness. We create songs together: someone starts to play melody or beat rhythm and then music comes by itself. The most important thing is to get that special contact which is given by the darkness.
– Russian promoters think that some vodka and free time spent in Russian baths with girls are a good tone for greeting foreign artists. Will you be against it?
– About our last visit to Russia I remember only that there was a scary amount of vodka all around and how we were dragging felt asleep Peter out of the airport’s WC. Though this time let it first be baths with girls and then vodka.
– And how do such a stern guys as you usually take your rest?
– The best rest for me is the concert itself. But before I go at the stage I’ll surely drink few shots of whiskey.
Interview with the ever-eloquent, ever-poetic Robert Been of BRMC. This man is a gem! <3
The record received mixed reviews, Pitchfork’s being particularly scathing. Do you pay much attention to what the music press say about your band?
Robert: Pitchfork are funny ones. They’re just trying to get noticed by writing something extreme. They tend to pride themselves on writing a review that’s so bad it automatically gets attention. It’s the same with the NME over here. They either write reams of ridiculous praise which you barely deserve or the exact polar opposite. The NME gave us such a bad review that we went and made a t-shirt out of it. It was a silhouette of a girl bending over another girl spanking her from behind with this paddle with our name over the top in the same font and logo as the NME with the full review printed below. I guess we have enough problems trusting our friends never mind someone in the media who’s probably getting paid to dislike us.
Gotta love it!!!!!! haha
“Peter was, um, out driving his pick up truck one night out in the field and uh saw a bright white light coming from over the hill and that’s the last memory he has of that evening and ever since then his guitar amps just haven’t quite worked very well. Almost anything electrical that he comes in contact with fries out, shorts out. And we all actually believe it sends a signal to the Mother-ship.”