The Wild Bunch
Black Rebel Motorcyle Club has a bad reputation. Journalists who regularly stare down legends are rumored to have run from interviews quaking from exasperation and shaking their microcassette recorders in knotted fists. Before a meeting with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (or BRMC), reporters trade tactics: try flirting; try alcohol; talk to Robert, he's the nicest; steer clear of the drummer, the English one; whatever you do, don't try to interview them all together. Those who ignore such advice do so at their own peril. Allegedly, they brought one young lady to tears. If you believe the hype, BRMC's Robert Turner, Peter Hayes and Nick Jago shield themselves from questioning with a sullenness denser than the layers of fuzzed-out guitars on their records and darker than the mops of floppy hair that cover their eyes.
But tonight, backstage at New York City's Roseland Ballroom--a prearranged place at the prearranged time--Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has done its reputation one better: The band has disappeared completely. The clock ticks away the minutes before BRMC's gig with the Rapture, and intimidating-looking security guards are dispatched to search for someone, anyone with a leather jacket, hipster hair and a scowl--God knows, even the drummer will do. And then, just like that, precisely as the Roseland doors swing open, there he is: drummer Nick Jago, smoking a cigarette and scowling indeed. This is not auspicious. He's outside, it's raining, and he's already been accosted by a fan requesting autographs for his vinyl editions of B.R.M.C. and Take Them On, On Your Own.
"An interview? Now?" Jago appears puzzled. He stubs out his cigarette and smiles. Kind of smiles. "I'm supposed to be deejaying in a minute, but let me see if I can find one of the other guys."
A minute later, Jago reappears with guitarist and sometime singer Peter Hayes.
"God," Hayes murmurs, by way of introduction, "I'm really sorry about that. Have you been waiting a long time?" He leads the way to the band's dressing room, offers a beverage, sits down and smiles. Kind of smiles. "OK. I'm ready."
Now this is complicated. Because when one expects the worst, when one comes prepared for the very, very worst, it is downright perplexing to be greeted by a pleasant surprise, such as the boys in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club being sweet and obliging.
Ummmm. So what's the difference between your first record and the new one? Oh, God. Terrible.
Hayes sighs. Not a good sign. He thinks for a long moment. "Well, I think I wanted Take Them On to feel more...immediate. Not so many guitars, faster pacing, a little bit harder." He lights up a smoke. "The last record, it's a lot of questions. This one, I think it's more--statements of intent."
In other words, someone might have cleverly prodded, Take Them On does what a sophomore album is supposed to do--shows a band confident with its own sound.
"Yeah, B.R.M.C. , I think that album does feel like a debut," Hayes elaborates, unprompted. "Like, I don't know, we were afraid to be too abrasive. Maybe we thought that too many songs like 'Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll' would give people the wrong impression. So even though we'd already written some songs on Take Them On like 'Generation' and 'Six Barrel Shotgun,' we left them off the first record. And put, like, 13 guitar tracks on everything." He smiles. Kind of smiles.
Following the 2000 release of B.R.M.C., one wrong impression people got was that the band is English. They just had to be. (Jago is, but that's coincidental; he met high school buddies Turner and Hayes while attending art school in San Francisco.) First of all, according to pre-Strokes logic, they had British band hair. Second, by the time the album came out, England's NME had already anointed BRMC and sent the band back home to Los Angeles blazing trails of hype behind them. And then there were those 13 tracks of bleary guitars, which helped BRMC's songs to comparisons with some of the great Creation Records bands of the early '90s--Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Ironically, as much as the new album serves as a "statement of intent," as Hayes puts it, Take Them On, On Your Own also might be considered Black Rebel's American album. Like the hell-raising "Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll," the fast songs on Take Them On shoot Stooges shrapnel everywhere, and even the slower, fuzzier tracks owe more to the Velvets than to the shoegazers of lore.
"It's all pretty intuitive," Hayes explains. "I mean, some of our songs just come from jamming when we play live. Like 'Stop,' on the new record, that grew out of this thing we started doing at the end of another song, 'Failsafe,' and every night while we were on the road we would add another part. Or I'll start a song, or Robert will start a song, and then we'll collaborate on it together. Once we go into the studio," he continues, "it's all pretty much written. I mean, maybe there's still some mumbling where the vocals will go, but the basics are cut. We kind of go where the music takes us," he concludes with a shrug.
"Honestly," he picks up again, "the hardest part of all of this, for us, is figuring out how to get the sounds we want onto the records. We basically record ourselves, you know, and there's good that comes out of that, and there's bad--and one of the bad things is that some feeling or some effect we've gotten when we're just playing just doesn't come through once it's on tape. So then we do things like add 12 more guitar tracks," he says, laughing. Really laughing. "And let me tell you, that was a mess to mix later."
Hayes flicks his hair away from his eyes and lifts his gaze. He's on a roll now. "I guess, I don't know, I guess it's trying and failing and trying again, and all those little moments in between that make your hair stand up on end. It's all that stuff that keeps us going. Or keeps me going, at least."
"This needs to be understood," James Murphy of the New York production duo the DFA told me last year. "The Rapture are the best songwriters I've ever worked with." At the time, I couldn't help wondering if Murphy wasn't just indulging in hyperbole to help move copies of Echoes, the Rapture's DFA-helmed full-length debut. But half a year after the album's release, Murphy's words ring true. Beyond the disc's sonic spills 'n' thrills--barbed-wire guitar! strangled vocals! enthusiastic cowbell!--Echoes offers a highly evolved vision of its makers' situation, equally convincing when detailing big-city bustle as when encouraging you to "open up your heart" (a real treat in a scene overpopulated by cynical bastards). At a packed hometown gig last month the band strode onstage like victors in a Russell Crowe flick, applauding their adoring audience as the fans roared back. Keep 'em afloat Tuesday night; they deserve it. --Mikael Wood
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