Q&A: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Doesn’t Need to Be Right

Photo Credit: Tessa Angus

Photo Credit: Tessa Angus

Formed during the late 90s in San Francisco and naming themselves after Marlon Brando‘s motorcycle club in The Wild One, the now LA-based trio, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, has put out seven albums of blistering garage rock that overpower the listener on both record and at the live show. Titles such as Beat The Devil’s TattooHowl and Take Them On, On Your Own only hint at the visceral energy packed in the songs.

Though their latest album, Wrong Creatures, is coming five years after 2013’s Specter At The Feast and following drummer Leah Shapiro‘s brain surgery and recovery in 2014 and 2015, the collective of Shapiro, guitar/singer Peter Hayes and bassist/guitarist/vocalist Robert Leven Been have created yet another hard-hitting round of 12 songs led by singles such as “Little One Gone Wild,” “Haunt,” “Question of Faith” and “King of Bones.”

ALARM spoke with Hayes as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was touring Europe in November and discussed the latest record, European audiences, “wall of sound” and emotional songwriting and maintaining collaborative energy after being in a band for twenty years.

You guys are currently touring in the Netherlands?

Peter Hayes: That’s correct. We’re in Amsterdam at a place called the Paradiso.

What are audiences like over there?

Hayes: Still lovely actually. They’ve been good. Whenever people show up, it’s a nice surprise. I don’t judge from place to place too much. It usually depends on the day of the week and how loose everyone is going to get.

What is their view of America right now with all of our political craziness going on?

Hayes: Surprisingly, that hasn’t come up a whole lot. I’m not sure if that’s people just being polite. I think it’s just assumed we’re not in huge support of some of the things that are going on.

It’s been a while since your last studio record [2013’s Specter At The Feast]. Any particular reason for the length of time between albums?

Hayes: Leah had her surgery and she recovered from that. We didn’t do any writing or recording while she was in surgery or in recovery. Then, we started just doing little bursts of writing and touring. Mainly just watching life go by and trying to make sense of it all and figure out where we sit in the world. Just trying not to make a mess of my own life (laughs).

What were the songs that helped get the album going?

Hayes: A song called “Spook”. That idea had been floating around for a while. We had done a version of it for the last album. It didn’t make the record, but we decided to revisit it and rerecord it. That song was more or less a starting point for the album. “Little Things Gone Wild” was even an older song than “Spook”. The record mainly grew from those two songs.

What’s the significance of the album title, Wrong Creatures?

Hayes: We had a few ideas floating around and it seemed like the one that was most open to interpretation. In a way, it is very straightforward in what it can mean, but it takes some different levels. That was just the way we were feeling about the title.

The last studio album came out in 2013, which was before Spotify and streaming really took hold of people’s music listening habits. You guys seem to have been doing really well by releasing those singles as a countdown to this new record. How are your fans responding to the new songs?

Hayes: That’s always one of those questions where I haven’t really looked online much to see people’s reactions, but I think they’re enjoying them. The people in the rooms seem to be having a good time. When I talk to people after the shows, they seem to be enjoying the songs. So it seems like it’s going okay and people are listening.

The music the band plays seems to definitely have an energy that lends itself well to the live show. 

Hayes: It’s just another element that we enjoy. The album is one thing that allows you to capture an emotion that people can relate to. With the live show, you get a little more room for people to express those emotions. It’s a different animal. But it depends on how far you want to go yourself, and that’s the case for anyone who listens to or plays music. All we’re trying to do is create the experience to help people get those emotions out into the world and connect with the people around them and let them know things are going to be okay.

The band has been together for over twenty years at this point. What do you think keeps your collaborative energy going?

Hayes: Lucky is one way of putting it. You’re very lucky if a song comes your way and you’re trying to chase it and go with it. We’re very lucky that the music keeps coming around our way and we just trying to follow it. What I’m trying to say is that we’re trying to be honest as we can with the songs that come our way. You have to let go of your ego as much as possible in the process. That definitely goes into the process of playing music with somebody else.

A lot of bands who have your longevity definitely seem to have the mindset of “song is king” and the decisions made need to serve the song and not just one person’s ego. 

Hayes: It’s definitely important to support each other in that way, but at the same time, also support the music as best you can.

Is the band still based in Los Angeles?

Hayes: Yeah, we have been there for a while.

What is the LA music scene like these days? Obviously, like most things, it comes and goes in waves. Or has the internet made all of that irrelevant?

Hayes: I’ve always been kind of awful about keeping up with that, to be honest. I really don’t have any clue. The scenes are created by bands. As far as bands supporting each other, it’s definitely important for bands to help each other to create the music, and I hope that’s still happening. Because of the nature of things coming and going though, it can be hard to keep up with.

Your band is famous for your “Wall of Sound” approach in studio and in live settings. Do you still attempt that same approach with your new records or have you been exploring other instruments and avenues?

Hayes: We really trying to go whichever way possible. Sometimes that’s on acoustic guitar, but as the song gets bigger and morphs into that wall of sound, I use it as a way to drown out my own thoughts and get out of the way. That’s the battle that I’m fighting with myself. If I really start thinking too much, I can get in the way of what can already be there in terms of melodies and those sorts of things. A lot of these songs are two or three-hour jams that we whittle down to four or five minutes. I particularly have a respect for people that can sit down and have an idea and write a song. Where they sit in a room and craft a song. I definitely have respect for that. Personally, when I’ve tried to force something, I end up throwing it away. I trust more the stream of consciousness words that I can them strip down than trying to have a specific thought that I want to get across. I like to leave things a little more open than that.

It definitely speaks to an emotional style of songwriting. Sometimes, when people do try the discipline of crafting songs, it’s not that it’s disingenuous, but the more emotional style often brings up images or phrases that have you’ve been thinking about for a long time, which may lead you to pursue that song more creatively. 

Hayes: Yeah, my brain is a little more schizophrenic sometimes. The emotions that come out in our lives, for me at least, that make their way into a song start off in one place and then go somewhere else completely different. Sometimes, you are able to get those emotions into phrases that form cohesive thoughts, but I also like the idea of lyrics and songs being like abstract paintings. It’s a somewhat cohesion there, but it allows the words to have double or triple meanings depending who is writing and who is listening.

That goes back to what you said earlier about the title of the new record with people being able to draw a personal interpretation.

Hayes: Yeah, I mean, some people may look at that as a cheap way out and that we don’t really have a point. But in all reality, that’s really it. It’s up to the listener to want to do that and go to that place of thinking.

What are three albums you can listen to from start to finish at any point?

Hayes: Velvet Underground by Velvet Underground

The More soundtrack by Pink Floyd

Mellow Down Easy by Little Walter

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will release Wrong Creatures on Friday, January 12th via Vagrant Records. They will also begin a US tour on January 15th in San Diego with $1 from each ticket sold going to War Child, a worldwide organization that supports programs aiding women & children dislocated and impacted by war, political unrest, terrorism, and poverty.