Devil's Music 

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club return to their roots

In their 11 years together, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have accumulated enough time on the road, in the studio and elsewhere that they could write a sizable book. Singer Peter Hayes maintains a quiet modesty about the band's experiences and longevity at a time of overnight sensations.

"Gosh, I'm not sure how to answer that question," he says when asked what he thinks has changed with him and the band since its inception. "Well, there is some more gray in my beard. Other than that, I still play music, and that was the idea from the beginning."

The last three years have been challenging for BRMC. Original drummer Nick Jago departed for a second time, and BRMC left RCA records following 2007's Baby 81 and went back to their indie roots for their new album, Beat the Devil's Tattoo. The band returned to the house near Philadelphia where it previously recorded 2005's roots- and folk-inspired Howl.

"Some of the songs date back 10 years, others were literally 10 days old when we recorded them," says Hayes, adding that of the 23 songs they wrote, only 13 made it onto the album. "It was one of those things where you just feel very fortunate when you get them recorded."

Unfairly pegged as a noise-rock band early in their career, BRMC have also incorporated elements of roots, alt-country and shoegazer into each release. The latest album title references Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Devil in the Belfry," and in many ways is an extension of Baby 81's sonic aesthetics. Combined with the percussive handiwork of new drummer Leah Shapiro, the overdriven guitar performances of Hayes and Robert Levon Been leave the ears buzzing in the lurching "War Machine." In both the noisiest moments and the lulling acoustic breaks, BRMC maintain the thread that's woven throughout their work — a look into the strengths and frailties of the human condition. While the music isn't always a pleasant experience, it leaves a lasting impression.

"We've always tried to do something like that — write something deeper than just a love song," says Hayes. "Not that a love song is bad. We just want to add more to it."

Hayes says that, given the sometimes dark tone of BRMC's work, an element of optimism works its way through everything they've done.

"There's a certain sense of joy in the music and understanding we hope gets across to people," he says.

It's a theme that a disparate cross-section of fans have taken to heart. At any given BRMC gig, you'll see hipsters, goth kids and rockabilly fans.

"I don't want to sound like I'm making generalizations about the listeners, but I really like that we get folks from age six to 60 coming to our shows, which I suppose can be disconcerting at first," says Hayes. "It's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. We always came at this with the attitude that everybody's invited, and I am glad that it has come across that way. From someone who likes goth to someone who likes glam, I hope we can cross paths for a little bit."


More by Norm Narvaja


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