Alt-Rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Have Learned to Embrace the Chaos of Their Career

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click to enlarge Alt-Rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Have Learned to Embrace the Chaos of Their Career
James Minchin
Still touring in support of its most recent album, 2013’s psychedelic and space rock-inspired Specter at the Fest, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has teamed up with co-headliners Death from Above, a heavy psychedelic rock band out of Toronto, for the current jaunt that swings into House of Blues at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Singer-bassist Robert Been says Death from Above makes for a good touring partner.

“We’ve talked in the past about doing stuff, and the timing didn’t work out,” he says via phone from his Los Angeles home. “This was a good time for us because we’ve been working on our new record, and they’ve been working on some of theirs too. It’s a good chance to air out some of the songs without it being an all-out new album assault. It’s nice to start things off like that. Before we release a new record, we often have a short tour like that. It helps get your sea legs back.”

He also thinks the shows will provoke a friendly rivalry.

“There’s something about what they do live that feels like we’re both in step with [classic rock ’n’ roll live experience],” he says. “We’ve had tours in the past with people who play with us or we’ll be on some bill and I don’t mean this in an egocentric way but you don’t have much in competition. It’s like, ‘C’mon guys–don’t do the soft, ballad-y, folk thing the entire time.’ That’s good for some things, but you want to see who can take who a bit. It’s like the way I hear directors talk about who can direct the best action sequence, and there’s a craft to doing that. You want to see how much you can turn people on and get them engaged.”

Growing up in Northern California, Been absorbed a wide range of music. On one hand, there was a punk rock scene that he says was dying out at the time. The metal scene was still huge but had gone mainstream. And then, there were the Brits.

“At some point, I discovered Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine, the first Verve record and Ride,” he says. “A lot of bands that copied those bands were awful. I don’t think they appreciated the quality of the songs and would only catch one or two elements. Ninety percent of that was awful. The ones who did it right were the ones to learn from or listen to.”

He and singer Peter Hayes met in high school and became friends on account of their shared taste in music.

“I’d see him after school or during lunch periods where the hippies and guys who got their cars first would hang out, and you’d get into trouble,” he says. “He had an acoustic guitar on his back every day. He was the only guy I knew who could play. He literally wore it on his sleeve and his back. We got together after school messing around with songs. We didn’t have a band, but it was fun making four-track things together.”

The band released its self-titled debut in 2001, and it didn’t sell well. Been says a year after its initial release, Virgin Records decided to give it one last shot overseas and the British press immediately praised it.

“We didn’t know what that would equate to, but people told us it meant a great deal to be on the cover of those things even though we weren’t feeling it in the States,” says Been. “On the first tour over there, we realized it was a serious thing going on. We recorded [2003’s] Take Them On, On Your Own in London and lived there for over a year. There’s been lots of displacement, and we’ve had to embrace the chaos and go wherever the wind blows and to whatever will keep the fire burning and keep us making music. Only now have we been in a place for longer than a few years. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to know L.A. Technically, we moved here in 2001 but haven’t spent much time here. It’s taken us that long to see the sights. It’s so weird.”

The tragic death of Been’s father loomed over Specter at the Feast, an album that includes a hard rocking cover of “Let the Day Begin,” a song recorded by Been’s father’s band, the Call.

“We didn’t want to write about that directly or do anything for a long time,” says Been of his father's passing. “That record has a different feeling. We started off slow. We played together without ever speaking for eight or ten hours in a room for months just making sounds. We’d do a song but it was always instrumental. No one wanted to sing anything. The actual music had this healing energy around it. That we were meeting up was an act of love toward each other. That made it easier to take the next step to building a record.”

Been says the band is about half way through the process of recording its next album.

“When we get into mixing, we tend to go down the rabbit hole,” he admits. “Sometimes, you’ll mix the whole record in two weeks and one or two songs will take five months because everyone is fighting and doing 50 mixes. Until we put those babies to bed, we don’t know how long it will take.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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