Sunday, April 4, 2010

MOG interview...

By Adrian Covert | MOG Associate Editor

Black-booted, leather-clad rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are perhaps best known for unapologetically making the music they like (even if the result receives a .4 from certain irate online gardening/music magazines). Moving from hard-rock influences on their eponymous first album, to folkier melodies on their next two, BRMC have since morphed again, incorporating a slate of country and blues influences. Their scuzzy brand of garage rock covers so many areas that they court fans from all corners. BRMC just released their fifth album, Beat The Devil's Tattoo, this week.

MOG's Adrian Covert visited singer/guitarists Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been before their opening show in their hometown of San Francisco to talk about their crusade to make Satanism all-inclusive, how they had no idea what they were doing on their first album, and the state of their relationship with troubled ex-drummer Nick Jago.

MOG: You have the phrase Black Rebel in your band name, and you have vague religious references in your lyrics. Was this juxtaposition of darkness and god intentional?

Robert Levon Been: I'm hoping to broaden it beyond rock 'n roll, so that Satan worshiping can be more inclusive to all people. I never thought of Black Rebel as a devilish thing. I mean, yeah, Black is I guess pretty dark. Rebellion isn't so dark. It can be a positive thing, depending on which side you're on. But it wasn't really intentional.

Peter Hayes: I know for a long time we tried to consciously not write about anything religious. But it's infiltrated everybody's lives anyways, even if you don't believe particularly in anything. You have a bunch of people who do, that are affecting your life, so you might as well question them. They're fuckin' with us, so we might as well fuck with them.

MOG: A lot of the time, when people describe your sound, the terms revival/revivalist/revivalism are thrown around. How do you feel about having that label applied to you?

PH: I think it's completely alright. Along with that comes the label that you're not doing anything different or new, but I don't particularly give a crap about that. Just doing music that honors the people that came before us is really all that matters. I'd like to stand next to them, behind them - whatever - and let them know we respect them and play music that respects what they did. And that's it.

MOG: I know it was kind of considered a big thing that you were allowed to produce your first album alone on Virgin. How did you guys manage to negotiate that?

PH: They didn't know what the hell they were getting into, and we didn't either, really. We said we wanted artistic control, and they were like, "yeah! whatever. Everybody wants artistic control. Sure, take it." And we meant it, and they didn't know what to do with it. They threatened to drop us during that first record. They didn't think we knew what the fuck we were doing. And we didn't. But, that was the point.

RLB: During recording, we once had a disagreement. They kinda forgot we had that conversation, and it got to the point that we were gonna go down to their filing office and pull out that piece of paper. We had to be assholes about it. They thought "well they're young, we can just smooth them into things." We weren't that smooth. But there's were a lot of bad fights. Not a good way to start the relationship before the album was even out.

MOG: What was the biggest challenge you guys faced while writing and recording the new album?

RLB: The biggest panic was right before we started recording, because we didn't know how it was gonna sound with the three of us. We had a tour with Baby 81 to feel it out, but we were mostly working on making the old songs sound good. And once you actually start writing, so many of our songs are written freeform, around a guitar line or drumbeat, and it builds. But it's not like we plot things out or steer it. Playing with Leah was the biggest hold-your-breath moment.

What was that movie, with Oprah Winfrey or Whitney Houston - Waiting to Exhale?

PH: Oh my god. I leave for a minute and you're talking about Oprah? What just happened?

RLB: I thought you'd be gone for longer. I'll fill you in later, Pete. But yeah, we owe this record to Whitney Houston.

PH: I guess I'll have to go with that.

MOG: Generally you guys keep it pretty in house as far as production and guest features go. If there was any one producer or musician you could work with for an album, who would it be?

PH: We had a couple of dudes try things, as far as remixing, and they were people we respected for other stuff. But the problem that we've kinda run into, is that because we've engineered it ourselves, we kind of have a sound in our heads.... And one time, we were working on I think "Ain't No Easy Way," and [Rock/Country Legend and Crazy Heart songwriter] T-Bone Burnett walked in the room, and kinda went "cool." And that was about the closest we got to somebody doing anything with us.

RLB: The room Burnett walked into was in his house. He let us mix the album in his home studio, because we we're having a hard time mixing the song for months. He was like "you should check out this cool board I got." It was used to work on the Stone's Exile Main Street or something. So we took him up on that. We used his engineer, and we might have used that mix - did we?

PH: I can't remember if we even used that.

RLB: We learned a lot during that mix, I can say that much.

PH: We used portions of that, and remixed the rest later.

RLB: We're getting' closer. We're in the house.

MOG: And I'm sure it's still a bit sensitive, but have any of you talked to Nick Jago since leaving the band.

RLB: Some, not too long ago. We bump into him here, but he's just doing his own thing. He seems a lot happier than he was before. But there's not a bad blood with us. We all just had an understanding. At the time there was a little bit of a rift. But he wasn't happy doing this, and it was like do what you gotta do.

PH: I feel like we had to tell him it was ok to go, ya know? It was a pretty big decision, I suppose for him. You've been doing something for a good portion of your life, and it's not that easy to step out of it, when you've got kind of a comfort zone there. But it came down to letting him know that if he wasn't happy, this wasn't the place to be.

RLB: He's searching for something deep down though. I admire that he's kind of brave enough to go and try to find that. Even if they're feeling uncomfortable and unhappy, most people stick with things because it's routine. But you could tell that there was something gnawing at him for years. So, in a weird way, I admire his bravery to go out on his own. In another way - you know - there's a flipside to that admiration. But I guess it will all make sense in the end.