Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rebels beating the devil's tattoo

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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Tue, 06 Jul 2010 5:43a.m.
In the history of music many bands have been broken apart by the arrival of a woman on the scene. Californian band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club needed the help of one to bring the passion back to their music. 

Swedish drummer Leah Shapiro replaced Nick Jago, who had spent more time in rehab than on the stage, and revived the band's focus and professionalism. With her behind the drums, Peter Hayes (guitar) and Robert Levon Been (bass) recorded their sixth album, Beat the Devil's Tattoo, and returned to the raw and dark rock n roll sound of earlier albums. 

"I think we wanted to strip everything down and start over because having Leah in the band was like a fresh start, so I don't know if it was going backward so much, than rather taking one step forward and the first step we had to remember why we were making music," Been tells NZPA. 

The band had to ask themselves if what they were doing still felt desirable, honest and passionate and what they had lost over the last couple of years. And then they fell in love with the band again, Been says.
"I think the road to it was just straight ahead rock 'n' roll songs, or rootsy blues songs. Sometimes the album feels like a blues album to me, where it is kind of basic and that is pretty true to our first love, to rock music and that is where our heart is," he says. 

On previous albums the band branched out into different styles "but it didn't feel like the right time to get clever and experiment, maybe next time", the band's singer says.

The leather-jacket-clad trio, founded by high school friends Been and Hayes in 1998, shot to fame during the garage rock revival at the beginning of the last decade. They soon recruited British drummer Jago, were signed by Virgin Records and released their much acclaimed debut B.R.M.C

The band was hailed as the new The Jesus and Mary Chain but eventually the hype around the new breed of garage rock bands died down and Virgin dropped the band. 

"I know a lot more people don't like us now but a lot more people love us. It's a lot more passion on both ends and I think before there were a lot of the hipsters who weren't quite sure what to make of us," Been says. 

After parting with Virgin the band signed with RCA and released their third album Howl, recorded without drummer Jago, who went through various rehab attempts and finally re-joined the band the following year.
"Labels never tried too much to tell us what to do. I think we scared them in the beginning..."

"The only thing that broke our heart was near the end of Take Them On, On Your Own, our second record, when we were on Virgin and they abandoned us, after the record came out they turned their backs on us, when we needed them most to push through and believe in us.

"And that happened again with RCA after Baby 81. When we needed them the most they ran away and that's the only thing about majors (record labels) we're kind of sick of. 

"They're not really in it for the long haul, but making the short term money and that's what it comes down to.
"It's natural, it's a business but we got a little tired of that so we're trying something different .... get around the world and have something to show for it," he says. 

So the band decided to release their latest two albums themselves, taking some of promotional aspects into their own hands. 

"I don't do that much besides I climb up on billboards and spray paint our album title. I like doing that, it's fun and I only got arrested a couple of times, but it was worth it still," he says.
The title for the band's latest album Beat the Devil's Tattoo is taken from US poet Edgar Allen Poe's 1939 short story The Devil in the Belfry

"I never liked Poe that much," Been says. "Leah gave me a book of his and I really got this Poe poem, 'Annabel Lee', which we made into a song and the album title is from a short story."
Been was intrigued by the line.

"It had the right feeling to the album, which is more or less the devil's crossroads, beating the devil's tattoo would be the restless spirit there is, the devil or the demons that won't never let you sit still and is inside of your skin. 

"I don't know why but it resonated for this album and I kind of wanted to give him credit for leading me down that path because it seems like the right one," he says. 

Even after spending more time reading Poe, the musician says, he was still not sure what to think about the poet. 

"He seems like the kind of guy who would have had a band if he could sing and he was around today. He writes really lyrically and so I think maybe he was a frustrated rock star.

"He probably didn't have a voice. I think if he had a voice it would have been a whole different thing.
"But we probably should be thankful he didn't, so we got a lot of good poetry out of him. If not it would have been a bunch of goth songs and they probably wouldn't have lasted the test of time in the same way," he says.

Tour dates: July 23 Auckland, July 24 Wellington, July 25 Christchurch.