Saturday, March 30, 2013 Manchester Ritz gig review...

photos : Alex Staszko

Six months after Black Rebel Motorcycle Club last played Manchester’s Ritz in 2010 the band were hit hard by the sudden death of Michael Been; sound engineer and father of core member Robert. Nonetheless, named as one of the hardest working bands of modern times, they honoured a tour before taking justified time out. The last two years have seen them sculpting cathartic writings into their seventh studio album Specter at the Feast and, released one week before the gig, they were here to show it off to Manchester’s rock and rollers.

It’d be safe to say BRMC blew the fucking roof off the Ritz three years ago and the heady buzz of anticipation for a repeat performance was tangible throughout the packed-in crowd.

They opened quietly with the first track from the new album “Fire Walker”; a slow beautiful track with Been’s fuzzy bass complimenting his warm voice and vocal harmonies from the rest of the band. The faster paced new track “Rival” followed and the crowd responded with a frenzied mosh-pit sending over-priced beer into arching showers, setting the scene for the rest of the gig. BRMC always give quality for ticket price and over the two hour set they delivered a stonking 23 tracks.

The nine off the new album paid homage to their ability to equally evoke tears or the feeling of omnipotence in the listener; the fevered moshing was certainly evidence of the latter. The expected early favourites “Whatever Happened to my Rock & Roll (Punk Song)” and “Spread Your Love” ensured the venue’s rafters were rattled and the bouncy dance-floor tested to the max. Been seemed immersed in his work for most of the set with only little acknowledgement of the audience, oblivious to the usual tense looks sent his way by the shyer guitarist Hayes, yet the audience lapped him up; here the feed is from the music, not in platitudes and on-stage banter. Pocket-sized stickstress Leah Shapiro thundered away with an anxious concentration, dwarved by her new custom-built Sonor drumkit, particularly impressive while setting the beat on the encore for “Sell it”. They closed with the new heart wrenching “Lose Yourself”; I swear next time they tour this will have grown men crying.

Call me biased, but every time I’ve seen BRMC live I’ve left with the feeling that I’ve just witnessed something very special, and on that vulgarly cold Sunday evening I know I was not alone. I’ve tried everything else, it all comes back to rock & roll.

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Written by Greg Moskovitch on 30th March, 2013

Making rock and roll has always been a joyous affair for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. As much as they’d like to posture otherwise, they never quite had the cocksure fuck-em-all bearing of their beloved Jesus and Mary Chain. Though ironically, BRMC’s music was devoid of all of the Mary Chain’s syrupy, fuzzy warmness. Instead, BRMC were boneheaded rock and roll polemicists with a penchant for the woeful.

Except that this time woe had truly struck. With the passing of Michael Been, the band lost their sound technician and mentor, and bass-player Robert Levon Been lost a father. The band have always had a predilection for the superstitious, so an interest in spirits, however figurative, makes perfect sense. Paired with their taste for titles taken from famous works of prose, this album was christened Specter At The Feast.’

In Macbeth, the ghost of the title character’s friend, Banquo, appears to Macbeth and disrupts a lavish royal banquet that he is throwing to celebrate his own magnificence. Only the specter on this album is not there to enrage or startle. Instead, the spirit serves as guide and mentor, as a true North for Been, guitarist Peter Hayes and drummer Leah Shapiro.

The opening of Specter At The Feast is the kind of Sonic Youth-ish rainsticking that you hear in the interstices between segments on NPR. But what’s a BRMC album not garnished with aesthetics? Been’s jagged, anvil bass sound bounces in, and it’s quickly apparent that there is a band somewhere in the studio-engineered fog that this isn’t just a rehashed instrumental from 2008′s dismal The Effects of 333.

The strong opener is followed by a cover of Let The Day Begin by The Call, the late Michael Been’s band. This is not an imitation or even an emulation, but rather an affirmation, an audible struggle for catharsis and that ever-elusive feeling we humans call closure.

The beautiful Returning follows, in which the drama of Been’s hollered words is transmuted by the sheer majesty of the music. That’s not to say the band isn’t capable of genuine rock profundity, because that would be a lie. In Fire Walker Been drawls ‘The crime is never what you steal / But what you leave behind’. This display of acuity continues the band’s most salient lyrical trend: transgression. This band needs righteous indignation like The Strokes need neurosis. On Specter At The Feast they finally admit it: ‘I need a rival’. The jig is up.

The band cues Hate The Taste and the similar-sounding Rival one after the other to create a welcome respite from the melancholy of the opening tracks. Though they sound almost exactly the same (to each other and to other Peter Hayes-led boogies from other albums such as Berlin) right down to the hook, which is delivered in Hayes’ ragged scream, you don’t complain. This recess is not only earned but highly enjoyable. Rival in particular will be a welcome addition to the heavy artillery of the band’s live set.

The raging noise continues with Teenage Disease. Though the lyrics are dead freight, ‘Surprise, you got a head full of lies / I’d rather die than be living like you / I’m a teenage disease; born, bred in desire / I’ve been sold to the sun, left out and denied’, what kind of cynic actually pays attention to the lyrics of a song that’s this much fun?

Specter At The Feast is an album that operates on hemispheres. Hayes’ songs allow the audience to enjoy the raucous primal appeal the band has always had, while Been is allowed to display his lyrical and vocal lambency and do the emotional grunt-work. It’s a solid album, and does as much justice to their fans as their 2001 debut, perhaps more.


Friday, March 29, 2013 show review....

Written by on March 28, 2013
By Lexi Rose

Brixton Academy was once again packed for the return of Californian rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. As the queue stretched down the alleyway and touts flogged tickets for yet another sold out show, the crowd inside grew as support act The Big Pink took to the stage.

Robbie Furze proved with this show that he can stand strong on his own, following the recent departure of band mate Milo Cordell. Furze and his painfully cool all-female backing band stormed through their slick set making their way through the highlights of two great albums.

“It’s always amazing to play Brixton Academy,” declared a slightly overwhelmed Furze before ending the set on The Big Pink’s biggest hit to date ‘Dominoes’.

Soon it was time for the main event; the return of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Brixton Academy. The band opened with a cover of 1980s band The Call’s ‘Let the Day Begin’ as a tribute to The Call frontman Michael Been, father to BRMC bassist Robert (Michael Been died suddenly in 2010 while on tour with BRMC as their sound engineer). After this fitting tribute it was down to business.

It’s clear that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club wanted to make sure they announced their comeback to Brixton Academy loud and proud. Starting with ‘Revival’, the band kicked off their two-hour set by rattling off high energy hits including ‘Whatever Happened to my Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo’ to the delight of the crowd. The lighting was stark and raw silhouetting the band onto a plain white backdrop. Something about it made you feel like you’d gone back in time.

Before playing ‘Returning’, a track from their new album Specter at the Feast, guitarist Peter Hayes addressed the crowd: “We’ve been gone for two years – thank you for coming back and being there for us.”

As we approached the middle of the set everything slowed down as Hayes and Been took it in turns to play solo acoustic numbers under single spotlights. Admittedly some of crowd took this as the cue to go to the bar, but all in all it went down well, especially when Hayes brought out the harmonica. Soon the band brought everything back up to the noise level you would expect of a group named after Marlon Brando’s biker gang in the The Wild One.

The latter half of the set was mainly made up of new songs before they pulled out their classic anthem ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’. After bringing the house down with ‘Spread Your Love’ the band disappeared off into the wings, before returning for a rather mellow, yet fitting encore. They ended on an extended version of ‘Lose Yourself’ from the new album.

The house lights came up and all that was left was a young bloke desperately looking for his missing shoe. That’s when you know you’ve been to a great rock gig.


The New Zealand Herald review...

By Chris Schulz @chris__schulz
1:00 PM Friday Mar 29, 2013
As anyone who has attended one of their live shows knows, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club can be angry, anarchic and acrimonious in equal measures. Here, on the San Francisco-based trio's seventh album, they've added several extra shades of black to their palette. While Specter at the Feast can be typically dark and abrasive, like on the relentless rumble of Sell It, BRMC also show off newfound maturity with several bruising ballads seemingly inspired by two deaths during the album's recording.

"How much time have we got left?" they ask on the heartwrenching Returning.

But the mood is mournful rather than dour, especially on the slow jam poetry of Some Kind of Ghost and the cruisy melodies of Lullaby. If you're a fan of the Kills or the Dead Weather, you'll find plenty to enjoy on bluesy opener Fire Walker and the southern rock of Hate the Taste.

BRMC have a tendency to head into Kasabian-style lad-rock territory on Let the Day Begin and Rival, but they certainly save the best for last: Lose Yourself is a stunning slow-burner that builds into an epic, sprawling anthem, proving BRMC now know how to find light at the end of those very dark tunnels of theirs.

Stars: 3.5/5

Verdict: Leather-clad rockers as moody as ever

- TimeOut

0 comments: Brixton Academy review

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bring 'Specter At The Feast' to London


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played a mammoth set at London’s Brixton Academy last night (March 27) as they brought their new album 'Specter At The Feast' to the capital.

The leather clad trio showcased 10 tracks from their sixth studio LP, kicking off the show with their cover of The Call's 'Let The Day Begin'. The track is a tribute to bassist Robert Levon Been's late father Michael, who played in the '80s band and was heavily involved in BRMC's work.

They went on to play a host of hits from their backcatalogue including 'Whatever Happened To My Rock 'N' Roll (Punk Song)', 'Ain't No Easy Way' and 'Spread Your Love'. Acknowledging the crowd's reaction and the trio's return to the capital for the first time in two years, Levon Been declared early on: "Thank you guys very much, it's real fucking good to be back."

Later in the show he sat down the front of the stage for an acoustic version of 'Mercy'. Guitarist Peter Hayes also performed solo on the piano for 'Feel It Now' before he strapped on an acoustic guitar for 'Devil's Waitin'. Towards the end of their set they played new track 'Sometimes The Light' for the first time before wrapping up the show with 'Lose Yourself'.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played:

'Let the Day Begin'
'Red Eyes And Tears'
'Hate The Taste'
'Whatever Happened To My Rock 'N' Roll (Punk Song)'
'Beat the Devil's Tattoo'
'Ain't No Easy Way'
'666 Conducer'
'Love Burns'
'Feel It Now'
'Devil's Waitin''
'Fire Walker'
'Teenage Disease'
'Conscience Killer'
'Funny Games'
'In Like The Rose'
'Six Barrel Shotgun'
'Spread Your Love'
'Sometimes The Light'
'Sell It'
'Lose Yourself'

Earlier, The Big Pink debuted four tracks from their forthcoming new album including 'Air', 'Dance With Today', 'Take Me' and 'Hold On'. Performing without his partner in crime Milo Cordell who quit the band earlier this year, frontman Robbie Furze performed with drummer Vicky Jean Smith and a new keyboard player for a short set dominated by new songs many of which were more instant and anthemic than much of their last album 'Future This'. They ended their set with their 2009 hit single 'Dominos'.



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rebels goes acoustic on BBC with Nemone

Duration: 18:51
BRMC are live with Nemone to play session tracks from their latest album.


- Let the Day Begin
- Lullaby
Available since: Yesterday
4 weeks left to listen


0 comments: review...

by on March 27, 2013


The 15 year life span of the psychedelic, shoegaze garage rock collective Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C.) has been fraught with trials and tribulations that would spell certain doom for nearly any modern group of musicians. Despite all of this, Robert Been–bassist and duple vocalist opposite Peter Hayes–guitarist and equal-handed mastermind of the group, have both delivered consistently impressive albums that have earned them a dedicated fanbase across the globe and in doing so, have developed an entire realm of genre-bending sounds that keep us guessing with each new release. The rebel duo was out a drummer after nearly 10 years of discord with Nick Jago, who was distracted with personal difficulties. The beautiful and talented Leah Shapiro has taken up the leather in his stead and her feral drumming instincts have brought new ferocity and life to the trio.

It was during touring for their fifth full-length release, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, that irreparable tragedy had struck the band. Robert lost his father, Michael Been of the 1980s new wave Rock group The Call, to a heart attack after a Belgian music festival. He was the acting sound engineer, source of wisdom, inspiration, and more or less a parent figure to Peter who practically grew up beneath the same roof. It was a heavy blow struck to the ribcage of a band that had just picked themselves up off the dirty floor. A three-year hiatus ensued.

Luckily for the music world, there is nary an earth-shattering tragedy that can break the brother-like bond of the two core members. Their pitch rebel spirits colligated stronger than ever before and with their new drummer present to sear their agitated nerves with a mind for constructive ventilation, the trio embarked upon what would manifest as their utmost seasoned, cimmerian and at times savage efforts to date. This operose undertaking would bring to question all of their previous accomplishments, as well as their future aspirations and what, if anything, it would mean to continue on with their music at all. For three years it was a shapeless apparition that refused to take any form, but lingered at their table―ever taunting with questions that couldn’t be answered. The album was thusly titled Specter at the Feast.

The first track, “Fire Walker,” is a moody slow-burner that simmers with long-steeped agitation as if wandering cautiously through a house of mirrors. Robert’s words are wincing and clinched as if biting the insides of his cheeks until he can taste blood. This sort of bitter dramatic bravura is little-known in B.R.M.C.’s albums. They’ve played around with ambience and mantra-esque segues in their self-titled debut album B.R.M.C. and one of my favorites off Baby 81, “666 Conducer,” but it wasn’t of this ilk. It serves as a very appropriate post-script to their hiatus and a mood-setter for the album.

This leads us into their single and all-too-appropriate cover of The Call’s hit of the’80s, “Let The Day Begin” with its manic introductory drumbeat and a sharp dressed ’90s British rock makeover. Been doesn’t try for a moment to channel his father’s David Byrne-esque vocal style but instead makes the song his own. This leads us into softer, more remote territory with “Returning” and “Lullaby,” both markedly toned down for the casual B.R.M.C. fan, yet still bearing their unmistakable skull-and-crossbones branding.

The beauty of B.R.M.C. is that it’s like a conjoined twin hood of music. Some may call it imbalanced, others may think of it as bipolar musicianship―I dare say it’s satisfying all taste buds. The first portion of the album is composed and coordinated largely by Robert. By this point, many faithful are no doubt questioning the album’s direction and whether or not they can accept this shadow of the B.R.M.C. they once knew, and that is when Peter pours on the gasoline with “Hate the Taste,” and in fine, full bannered rock ‘n’ roll form! This is where barn-burners come raping and pillaging our eardrums with the grinding blues-laced barbarism of B.R.M.C.-past, and not a moment too soon.

The album continues much in the same way. They maintain a balance between hair-raising, riff and whammy infused fuzz rock―some of which may even spark hazy memories of grunge and the unkempt angst that made it so attractive, and then somber works like “Some Kind of Ghost,” which will invoke visions of robed congregations slowly wading through murky swamp waters in search of the salvation only sweet southern gospel can provide. Truly, I cannot think of a solitary band principally attached to the psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll scene with such a wide scope of sound. This is precisely why music is supposed to be an exciting frontier without cages or limits. Not at all a signed contract standardized by record labels that have the final say in what can and cannot be tolerated.

It can’t be said that this is their most seamless work to date, but it is an irrefutable shotgun blast into the air announcing that they’re intent on sticking around and I couldn’t be happier about that. The specter, which has lingered not just with the passing of Robert’s father, but within the shadow of their numerous afflictions they’ve endured for so long, seems to have been cast away at long last. I just sincerely hope we aren’t left waiting another three years to see what comes next.

B.R.M.C. plays the Wonder Ballroom SUnday, May 26. TheNewNo2 opens the show at 8:30pm (doors 7:30pm). Tickets for the 21+ show ca be purchased here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013 Barrowland Glasgow show review...

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – review

Barrowland, Glasgow
4 out of 5
After over a decade loitering indistinctly within a fogbank of feedback, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have just released perhaps the most wholly satisfying album of their career. Unfortunately, Specter at the Feast has emerged from the worst possible circumstances: the passing of Michael Been, the father of BRMC bassist Robert Been and the trio's producer and sound engineer, who died after a heart attack at a Belgian rock festival in 2010.

That the album, and this tour, serve as both memorial and tribute is made clear when the band open with Let the Day Begin, a cover of Been Sr's most prominent hit as lead singer of US rockers the Call. The BRMC version has more of a judder to it, but the optimistic refrain remains intact, and helps sweeten what is a predominantly snarling two-hour set, still heavily stacked with tracks from their reverb‑drenched debut album, delivered as part of a heavy-on-strobes, light-on-smalltalk blitzkrieg.

For a trio, they make a hell of a racket, and there's something almost purifying about the newfound volume and intensity of Conscience Killer and the ZZ Top-esque Berlin. "We spent two years making this record, thanks for being there for us," says guitarist Peter Hayes, introducing Returning, which swaps out some of their raw, rumbling firepower for a more plaintive swirl.

After a brief acoustic interlude of Hayes on piano, guitar and mouth organ, the band threaten to linger in the land of swampy dirge overkill for just a little too long. But after the skull-rattling double-tap of Six Barrel Shotgun and a walloping Spread Your Love, Been reels off a list of behind-the-scenes thank-yous and, clearly moved by the crowd's reaction, ends with Lose Yourself, a stately, oblique eight-minute elegy. It's a word often misapplied in music criticism, but the result is pretty cathartic.

0 comments: review

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Often, especially to those not graced with musical talent, being in a band can seem like bliss. Aside from the money, the international touring and the fame, what appeals most – generally speaking – is that sense of infinite freedom, of boundless creative and personal possibilities. The reality though, can be somewhat different.

Run down by almost a decade of the write / release / tour routine, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were at breaking point. Finishing off their latest batch of shows, the band heard a message from back home – singer Robert Levon Been’s father, Michael Been, had passed away. Shattered, the group immediately took time off, time away from music and the exhausting routines played out on major label life. “We travelled” the bass player reveals. “Beyond travelling on a tour where you have to work every city, then jump on a bus each night we went through a couple of different places; spent some time in the desert. We went on a motorcycle trip to Cambodia. Just had some time to get outside of the usual things.. I don’t know. It was much needed”.

The experience was evidently cleansing. Taking a step back, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aimed to re-capture what it was that drove them to make music in the first place. “You want something to say, you want it to mean something” Been insists. “You still want that feeling of if you were hit by a car, laying in the gutter and you had one chance to say something, write one song that you really felt you had to say. You want that feeling. You can’t do that across 12 songs every two years. There gets to a point where even with experimentation you’re still not being true to yourself and why you’re doing it.”

Operating without their spiritual mentor, the band were left alone in the studio to piece together their next step. Refusing to be trapped by any one direction, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club focussed on sounds, on noise and then started to refine these moods into ideas. “We were just kind of playing, I mean there was a purpose but not too much at the beginning” says drummer Leah Shapiro. “Just playing and playing to see what happens. Really take our time with it and not worry too much about shaping ideas into songs, making it tangible. Just making sounds.”

Pushing themselves to find focus, the band admit that this album was difficult to make. Gradually steering the sessions into a direction they found appropriate, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club proved to be ruthless self-editors. “It was a lot of work,” Shapiro admits. “There is a lot of stuff which didn’t make it onto this record. Those songs are in various stages of completion. Some are just still very rough ideas. I think it was partially a result of spending so much time at the stage of just getting ideas out and just playing, trying to turn it into an actual song. Giving it a shape, a structure. A lot came out of that. That was definitely through hard work.”

Despite the labour, the band still insist that a certain conviction ran through each recording session. Robert Been comes closest to defining this atmosphere, using typically emotive terms. “How do I explain it? I wanted to make good on a promise, in a way. I wanted to do something.. the loss that we all suffered - I mean my father was instrumental in this band from the very beginning, teaching us a lot of what we know now” he explains. “The idea of walking away from that or not doing it justice has been hard to live with. So this record is really.. I don’t know what the word is. It feels different. Things are more kind of crystallized, in terms of why we’re together and what we’re together for. It seems like it means a lot to us, we’ll see what it means to other people”.

‘Specter At The Feast’ is certainly different. Borrowing its title from a line in ‘Macbeth’ (“I only steal from the good ones - or try to, at least” chuckles Been) the album is perhaps the band’s most unrelenting, most focussed and distilled effort in almost a decade. Each note feels planned, but quite natural – nothing is forced, but everything has a place. It’s not flawless – nothing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club put their name to could be perfect – but it feels, for all intents and purposes, right.

“Some songs come just obnoxiously fast and you don’t even know how they happen” the bass player states. “Peter (Hayes, guitarist) disappeared, we couldn’t find him and he kind of emerged two days later from his room and we heard ‘Sometimes The Light’ in pretty much the form it is on the record. All of us were blown away by it. I spent the rest of the month trying to convince him that it was good enough to be on the record!” he laughs. “To him, it was something he was messing around with late at night, just for fun. I thought, it might be good to have some fun on the record. They don’t all have to be serious. There are other songs like ‘Firewalker’ which took over a year to get together in different forms, coming back to it and losing it. Both ways went into the process on this record.”

Ultimately, though, these aren’t songs which will be strangled by the studio – after time away from their audience Black Rebel Motorcycle Club can’t wait to get back out on the road and allow their new material a chance to breathe. “The songs – these ones, in particular – they weren’t studio concoctions. We didn’t conceptualise them, it was really just the three of us in a room, kind of filling up each corner and taking up all the space” Been argues. “So once we got into the studio we don’t have to struggle for force them into that mapped kind of nature. Other records I kind of dreaded learning how to make them speak to people in that context. I wanted them to be fun to play out.”


Tuesday, March 26, 2013 Glasgow gig review

Robert Been. Picture: AP
Robert Been. Picture: AP
MUCH like the Strokes, who also released their debut album in 2001, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have never recaptured the magic of their first and most acclaimed LP. But unlike their more famous retro rock’n’roll contemporaries, this LA trio are born outsiders. Just take their name, borrowed from a motorcycle gang in The Wild One, or their clothes all in, well, you can guess which colour.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Barrowland, Glasgow

* * * *

Poignancy abounds on BRMC’s tour in support of sixth album Specter At The Feast, their first since the death in 2010 of bassist/vocalist Robert Been’s father Michael – BRMC’s sound engineer, himself a musician in the 1980s with the Call. Indeed, it was a cover of one of Been snr’s songs that opened tonight – a suitably sleazeified take on Let The Day Begin.

Following the doomy drones of Red Eyes And Tears, the likes of Hate The Taste and the stomping Beat The Devil’s Tattoo quickly typified how the blues have come to define BRMC almost as much as a sound summed up none better than by the appropriately self-descriptive Whatever Happened To My Rock’n’Roll (Punk Song).

But while much still swaggers where Been and fellow founder member and guitarist Peter Hayes step, there’s a thoughtful and reflective feel to new material. “Thanks for being there for us,” declared Been heartfeltly before Returning – which set a more downbeat and down tempo tone for a lot of what followed in the second-half, through ultimately to dreamily anthemic eight-minute closer Lose Yourself. Much of which complemented, if never quite competed with, first album bedrocks White Palms, Stop and the bass-quake of Spread Your Love.


Monday, March 25, 2013 review...

cd brmc 

Their songs are no less powerful or intense, just no longer at a rocket’s pace.

On Specter at the Feast, San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club continue on the path they began in 2007 with Baby 81, and followed with 2010’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. That path really isn’t that far from where they started on their first two albums, but there seems to be more of an effort to slightly tone back the noise-rock aspect of their sound, perhaps in hopes of garnering some success here in the U.S.
It’s not a bad plan by any means. This is one band that really should be bigger than they are, but somehow stay just under the radar. I find this odd, considering they are well loved by many critics, and since the release of Baby 81, seem to be a popular choice on Hollywood soundtracks. I get that their ginormous, fuzzed-out-wall-of-guitar sound is not going to be everyone’s liking, but they are certainly more than just a noise band with a huge sound.
Unlike their contemporaries who have gone on to greater success while seemingly abandoning any semblance of their music that made them in the first place—(cough) Kings of Leon (cough)—BRMC continue to make wonderfully noisy, somber music in the vein of Jesus and Mary Chain. I hate that comparison as it’s totally unfair, but it’s really the best way to describe them.
Over the years, BRMC’s songwriting has gotten stronger, ranging from politically charged lyrics to songs about loss. “Specter” showcases their slightly toned-down noise rock blended with slower, lusher, introspective songs, the epic album-closer “Lose Yourself” being a perfect example. When I say the noise rock aspect is toned down, gone are the blistering tracks like “Spread Your Love” and “Six Barrel Shotgun” from their first two albums, replaced with tracks like “Fire Walker” and their outstanding cover of The Call’s “Let the Day Begin.”
Their songs are no less powerful or intense, just no longer at a rocket’s pace. For those who are not aware, Michael Been, the leader of The Call, was the father of BRMC frontman Robert Levon Been. They had a close relationship, with Michael working as part of their sound crew on tours for the last two BRMC albums before his passing. As a tribute, BRMC do an almost straight-up cover of the song, while still infusing it with their own unique sound. Very powerful.
An aspect of their evolved sound that is absent from this album is the stripped-down, folky, bluesy, acoustic songs. The closest we get is the very ethereal “Sometimes the Light.” With the flow of this album, an acoustic track would have been out of place. Overall, this is an excellent album.
Given their lack of popularity in the United States, I feel this is a make-or-break album for them. They do have some success overseas, but nowhere near that in their homeland; I’m not sure how drawing well on tour isn’t equating to large record sales and greater popularity. As a huge fan, I find this a little worrisome, as I want them to stick around. If you ever get the chance to see them in concert, please do, as they are immensely powerful live. Hell, maybe even buy a t-shirt or a poster or something. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Le Grogstore' interview (fr.)

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Photo : Bertrand Noël (
Aborder Black Rebel Motorcycle Club n’est pas anodin dans les pages du GROGSTORE. Difficile même de ne pas le faire en gardant une distance respectable, tant ils comptent dans le panthéon personnel de votre serviteur, pierre fondateur de sa fascination pour l’Americana. Pourtant, en 2013, tout comme d’illustres et discrets seconds couteaux, mais néanmoins de talentueux besogneux, tels que Teenage Fan Club, le trio californien continue d’enregistrer de bons disques, de tracer son sillon dans la plus totale indépendance, sans embêter qui que se soit. Ainsi, si BRMC sort un nouvel alboum, Specter at the feast, ça ne semble plus passionner grand monde, trop occupé à pleurer la mort de Daniel Darc (qui ?). Comme si ça ne suffisait pas de déprimer pour un oui ou pour un non (la crise, le cheval, tout ça…), le Grog monte au front et rencontre ses héros, prêt à empaler le moindre de fan de Taxi Girl qui croiserait sa route (on appelle ça un « critique musical français » dans le langage courant).

Méfiez-vous des slogans tombant à bras raccourcis sur Black Rebel Motorcycle Club : ces gens-là ne font pas du rock’n’roll. Derrière les blousons en cuir, les jeans troués, les poses lascives devant les objectifs, nos héros sont de grands intellos. On ne blâmera pas ceux qui n’y ont vu que le premier degré. Les gars de Frisco l’avaient pourtant scandé dès leur début : « Whatever happened to my rock’n’roll ? », sans que personne ne fasse le rapprochement. Au cours de deux premiers albums anarchiques à souhait, ils ne s’étaient pas privés de traiter durement leur génération (s’incluant eux-mêmes dedans) : scrutateurs d’une jeunesse apathique et abusant de substances dans le premier essai éponyme, avant de la prendre franchement à parti dans Take Them, On Your Own, faisant feu de tout bois avec une poignée de chansons d’une âpreté incroyable (« Stop », « Six Barrel Shotgun », « Generation », « US Government », « Rise or fall »). Le climax de cette démarche survient juste après avec Howl (2005), titre chipé à Allen Ginsberg et son poème fondateur de la Beat Generation. En rendant hommage à leur culture musicale et littéraire, tout en dénudant leur songwriting de quelques décibels, BRMC y frappe de plein fouet leurs congénères empêtrés par l’administration Bush et la guerre en Afghanistan, dressant un lien entre passé et présent, entre 1956 et 2005. Si Baby 81 (2007) et Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (2010) marquent une certaine perte de repères thématiques, avec quelques égarements musicaux, malgré la présence de très belles compositions, les revoilà avec un sixième alboum dense, d’une grande portée spirituelle.

La source créative initiale de ce dernier opus est le deuil de la mort du père de Robert Levon Been, Michael Been (ex-leader de The Call), véritable membre du groupe à part entière, et du processus intérieur pour surmonter cette perte. Loin d’être un recueil morbide, Specter at the Feast tend vers la lumière en rendant le propos universel. Conçus à la façon d’un livre, chaque chanson étant un chapitre, ce nouvel alboum s’inscrit en nouveau pan de leur lecture d’une Amérique pachydermique, bruyante et schizophrène, leurs prestations scéniques comme autant de performances nihilistes sur fond d’americana gothique. Tel a été le cas lors de leurs deux concerts triomphaux au Trianon, fameux théâtre en son temps justement, où Grog a rencontré Robert, affable as de la basse en rase-motte sur la fosse, et lettré personnage. 

B.R.M.C.// Robert Levon Been
Photo : Bertrand Noël (

GROG : Ce n’est plus un secret pour nos auditeurs, la pochette de Specter at the feast est un détournement d’une édition d’école de Macbeth, en référence à la standardisation des couvertures ne reflétant pas le contenu des livres qu’on étudiait à l’école. Ca reprend un peu, dans votre manière d’utiliser cela pour votre pochette, l’adage : « on ne juge pas un livre par sa couverture ».
ROBERT : J’ai toujours trouvé étrange le décalage qu’il pouvait y avoir entre ces œuvres, qui sont considérées comme des classiques, et leurs couvertures, qui sont complètement anodines. Ca pourrait être le genre de bouquins sur lesquels tu ne regardes pas à deux fois, qui ferait un bon dessous de plat. C’est le genre de livres, tu vois, qu’ils n’essaient même pas de vendre. Personne ne tente de créer quelque chose de différent, il ne s’agit que du contenu. C’est quelque chose d’intriguant. Ce packaging, c’est une manière de diffuser le titre de l’album… Hum, je ne devrais pas utiliser le mot « diffuser »… Quand tu réfléchis à une pochette, tu crées toujours des images dans ta tête. Pour Specter at the feast, on arrivait toujours à un style d’image qu’on ne voulait pas donner, trop explicites par rapport à son contenu. Donc, cette pochette servait parfaitement à prendre plus de distance, pour laisser le lecteur… L’auditeur, pardon (rires), se l’approprier. Et c’est pour ça que ces couvertures standardisées existent au départ.

En reprenant cette idée, une couverture abstraite pour provoquer l’imagination de l’auditeur, est-ce que vous nous questionnez, nous qui, en découvrant ce disque, allons nous peut-être nous rendre compte que BRMC n’est plus ce que l’on croit ?  
Nous ne sommes plus le groupe que nous étions avant. C’est le premier album où nous sommes parti d’une page blanche. Pour tous les autres disques que nous avons réalisés par le passé, il y avait des morceaux des sessions qui débordaient sur le suivant comme, par exemple, Howl. Sur les sessions de celui-ci, il y avait deux chansons, « Took at a loan » et « 666 Conducer », qui ont été enregistré au même moment, mais qui ne correspondaient pas à l’album que nous cherchions à créer. Finalement, ces deux-là sont devenus le patron du suivant, Baby 81. Et chacun de nos disques a débuté comme ça. Il y avait ce débordement qui donnait la marche à suivre pour le prochain. Specter at the feast est le premier où on a fait table rase du passé. On avait besoin de se purifier, de recommencer à zéro. Il y a eu un changement en nous, et il fallait qu’on l’identifie, d’y faire face sans en avoir peur, de laisser venir les choses d’elles-mêmes. Et ça nous a pris presque deux ans et demi. J’espère que cet album reflète honnêtement cette démarche. Le packaging n’est pas lié au contenu. Les chansons, j’espère, ont assez de sens pour se suffire d’elles-mêmes, sans plus d’explications, même par moi maintenant (rires).

Justement en parlant sens, du contenu, vous avez récemment affirmé que, sur celui-ci,  vous avez vraiment voulu créer un album au sens propre du terme, avec un vrai lien entre les chansons, et ça s’entend, et que c’était bien plus aboutie que vos précédents enregistrements, sur ce point-là. Comment ce disque est devenu plus homogène, plus lié que les précédents ? Qu’est-ce qui peut le démarquer, dans sa forme d’écriture, dans ce qu’il raconte ?
On assiste un peu à la mort de l’album de nos jours et plus personne, du moins aux Etats-Unis, n’apprécie ce format. Tout le monde télécharge du mp3. Et je le comprends parce qu’il y a beaucoup de remplissages sur pas mal d’albums, beaucoup de gras qui pourraient être dispensable. Je comprends qu’on ait envie d’économiser son argent quelque part (rires). Et pourquoi pas dans la musique. C’est une forme d’art en voie de disparition, mais faire un bon album, ce n’est pas juste écrire un paquet de bonnes chansons. Il faut qu’elles aient un lien entre elles et qu’on comprenne cette relation. Ca demande plus de concentration, de sensibilité, pour comprendre la manière dont elles fonctionnent entre elles. Et la plupart du temps, t’as du bol si tu arrives à écrire cinq chansons qui ne craignent pas (rires). Sans parler d’en faire douze qui soient cohérentes. J’ai toujours été fan d’albums de, je ne sais pas, Spiritualized, The Verve, Pink Floyd ou de trucs expérimentaux. Ou pas forcément expérimentaux, mais où on peut y entendre un langage propre sur toute la durée. C’est une forme d’art, et je ne suis pas sûr si nous sommes capables de perpétuer cela… C’est dur parce que tu ne veux pas trop conceptualiser et sacrifier les chansons pour le concept. Tu peux être tenté de vouloir transformer une bonne idée pour l’intégrer à un concept, mais on s’en fout, l’important, c’est que la chanson tienne debout toute seule. Si c’est pas le cas, quoiqu’il arrive, ton ensemble s’écroulera. Il faut toujours que ça soit ce qui prime… Je suis désolé, c’est beaucoup de détails, mais c’est important. Il y a un esprit et si tu arrives à garder cet esprit sur la moitié de l’album, c’est déjà vachement bien. Nous, on espère y arriver sur la longueur. Mais, c’est subjectif (rires, puis réfléchit). En fait, c’est plus simple que ça. C’est simplement ouvrir une porte aux gens qui voudront vivre l’album de cette manière. Et la musique, c’est souvent ça, laisser la porte ouverte, par les paroles, par le son, en créant un voyage du début à la fin. C’est vraiment ouvrir une porte aux gens pour les laisser entrer. On n’avait pas forcément ouvert cette porte auparavant.

A quel moment on arrive à ce niveau de désinhibition où on laisse ouvrir cette porte ?
La porte est coincée de toute façon (rires). Donc, il faut trouver les bons outils. Des fois, il faut une clé, mais elle ne marche pas tout le temps non plus. Parfois, il faut l’enfoncer à coups de pied ou de poings, ou avec une hache. Des fois, il faut la charmer avec des mots doux.

Et vous n’avez pas peur qu’elle se referme ?
Une fois qu’elle est ouverte, il y a d’autres portes à ouvrir.

B.R.M.C.// Peter Hayes Photo : Bertrand Noel

B.R.M.C.// Peter Hayes
Photo : Bertrand Noël (

Comment ces changements se sont concrétisés musicalement parlant ? Quand on écoute un album de BRMC, on sait qu’on ne va pas écouter un groupe de polka. Quels sont les nouveaux territoires, les nouvelles sensations qui se sont dévoilées en remplissant cette page blanche ?
Je me souviens très clairement quand Nick (Jago) a quitté le groupe, avant qu’on n’enregistre Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. On a envisagé de changer le nom du groupe à l’arrivée de Leah à la batterie. Il faut respecter le passé et reconnaître qu’on évolue. Mais quoiqu’il arrive, quand on joue ensemble, ça sonne comme nous (rires). Donc, on s’est dit que si on sortait un album sous un autre nom, les gens se diraient qu’on copie le son de BRMC. Il y a clairement une patte dont on ne peut pas se détacher et, en même temps, il nous reste encore beaucoup de territoires à explorer. Cet album, c’est une bonne preuve pour moi car c’est ce que je me demandais : est-ce qu’on a encore des choses à dire ? En 2010, on a fait une pause. On a voulu attendre d’avoir quelques choses d’authentique à offrir. On en avait besoin pour nous-même, en premier lieu, sans se soucier du public. Ca, on s’en fiche, en tout cas, moi, je m’en fiche (rires). Il faut d’abord que nous croyons qu’il y a encore des chansons, qu’on a quelque chose de vrai à donner. Cet album nous semble plus honnête que d’autres qu’on a pu faire. C’est pas tellement qu’on a changé, c’est qu’on est plus nous-même.

« Mature » ?
Je n’irais pas jusque là (rires).

Vous avez évoqué l’arrivée de Leah Shapiro dans le groupe. De mon point de vue, avec Specter at the feast, je trouve que, sur ce disque, elle a trouvé sa place, son style, son apport musical a clairement beaucoup plus influencé la dynamique des morceaux. La place de la batterie me semble beaucoup plus centrale et crée une vraie architecture pour les morceaux. J’ai l’impression, que si ce disque est vraiment abouti, c’est grâce à elle ou en partie grâce à elle.
(sourire entendu) Tu es la seule personne à parler de ça après 60 putains d’interviews. Oui, c’est vrai. « Funny Games » a commencé par la partie de batterie. « Lullaby » serait un peu chiante sans la partie de batterie. Je n’avais pas l’intention de finir la chanson jusqu’à ce que j’entende son rythme.

Sur « Rival », c’est un riff de batterie.
Oui, sur « Rival », c’est comme une marche militaire… Elle a été importante pour nous. Peter (Hayes) et moi, on n’a pas besoin de communiquer avec des mots pour faire de la musique. Quand on joue, c’est comme une deuxième langue. On sait quand on veut faire monter la tension ou calmer le jeu, quand on veut créer un certain climat. Et c’est impossible de l’apprendre à quelqu’un d’autre. C’était notre plus grande peur avec Leah quand elle a rejoins le groupe. On a retenu notre souffle jusqu’à ce qu’arrive le jour où nous avons joué tous ensembles dans une même pièce. Et si elle n’avait pas pigé le truc dès le départ, on n’aurait pas su le lui expliquer. On l’aurait viré (rires). Elle a un don incroyable pour écouter et savoir où se placer naturellement. Je pense que Beat The Devil’s Tattoo était son tour de chauffe, elle n’était pas l’aise pour mener les chansons. Et ce coup-ci, elle en mène la plupart. Elle a été très inspirante pour donner vie à certaines d’entre-elles. Car, c’est vrai, sur « Sell it », ça a commencé sur une riff de guitare, mais elle en avait rien à foutre, elle a commencé à placer son propre groove, ça nous a réveillé. « Hate the taste » possède un rythme très intéressant aussi. « Fire Walker » semble très simple mais est plus complexe qu’elle n’en a l’air. Ca me surprend que ça ne marque pas plus de personnes. Pour moi, cette place que Leah s’est créée d’elle-même, c’est la chose la plus évidente sur cet album. Elle est incroyablement inventive et je n’ai pas entendu beaucoup de batteurs comme elle, avec cette dynamique très droite qui sait mettre la bonne chose au bon endroit. Ce n’est pas un truc solo, il s’agit de savoir se mettre de côté, au service de la chanson. C’est un don.

B.R.M.C.// Leah Shapiro

B.R.M.C.// Leah Shapiro
Photo : Bertrand Noël (

On ne va pas revenir dessus, on sait que le moteur créateur de l’album s’est le deuil et la réutilisation de cette émotion, de cet état pour créer une œuvre lumineuse. Je me suis posé cette question, vous le prenez comme vous voulez : à quel point un artiste, un musicien, doit-il utiliser sa propre émotion pour créer ? Quelle est la frontière entre l’honnêteté et l’impudeur ? La vérité et la complaisance ? En somme, un musicien doit-il être son propre vampire ? Vous avez deux minutes pour répondre.
Ah putain de merde… La première chose à comprendre, c’est que tu n’es pas spécial. Ta manière d’appréhender la vie, les évènements que tu vas traverser, auront déjà été vécu, et seront vécu par des milliers de personnes. Les peines que tu ressens, les joies que tu ressens… (pause) En fait, on parle de ce qui relie chacun de nous à l’autre. Une fois que tous les détails s’effacent, l’émotion que nous ressentons est universelle. C’est très difficile… Il y a des émotions sur cet album qui ne sont pas que personnelles. C’est comme un lieu sacré, dont tu n’aimes pas trop parler mais que tu respectes. Ce sont des lieux dans lesquels tu dois t’aventurer pour partager quelque chose de plus authentique : la peine autant que la joie. A travers l’expérience de la perte de l’être cher, on essaie de mélanger ces deux extrêmes… Il y a eu des moments où on s’est demandé si on ne devait pas se censurer nous-mêmes. On a hésité à garder les morceaux les plus glauques, « Rival » et « Teenage Disease », pour les mettre de côté pour un autre disque. On avait aussi peur des morceaux plus intimes, pour s’en tenir à un disque rock, ce que tout le monde attend de nous (sourire narquois). Mon espoir est que les gens comprendront qu’on essaie de parler autant de la mort, du deuil, que de la vie, de choses lumineuses qui la compose, sur un même pied d’égalité, et l’admettre… C’est la seule façon de les aborder avec sincérité.


Saturday, March 23, 2013 review...

Spencer Rose | Mar 20 2013 - 3:42pm |

Album Review | Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Specter at the Feast

In 2010, Robert Levon Been’s father Michael died of a heart attack during Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s set at Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium. He was not only the father of the one of the lead vocalists, but Michael was also a mentor to his son’s band. Since then, the band had been in mourning while working on their 7th studio album. The recording process functioned as a grieving period, and three years after the tragic loss, BRMC emerged with Specter at the Feast. In a fitting tribute, the death of Been’s father led to the rawest, most emotional, and arguably best material the band has ever produced.

The album opens with a dramatic ambience before a Been’s bass and drummer Leah Shapiro tear into the bleak expanse of sound. The gloomy atmosphere of the song sets the tone of the rest of the album. This is a band that is pissed off at the world and it shows right away. “Fire Walker” fades out to the last few rips of dark distortion and leads into a cover of Been’s late father’s band The Call. On “Let the Day Begin,” Black Rebel Motorcycle begins to make a case for why they should be playing arenas. Covers are hard to do, but with the emotion behind the song and the band’s sheer determination to make a great album in memory of their mentor, I could easily see their version of “Let the Day Begin” echoing around some of the biggest venues in the country. It’s easily the best song on the record. BRMC has done some impressive work in the past, but a fiery passion has been reignited on Specter at the Feast.

The next string of songs is about the cheeriest the band will get on this album. “Returning,” “Lullaby,” and “Hate the Taste” prove that the hurt they feel from the loss of Michael Been is there, but they won’t let it dominate their entire sound. They keep the heavy distortion and attitude, but seem to be having more fun with these three songs. However, things kick into overdrive on the next two tracks. The pissed off mentality comes back and the band shreds through “Rival” and “Teenage Disease.” The lyrics are just as volatile as the malicious guitars behind them as Peter Hayes screams “I’d rather die than be living like you!” The song is the most venomous and angry the band gets on the record, so they chose to place the two slowest songs immediately after “Teenage Disease” which is an understandable decision, but still puts the brakes on the album.

After the slower pace of “Some Kind of Ghost” and “Sometimes the Light,” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club goes for the big finish with the final three tracks of Specter at the Feast. The band gets pleasantly heavy on “Sell It” and “Funny Games” which will make a great pick me up midway through their live setlists. This duo is one of a few songs pairings on the record that lead right into each other which contributes to the album’s strong flow. The closing track “Lose Yourself” once again nails the arena rock feel. At the risk of insulting the band and its fans, this track almost sounds like a beefed up Coldplay towards the end. I mean this as a compliment because I personally love Chris Martin and company. The last minute of “Lose Yourself” sounds very similar to Coldplay’s “Fix You” with a significant boost in testosterone.

Not being a huge Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fan, I really enjoyed this album and its significance in the story of the band. While it may not be on my personal year’s end lists, fans of good ol’ fashioned rock and roll will absolutely love this album and veteran fans of the band will enjoy it even more. Having overcome such a tragic loss, it’s nice to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club back.

You can catch Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on May 14 at Turner Hall Ballroom.


Friday, March 22, 2013 interview with Leah

Lily Moayeri March 22, 2013 

If you catch a fleeting glance of a photo of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the group looks like three wannabe biker gang dudes—only in more stylish garb and with better hair. If you take a second look you’ll notice one of them is a delicately beautiful girl with chiseled features and not a trace of masculinity. This is Leah Shapiro, and she is no curb monkey.

The Danish-born drummer joined bandmates Peter Hayes and Robert Been in 2008 after stints with the Raveonettes and Dead Combo. Shapiro replaced the group’s former drummer, Nick Jago, who had been with them from their start in 1998. Completing music programs in Nottingham in the UK and Boston and New York stateside, Shapiro’s formal accomplishments enhance what she naturally brings to her ferocious drumming. To quote Been, “[Shapiro] is not as sweet as she looks [but] she is incredibly talented.”

Shapiro lets her drums do the talking for her. Pounding away with relentless force and boundless energy, from this spot is where she is the most imposing. In the flesh, she is unfussy and not a big talker. Keeping both her person and her chatter sparse, Shapiro has nothing to prove.

Now on her third album with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this week the band released Specter At The Feast, Shapiro shares in the loss of Michael Been—father to Robert and sometime father to Peter as well as the group’s erstwhile sound engineer. Not exactly autobiographical, Specter At The Feast is nevertheless the sonic representation of the grief process Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was, and is, experiencing. Fluctuating between dark and dense and light and dreamy, Specter At The Feast reflects the rollercoaster of emotions accompanying a great loss. Boxx Magazine contributor Lily Moayeri talks with Shapiro to get the inside perspective.

LM: How comfortable are you with Peter Hayes and Robert Been, not just as a later band member, but also because of their longstanding friendship from childhood? 
LS: We all got really lucky finding each other. I get along with both of them quite well. It’s hard to find people that you can spend such a huge amount of time with and still want to be proper friends outside of the band stuff. With those guys I have that. They are my best friends and brothers for sure and I’m lucky to have that with them.

LM: How do you fit in the songwriting process with Hayes and Been?

LS: A lot of stuff in the songwriting process comes from us playing up and loud. The energy/telepathy between us guides the music and has been a starting point for a decent amount of songs. But sometimes the initial idea is a guitar riff or a melody or a drum part. There isn’t really one set recipe for songwriting.

LM: How did you decide on the drums as your instrument of choice?

LS: It just seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t really something I had thought through at all, I just did it.

LM: Were there particular drummers you admired growing up, particularly female drummers? What about their style drew you to them?
LS: The first female drummer I remember admiring was Cindy Blackman. I remember seeing her in a Lenny Kravitz video and she just looked so fucking cool and powerful. I later found out that she is actually a really incredible jazz drummer. Aside from that, the first drummer that was sort of forced on me was Ginger Baker. When my dad found out I wanted to play drums he made me sit and listen to Ginger Baker drum solos quite a bit. Ginger Baker is a crazy genius.

LM: Touring is physically demanding. How do you get physically fit prior to hitting the road—especially for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club who has extended tour dates?
LS: I try to do cardio before tours. It makes it easier to play. Also as much practice as possible. Starting a tour in bad shape is the worst ever.

LM: What are you most comfortable wearing when performing? The reason I ask this is because one of my drummer friends was always despairing about finding something that would be comfortable and light but still look good as he sweated so much his clothes got heavy and hindered his playing.
LS: Jeans and a loose T-shirt is all I ever wear. I feel comfortable in that. I don’t know that it looks that good but I suppose I don’t particularly care either.

LM: You’ve moved to different cities, mainly for music education opportunities. Was there a particular place that resonated with you more than others?
LS: I think New York is my favorite. A lot of really great things happened while I lived in NYC. I met the Raveonettes there and ended up playing with them and that sort of led me to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s a really inspiring place to live, and I miss just wandering around aimlessly there.

LM: How did you get into riding motorcycles? Did this help in you finding common ground with Hayes and Been [who are also bikers]?

LS: When I moved to Los Angeles. It’s a great place for riding and at the time I couldn’t afford a car so I got a bike instead. I suppose it helped find some common ground. All three of us like to go on trips so we do have that in common.

LM: What are some of your favorite spots to ride—anywhere on the planet? What makes these places special?
LS: I think the best bike trip we ever went on was a three-day trip in Japan back in 2010. We were riding around the countryside, sort of around Mt. Fuji. It’s just a beautiful country and its always more fun exploring on a motorcycle.

LM: What one negative experience can you draw from to give advice to female musicians starting up so they can avoid the same situation?

LS: I haven’t had to deal with too much crap thankfully, but sometimes I’ve come across the attitude that men are inherently better drummers than women. That’s laughable, not true, and should really just be ignored.


Thursday, March 21, 2013 review

The days when Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would vie for front page headline space with The Strokes and Oasis are long gone. Which is arguably for the better, as despite being lumped in with the aforementioned and many more bands of the day, BRMC always stuck out like sore thumbs at an international manicure convention. Moodier, and with a tendency towards creating more aggressive rather than commercially enticing music, it was little surprise when third long player, 2005's acoustic Howl, saw them take a step in the opposite direction to their peers, many of whom had already burned out by this point.

While that record's stripped back approach encompassing traditional blues and country influences may only have indicated a mere diversion, it instilled a sense of belief within the band's core that anything was possible. And more importantly, highlighted a level of versatility indiscriminately glossed over until then.

So, 12 years on from the release of their debut, the trio - founder members Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been along with one-time Raveonettes drummer Leah Shapiro - could perhaps be accused of sneaking their seventh long player out the back door while no one was watching. No fanfares, no fastidious advertising campaigns save for the odd clip on YouTube, and very little press in the lead up either. Instead, they've proceeded to go about their business in a respectful manner, constructing an album that serves as a fitting tribute to Been's late father Michael, who passed away in August 2010 during the band's set at that year's Pukkelpop festival.

Having produced Specter At The Feast's predecessor Beat The Devil's Tattoo, as well as playing an integral part in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's development as a live outfit, Been Snr's influence can never be underestimated. Also a former member of Eighties new wave outfit The Call, one of whose songs ('Let The Day Begin') BRMC have covered here, their politically charged anthems rivalling contemporaries U2 and Simple Minds back in the day.

Musically, at least, 'Let The Day Begin' represents the most derivative four minutes on Specter..., if only for the fact its driving blustery tradrock could have casually slotted onto either of the band's first two records without so much as a whisper. Not that it's meant in a detrimental way. On the contrary, when it comes to foot-to-the-floor ballsy rock and roll no one does it better than BRMC, but for a band who've seemingly had one eye on the future with every release since the aforementioned Howl, it's a backwards glance towards their (admittedly elegant) past.

Where Specter At The Feast really comes into its own is when Black Rebel Motorcycle Club push themselves to the very limit. Opener 'Fire Walker' builds into a brooding, mid-tempo cinematic groover, lyrics like "And maybe I'm too blind to see the fire is all that walks with me" casting a forlorn and somewhat menacing shadow. 'Sometimes The Light' also ventures into previously unchartered territories, entering a similar psychedelic gospel arena to the one Spiritualized have called their own these past two decades.

Sometimes there is a tendency to just let rip as on the furious 'Rival' and obtuse punk rock of 'Teenage Disease'. "I'd rather die than be living like you" concludes Levon Been on the latter rather than the former's clarion call "I'm tired of killing for survival". Meanwhile, 'Returning' takes a more reflective angle, its sentiment apparent ("A part of you is gone") given the nature of Specter...'s existence.

Perhaps the biggest criticism here is that Specter... outstays its welcome, albeit minimally. Clocking in at just under an hour, its occasionally harrowing contents rendering it an uneasy listen, maybe if BRMC had taken a leaner approach Specter... may have ended up on a few more commercial radars. But then again, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have never succumbed to such mercenary traits, hence the reason they still find themselves held so dearly by so many.

Long may it continue.

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Rolling On: An interview with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

20 March, 2013
by: Domzig
Drummer Leah Shapiro tells us the story behind what has been a tough sixth album...

Contrary to popular belief, being in a band is not always an easy ride. Yeah the few times you play a gig and party with models are fun, but having to deal with grinding poverty, constant crap food and endless boring days spent cramped in the back of a van, waiting for a sound guy or listening to the same drum track over and over again is seriously hard work.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
have had it harder than most. Originally formed back in 1998 by Robert Levon Been and ex-Brian Jonestown Massacre member Peter Haynes (and if you’ve ever seen DiG!, then you’ll know how hard he had it there), their eleven year career has been a parade of fluctuating line ups, unstable band members and calamitous gigs, interspersed with six critically acclaimed albums. They are a monument to the dedication it takes to make music sometimes.

However all this doesn’t even rate when compared to the sudden death of Robert’s father Michael Been back in 2010. An important, if silent member of the band, Michael had not only been a father figure for both Rob and Peter, he had also been the band’s long-running sound engineer, writing partner and sounding board. Even for a band that had been through so much already, the loss of a mentor was shattering.

Consequently, ‘Specter at the Feast’ feels a lot more confessional than the band’s previous. Three and a bit years in the making, on the surface it swaggers along with the usual intensity of the first album, but underneath the fuzzed-up grunge and star-gazing psychedelic passages, there’s a rare sense of vulnerability. It’s also one of those rare records that takes you on an emotional journey, kicking off with the stormy ‘Fire Walker’ and ending with the hopeful, coming-to-terms with it rocker ‘Lose Yourself’.

Currently over to play a short run of UK and European dates, with a show at the Brixton Academy on the 27th of March I caught up with drummer Leah Shapiro to chat about the album, Dave Grohl and a certain sound desk.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Let The Day Begin by Vagrant Records

So you’ve recently started playing shows again, how are they going?
Leah: Erm, well apart from a couple of shows in San Francisco late last year, we haven’t played at all since we started out on this tour, but yeah, it’s good to be playing shows again. I’ve missed it.

So the past few years have been pretty tough for BRMC. How did you manage to keep on going?
Yeah, it’s been kind of tough. Michael was a mentor to both Pete and Rob and has always been a major part of the writing process, and it took them a bit of time before that felt ready to start writing again.

Because of this ‘Specter at the Feast’ just ended up taking ages to complete. We spent quite a lot of time up in the mountains near Santa Cruz where Rob grew up, mainly because we needed to get away from everything.  We then moved down to LA to do most of the recording at Sound City, add on almost six months mixing and it ended up being a super long process this time.

Were there times when you all thought about quitting?
I don’t think we ever came close to quitting. The thing is I love playing music, especially with Peter and Rob – there’s literally nothing else I can do.

There seems like there’s a lot of emotion on this record. Is this one of BRMC’s most truthful albums?
Yes and no. I think all of the BRMC records are emotional and truthful in their own ways, but on this one we are dealing with themes that we haven’t really touched on before

‘Specter at the Feast’ feels a lot like an early BRMC album. Was there ever a sense that you wanted to take things back to basics?
It’s not something that we intentionally wanted to do, no, but I kinda get why people are saying that. A portion of this record was recorded at Sound City where the first record was made, so in some ways the sound of ‘Specter at the Feast’

Which why you’re in that new David Grohl film.
Yeah, Rob and Pete both appear in his recent movie. Basically Sound City was this run-down studio up in the hills of LA where quite of lot of people recorded over the last 30 years; Neil Young, Weezer, Steveie Nicks Nirvana. ..

The place went bankrupt a few years ago, but Dave Grohl managed to save the mixing desk, so the film is sort of a celebration of the old, analog way of recording.

Wow, that sounds like some desk…
It’s a pretty hefty bit of kit, but it sounds great.

In these days of downloads and singles, you’ve made an old fashioned, flowing album: you have to respect that.
I think music has become something that is quite throw-away these days, what with iTunes, downloads and things like that. We really wanted to produce a piece of work that takes you by the hand and leads you through the songs, rather than just being a couple of singles loosely tied together.

It means you have to work harder, but I think it’s worth it.

Specter at the Feast is out now on on Abstract Dragon.

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Three years after the death of father, mentor and sound engineer Michael Been backstage during a gig, Robert Been's BRMC return with new purpose and vigor

  /  March 20, 2013
After a three-year break, San Francisco’s leather-clad fuzz rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have returned with yesterday's release of sixth album Specter at the Feast. Fans should consider themselves lucky—BRMC almost didn't return at all.

Tragedy struck in 2010: Michael Been, the band's mentor, sound technician, occasional second guitarist and "fourth member," died of a heart attack backstage at Belgium’s Pukkelpop fest as BRMC performed onstage. He was more than just a key member of BRMC's crew; Been, the frontman of 1980s rock band the Call, was the father of BRMC co-founder Robert Been.

The death forced Been and guitarist-singer Peter Hayes (a Brian Jonestown Massacre alum) to cope with the loss and take stock of their future with the band. The result is Specter at the Feast, a glorious tribute and their first release without Michael Been. BRMC revisit their primal rock n' roll roots with gusto and atmospheric depth, using the recording process as sonic therapy.

Simultaneously heavy and tender, gorgeous and gritty, the LP’s 12 songs are full of bonfire guitar riffs, engine-rev bass and rising choruses with hopeful, gospel-tinged melodies that’d have Bono blushing. They don't dwell in pity, but hold their heads high and reflect: “A part of you is ending / A part of you holds on / Cradled by the sun,” the duo harmonize to a swelling wave of church organ, cymbal crashes and fuzz-toned guitar on "Returning". On opener “Fire Walker,” Been sings, "Sweet Lord, I'm coming home" over a gritty bass riff and shadowy atmospheric flourishes.

Specter at the Feast is certainly BRMC’s most personal and arguably the band’s best album yet. Been called Fuse from Los Angeles, where BRMC were rehearsing for their upcoming tour...

You’ve said BRMC’s first show, just days after your father’s death, was a cornerstone to the band’s future. 
You got to pick yourself up and keep going. That show was the first look at who I’m with and who has my back, and why I’m going forward. In a way, this whole record is the long version of that one show. You just have to get up and do the work, because sometimes that’s all that’s needed and all you know how to do.
"I had to step foot on that stage and not just hide away or escape it or feel sorry for myself."
How did the album start to come together following this traumatic period? 
We took it slow. We took a long time to just rehearse and get into a room and jam. We wanted to get back to enjoy playing without any set plan. From that, a lot of powerful things came.

Was your father’s death hard to confront musically? 
It’s not an incredibly personal record. We’re not writing literally about it, but we’re not ignoring it. There’s a balance—the light and the dark of losing someone you love. A lot of people just think, "Oh, that’s really depressing dark and bleak." But if you’ve gone through anything like that you know that there’s an enormous amount of gratitude and insight. It’s a heavy thing to handle because it’s pulling you apart in extremes. We tried to show that in the record. Those two extremes are alive and well.

"Getting together with these people is like a family and now with one of those members gone, it reminds me of that."
Dave Grohl’s Sound City was a saving grace for the band in a way…
Yeah. Dave called to ask us to be involved in this documentary he was making, which was a mind f-ck in itself. We forgot about that soundboard and our first album, [which was recorded at Sound City Studios]. We ended up just jamming out and wrote a song with [Sound City Players] and recorded on that board. It sounded great. Dave was like, "I want to keep this alive and keep people using this board." It’s in his studio now, but he was gracious enough to be like, "Come by anytime." So we were like, "How about tomorrow?" [laughs]. We were the first band to record on it after it moved to Dave’s place, so we sort of brought it back to life.

How did it sound? 
What board you record on is not the be-all, end-all. It still has to be a great song; it still has to be a moment in time. But the board is a very important link in the chain and it opens the door to have a chance to make a great record. But I hear it in the sound. It was really important that we recorded on that board. We got the scope of the album and let it breathe. You can hear the nuances in the record.

It's a big difference from the last record, 2010’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.
A lot of those nuances were lost on the last record because we tried to record it garage-y with just a couple mics in the room. It was a happy accident that Dave called and we found that board back in our lives again.

You recorded in other locations, too, including your hometown of Santa Cruz, right? 
We did one song, the first song on the record [“Fire Walker”], up in Joshua Tree. Then after we recorded at Grohl’s place in L.A. we took those recordings and went to the mountains. There are too many people, too many distractions in L.A. You can’t think and write words when people are texting and calling and emailing you all the time. You need to get away. A friend let us stay at this remote cabin. The only place we could bring out our gear and do some more tracking was at the old Boulder Creek post office, which this guy converted into a studio.
It was trippy. I was born there and had gone to that same post office with my mom to mail sh-t when I was 7, and now we’re rocking out there. It was surreal. The town looks like Twin Peaks, too. But it was a good spirit. We weren’t just playing in a storage space in Hollywood or something. It was good to get lost up there and just focus on music.

What was it like working without your father for the first time?
We tried to work with [Queens of the Stone Age producer] Chris Goss. He came in during the middle of recording, but we didn’t finish it out with him. We’ve done all the records ourselves and we have a really specific process. We love him and it was great to work with him, but it’s difficult. We’re still looking for the right fit; someone that’s a sounding board. It’s a specific piece of that puzzle; my father was that sounding board, someone with an ear we could trust… even though we wouldn’t listen to him all the time [laughs]. But that’s part of it. Sometimes, disagreeing tells you what you want. That process isn’t black and white.

Is there a central track on the LP? Or one you’re most proud of?
"Fire Walker" was one of the hardest and took the longest. I wanted to abandon it, but it really took shape right at the end. It was a struggle until the very end. "Returning" feels like the anchor of the album. I don’t know what the record would do without it. It was a blueprint song and we’d be lost without it. It guided us.

BRMC released a video series leading up the LP’s release.
We never made a doc of any kind. We’ve released a couple of live DVDs, but we’ve otherwise been highly allergic to cameras. We don’t like the whole reality show, Twitter world thing, so we try to keep people focused on the music. But by now, our closed door is a bit much. Our friend Malia James has been directing—she did the "Beat the Devil’s Tattoo" video—and she was respectful to be a fly on the wall. So we figured we’d open the door this time to show a bit of the story behind the record. It was a long time coming.

You’re tapping fans to submit Instagram pics for BRMC’s video for "Let The Day Begin," a cover of your dad’s hit with the Call.
The song had significance to us. We just wanted to capture the spirit of the song, so we wanted people to send in photos of images in the spirit of the song, to give thanks and gratitude. We’re planning a life chronology video. This idea of "your whole life flashes before your eyes, birth to death."

"This is us trying to give music a spirit again."
That’s much more of a communal experience, which is new for the band.
I used to get really excited for a record to come out because you had to wait for it. You had this relationship with it. You were saving money to go to the record store and buy it. A lot of things about that have been lost. Now everything is downloadable and intangible. The worth and weight of it are hard to measure. You don’t go to a friend’s house to listen to a new record, because he’s already downloaded it too.  But music is shared; it’s not supposed to be so isolated and individual. It's worth believing in that spirit.

So we’re stabbing in the dark to see if there are different ways to achieve the same thing. It didn’t matter that it was in a record store. The physical copy is debatable, but I like to think that it’s bigger than that. We’re trying to find that spirit again.