If 1967 presented America with the mythic “Summer of Love,” when a young generation decided to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” due to the government’s unnecessary war in Vietnam, perhaps we can sum up the present American zeitgeist as the “Summer of Angst.” In the midst of the current mess in Iraq, today’s youth has to wonder not only whatever happened to their rock ‘n’ roll, but whatever happened to the notion of a democracy “of the people, by the people, and for the people”? So perhaps it is a sign of the times that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s (BRMC) recent album, Baby 81, offers up some appropriate agitprop mantras as a sort of new counterculture protest.
BRMC came together in the late 1990s when Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been recruited British percussionist Nick Jago and formed an American version of a shoe-gazing band-¡ la My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain-taking their name from Marlon Brando’s biker gang in the cult classic, The Wild One.
In May, the band’s fourth disc, Baby 81, dropped-an intriguing mix of protest music buried under old-school glam and hard rock tunes, and interlaced with acoustic balladry that would make Johnny Cash proud. BRMC’s vocalist/guitarist Hayes recently phoned in to discuss the band’s upcoming gig at the Ventura Theatre.
Why did you choose to name your latest disc Baby 81? Is the title reflective of the whole environmental crisis? Well, you know, there are several reasons. There’s [what] you mentioned, but there’s also a motorcycle reference there. But really it was Nick’s turn to pick a name for a record, so it was his choice.
“Weapon of Choice” incorporates some profound lyrics. Since we’re living in an age of corporate greed and extreme nationalism, if we don’t want to “waste” love on this nation, where should we place our love? You know, you’ve got this extreme going on here where, if you don’t believe in Bush’s definition of God, you’re an evildoer. So for me, that song is about making a declaration against capitalism and the system that exists. You know, I find it funny that people have to vote in secret : behind a little curtain. (Laughs.) It’s like nobody’s supposed to know what anybody stands for. So I just want to be out there saying this is what I don’t believe in. But I also want to stand up for what I do believe in. Family, friends, music, and creativity-that’s where love is.
Do you think there’s a moral imperative at this point for Congress to bring impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney? Yeah : but you know : the older you get, the more you see that the Democrats and the Republicans are pretty much the same-there’s so much corruption all around. But absolutely; Bush and Cheney need to be held accountable for what they’ve done, just out of respect for the rest of the world.
The song “American X” is nine minutes long and seems like a new direction for the band; almost like prog-rock. What will your next album be like? I don’t know if “American X ” is prog-rock : not that I have anything against it : I think we want to be open to making all kinds of songs. We don’t want people to think we’re just a drone band. I don’t know what direction we’ll go in next, or if it will even be called rock ‘n’ roll-we’ll just have to see what happens. But on Howl we found out there’s a lot of freedom in using an acoustic guitar.
What’s your guitar of choice? A Gibson 335-I really like the sounds I’m able to get from it.
You guys left Virgin and signed a new deal with RCA. Has RCA been doing right by you? Yeah, they’ve been good to us. They give us creative freedom and they know how important it is for us to get out there and do live shows; and [they don’t give] up on us because all our songs don’t get on the radio. You know, the way the system is now, it really doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know what you have to do to get your songs played on the radio.
It seems there’s really been an artistic progression in BRMC’s music. On Baby 81, “666 Conducer” and “Am I Only” sound like you seem to be heading into Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen territory. Well, thanks; they’re artists who we hold in high regard and really respect. And that’s what it’s all about, being respectful of guys like that.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club headlines the Majestic Ventura Theatre on Thursday, September 6, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. Visit venturatheater.net.