Never before has 45 minutes flown by so effortlessly as it did last Friday when The Indy caught up with Robert Levon Been, the bassist, vocalist, and founding member of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. There was plenty to discuss (their four highly acclaimed and successful albums and opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain, for starters) before Been’s tour manager beckoned him to the stage, where the band went on to open for the Stone Temple Pilots, just as they will this Saturday at the Santa Barbara Bowl
The guys behind Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (often simply known as BRMC) met as teenagers in the Bay Area suburb of Lafayette, California, after guitarist Peter Hayes left the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The genre they most embody would be a well-calculated mix of rock ‘n’ roll, folk-revival, and shoe-gaze. Needless to say, Lafayette isn’t known for much, aside from the rows of tract homes Tim Burton featured so prominently in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands. It’s also just too far from San Fran to be on much of anyone’s musical radar. When asked if he thought this at all inspiring, Been thoughtfully replied, “I used to trash talk, but that’s what you do when you’re young. Now I’m proud. If you can co-exist in a place like that and come out of it with soul intact, it’s good for survival. We wanted to fill what was absent, what was needed. That’s what we still do.”
And BRMC’s brand of folk- and revival-inspired rock is definitely in demand. After the release of their fourth album, 2007’s Baby 81, the boys were invited to open a Los Angeles show for a band that some 23-some-odd-years earlier birthed the shoegaze/revival genre-the Jesus and Mary Chain. “It was [a big deal],” Been recalled. “I didn’t think about it too much before we did it. It was pretty special, there’s something about [that show] that’s greater than words. I can’t explain it. We need the Jesus and Mary Chain, they’re an important band. It feels like what they do is getting phased out by “nice” bands who aren’t gonna change anything. This hit me really hard when we played with them that night.”
Emotion is something that drips through BRMC’s music, making Been’s pensive response to playing with the Jesus and Mary Chain not all that surprising. And as it would happen, when asked if his sentiments on recording Baby 81 were synonymous, Been replied, “Yeah, I hope so. The making of all records give a little and take a little of your mind and soul, and all for different reasons. Recording isn’t like playing live. There are so many other ways it drives you crazy, for better or for worse. There is too much control involved, and that’s not the way it should be. I’m trying to lose my mind, that’s the fun part of writing and making music-disconnecting with the ground and reconnecting with something else. There’s another world sitting right on top of this one, you just have to open your eyes to it.”
Although each of their albums comes with a unique story (Been mentioned their first release was recorded in a bedroom), their third record, Howl, stands out as one for which the boys especially transcended their previous offerings, recording the disk sans both drummer and record label. “Peter and I are okay on our own,” Been explained. “We’re from different worlds, musically. I was obsessed with music, while Peter wasn’t. He comes from a different place-from an opposite world-which together makes us in good balance. There’s something bigger than us individually when we’re unified. It didn’t really change when we recorded Howl, but maybe it became more obvious to other people : ” The album, stripped down to Been and Hayes (with the addition of an occasional drummer) was completely unbacked. “This record feels like our most accomplished. No one was behind us. It was fight or flight. Surviving that album meant the most to me, surviving and having something beautiful to show for it.” Clearly well received, songs from this album can currently be heard in commercials for HBO’s new series Generation Kill.
Plans for a fifth release are also underway. “We’ve been writing on the road. Sometimes when we get home we scatter, but when we’re on tour, music and guitars are in our conciousness and hands every day. We’re talking about throwing a dart at the map and going wherever it lands : We might have to throw it twice,” Been chuckled, “mostly just to get away from the world, out in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking about making the next record much the same way we made the first one, in a bedroom somewhere with no time constraints.”
And with that thought, Been was called away by his manager just in time to hit the big stage in Boise, Idaho.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will open for Stone Temple Pilots this Saturday, September 13, at the Santa Barbara Bowl at 7 p.m. For tickets and additional information, call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.