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BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB: 19th Nervous Breakup|
By Kory Grow
Nearly destroyed by madness, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's roars back with Howl
after run-ins with US Customs and an unwilling Virgin.
"Personally, I think I had my head too far up my own ass, so I had
to pull it out and get some air," says an exhausted Peter Hayes,
who plays guitar in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. "We just
wanted to make sure we were all doing it for the right reason." After the
title of their second album, Take Them On, On Your Own, became somewhat
of a damning self-prophesy, Hayes had nothing to blame but his
Prior to everything falling apart, the jangly garage band had spent
about five years on the road with only intermittent breaks. But as subsequent
tours came and went, even those breaks became a private hell. At
one point, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service barred drummer
Nick Jago from returning to America, where he had been living illegally.
As a result, Jago, along with the rest of the band ended up spending
one of their precious few vacations relocating to Jago's native England.
At first, the Brits were reluctant to rent a flat to an entire band, but
after some tenacity, the group managed to locate one. When they had to
play US dates, Hayes and bassist Robert Been (son of the Call's Michael
Been) employed the Verve's Pete Salisbury as a subsitute drummer.
Finally, Jago was granted another US work visa, thanks in part to lobbying
by none other than U2's Bono. After spending one break moving back
to the US, BRMC dedicated their next one to the task of recording Take
Them On, On Your Own. That's when things really began to self-destruct.
"It's no fun having to move, and then living with each other," says
Hayes. "It doesn't really feel like a break… and then it kind of came out in
a nasty way. Everybody's fed up. It's a hard line to walk."
After months on the road, drug use and infighting started getting the
better of them. In June of 2004, they tried to focus themselves in a
Philadelphia recording studio and rejigger their post-Jesus And Mary
Chain hum into a rowdy folk-rock romp. Despite churning out three
songs, including the stellar "The Line," the three-piece jetted off to a
handful of European festivals, only to return as a two-piece.
Jago had had it. In Spain, Hayes and Been were forced to recruit a
diehard fan from the audience to play Jago's parts. According to Hayes,
"Take Them On, On Your Own" was supposed to mean if you take on the
big guy, or life for that matter, you have to start on your own until people
rally behind you. Hayes is quick to point out that Virgin Records wasn't
of the same opinion. The label dropped the trio-turned-duo, while on
Back in the States, the twosome holed up in a Los Angeles studio and
began recording songs they had written together as teenage friends, using
timpani and other drums the studio had on hand. They had been saving
these songs for something special, something more than merely B-side
status. In fact, it was one song, "Complicated Situation," that would
inspire the theme behind Howl.
"We wanted it to sound like stomping your feet on the wood of your
wooden back porch or your fire escape, one of the two," says Hayes. "We
drew from Sam Cooke and, I guess, gospel records." Despite Hayes's
enthusiasm for classic R&B;, the song sounds more informed by pre-
Newport Dylan, right down to Hayes's speak-sing vocals and freight yard
harmonica. To boot, the band strived for '60s-styled production for the
rest of the album, with George Martin-approved, radio-unfriendly stereo
mixing (read: vocals in the left speaker, drums in the right.)
With their newfound vision, the duo soldiered on, recording another
nine tracks before Jago came back into the picture. Hayes says that if
Jago hadn't returned to the fold, he wouldn't have felt comfortable using
the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club name. That's when he came to the realization
that his head was up his ass.
"There's a lot more important things going on in the world," he says.
"We try not to let our problems get in the way, but they kind of get in the
way of seeing all that."
The pair got back in touch with Jago through family and friends.
Hayes told him, "Do whatever you want to do, just don't take it out on me.
We're here to accomplish the same thing." With one song left in need of
drums, Jago returned to play on "Promise" and help mix the rest of the
album. Since he wasn't emotionally attached to the songs—he hadn't
been there to write them—he had fresh ideas for the mix, which the other
two loved. It became the kind of storybook reunion you catch on VH1.
Hayes says he's starting to realize what he and his bandmates' selfishness
had wrought. On an assignment for Britain's hyperbole-prone
New Music Express, Hayes found himself looking up the word 'capitalist'
in the dictionary. The definition that affected him most read "someone
who is considered 'rich' by being greedy." Those words struck him deeply.
He knew Black Rebel Motorcycle Club needed to learn humility in order
Given that, Howl has become the band's most polished release to
date. Their struggles paid off in ways the band never imagined. Jago's
absence led to a greater understanding of percussion and new ears for the
finished album. It also gave Hayes and Been the opportunity to overhaul
the band's sound. By closing the first chapter in their life, the band has
moved into adulthood. Despite losing hope in their darkest hour, the
band ended up with a newfound optimism, in addition to new record
companies, a new (cheaper) apartment and a new way of dealing with life
Over the years, motorcycle gangs have shown up at BRMC's shows.
They've threatened the band with hammers, and once, the Bridge
Runners Motorcycle Club (BRMC, get it?), even told the band that they
weren't allowed to sell their shirts, because they weren't "sanctioned."
When these groups would come in full-force, BRMC belt buckles and all,
Hayes's only reaction was "Oh my fucking lord!" Now, after everything his
band has been through, nothing scares Hayes anymore.
"I think it would be more offensive if we were trying to sell the idea
of a motorcycle gang," he says. Naturally, the band keeps fighting back.
Now, the only resemblance the band shares with any type of gang is
their steadfast stance on staying together no matter what. Hayes gets dismayed
when he reads about other bands replacing members and moving
on. "To me, there's three of us, that's what it is," he says. "And if someone
leaves, it's not that band." With that in mind, they will never have to take
anything on, on their own again.