Music - September 15, 2005
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club lose their cool and find their soul with Howl.
by Jeff Inman
In the Venue
219 S. 600 West
Friday, Sept. 16
Peter Hayes wants to make this clear from the get-go: “I’m happy to talk about the things that I want to talk about, which is music,” the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club guitarist says bluntly. “Everything else doesn’t really matter.”
Honestly, that’s hard to believe. Few bands have been through the kind of hell the group endured for the past few years. BRMC watched as its drummer was kicked out of the country for overstaying his visa. The band decided to head to London, got on each other’s nerves, benefited from Bono’s political might, were let back in the US, lost their record deal, then lost their drummer, discovered Americana, revamped their sound, and got a new deal. Oh, and drummer Nick Jago decided to rejoin his former partners—Hayes and bassist Robert “Turner” Been—just as the pair were wrapping up work on the band’s third disc, Howl. To quickly dismiss all that—well, it’s a little strange.
But Hayes knows the drill. Howl hasn’t been out more than a couple weeks and the story of BRMC’s near destruction and sudden overhaul has already been rehashed a thousand times. And sitting through another interview that picks at the scabs of his life: It just doesn’t sound that fun.
“We’ve gotten this reputation of being angry or sad or something because we don’t want to talk that much,” he says. “But honestly, there are some things you’d rather not get into. It’s taken me awhile to learn that, that I can just not talk about something and move on.”
Besides, Hayes has something he should be screaming from the rooftops about. While BRMC’s previous two records, 2000’s B.R.M.C. and 2003’s Take Them On, On Your Own, were both solid discs, braiding feedback around thick walls of distortion and relentless beats, they were James Dean—too cool for their own good. They sweated cred and promise. Reeked of it, actually.
But they also felt a little fleeting. Though each differed slightly—B.R.M.C. was melancholic; Take Them On more aggressive—the discs were really just modernist makeovers of the ballsy psychedelia Brits like the Jesus & Mary Chain invented and then quickly abandoned in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In the face of nü metal, both albums were exciting and different, but ultimately the two records suffered from the same thing the English bands did: monotony.
Howl is a complete reversal. In fact, it’s hard to believe this came from the same band. The disc opens with a choir of voices purring “Time won’t save our souls” like a bunch of Southern Baptists on Sunday morning. There’s no way BRMC of four years ago would have even thought of doing something like that, let along using it as a lead-in to a front porch stomp track like “Shuffle Your Feet.” Same goes for raging battles between God and the Devil, sinners and saints, and those fighters seeking salvation.
Before, Hayes and Been sang almost exclusively about sex, danger and depression. Now the two have divided up their lyrics like they’re about to play Risk: The Armageddon Version. Whoever wins, they’ll side with, though with tracks like “Gospel Song” and “Promise,” it’s obvious whom they’re rooting for.
More importantly for Hayes, though, is that those songs are like a new set of clothes. He felt as trapped in BRMC’s reputation as anyone. By remaking the band, he’s proving he’s more than anyone gave him credit for.
“It’s fun to finally have all this in the open,” he says. “It’s something we’ve been talking with journalists and musicians about for years—that we love Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, the Staple Singers, Motown, and so much more. But that never came across in interviews, that we were coming from all these different places. They’d just say we loved the Jesus & Mary Chain. But it’s all rock & roll. It’s a spirit, not a sound.”
And that’s what Hayes is hoping Howl will remind people of. While the disc might have been made during a tornado of turmoil, the songs became a haven. During those months Jago was absent from the band, Hayes and Been would often hide in the studio, just trying out new sounds, playing up new ideas. For a little while, they could shut the world out and actually have fun.
“Those old albums by the Beatles and the Beach Boys: You can hear them having a good time,” Hayes says. “You don’t hear that so much anymore. Now it’s about money and fashion and fame. It’s not about fun. And maybe I’m selfish, but I wanted to be a part of those records that were just fun, that invited you into the album so you could have a good time with them. There were a lot of happy accidents on this album, and I think that gave it the spirit of those records. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”