Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Interviewer: Peter Wenker

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At the beginning of this interview, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club vocalist Robert Turner and I had a candid conversation about how "everyone wants to be a writer" and why it's always annoying to have to read an anecdotally-laden narrative before you get to the interview you came to read in the first place. And how it's even more obnoxious when the writer ends their rant with some random piece of information you just so don't want to ponder later. All I could say was, "sorry Rob, I can't help it."

With everyone calling everyone the next everyone, how can anyone expect to make a mark in today’s over saturated, celebrity-produced and dollar hungry music industry? The lines are beginning to blur. ‘Indie-rock“ bands are being name dropped on sappy teen dramas and their songs, their intimate works of art, are being played in car commercials while bands lucky enough to sign with the major label are being marketed as the latest thing to come out of your next door neighbors garage. Who can we believe? Who’s gonna tell us who to listen to next? Rolling Stone? NME? Punk Planet? Vogue?

In preparing for my interview, I found myself determined to find the answer to these questions and more. While reviewing my list of questions minutes before the schedules chat, I found myself most interested in the ones questioning corporate record labels and their packaging of the rock n roll image. I was ready to expose BRMC as fakes. Why? To prove what point?
So at the end of it all, what did I prove (besides the fact that as a journalist I should know by now to hit save once in awhile, especially when conducting an interview sans recorder)? I’m not sure, really. I do know what transpired was just a couple of guys talking about music and movies and about people who talk about music and movies. So, I guess I’ll have to leave it to someone else to write a scathing expose on the current stake of corporate musicians

twenty/forty: Of all the interviews I read, you seem to be the go-to guy. Why is that?

Robert Turner: I don’t really like the idea of the go to guy. It’s really just that all of us kind of have a hard time communicating our thoughts into words. Nick is the worst, but we like to pass the interviews around a lot. The whole thing is normally set up by the label and you don’t really have a choice. I think it matter on the interview too. I mean, there‘s people who just come in a go through the motions and they‘re just doing it as business and then it can drag on and you’re not going to be into it. But it‘s cool when you get to talk about music or things like that.

t/f: Do you enjoy doing interviews? Or is it kinda strange to talk about yourself for an hour with some random person?

RT:It‘s kinda strange to talk about yourself and to try and convey your thoughts into words. It sometimes seems too self-fulling, so we’ll try to keep it on other things besides ourselves.

t/f: With another wave of 500+ RIAA lawsuits being filed this month, what are your thoughts on the "illegal" downloading of music?

RT: I do it. Some bands only have one or two good songs and some times you just want that one song, or you just can’t find something in the stores. But if you really like a band it’s not going to stop you from buying their album. You want to see the artwork or the liners. For a while I think no one paid attention because there was really no affect on the industry, but now there’s a lot of labels dying off. Hopefully something will come out of it and it will be something better than what there is now. I’m not too optimistic about it though.

t/f: Why is there a message against Internet piracy mentioned in the liner notes of your most recent album?

RT: We got into some heated fights with the label about that and also with putting some ‘label’ logo on the album art. It’s kinda sacred ground, you know, just with the way a cover represents the album. A lot of bands actually fought that. We’ve been trying to get off our label for a while now. We were able to do what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. But there’s more reasons than that. We played around for a while before signing to a label, but we thought we were good enough for people to hear. There’s nothing worse than a band doing the marketing plan of being an ‘indie’ band just to sign to a major label a couple of years later. Who cares if someone wasn’t signed to a major for a couple of years when that was their goal in the first place. If we didn’t think our music was good enough to get out there we wouldn’t do it. Why not just sign right away if it’s your goal to get it out there, instead of thinking about the money to come after the credibility that comes with an independent label.

t/f: There's a lot of 'sound' on your records? Is that all studio work, or can you really pull that off in a live show?

RT: Being a three piece, it’s not always going to translate onto the stage every night. We don’t wanna have our live shows sounds like the album. It’s gonna depend on the night , but we have the biggest sound for sure, but everyone will have their own opinion.

t/f: Both you and Peter Hayes DJ’d for a LA radio station not too long ago, what did you guys play?

RT: Yeah, the station was103.1. It’s a good station that plays good music and isn’t concentrated too much on the DJs, just the music. It was cool that they actually let us come down and play whatever we wanted to. Peter is your more traditional music appreciator: Johnny Cash, Blues music, Edith Piaf. It kinda freaked the station guys out a little because they’re this rock station and he was playing all this non-rock stuff. We each DJ’d on different nights and I was too anxious so I of course went first, and no one really listened to my show. I played Joy Divison, Brian Jones Town Massacre.

t/f: What's going on with the revolving headline with the Rapture that you're about to start?

RT: We wanted to do something a little different. We didn’t want it to be this band and then this band, we’re going to kinda play together. You don’t really see enough music anymore. There’s too much individualism getting in the way of the music.

t/f: Are you guys going to do some dancing while The Rapture is playing?

RT: I saw them in Boston and I lost any inhibitions. Yeah, I was dancing. It’s great how they’re not a rock band and at the same time they’re not some dance band you’d hear in a club with a DJ and shit. They really found a balance.

t/f: Any difference in the fans of the Rapture vs. yours?

RT: You don’t know until the night of the show. We played with Queens of the Stone Age and there couldn’t have been more of a difference. You can feel it right away. But then when you play with bands with similar fans you feel it and it can make it a lot better.

t/f: How's Peter Haye's hand injury? How did that affect things and how will it affect future shows?

RT: This tour is going to be starting two weeks before the doctors said he was supposed to start playing again, so he’s just resting it. It’s scary though, it was scary when it happened and it’s scary that it could pop during a show and he could be permanently injured.

t/f: Talk about Coachella. What's it going to be like to play with the Pixies? Cure? Basically every band out there right now?

RT: I just hope everyone can afford it and doesn’t go broke trying to see everyone. But it’s definitely one of the better things going on right now.

t/f: What's it like playing an outdoor venue compared to an indoor venue? Does anyone really enjoy sitting in the dirt waiting to see bands play?

RT: There’s nothing like a club, but it should be o.k. We played an outdoor festival in Fuji, Japan. It was so clean and everyone was so into the entire thing. It was kinda like heaven. There’s no place like it. But if Japan is the best, Germany’s the worst. They just don’t care there, which gives you a chance to really go crazy but it’s outta control.

t/f: I remember watching a video of Faith No More playing in Germany during the “Angel Dust” tour, and there were millions of plastic bottles being thrown at them. Did that happen to you guys?

RT: When we played a big show there the crowd all of a sudden just parted like the seas and there were clear plastic bottles being thrown back and forth. It was just a war of clear reflectors. It was crazy we were just playing and watching the chaos.

t/t: Who are some of your favorite bands you've toured with?

RT: Dandy Warhols, Brian Jones Town Massacre, Neil Young, it doesn’t get better than Neil Young.

t/f: Anything interesting happen when you guys played at Sundance in January?

RT: It’s weird and I’m not sure why we played there when it’s a ‘movie’ festival. We just got in and out really, it’s a whole other world but at the same time it’s similar because a lot of actors like to try and live a similar rock roll lifestyle, but they relate and communicate differently. Totally different. They live in a whole other world. This year was cool because our friend Ondi Timoner had a documentary “DIG” about the Brian Jones Town Massacre that won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary, she killed herself doing it. It’s crazy to see your friends rise into fame. It’s great to see.

t/f: Actresses with music boyfriends seems to be the IT thing right now? Were you guys giving out your phone numbers there?

RT: It’s almost like a fashion accessory to be dating someone in a band in Hollywood. We had our share of fun though, but an actress is the last person I’d want to give my heart to -- someone who’s had years of training in the art of deception.

t/f: Are you a movie fan?

RT: I always like a good story.

t/f: Can you do a Top Five. Quick.

Author's note: If you’ve read or seen “High Fidelity,” this part of the interview was exactly like Rob’s interview with Jack Black’s character. He kept taking movies off the list that were too unoriginal or obviously too out there to really be on a list. After we finally established a list, my computer froze up and I lost a good portion of the interview, so he had a chance to make it again.

RT: 1. “Spanish Prisoner” 2. “Mad Max” 3. “Big Lebowski” 4. “Performance” 5. “Dr. Strangelove” 6. “Harold and Maude”

t/f: It's been reported that you don't open your mouth when you sing. What ‘s the deal?

RT: Really, that’s weird. Are they talking about how I sing or about how we don’t talk much during the show? That’s a strange observation, but whatever. As far as talking during a show, we’re just no good at communicating, we don’t wanna just say a bunch of cliché things.

t/f: It's also been reported that you made some snide comments about the Cubs while playing a show in Chicago during last year's playoffs? Do you remember anything about that?

RT: It was the first comment about baseball I ever made on tour. I remember being there during the playoffs and I wanted the Cubs to win or Boston, you have to root for the underdogs. But it ended being the same old NY bullshit. I dunno, I guess people in Chicago people have a lot of time to analyze shows or something.

t/f: Are Cubs fans too sensitive for rock ’n’ roll?

RT: Maybe just a little too perceptive. But they always keep going even though they’re the underdogs.

t/f: So are all of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Stone Roses, and blah blah blah comparisons accurate? Or did one critic come up with that and everyone fell into line after that?

RT: It’s almost a way to try and prove you know what you’re talking about, but you’re going to be compared to someone, it may as well be something good. It’s a compliment and you have to take it in stride, but at the same time if someone knows what they’re talking about they’d know we bring our own sound.

t/f: Is there any way to explain why the bigger a band gets, the more people feel they have to defend listening to them?

RT: I do it too. It’s more for reach people though. I know I do that. It’s the Cubs thing again. You wanna root for the underdog. When you listen to music it turns into your property, but music has to get through that. It’s not ours to say what it’s all about, that shit might come up here and there, but hopefully it comes and goes. Hopefully it doesn’t matter if you like the band. But a band’s popularity or whether or not the members live up to your expectations shouldn’t change how you feel about the music.

Thanks to Julie Lichtenstein at Virgin Records.