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Released: August 23, 2005
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

It seems strange to rely on a second century spiritual proverb to give meaning to the story of a rock ‘n roll band in 2005. But the tale of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the arduous circumstances surrounding the making of its third and finest full length, Howl, requires just such a reference. Translated from the ancient Coptic language, the phrase in question reads:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you will bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

For Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been, and Nick Jago – the three individuals collectively known as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – those words could easily have served as a bitter epitaph. But instead, they became a kind of rallying cry for the new record. For Howl is the sound of a band reaching deep within its soul in order to save itself; the sound of a band giving up its rock ‘n’ roll meal ticket and finding salvation and sustenance in a rich banquet of folk, country, blues, gospel and pop; the sound of a band finally owning up to itself and its vast limitless potential.

In content and form the 13 songs are as far removed from BRMC’s previous albums--partly by design, partly because of the process--as they could be. Strain and grope for adjectives all you want, but the best and most accurate way to describe Howl – its title inspired by group’s own vulturine spirit as much as the work of the beat poets --- is simply to say that it’s a line of demarcation in the band’s catalog.

Paying for studio time out of their own pocket, Hayes and Been worked on the album, and as they began crafting new versions of the gauzy pop masterpiece “Howl” and the dark country rumble “Devil’s Waitin’” a profound creative freedom, borne of desperation, had suddenly found its way into the songs. Much of the inspiration for album was found in the distant youth of its creators: you can hear literally the country and folk music Hayes was weaned on a child living in the farming community of New York Mills, Minnesota; or the old classic soul and R&B; records Been had spent a lifetime collecting.

In addition to choir vocals and various other instrumental accoutrements – autoharp, piano, congas, slide guitar, timpani’s, harmonica, etc. – Hayes and Been reached back into their earliest musical exposure, breaking out trombones for a couple songs. “I took four years of trombone in school, and Peter took six years, totally coincidentally” says Been, laughing.

The essential elements of country, soul, folk, and gospel had always played a part in BRMC’s music. Yet, because they’d been so successful as a slash and burn power trio – giving the “Return Of Rock!” revolution a pugnacious anthem in “What Ever Happened to My Rock and Roll” – the public, and perhaps the band itself, felt it needed to adhere to a single sound or stylistic niche. Howl, then, represents an escape from a prison of their own making.

With a powerful album in the can, label suitors were soon lining up to secure BRMC’s services. Fittingly, the group elected to go with RCA’s Ashley Newton, the same A&R; man who’d originally signed them to the Virgin back in 1999.

RCA/Victor – home to Blind Willie McTell, Jimmie Rodgers, Sam Cooke and Waylon Jennings, all in their own way influences on Howl – seems a perfect place for BRMC. The group also secured a deal with ECHO in Europe.

Ultimately, it has to be understood that BRMC is a band that believes in the rock ‘n’ roll mythos – the saving grace, the excess, the exquisite burn, and all the rest of it. The experience of the past year – the highs and lows, the tumult and triumph – has only strengthened their understanding in the precious human alchemy that occurs among the great rock groups, that same unique power that exists between them.

Related Links
» BRMC Official Site
» RCA Records
» Join BRMC @ MySpace

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The Shins with John Krasinski
Issue 23 - Holiday '06
The Shins Go Hollywood with John Krasinski

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