B.R.M.C. Proves That Indie Spirit Can Still Drive a Major-Label Deal
By: Natalie Nichols - Star Tribune Company
May 3rd 2001 5:46pm
LOS ANGELES -- The young members of the trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (aka B.R.M.C.) hadn't even released their first album yet, but their epic, droning, psychedelic music already was being hailed by such postmodern icons as Jesus and Mary Chain guitarist Jim Reid, Oasis' Noel Gallagher and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Pretty cool, huh?
Well, uh -- maybe not. Or sorta, judging by the awkward silence from the band members as they gathered around a conference table at their record label, Virgin Records, a couple months ago. Finally, almost impatiently, British-born drummer Nick Jago, 23, the group's extrovert, piped up, "I'm not gonna pretend it's not exciting. It's like, wow!"
Then bandmates Robert Turner, 22, and Peter Hayes, 23, laughed. "They're bands that we respect and like," Turner added. "It's a great compliment coming from those people."
These guys may be a little hesitant, if not deliberately vague, in interviews, but their debut CD, "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," released April 3, is a focused, accomplished work. Written and produced by the band, this thoroughly modern rock album picks up the dark threads woven into pop by such groups as the Velvet Underground and the Stooges.
Early supporters often invoked Jesus and Mary Chain when describing B.R.M.C., which made a name for itself on the L.A. club circuit in 1999 while living in San Francisco. A buzz quickly developed around its performances, during which Turner and Hayes traded off playing bass and guitar as easily as they switched vocal lines.
Thanks to that exposure, these young men were propelled almost overnight from the indie world of self-development into the high-powered universe of a major label.
B.R.M.C. joins a handful of groups, such as the Dandy Warhols, that have found niches at big record companies despite the common wisdom that major labels aren't willing to gamble on new or different sounds, let alone develop young acts, unless they are of the dancing, singing, pretty-face variety.
Virgin, perhaps encouraged by the critical success of such British holdings as Gomez, also allowed the trio a surprising amount of control over its music.
"I was attracted to their integrity, to their utter refusal to acquiesce," says Tony Berg, Virgin's executive vice president of A&R, who signed B.R.M.C. "It would be hypocritical of me to sign such an independently minded band, only to ask them to conform to a major-label mentality -- whatever that is."
Virgin expects to benefit by simply nurturing that stance. "I personally believe that B.R.M.C.'s ferociously uncompromised point of view is going to resonate with a large audience of intelligent, introspective kids who feel estranged or disenfranchised," Berg said.
The trio wasn't actively seeking a major-label deal when it moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago. It just wanted to attract the attention of someone, anyone, who would pay for a follow-up to the 13-song demo it spent all its money making.
"The plan was to release [a record], rather than just giving it to friends," says Turner, who had played with high-school pal Hayes for about four years before they hooked up with Jago in late 1998. They started out as the Elements, but discovered that moniker taken by a lot of other bands. So they took a new name from one of their early song titles, "B.R.M.C.," which was inspired by the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, Marlon Brando's biker gang in the archetypal 1954 flick "The Wild One."
Their scheme to find a richer-than-them benefactor succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They were approached by labels both large and small before going with Virgin, with some helpful advice from Turner's father, Michael Been, frontman for the '80s group the Call.
To Jago, the situation became more real in January, when B.R.M.C. performed as part of the Sundance Film Festival's four-day concert series, "Sounds for Visual Thinkers," alongside such bands as Radiohead and Semisonic.
"At Sundance, something finally clicked," he said. "I'm always a doubting Thomas. As it is right now, I still can't believe we're signed. But I came out of that show with more belief in the band."
Still, the band's self-constructed path was hardly smooth. "It took a lot of time, and there were a lot of mistakes made," Hayes said. "It was a learning curve, but [Virgin] stuck with us. They didn't just take [the album] out of our hands and go, 'You guys are totally [messing] up.' Which was pretty amazing."
Smiling, Turner added, "Getting it right was like, the only way we could redeem ourselves."
Opening: Skye Klad and Medication.
When: 9 p.m. Friday.
Where: 7th Street Entry, 29 N. 7th St., Mpls. Plus a free all-ages acoustic set at 8 p.m. at Let It Be Records, 1001 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
Tickets: $7. 612-338-8388 .
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