Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been

By JE Sved on October 27, 2014


By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Special Contributor to the Herald de Paris

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) –   Robert Been is an American indie rock bass guitarist, guitarist, and singer. He is currently a member of the Los Angeles-based band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He is the son of Michael Been of The Call and appeared as bassist on his father’s 1994 solo album On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough.

BR_logo_for_webRobert Been used the pseudonym ‘Robert Turner’ on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s first two records in an attempt not to be linked to his father. He later dropped this identity when promoting their third album Howl. In 2013, BRMC covered his father’s song Let The Day Begin on their album Specter at The Feast. Later that year he appeared in two concerts with a reunited The Call, taking his father’s place on bass and vocals.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was formed in 1998, originally called The Elements. After discovering that another band had the same name, the members changed the name to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, after Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang in the 1953 film The Wild One.

Bassist Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes met at high school in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Lafayette and quickly formed a band; Hayes having recently left The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Robert has said in interviews that Peter had a turbulent home life and would park and sleep in his car outside the Been household. After about a year of doing this, Robert and his father Michael finally persuaded Peter to live with them. Later, the pair started looking for a drummer. They met Nick Jago, from Devon, England, who had moved to California to be with his parents after spending some time at Winchester School of Art where he was studying fine art. The vocals are shared between Been and Peter Hayes.

The band’s first two records were indebted to classic hard rock influenced by Led Zeppelin and also encompassed slower paced psychedelic rock, space rock, and noise pop influences from bands such as The Verve, Loop, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Their second album Take Them On Your Own (recorded with Coldplay/Kasabian producer Rik Simpson) has several songs such as Generation and US Government that are critical of the United States government.

Leeds Town Hall is the venue where Black Rebel Motorcycle Club actually broke the floor during their performance.A song by BRMC., Done All Wrong, appeared on the soundtrack to the 2009 film New Moon.

BRMC’s sixth studio album Beat the Devil’s Tattoo was released March 8, 2010 in the UK & Europe and March 9, 2010 in North America. The band went on a world tour that lasted from February to December.

The senior Been later toured with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as part of their sound crew. On August 19, 2010, after the band’s performance at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium, Robert’s father Michael Been died backstage of a heart attack.

On November 1, 2010, the band released their second live DVD, called Live in London, on their own website and at HMV stores in the UK. The DVD would also be for sale at the band’s headlining shows throughout the tour. It was filmed in front of a sold-out London Forum on April 23, that same year. This is the last project Michael Been has worked on with the band, mixing it.

As of 2011, the band has started working on their seventh album which was released in 2013. In between the recording sessions the band performed a South American tour and played their first shows in South Africa, as part of the Synergy Festival in Cape Town and China, in Beijing and Shanghai.

The band announced via Facebook the name of their seventh album called Specter at the Feast which was released on March 18 in the UK and Europe and on March 19 in USA, Canada and worldwide.

The band made the first single from the record available, a cover of The Call’s 1989 hit Let the Day Begin, for free download on their official website. The decision to record the song was a tribute to Robert’s father Michael, who used his experience from The Call to help BRMC before his death in the last couple of years. The single became QMagazine’s track of the day. The band has also released the Let the Day Begin EP for free, consisting of the single and the album track Returning made available for streaming on the official website.

robert-been-sentencedHerald de Paris’ Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, spoke with Been about his life and times.

AC: Where did you grow up and how was it growing up in a Rock and Roll household?

RB: I don’t know. My father was a rocker, and my mother was a preacher, so where could I possibly even begin?

AC: When did you show an aptitude for music? Did your parents encourage or discourage the music business?

RB: My mother was praying that I didn’t go down that path, and my dad was secretly hoping I would. There was actually a pretty definitive day, though, when I was about twelve and tried to start a little rock band with the neighborhood kids on my block. All the other kids who picked up drums, keyboards, or guitar had a somewhat a natural sense of musical ability. I however was absolutely beyond lost at a foundational level; my father said I couldn’t hold a tune to save my life. He told my mother the next day, “Don’t worry. You never have to worry about your son following in my footsteps.” I guess he was wrong though.

AC: What type of educational background do you have and what was school like for you? Where you treated differently because Dad was a rock star?

RB: No. Other kids never knew actually. I went to public school and nobody cared. They were all busy listening to New Kids On The Block or MC Hammer.

AC: What type of music did you listen to that colors your music today?

RB: I grew up in the East Bay of San Francisco so I listened to a lot of hardcore stuff like Metallica and Alice In Chains and Nine Inch Nails. Anything that would piss people off really. And then, to be honest, one day out of the blue I heard a song called Leave Them All Behind by a more shoe gazer British band called RIDE. From that moment on everything changed, night and day; it was spooky.

AC: Tell us about your first band. What kind of music and what kind of gigs?

RB: I guess it was with Peter (guitars in BRMC) and a drum machine. We were both in high school though, so we’d come back to my parents’ house and jam in the bedroom making all these little recordings of song ideas. Both Peter and I played in other small projects (BJM, The Beggars, and Wave) but we came back together in 1998 he and I and played our first real show as The Elements in San Francisco with what later turned into BRMC.

AC: Knowing how tough the life is on the road, was this something you looked forward too?

RB: Absolutely.

AC: Do you still tour and enjoy live performance?

RB: It can be a vicious, but I’ve learned how to enjoy vicious.

AC: I understand that you used a different name because you wanted to establish your own musical identity since your father was a member of the critically acclaimed band The Call. Why?

RB: Well, The Call were not very commercially popular but they were very well known with music critics and other musicians. I just wanted to make a name for myself before I used anyone else’s.

AC: Tell us about the formation of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?

RB: It got serious in 1998 when Peter and I decided to get a proper drummer and not mess around with any other bands or projects. When we met Nick we still refused to play live for about six months until it was perfect. The irony is that the very first show we ever played was probably the worst gig we’ve ever played, still to date. But I guess that’s what happens when you try for perfection.

AC: How did you land your first record deal?

ScreenHunter_62 Oct. 26 22.31RB: We just played live everywhere we possibly could; it didn’t matter if it was a cool club, or the cool night, or a cool scene. We also had a demo album which we recorded by ourselves and just pushed on everyone and anyone who would listen. It was pretty relentless, and I guess it still is actually, but now we at least play to more than ten people in the crowd. Although I think the lowest attended show was three people at The Joint in Hollywood. There was only the bartender and two people making out in the back row. That was a very rough crowd.

AC: What kinds of gigs did you get in the beginning? Tell us about your best gig and your worse gig.

RB: Our very first gig was definitely the worst, but who knows, maybe the best show is still on its way. And that will be our last one, kind of poetic to an extent.

AC: Tell us about the various albums the band had put out. What is the vision and direction of your music?

RB: We have seven albums, 700 visions, and 7000 directions, yet not one single clue as to how to answer that question for real.

AC: You like to say that you play authentic rock and roll. What does that mean to the listeners?

RB: It’s better than saying we play inauthentic rock ‘n roll, right?

AC: Good point. With the pressures of fame, did success change you?

RB: I don’t think we’ve ever really been that famous. But there’s a pretty big difference between bands like us and super stars who have paparazzi chasing them and a wide variety baseball caps to wear at the airport. That kind of thing would make me want to jump off a bridge twice though, once for the photo op, and once for myself privately.

AC: What prevented you from succumbing to substance abuse?

RB: Not a whole lot.

AC: Tell about your dad’s band, The Call. They were musically on the same level of the mega British Invasion bands. Why didn’t they take off on the same level?

RB: Nobody gets what they deserve. Even really successful bands usually don’t deserve the level of praise they get. But their world isn’t meant to be fair, it’s meant to be felt.

AC: What do you think The Call’s musical legacy to be?

RB: I couldn’t even begin to say.

AC: Tell us about your dad and the project to pay tribute to him by fronting his band the Call, which subsequently is a new DVD. Tell us about that evening and your hopes for the project.

RB: Tom Ferrier (guitarist of The Call) was the first real one who kind of got the engine fired up for this mayhem a while back and it’s been rolling ever since. It was beautiful getting to share the stage with Scott, Jim and Tom and bring the music back into the room again. Filming the show simply made the most sense so that all The Call fans all around the world could get to share in the night in some way.

AC: Any chance of doing a tour with The Call?

RB: The Call gang is possibly carrying on and playing more shows and maybe even recording new songs. Whether or not I will be able to fill in or if they find a new singer at some point, it’s all a matter of timing I guess. But I really hope it happens.

AC: What are the kinds of things that you are working on now? What are some of your upcoming projects?

RB: We finished a film score recently. Now it’s just back to the drawing board with a new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album, so we’re just working on new songs for that now.


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