Interview with Robert Levon Been – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. Berlin. Killing the light. Weapon of Choice. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) are a neo-psychedelia, garage rock, shoegazing band from San Fransisco USA. They’ve been around since 1998, so it’s safe to say that their sound is strong and they know who they are and what they want to produce and play. They’ve toured the world and played at some of the biggest festivals. Their songs have been featured in a number of movies and TV series. All contributing to the household name that they’ve created for themselves.
2015 saw RAMfest making and then breaking the positive vibes set in store for 2016 with the announcement of BRMC set to headline RAMfest 2016 only to pull the act and postpone the festival due to financial difficulties.
I spoke to Robert Levon Been, bassist and vocalist of BRMC, and here’s what happened –
- You’ve been to South Africa before in 2011 and headlined Synergy Festival in Cape Town. What did you think of South Africa?
It moves unlike anywhere else, the energy of the country is like live electrical wire, It’s almost so full of life that it’s overflowing at the brim. The extreme poverty divided up by the wealthy was the most immediate and unsettling to new eyes. But there’s always a lot more than just seeing everything as black and white or rich and poor, I really want to spend more time there and experience it closer up.
- We’re all really sad that you guys aren’t coming to RAMfest anymore. Can you shed more light on the cancellation and whether you’ll be coming back to SA anytime soon?”
We were all gutted that the festival ended up tailspinning financially because of the whole economic crisis going on right now. It’s sad though for a lot of the fans down there that were really looking forward to some good live music, and now are just left high and dry. We’re still working on finding another way to get down to Johannesburg and Cape Town, BRMC will return.
- How are people reacting to your latest ‘Live in Paris’ album?
I hope they enjoyed it. We try not to read reviews online though or whatever, it kind of kills the romance.
- When you aren’t crafting or creating music what are you doing?
I bought a fish.
- You aren’t currently touring, when can fans expect you guys to go out on a proper tour again?
That’s our manager’s main question also, he would really like to know the answer to that as well.
- What influences your sound? Is it connected to where you are or other bands or experiences?
You are what you eat I guess, or at least you are what you can taste. I try my best to keep my ears on a healthy diet, but every once in a while someone shits in your ear and they get a Grammy for it.
- I read a review in Pitchfork that stated: “BRMC may lack the pedigree of a legacy rock band, but they certainly have the mileage.” What’s your reaction to this?
When I think of the ‘legacy rock bands’, the truth is, 9 out of 10 of them have nearly as many bad albums as they do great ones. So I don’t mind being a different breed. I would much rather be a mutt than one of Pitchfork’s perfect little bitches.
- What’s your favourite venue to play?
I don’t like playing in venues actually. I don’t know why, I would rather play on a random street corner or something, but I also hate buskers, so I’m kind of a walking contradiction. I guess it’s a lot like sweatpants, you’d love to wear them all the time, but you can’t, because you’d still like to get laid someday.
- You guys have been playing for 17 years now, what’s the most important way your sound has evolved?
Well I guess the most important thing, or at least i hope, is that the songs are still strong. We could make every album sound drastically different from the next, but if the songs aren’t there, then who cares?
The truth is I wouldn’t mind if every Oasis album sonically sounded exactly like ‘Definitely Maybe’ over and over, as long as the songs were great. But actually, every Oasis album does sound exactly like ‘Definitely Maybe’. So that’s not really the best example, but you know what i mean.
- Which bands or musicians did you look up to when you were younger?
There were a lot, I don’t know, probably Ride, Stone Roses, NIN, Velvet Underground, BJM, My Bloody Valentine. The ones I liked the most though, I was very competitive with in my own head, waging my own quiet war. It’s good though to start out as a little brat and wanting to destroy your idols. And those bands don’t care because you’re still buying the albums.
- Did you work any boring jobs before the band?
Um, I worked at the NuWilshire movie theater in LA, right before the first album came out, but that wasn’t boring at all. I got to watch ‘The Blair Witch Project’, like, 40 times. That was the best.
- Was there any reason behind making an instrumental album, the effects of 333?
I guess it was just experimentation with sound and emotion in a different way, without any kind of form or guardrail to keep things comfortable. It’s very much like learning another language. When relying purely on the music to tell the story, it takes a lot of skill and a more intense kind of focus of listening to deprogram the brain to receive it. This was our first attempt at the language though, we’ve learnt a lot since then.
- You were initially called ‘the elements’, how did you come up with the name “BRMC”
We found out that the name ‘The Elements’ was literally being used by like 12 other bands, so we were really the last horse to drink from that trough. The name BRMC however, we just straight up stole from the movie ‘The Wild One’, we’re not exactly proud of that, but if I had to choose I’d rather be the first guy to steal a Picasso than the last guy to forge one. It’s all the same game though.
Rock’n’Roll isn’t about getting away with a crime, it’s all about committing to one.