Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are about to start their engines. Exclusive interview
with B.R.M.C.'s Robert Turner and Nick Jago.
Their band name may sound like a second-rate heavy metal bar act, but make no mistake, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is young, hip and bringing back some of the best elements of rock - elements that have been sorely lacking for years from the music scene.
ConcertLivewire's Tony Bonyata caught up with bassist / vocalist Robert Turner and drummer Nick Jago - two-thirds of this San Francisco-based trio - on the cusp of releasing their fresh, self-titled debut album.
Livewire: It seems that you've been creating quite a buzz in the music industry recently, with contemporaries and critics alike praising your music. Are you guys ready to handle the fame if, and when it explodes?
Nick: It's already happened to our music. That's been the explosion for me. I don't know what else then. I don't really know what anything else is. I've never been there before, so I don't know.
Robert: We've gotten to go through some of the things that might be coming down the line in the last couple of months, and that's made the worry a bit less regarding the overwhelming sense of what's coming. So it's not as daunting as it might have been a little earlier - so it's cool. I think we're getting our feet wet from this and ready to go.
Livewire: How did you land your gig with Virgin Records?
Robert: Even though the intention was to get a record deal, we didn't actively pursue one. The demo we had previously made was really just so people could hear the music. We didn't really know how to get a deal but then it started reaching labels before we could even take it to them.
Nick: There was a review of our demo in B.A.M. [magazine] and someone from a label read the review.
Robert: Every time we went back to L.A. after that, there was another record company person there to see us.
Livewire: What made you choose your unusual band name?
Robert: It was originally a song [of ours] and later turned into the name of the band. It's from the Marlon Brando movie "The Wild One." His gang was called the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. We just dropped the "s"in Rebels. The movie was kind of important for its time. Nowadays, however, the shock value kind of gets lost.
Livewire: You guys are pretty young - all in your early twenties. How long have you been playing together?
Robert: 3 years now.
Livewire: Robert, you and Peter [Hayes - guitarist / vocalist and third member of B.R.M.C.] are originally from San Francisco. So how did you link up with your drummer Nick, from England?
Robert: We kept running into him in clubs around San Francisco. We'd probably see him once a week - on a street corner or in a guitar store or a club. We had been auditioning drummers for about two years with no luck. Peter said let's give Nick a shot, so we called him and he came over and we jammed for about six hours. It was immediately obvious to us that he was it.
Livewire: Who does most of your songwriting?
Robert: We all contribute. We really do our best work when we're all writing together. We come together and jam out a song and get the best things that come from when one person takes the song and puts their own impression on it. It sometimes surprises you. It constantly keeps growing. You get new things that you might not have gotten if you were just doing your own stuff. We get most of our lyrics from just shouting it out on the microphone while we're jamming. Then we take it back and finish the job on the computer.
Livewire: You guys create an interesting wall of sonic dissonance mixed with subdued pop sensibilities that hasn't been heard for quite awhile in rock. Do you feel that you're resurrecting something old or creating something new here?
Nick: I think it's just something of quality. Maybe the thing that we are bringing back is the quality of music from the olden times.
Livewire: When you say olden times what are you referring to?
Nick: Like the '60s, you know, when rock 'n' roll reached it's peak.
Livewire: I hear things like Ride and Love and Rockets among others in your music. Do the three of you all have similar tastes in what has influenced you?
Nick: Well, Robert and I have a lot more in common . We're inclined to listen to a lot more music, because we're more obsessed about listening to other bands. But Peter also listens to stuff, and he's got his own taste in music. Although he can go out there just as much as we all can - on what we listen to. It's a very broad selection of music.
Livewire: You call your song "Whatever Happened To My Rock 'n' Roll" a punk song. We're you guys moved by any specific punk bands in your youth, because you don't sound like the dime-a-dozen Green Day clones popping up these days?
Robert: Yeah, well that title comes from the feeling that we got when we were singing it - with fire and passion and stripping everything down. Kind of giving people a sense of...anger (laughs.) That's really what the song's about.
Livewire: What are your plans on touring to support your album?
Robert: We're planning to go out with The Waterboys. We'll be playing for about two weeks. And once we get off that, I'm not sure. There's also talk that we'll be opening up for Placebo.
Livewire: Is that firmed up?
Robert: It's still up in the air. I'm not too sure.
Livewire: You recently did some support gigs for The Dandy Warhols. How were you received at those shows?
Robert: They were amazing - really good crowds. People there were really accepting of what we were doing. It' s an amazing energy to play to.
Livewire: Do your live performances differ from what's on the album?
Robert: The performances differ from night to night. We try to bring a different feeling to each show. But as far as the performance goes we're not creating something different on record than we portray live. That was the plan, to not trip up the album and do something separate from that.
Nick: It's pretty much the same, you know? We judged making the album from what it sounds like live. And not trying to take away from our live performance.
Livewire: That makes sense, since the album has just been released. You wouldn't want to throw people off before they even know what's coming.
Robert: Yeah, right.
Livewire: Do you throw any covers or non-lp tracks into the show, or do you just cherry-pick from the record?
Robert: We usually play what we feel from the record. We've got some other songs that we're always writing, and always coming out with new stuff, so there's usually something new for each show that's coming up.
Nick: We've got many more songs running around.
Livewire: Does the sound of your newer material sound like an extension of this album?
Nick: Yeah, I think everyone's pretty happy with the sound. We don't want to change it, you know? But we've got a couple of different sides to the band. There's the more experimental stuff, and then we've got a little acousticy, kind of folkie thing going on too.
Livewire: Kind of Flaming Lips like?
Nick: Yeah. There's a real interest in music and the band, I think. We want to try out different things.
Livewire: Do you guys prefer the taste of the sweat from your live performances over the more cerebral process of recording?
Robert: Yes! (laughs) Yeah. It's good to do both - to not get tired of one, but definitely touring and playing live is what we do. It feels like what we were made to do. Recording is a bit more of a science, you know? It's not quite as real.
Nick: I think you have to come to one of our gigs to really get the feel of what its like. For anybody's who's heard the name, come and check it out -live, because it's a nice explosion.
Livewire: I understand that you've done all of the cover art for your first two 7" vinyl singles.
Robert: Actually, that's Nicks artwork.
Nick: Yeah, I think we all did the preliminary direction for it. The artwork that I contributed were some of my paintings. I'd never had any of my stuff shown professionally, so it's cool to have it out there where people can see it now.
Livewire: Is painting another passion for you, as well, Nick?
Nick: Yeah, I used to study art when I was back in England. I ended my college degree to pursue my interests in music.
Livewire: Ah, following in the footsteps of all great rock stars, who started off in art school and dropped out.
Nick: (laughs) Yeah.
Livewire: What style do you create in? Is it expressionist or...?
Nick: It's kind of like a Japanese-styled print-meets-Robert Motherwell. I like trying to get the best of these artists and elements and put then down on canvas or a piece of paper. I like to use materials that make it difficult for people to know what it is - like "what is that paint on?' or "is that really paint?" I just like to make it a bit more visually interesting.
Livewire: Considering that it's not exactly the most popular format anymore, how's the response been to the
7" singles ?
Nick: Well, we're just releasing our second one, "Rifles." But I understand that the first one, "Red Eyes and Tears" has sold out already.
Livewire: Are there any plans for videos?
Robert: People are throwing out things, so it'll be awhile until something is tied down. We're still going through ideas.
Livewire: Any idea where you think you'll be in 3 years?
Robert: Doing the exact same thing - making records, playing live.. you know, that's all I want to do.
Nick: Even though the money may run out, I'd still like to be able to play music. It's played a big part in my life. I've always loved music, my friend...always loved music.