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Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 18 / 9 / 2005

Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1


In the first of a two part interview Anthony Strutt talks to Robert Been, the bassist and vocalist with San Francisco rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, about his new blues-influenced third album 'Howl'

In 1956, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg published 'Howl and other poems'in San Francisco. 49 years later San Francisco band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have released their third album, also named 'Howl', in tribute to that great work. The group's two previous albums, 'B.R.M.C' (2001) and 'Take Me On, On Your Own' (2003)both had a punkish, discordant sound and drew the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, which consists of Peter Hayes (guitar, vocals), Robert Been (bass, vocals) and Nick Jago (drums), comparisions with the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3. While both 'B.R.M.C' and 'Take Me On, On Your Own' were released on Virgin and sold well in both Britain and America, Howl' has been released on independent label Echo and represents a change of direction, owing a debt to folk, gospel and the blues. Pennyblackmusic caught up with the band backstage after witnessing three of their finest gigs in one week in London, and, in what is the first part of a two part interview, spoke to Robert Been, who has recently changed his name back from Robert Turner. PB : I believe you originally got your name from the Marlon Brando biker film, 'The Wild One.' RB : Yeah.... PB : What attracted you to that name in the first place? RB : When you watch the film you see it on the leather jackets of the biker gang of which Brando is the leader. It looks cool. We named a song 'B.R.M.C' originally and then six months later we needed a new band name, and we were trying to figure one out, and we ran into the film again. They only say the name of the gang once in the whole film. It was quite a surprise to us when we came up with that as a name for the band because it is quite a heavy name, but we thought we would give it a shot. PB : I believe it is the same film where The Beatles got their name from. RB : Yeah. PB : Had any of you guys been in bands before ? RB : Pete and I were both in different bands, but it was a mistake, something to kill time rather than anything special. PB : Was it a college or university type of thing ? RB : Pete and I met in high school and we have been writing songs like forever, and then we weren't sure what to do and then he took a road trip and ended up playing with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I ended up playing with some friends of mine for a while. Our hearts weren't in it though. We always had it in the back of our minds that we would go back to try and do something that was our own. PB : That's cool. I believe you recently changed your own name. RB : Yeah, I went back to my birth name of Robert Been. The other name was from another film reference. That was from 'Performance'. Mick Jagger was Turner in that. My father, Michael Been, was in the music biz, He was in a band called The Call and when our first record came out I changed my name so as not to ride on his coat tails. I didn't want to cash in on anyone else's name. PB : You were based in San Francisco and then you moved to London. Are you based in San Francisco again now? RB : Yeah, we lived for a while in London. When we were mixing 'Take Them On, On Your Own' we ended up getting stuck in London against our will for a year because of visa problems. Then when we came back home we were travelling and recording for the most of it (Laughs). PB : Your first big tour of Britain was an NME tour with The Lost Prophets headlining. Is that correct ? RB :We did our first tour over here with The Dandy Warhols. We played some dates with them. The NME tour came after a million tours of America. At least it felt like it. We did about 5 cross country tours with different people,all of little clubs. PB : How long had 'B.R.M.C' been out in America before it came out over here ? RB : It was a year before it got its release in Britain. We did a year of hard promoting and started early touring before it even came out. Our dreams had came true. PB : Was touring the album kind of job experience to see if you really wanted to do this, to see if you liked it or not? RB : We knew we liked it, but we didn't know how to get there, so finally when we had done the record with Virgin we were like "Give us some money so we can buy a van and get out of here." PB : What are your influences ? I interviewed Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain a few years ago and I mentioned you guys and he said "Oh, The American Jesus and Mary Chain!" Is that a compliment coming from him ? RB :I think he said it as a joke. He kind of retracted upon that later. In another interview I read he was defending us to some journalist saying that we have our own thing. There are similarities but at the beginning we found ourselves pigeon holed pretty quickly which could be annoying. Every band gets the blues though for being compared to someone else. It is pretty typical. PB : The one thing I did notice when I interviewed Jim Reid was his hearing is going. As you play so loud, or rather you did before this record, are you worried that you might lose your hearing ? RB : I will only worry about it when I am older and I have a kid and he is pissed off because I have to keep asking him to repeat what he is saying. It will be like "Fuck you, Dad" because that's what I do to my Dad, because my Dad can't hear and I am sick of repeating things. That's the only regret I have because my kid will ignore me as much as I do my Dad. PB : Both you and Pete write the songs. You both sing an equal amount too. Do you work together a lot and basically each sing the songs that you have written the bulk of ? RB : Most of the time. Yeah ! There's a lot of songs in which one or the other of us will write a couple of verses and a chorus, and then will need a bridge or a last verse to be written and we will come to together to finish off the job. You have to work hard when you are songwriting and it is always good to have some help. PB : When you did your first tour here 'US Government' was in the main set. It wasn't on 'B.R.M.C.' and finally turned up on 'Take Me On, On Your Own.' Was that because it wasn't written when you recorded the album or did you think it wouldn't have fitted the mood of 'B.R.M.C.' ? RB : Actually, it would have.We had some jackass at the label that was telling us that it had to be an eleven or twelve track record. We had gotten our way on so many things that we gave in on this issue, which is fair enough but I would of liked to have gotten that song out as well as 'Screaming Gun' which was a really good B side. It turned out to be a better thing that it waited. 9/11 happened while we were waiting to release 'Love Burns' as a single in the UK and we were going to put 'US Government' out as the B side to that, but we pulled it because we felt that it would be really disrespectful to all the families. We ended up wanting some time to go by before we released it. PB : How do you rate 'Take Me On, On Your Own' in terms of record sales ? Did it do as well as the first one ? RB : The sales didn't do as well, but with our live shows we were able to play bigger places here. The songs really worked well in a live atmosphere, but we somehow missed that point in translating that to the record. That is what saved us being able to tour that record and that people kept coming to the shows. It was cool. PB : The new album 'Howl' sounds like Dylan and is folky. I understand where it is coming from because I am an older fan and most people of my generation have been through a Dylan phrase in one way or another. What do you think the younger fans will make of it? RB : That's the million dollar question. PB : Because you did have some of them singing it back to you guys tonight. RB : This has been an interesting experiment. Will kids or younger people relate to some of the thoughts or feelings on this record or have we gone to far away from our roots ? I don't know. We will see. It's got a different attitude to it. It's not punk rock. Not every answer can be solved with a "Fuck You" or "Burn It Down." It's the next place in terms of it being a way to express your feelings and thoughts and your questions and your regrets and your anger. It's all those things. It's the next step. PB : It's more spiritual as well RB : All those questions come into play more. They were always there but we weren't ready to ask them orginally. I don't if people are ready to hear us singing about them yet. PB : The album is called 'Howl'. Was that because of Allen Ginsberg ? RB : It was because of Allen Ginsberg. We wanted people to get that and to talk about it.It was like giving a nod to those times and the Beat writers. In the process of writing this record, we had wanted to make the words better on this record. We wanted to write better lyrics. PB : Clearer ? RB : Not clearer ! The songs are stripped down. If the words don't carry you on then the song wont be there. You can't say that with all pop music or rock 'n' roll, because you can escape in a sound or an idea. They are more than a string of words. They are sometimes a story although sometimes it is not that literal. We started appreciating words more. We started to read a lot more things and we fell in love with words in a way, so to express that in a title was the idea. The second part of this interview will follow in the next edition.

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Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1

Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1

Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1

Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 1

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Interview Part 2 (2005)
Black Motorcycle Rebel Club - Interview Part 2
In the second part of our interview with San Francisco rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Rebel Club, bassist Robert Been talks about the band's recent split and getting back together with drummer Nick Jago and their appearance in film '9 Songs'


Howl (2005)
Stunning third album from San Francisco's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, which finds moving away from their previous distorted sound and looking to country, soul and gospel for their influences
Stop (2003)

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