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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Rebel Rebel

Author: Steve Tauschke
Monday, 3 December 2007
“Faking it” has never felt – or sounded - so good for Los Angeles sonic seducers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, set to spread their rock n’ roll love on Australian soil over the new year period. Bassist-vocalist Robert Levon been speaks with Steve Tauschke.

In recording this year’s stellar Baby 81 album at four separate LA studios, BRMC called on a decade of gigs, kilometres and record sales to help shape the tracks – and the results are in the pudding.

“We took a lot of lessons from making (2005’s) Howl in that you have to fake it on record to make it sound more real,” explains Been from a tour stop in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s a weird irony but to put one guitar in a room on a stage in front of people it sounds great - a hundred feet tall - but if you put one guitar on one track on a record it’s going sound small and weak.

“Whenever you crush sound down to a paper thin size, you lose a lot of the weight and body of it. So it’s always the irony of having to layer so many things to make it sound honest and just like one guitar.”
Fans may disagree but Been believes Baby 81’s slow-burning The Verve-on-steroids appeal gives the album an enduring charm that, “never hits people the second they hear it - it’s always later on.”

“I always think people are going to get it with the first listen but apparently I’m wrong - it always takes some time,” he says. “But that’s the good thing about touring I guess, you get to watch it happen.”

Written and recorded quickly, the album’s languid rock tone suggests song writing that oozed organically from Been, singer-guitarist Pete Hayes and English drummer Nick Jago. However, in applying their own studio stardust during post-production they soon discovered the devil was most certainly in the detail.

“The mixing of it made me want to blow my brains out!” laughs Been with the humour of hindsight. “I guess it always does when you get into the studio and start tweaking around with things for 14 hours on end - it can make anyone want to lose their mind. It kind of possesses you in a strange way and I only realised this recently because we were always getting into fights in so far as one guy would be mixing and you’d hate that guy for mixing it. It possesses the person who has their hands on the wheel. But over time I think we all realised that you just have to let that person go down that road and just take the good with the bad because it’ll be your turn next time to obsess.”

Formed originally in San Francisco in the late ‘90s by former Brian Jonestown Massacre guitarist Hayes and Been - who briefly used the alias Robert Turner to disassociate himself from his musician father, Michael Been, of ‘60s group The Call - BRMC blitzed the world in 2001 with their overdriven psych-rock debut Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, songs they penned as 16-year-old high school students.

“The first record, a lot of those songs me and Pete kind of wrote early on just growing up on the guitar,” says Been. “When we made that record we didn’t even have our own sound, we just tried to make it sound as good as we could.”

It was only after two exhausting years on the road that they found their niche.

“It became more creative as to who the fuck we are and what we’re doing,” says Been. “We wrote a lot of songs on the road during that time which is pretty much what Take Them On, On Your Own was, it was us trying to make the most honest record.”
Separating them from this decade’s glut of garage-rock revivalists, BRMC utilise perhaps the most successful split vocal dynamic since the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Reid brothers.

“We’ve done that since the beginning and we do that more on this record, a lot of changing around,” says Been. “Pete and I will even swap in the middle of a song, as far as one guy singing the verse and one guy singing the chorus. Some people can’t tell. It’s the greatest illusion we’ve pulled off thus far! Pete sings on all of 666 Conducer and Took Out A Loan and a few others. I sing all of Windows and Not What You Wanted.

“There’s not a rule about any of it, whoever writes it sings it, basically. Like, Pete sings Love Burns and Red Eyes...and we both sing Punk Song back and forth, verse and chorus. We also both sing verse and chorus on Awake and Spread Your Love we trade back and forth too. I can’t believe I remember all these!”
Set to spread their rock n’ roll love here over the new year, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club don’t anticipate any trouble from local bikie gangs, as almost happened a few years ago when grim-faced members of New York’s BRMC - the Bridge Runners Motorcycle Gang – paid a visit to one of the band’s gigs.

“We’ve been pretty lucky. There’s a Hell’s Angels guy who showed up at our last LA show and but word got out that we’re all fairly decent fellas so they’ve granted us safe passage across the country. Bikies are a lot sweeter than they look – just like us!”

WHO: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
WHAT: Play Falls Festival Lorne and Marion Bay / Play the Hi Fi, Melbourne / Play the Metro, Sydney / Baby 81 out through Sony

WHEN: 29 December to 1 January / 29 December / 2 January / out now