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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Rock group

San Francisco has always been an exciting place for musical creativity. In the mid 1970s, bands like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane sprung out of the local "hippie" movement to establish themselves as some of America's best new talent. But once the '80s and '90s unfolded, the San Francisco scene seemed to drop off a bit, as music fans started focusing more on New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle as the next place for new sounds. But, as the '90s drew to a close, bands from the free-spirited city began producing quality rock acts again, most notably the clad-in-black psychedelic noise mongers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. As a three piece, made up of bassist and singer Robert Turner, guitarist and singer Peter Hayes, and drummer Nick Jago, the band has recorded three albums of intense and melodic rock that gives equal nods to their San Francisco-rock heritage as it does to British shoe-gaze darlings like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus & Mary Chain.

Though the group didn't officially form until later, the idea for the band's beginning sprouted when Turner and Hayes met while attending high school together in the mid-90s. Turner told the webzine In Music We Trust, "[Peter and I] have known each other forever. We grew up together … brothers as much as it gets. He lived at my house for a long time. Family things going on, but we won't get into that. Music came around for both of us at the same time. We think the same and know what each other is thinking."

Music surrounded the two boys at a young age; mainly due to the fact that Turner's dad was Michael Been, who fronted the '80s new wave group The Call (and also appeared as "John" in Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ). Turner, who does most of the bands' interviews, told Under The Radar that, "I didn't want to be a musician just from knowing what it was like (for my dad). It was kind of not a really glamorous side of it … it's more the struggling side. So, I didn't know how to play a thing; so, I wasn't thinking about it. Then, later on, I just picked up a guitar and it came natural. So, at that point, I started getting into it, but I was pretty deterred actually in the beginning." Hayes, however, told the magazine that Turner did have an effect on him, saying, "He's the first person that actually made it okay to be into music. My folks wouldn't have, you know. The first person I met, the first guy who actually said, 'you know, you can actually do this, and it's alright.' And that was about the main influence on me."

While in high school, Hayes and Turner played in various groups, as Turner explained to Freewillamsburgh.com, "We played in one band called Wave. There were several people involved. We had no songs. We would just show up with equipment and start playing. Some songs lasted thirty minutes. Peter and I always wanted to do more song-based stuff." But in 1997 and 1998, before they could make good on their goals, Hayes and Turner were living in Portland playing guitar and bass (respectively) in the famously volatile group the Brian Jonestown Massacre, headed by the erratic Anton Newcomb. Though they played on the BJM's album Get it Back!, the band's constant infighting drove them to quit the band and head back to San Francisco and work on song ideas of their own. Turner told Free Williamsburgh, "When we met Nick Jago, we were able to quit these previous bands and concentrate on our own material. We recorded a demo. That was floating around for a while and people were quickly interested in what we were doing. People like The Dandy Warhols heard it. Soon, we were playing with them. They took a chance on us."

Indeed, the band's development started quite quickly after meeting Jago, an British citizen, born in Iran, who moved to the United States in 1996 after finishing art school. Originally named The Elements, the band soon renamed themselves after the motorcycle gang in the Marlon Brando movie The Wild One. Often coming off as a gang themselves, dressed up in all black, long scraggly hair and thin frames in perfect sync with one another, the moniker seemed more than appropriate.

After deciding on a name and direction, the band moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and cut a 16-song demo that would eventually get the attention of bands like the Dandy Warhols and Oasis and record labels alike. Turner told Free Williamsburgh, "We developed very fast as a live act and we wrote a lot of songs. We were trying to make something happen and get the message out. We soon got a lot of attention from the record companies. It was good." The band eventually signed to Virgin Records in 2000, and along with acts like The White Stripes and The Strokes, was heralded as one of American rock's next great hopes. The band hit the road with The Dandy Warhols in hopes of proving their worth amongst their new rock brethren.

In March of 2001, the band released their first album, the self-titled B.R.M.C. to mass critical success, especially in the United Kingdom, where their sound resonated with fans of like-minded British acts of yesteryear. Turner told Three Monkeys Online, "Britain just kind of feeds off of the new, the new anything. It doesn't matter how good it is, if it's new it's great!" But the fact of the matter was that BRMC was great, combining the swirling psychedelia of bands like Spiritualized with the straight ahead power of the Stooges. Of the album, Stylusmagazine.com said, "Their self-titled debut opens with 'Love Burns' which features simple garage revival drumming paired with My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar tones and bleak lyrics. 'Red Eyes and Tears' follows the same formula. The lead single 'Whatever Happened to my Rock n' Roll? (punk song)' is a roaring homage to Detroit garage."

Although most of the reviews for the album were positive, the band were pegged as being too influenced by bands like the Jesus & Mary Chain and The Stone Roses, to which Turner responded in an interview with Twenty-Four Zine by saying, "[If] you're going to be compared to someone, it may as well be something good. It's a compliment and you have to take it in stride, but at the same time if someone knows what they're talking about they'd know we bring our own sound."

After playing gigs around the world with the likes of the Strokes, Spiritualized, Vue, and The Warlocks, the band relocated to London in 2002, to record their next album. When the band finally released their next album on Virgin Records in 2003, they seemed to veer slightly away from the dreamy shoegaze of their first album, and into a more muscular and fuzzed out version of themselves, all while concentrating a bit more on the pop hooks. Titled Take Them On, On Your Own, Popmatters stated, "The really good stuff doesn't come around until late in the album. The terrific 'U.S. Government' is the band at its most passionate, something you feel instantly in Jago's insistent, minimalist drumming, as well as in the caustic lyrics: 'I spit my faith on the city pavement, to keep a smile / I bought my legs from the US government, to keep me in line.' The acoustic ballad 'And I'm Aching' provides the album's biggest surprise, as the band delves into more personal territory, utilizing a lilting acoustic guitar accompaniment; it's nothing we haven't heard before, but it shows a sweet quality to BRMC that we didn't expect."

The band celebrated the release of their album, touring at various times with Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Rapture across the United States. Once the band returned to the United Kingdom to promote the record, however, Jago mysteriously left the band while in Edinburgh, Scotland. Turner told Three Monkeys Online, "Nick went his own way. We just lost our patience for all the bullshit, outside and inside the band, and somehow couldn't see what we had enough anymore. We were there, we were playing, but we weren't really. Our bodies were there, but our minds were elsewhere. We split, then Peter decided that he didn't want to play music anymore if Nick wasn't going to be a part of it. I couldn't find the spirit of it." Still the band had already recorded some material for what would become their album in Philadelphia. He continued by saying, "After a couple of months I just felt this really big responsibility to finish the songs, for some reason. I convinced Peter that there's something bigger than us; that we weren't supposed to just stop there. Let selfishness rule. For whoever is listening we decided to finish this record at least, and then after that to see what happens. We were perfectly ready to call it quits after that, after the record was finished."

For the Record …

Members include Peter Hayes, guitar, vocals; Nick Jago (born in England), drums; Robert Turner, bass, vocals.

Group formed in California, 1998; demo began attracting attention, 1999; signed with Virgin Records and released B.R.M.C., 2000; released Take Them On, On Your Own, 2003; left Virgin, 2004; signed with Red Ink/RCA and released Howl, 2005.

Addresses: Website—Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Official Website: http://www.blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com.

The band ran into some more problems, however, getting dropped from Virgin when the label underwent some restructuring in 2004. But somehow, it did not deter the band from finishing the songs. Jago even rejoined at a point in the completion of the album, giving the band a much-needed second wind. The band signed to RCA, and in August of 2005, the band released the acoustic-driven Americana record they called Howl. The reviews were quite positive, heralding the new direction as brave and powerful. The Guardian said, "Unplugging the electric guitars hasn't led to any loss of power, since the band's own production has made every track feel full and beefy. Even the mere guitar-and-voice songs ring out powerfully, with the broody, modal blues of Fault Line resembling something Led Zeppelin might have recorded for their debut album. Working this kind of territory, it's hard not to tread in somebody else's footsteps, with the gospel piano and New Orleans horn sounds of 'Promise' evoking the Band, and 'Weight of the World' a remarkably accurate approximation of Crowded House. But overall, the songwriting and performances are consistently gripping."

Selected discography

B.R.M.C., Virgin, 2000.
Take Them On, On Your Own, Virgin, 2003.
Howl, RCA, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, September 5, 2003; August 26, 2005.

Guitar Player, October 1, 2003.

Interview, September 1, 2005.

Online

"An Interview with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," Free Williamsburgh, http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/november_2001/interviews.html (May 23, 2006).

"Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 23, 2006).

"Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," Twenty-Four Zine, http://www.twentyfortyzine.com/interviews/archives/black_rebel_motorcycle_club.php (May 23, 2006).

"Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Howl," Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/reviews/story/0,11712,1551677,00.html (May 23, 2006).

"Howl: Action and Reaction with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," Three Monkeys Online, http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/threemon_article_black_rebel_motorcycle_ club_brmc_howl.htm (May 23, 2006).

"Interview: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," Under the Radar, http://www.undertheradarmag.com/issue2/brmc/brmc_i2.html (May 23, 2006).

"Take Them On, On Your Own," Popmatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/b/blackrebelmotorcycleclub-takethemon.shtml (May 23, 2006).

"Virgin Records Earns Underground Success with BRMC" In Music We Trust, http://www.inmusicwetrust.com/articles/42h02.html (January 23, 2006).

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