Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Words by Lily Moayeri

From now until the start of Noise Pop, we’ll be profiling some of our favorite artists playing the festival this year.

Today, we check back in with Bay Area natives Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

“A couple of weeks ago I was in a store and I saw a T-shirt from Day on the Green 1991,” says Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s bassist/vocalist Robert Levon Been. “That was the first big festival concert I had ever been to, my first experience with arena level stuff: Metallica, Queensrÿche, Soundgarden, and Faith No More. The T-shirt has a dragon and the Bay Bridge and this metal monster coming out the Bay. I was there. I had to own it. The older you get, the more sentimental you get. Nerdy metal East Bay days.”

Been is on a short break from rehearsals for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s upcoming tour in support of the group’s seventh studio album, Wrong Creatures, which includes a stop at Noise Pop. This is a first-time appearance at the festival for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — unusual, considering they are Bay Area natives for the most part, but as Been says, “When we first came out, people thought we were a British band, then we became LA-based, so there’s mass confusion out there as to where we come from.”

There is a universal appeal to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s black-clad, dark-tinged, static-laced, unapologetic rock and roll, a factor that is ever more realized on Wrong Creatures. The irresistible melodies of “Spook” and “King of Bones” have a sinister shade to them while the bluesy strains of “Haunt” splinter with ache and the twangs of “Echo” soften its edges. The signature Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ragged and jagged tones, underscored by doom, are still embedded in Wrong Creatures. At the current point in musical time, when traditional instruments aren’t very fashionable, there is an honesty in the group’s consistency, even though some might argue otherwise.

“We’ve been honest before and people didn’t appreciate that,” Been points out. “It’s heartbreaking when you’re not in tune with where people are because you can feel it. And then there are other times when what you do matches and you’re part of this frequency that everyone’s feeding on. That’s cool, but you don’t want to chase that. You can lose yourself in chasing what other people want. You’ve got to be uncool sometimes to be actually cool when it counts.”

Producer Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) tapped into the essence of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, encouraging them to remain true to their rock and roll selves for Wrong Creatures. “It took us a frightening amount of time to let someone into the room to share in the ego match that has been in this band for so long,” says Been, referring to the stubbornness he and guitarist/vocalist Peter Hayes share. “The irony is,

[Launay] came in and said, ‘Do what you do.’ It’s kind of a joke in the weirdest, dark-humor sense.”

You can lose yourself in chasing what other people want. You’ve got to be uncool sometimes to be actually cool when it counts.”

It’s common for Been to have a comical outlook, no matter how grave the situation — something Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a magnet for, not the least of which is drummer Leah Shapiro dealing with the very serious brain condition, Chiari malformations. “We are a little cursed,” Been admits, “but isn’t everybody? Our hell is just more glamorized and heightened because it’s in front of people.”

Even so, connecting with actual people, which Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s seemingly endless touring offers, is the tangible aspect of the music they are seeking. The group did nonstop gigs in the wake of 2013’s Spectre at the Feast, returning to cities over and over again, as well as entertaining requests from far-off continents long after the album’s release. No matter how much reporting is done on touring’s effects on musicians’ mental health, performing is not something Been feels Black Rebel Motorcycle Club can complain about.

“Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” he says, quoting the Notorious B.I.G. song of the same name. “The greater the high, the greater the low. You can’t complain because the bad stuff, you can find that anywhere, but the high of playing music is a fulfilling, beautiful, unexplainable feeling that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Back Rebel Motorcycle Club, Night Beats
The Fox Theater
February 22, 2018
8pm, $36

Los Angeles-based writer/teacher Lily Moayeri has been writing about music since 1992. Over the years her scope has widened to include the occasional article on television, art, fashion, and random elements of pop culture. You can find Lily’s writings aggregated on her work-in-progress blog, named after the Who song. Twitter: @PicsOfLilyBlog