Rock ‘n’ roll band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sounds like something you would listen to if you were a member of a black rebel motorcycle club. The psychedelic gospel vocals backed by resonating bass and catchy guitar riffs hypnotizes listeners, motivating them to replace their brick-size, pineapple-flavor-filled vape pens for a pack of old-fashioned Marlboros, put on a leather jacket and ride off on a Triumph Thunderbird under the moonlight. Braaaaaaaapp!
The trio—Robert Levon Been on bass, Peter Hayes on guitar and Leah Shapiro on drums—released their latest album, Specter at the Feast, in 2013. BRMC is now working on a new record while touring with Death From Above 1979 and Deap Vally. We talked to Been about revisiting old songs and playing new music live, ahead of his band’s House of Blues at Mandalay Bay stop on October 27.
What are you up to?
We’re just doing studio stuff and getting ready to start rehearsals for this tour. So, yeah, [we’re] about to dive in. [We’re] about to go back in time … [to relearn] all the old songs versus working on newer ones.
Is that weird or nostalgic?
It’s always a little strange, because you never quite know [how it’s going to go] until it happens. It’s like looking at a photo album. Sometimes you’re not in the mood, sometimes you wonder what the fuck happened [and] sometimes you love it more than you ever did before, like a memory. But I [found] things that I hadn’t found before in the songs.
We retire songs from time to time, [or] we [won’t] play them [for] years. Five or even 10 years go by, and then we come back and it’s like a new song to us again. So we lock them away and it is strange—they do come out differently to you. They’re sort of oddly new, even though they’re familiar.
Are you still recording tracks for your upcoming album?
We still have a few to record. We’ve gone back and changed a couple [of songs], and there are a few that have become more difficult than others. We were a little frustrated with ourselves that we’re taking longer than we’ve taken before, so we’re all a little bit moody and pissy with each other. At the same time, all of us are trying to avoid the feeling that we had [before]. A couple times we rushed records for other people, or because we thought that being fast [mattered]. We learned pretty [quickly] that it doesn’t. In hindsight, with [our past records], I wish we would have taken a little bit more time on them. [With] Specter, we kind of learned our lesson, which is why that one took a little bit longer. It’s also partially a luxury, just [being] able to tell a label or a manager “no.”
Has making music gotten easier over time?
Embracing the panic has changed. I’ve talked to enough people that I admire [and realize] that everyone is just as scared. That gives me a certain amount of comfort.
How has your sound changed?
The fact that no one knows is what makes me work hard. [That’s] the exciting part. I’m not going to tell you, because that’s one of the only things that makes me [feel] a little bit of goose bumps. … It’s [what] feels right and good.
With this tour, we are going to be playing some of the new songs, which normally we have a rule of not doing. But live, they are a little different than the record, so I know there is still something to look forward to.
Why did you have a rule of not doing that?
Everyone filming things with their phone. It’s rough when a new song is subject to whoever is filming it on whatever crappy phone they have, with a crappy angle and sound. And who knows when they started filming and when they stopped. It’s just everything you could possibly not be in control of. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Is it also a good litmus test as far as the crowd’s reaction goes?
It is and it isn’t. I remember reading about Beck talking about [“Where It’s At”]. It was the biggest fucking song. I remember that song just being everywhere that summer, and he played it for people before the record came out. He said it was the most dead response—no one moved, no one cared, and he thought [the song was] going to be the biggest failure ever. I’ve noticed any time you play something new, people just stare at you. They’re not going to move. But that is sometimes the greatest compliment, because they are actually listening and actually digesting [the song] for the first time. So it’s a tricky one. Music is a funny thing—you can’t ever be sure of anything.
Have you played Vegas before?
[It’s a] very strange place. We’ve had some great nights. We’ve played in [casinos] where you can hear the video games and the slots splatter, and it’s louder than our music. It’s fucking bizarre, but those are also funny memories we can laugh about later. It definitely keeps you on your toes because you have no idea. Fuck, it is the one show you can’t phone in.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
With Death From Above 1979 and Deap Vally, House of Blues, Oct. 27, 8 p.m., $25, HouseOfBlues.com/LasVegas