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The Wild Ones 

BRMC comes to your town

Wednesday, Apr 18 2001
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”Once we got signed, we had a lot more responsibilities,“ says Robert Turner, singer-bassist-guitarist for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, whose debut album has just been released on Virgin. ”We had to do a lot of setup for the release, and it burns you out a bit.“

Apparently so. The young, raven-haired band, which also consists of singer-guitarist-bassist Peter Hayes and drummer Nick Jago, proves to be a painfully introverted trio, and is already gaining a reputation among journalists as a teeth-pulling interview.

It‘s too bad, because some serious press requests are coming in to Virgin, thanks to that all-too-rare thing: an actually earned fan and industry buzz. Since relocating to Los Angeles from their native San Francisco, BRMC have worked hard to establish a regular presence at such venerable local clubs as the Troubadour, the Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland, as well as played a happening Sundance schmooze fest with the likes of Semisonic.

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Of course, nabbing that sought-after record deal is no small feat these days, as the last decade has seen the majors shift from the grab-the-goods gold rush of indie rock’s heyday to an almost complete rejection of anything but shiny pop and numskull rock. Eight or nine years ago, labels would have jumped all over themselves to grab BRMC before a competitor did. Now, few independent-minded rock acts get any opportunity to break through at this level. As BRMC themselves sing, ”What ever happened to my rock & roll?“

Well, kids, it‘s right here, on their eponymously titled new disc. And it’s indeed hypnotic, but Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has a definite best-of-last-century vibe: It‘s a buzzy nu-psychedelic rock, not unlike Portland’s Dandy Warhols, with whom the band recently toured, or earlier records by Verve (pre-”The“). BRMC straddles the wall between hip-swaying and shoe-gazing, washing everything in a Jesus and Mary Chain--ish sea of sound. Asked where this fits into the current climate of rap-rock and radio consolidation, Hayes answers plainly, ”We don‘t,“ but adds a bit optimistically, ”Hopefully, a space will be made for us. There’s a lot of room.“

Plenty of well-known people agree. Almost all of the band‘s recent press quickly mentions accolades from lofty admirers: Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, the Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Jim Reid, Johnny Marr of the Smiths. For some reason, even with only a handful of interviews under their belt, the group’s already grown weary of the oft-cited praise. At the mention of Gallagher‘s name, Turner exclaims sarcastically, ”We grew up with him in a house!“ ”Wasn’t he your adopted half brother?“ Hayes mockingly asks Jago.

Another famous musician who‘s rallied behind the group is Michael Been, ex-leader of acclaimed ’80s spiritual new-wavers The Call (best known for the hit ”The Walls Came Down“ and the Gore campaign theme ”Let the Day Begin“). That‘s because Been is Turner’s dad. Apparently concerned about Wallflowers-like comparisons, though, Turner purposely downplays his father‘s body of work by claiming his dad is a ”studio musician“ who hasn’t worked on anything well-known.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have been together for about three years. Hayes and Turner attended the same high school in the East Bay; the British-born Jago joined up later. None had previously been in a band. The trio became established around town as the Elements, but soon found themselves needing a new moniker (”It was about six other bands‘ name,“ explains Turner), and cribbed one from Brando’s gang in the ‘50s biker flick The Wild One. (The cinematic bikers actually used the plural ”Rebels,“ which the band realized only later.) At one point they planned on improving it: ”We went back to see the movie,“ says Turner, ”because we wanted to use the other motorcycle gang’s name, because they were meaner. But the other gang is called the Beetles.“

San Francisco‘s one of the few places that can make L.A. seem affordable by comparison (and according to the band, we’re relatively enthusiastic clubgoers, too), so after spending some time shuttling between the two regions, BRMC settled here two years ago. ”We ran out of dough up north,“ says Hayes. ”We were just about on the verge of eviction. We wanted to find a record company, something to get the music out. This looked like the best place to do it.“

The three started out in L.A. by sharing one apartment, sitcom-style. But unlike most of the bands that come here seeking out a record deal, BRMC soon found themselves sought after by several labels, with Virgin the eventual victors.

So along with the major-label deal comes all the star-making machinery, for better or worse. ”That‘s the weight that gets put on your shoulders,“ concedes Turner. ”It’s a good thing, otherwise we wouldn‘t be making the record, or have anyone asking us to be anywhere or do anything. There’s two sides.

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