“Lou Reed asked me the name of my band, and I told him that it’s the Motorcycle Black Madonnas,” singer Marea Hall says. “He grabbed my hand and goes, ‘Marea, if I were starting out again, that would be the name of my band.’ That was so cool, to have Lou say that.”
Hall is recalling a meeting with the much-missed Velvet Underground singer during a stint working at Tower Records on Sunset. Clearly, the influence of the great man stretched way beyond that impactful day. This is a band born out of a love for the poetic side of punk rock and plain old rock — the Patti Smiths and yeah, the Lou Reeds. But also the Bob Dylans and Jim Morrisons.
And Hall is the chanteuse with the velvet larynx, and a gift for articulating everyday wears and tears with deceptive simplicity. She’s part Nico, part Chrissie Hynde, with a spot of wonderful Dot “The Shaggs” Wiggins sloppiness thrown in.
“We formed about 15 years ago, so it’s been a while,” Hall says. “But I just got a whole new band together. My husband, Jonathan Hall, was in the band, and he’s in The Freeks and he was pretty busy with them. I was having fun playing with him, but it was better for him to play with them and let me get my own band together. Within a couple of weeks I found all new band members. It’s a new band, but we’re all seasoned musicians and we’re doing all the same material.”
Being in a band with a spouse can present challenges. For Hall, she found herself bringing home band issues. In addition, she always felt as if she was living in her husband’s shadow.
“It’s so hard when you and your spouse are both creative,” she says. “So when I decided to get my own band together now, I really found things out about myself. My husband also had a band, Backbiter. He’s a known musician here in L.A. and an amazing guitarist. When I first started, I was writing songs with Jonathan. Now, I’ve been writing all the music and lyrics and everything. I read a lot, so it takes in a lot of poets. Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Lou Reed. I also love [Rainer Maria] Rilke and Nietzsche. They help me a lot in my writing.”
Hall says she reminds herself of Patti Smith as well as riot grrrl faves L7, and that she’s happy to allow her influences to shine through in her own work.
“One of the cool things that Stevie Nicks said is that when you perform you get to be a little bit of each person that you’ve always loved,” she says. “Dylan is my favorite poet. As of lately, I’m blown away by what a great songwriter Tom Petty was.”
Motorcycle Black Madonnas’ debut album, It’s Everywhere, was released in 2005, with the sophomore effort, These Days, dropping at the end of 2015. So why the 10-year wait?
“Within those 10 years, we had a lot going on,” Hall says. “We had our own club, the Blue Mask, with great bands like The Urinals playing. We put that on once a month and that took up a lot of our time. We cut the [second] album, and at that time Jonathan had joined The Freeks. So it was a matter of putting it out before it was too late. Right now, I’m shopping it around to a lot of radio stations, because I really do think it’s a really good album. I don’t want that one to fade away. I want to get it out there.”
Hall and the Motorcycle Black Madonnas also have been working on new material, ready to release an EP or perhaps another album when the time is right, on a local scene that desperately needs bands like this.
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“I moved here when I was 18, so I wasn’t around for the first round of punk,” Hall says. “But Rik L. Rik of The F-Word was a mentor of mine. I was around for the Cathay de Grande, and I hung out with X. That was an amazing time. A lot of fun. The problem now is that there are so many good bands, you wonder why they aren’t getting signed. We have to get to a point where we create a scene again and make people go out. I’d like to tour and get more kids into it. That’s why kids are so crazy today — they don’t have what we had. As long as you’re still doing good music and kids can relate, it can work.”
Cafe NELA is one of the last punk-rock hangouts in town, so it’s appropriate that MBMs play there this week. It’s the sort of room you can wander into without knowing who’s performing on any given night, and know that you’re going to see and hear something cool. It’s the perfect place for Hall’s band to build.
“Poetry is so important, and it’s something kids need today,” she says. “They’re taking their issues and going crazy, instead of listening to music and reading books. They’re lacking someone to connect with and not feel alone. It’s all about making people feel less alone.”
The Motorcycle Black Madonnas play with Exploding Pintos, The Probe and Somos Mysteriosos at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8, at Cafe NELA.