Friday, Feb. 26, 2010 | 3:11 p.m.
- What: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with The Whigs
- Where: Wasted Space at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
- When: 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28
- Cost: $20-$25
- For more information: 693-5000
Two years after their show at the Beauty Bar in 2008, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is riding back into town to rock Las Vegas once again, this time at Hard Rock's Wasted Space. This time around the tour is in honor of the folk rock band's fifth full-length album, Beat the Devil's Tattoo, whose title was taken from the Edgar Allen Poe short story The Devil In The Belfry. Bypassing major labels this time around, Beat the Devil's Tattoo, out March 9, is the first to be released on the band's own label, Abstract Dragon.
Las Vegas Weekly caught up with one of BRMC's founding members, Robert Levon Been, as the band was driving out of their hometown of L.A. going, "70 miles per hour on the freeway ... trying to get to the bus before it leaves town without us."
How are you feeling about the tour? Anxious? Excited?
It's pins and needles; nervous, but like a good nervous. We haven't really played these songs for anyone, so it'll be interesting getting people's reactions for the first time. There's nothing like the first impression.
With a reputation for having a changing sound and style with each album, how would you describe the sound on Beat the Devil's Tattoo?
I guess we were kind of a little off balance at first with the falling out with our drummer Nick [Jago] at the end of our last tour, and Leah [Shapiro], our friend, she filled in for him on that tour, and it sounded cool. It kind of gave us a new way of looking at things, recording with her. I guess there was just an ease to it and something that we hadn't really felt since we started, and it was good to have that back, where you can just turn off your brain and kind of lay back instead of having to go somewhere all the time.
She's definitely been a positive force to add to the recording process then?
There's just like a joy to playing music again that we kind of lost, because its 10 years of being a band. You know there's going to be things built up from years of playing music in a rock band, which is all good as long as it adds to the music. … We kind of had to look at it like a new band, or the first record, when you kind of wipe the slate clean and it lets you put yourself into it in a new way.
What was the song writing process like?
We just played, and it was like one of the things I think as a band that we got good at was writing and just kind of jamming and letting things come as they may. Someone starts on a guitar rift or a drumbeat or a bass line and the rest of the song just follows and it's not really written out. We just pray and hope by the time we're done playing that it sounds good. There's a lot of communication that's unspoken, that's really instinctual, and that's the thing, it sounds funny when you talk about it, but the music can speak louder than you can, so it's best to keep your mouth shut. ... That's when the real good song writing comes in, when it's just instinct without words getting in the way.
I read that in modern times the phrase, "beat the Devil's tattoo" is used to reference people nervously drumming their fingers on a countertop, is that anxiousness reflected in the album, or the reason behind why you chose it as the namesake?
It's just a sign of the times. ... I don't meet a lot of still people, people that can kind of just sit still in their skin and be. We're running out of friends because I don't really like people that don't know how to sit still, don't know how to be. But that's kind of our own thing too, wrestling those demons in my head, telling me to be stronger, be faster, be quicker than the last guy and that just kind of runs its course. There's this hyper-anxiousness in people's skin — I blame it on technology. Or blame it on the universe expanding and shrinking time or whatever theory you want to get into, but it's pretty obnoxious and that's the state of affairs right now. As far as the Edgar Allen Poe thing, people are running with that, making it more than it is. There are a lot of influences to this record that I don't really think he deserves that much credit for. There were a lot of things we were writing and things we were [listening to], everything from Elvis Presley to NIN. That it was 10 below zero outside was a pretty big influence on the record. Things that come into play that steer the ship more than one dead writer.
How did the cold weather affect it?
Well, cold makes you not be able to go anywhere. It keeps you stuck. And often your music benefits the most when you're stuck, when you have nothing else to do. Then you run the risk of cabin fever, which can drive you batty. But you just hope that you can get the record done before that creeps into the room. And takes the room over.
Did any cabin fever end up creeping in?
It did at the very end. It was the best of times, and then it was definitely the worst of times near the end of the session. We all got a little spooky, and you didn't want to look anybody in the eye too long. So it was wonderful most of it, and then I think we pretty much got out right in time before we started getting the twitches.
Did you return to Philly to record because it was where you recorded Howl?
We did half of Howl there and we didn't really live there for too long. This time we set up camp there for six months, and they let us take over. It was this friend of ours' home, and the father still lives there. That was the only thing we were nervous about was keeping him up at night — until we found out that he's up even later than we are.
So the family was living there with you during the six months of your stay?
Yeah, they were there. It was definitely a strange existence. We thought we'd get kicked out within a week, cause we play [really] loud. We got kicked out of our rehearsal space a couple weeks ago because we played too loud. Other bands couldn't hear themselves, so that's how [really] ridiculously loud we play. … I think three or four days in we were playin' and [the dad] comes walking downstairs, and he's got a Scotch in hand and we where like, 'Ah [expletive], here it is.' Then he says, 'Play that one again, that one from 10 minutes ago.' … Every week or so he'd invite his friends down from the local bar to hang out, all these people that were like characters out of some strange Twin Peaks things. It was cool, though. And we were like, 'This is the most bizarre [expletive] experience ever,' but I love the guy. He's like an old crooner that sings Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra all day — and he's really smooth with the ladies actually. I want him to come up on stage when we play Philly on this tour and do "Fools Rush In." He's really good. He'll totally top us — he'll make all the girls melt. He's just that kind of cat.
Switching gears, in a past interview Peter was quoted saying that starting your own labels doesn't work and businessmen should be businessmen while musicians should be musicians. What changed the band's mind?
We were broke and tired of people calling themselves businessmen and really just being thieves with ties. I'd rather have a bit more say in where our music goes and how it gets given to people. … I had to learn to release records. The only good thing we got going for us is no one knows what the [expletive] they're doing, and anyone that tells you different is just lying through their teeth. Because everything's just upside down right now in the industry, and we ended up doing a lot of our own [stuff] over the last couple records because our label every time would drop off the map. … I'd rather let myself down than let someone else let me down again. I take more honor in failing, just 'cause we tried.
How did you choose which songs to go on the new album?
That was the only really hard part about the album, because we recorded a lot of songs. We could have put out two albums, and we actually thought about it for a second, but then we decided instead to put ourselves through agony and try and cut half of the songs we loved. That was really difficult because you get pretty attached to some things. Everyone agreed with the songs that are on the record right now, but everyone disagreed with the ones we cut. It worked out but I mean... it's a high-class [expletive] problem to have. I shouldn't be complaining that we have too many songs.
Do you think you'll play any of them live during the tour?
We're kind of a little nervous right now because we've been rehearsing and having five records is a lot different than having four or three albums for the amount of songs. … It's another one of these high-class problems. I know a lot of people are really attached to certain albums, and some nights we only get to play one off the second record or this and that, so for me it'd be really fun playing B-sides and new [stuff] people haven't heard before. But I can see people also wanting their money's worth. I'm not too worried because I know we're just pretty much going to disappoint everyone, so there's just kind of some freedom in that (laughs), that no one's really going to go home that satisfied.
Why do you say that?
If you come into it with any sort of expectations, there's no way to please everyone. I think in the past we could because we just played all the songs we had, but now someone's going to go home moppy, at least it won't be me. (Laughs). And I'm happy with that, I ain't [expletive] moppy anymore. I grew out of that.
You guys have played many different venues here in Vegas: Double Down, Jillian's, Beauty Bar, Hard Rock … which has been your favorite?
I really like the Double Down. Well, I like drinking there. I hung out in Vegas for a while. I have a friend of mine there, but it's a bizarre place. It's different when you actually go to hang with friends rather than like go on vacation, so it's cool seeing the other side of it. I kind of know the city now. My only real concern is getting out in time before our crew has a chance to get proper [expletive] hungover for the next show. That's really the only thing I've got in mind for Vegas, is put the animals back in their cages. They tend to be way more rock star than we are as far as antics. They just really like money and women and booze, so go figure. I don't know where they come up with these particular things that they enjoy, but God help 'em.
— Originally published on LasVegasWeekly.com