Wrong Creatures, the fifth album for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, marks their first since 2013’s Specter at the Feast. In that five-year interim, drummer Leah Shapiro had brain surgery to remove structural abnormalities.
Going through such a traumatic event could have influenced the new album, but when guitarist/vocalist Pete Hayes listens to Wrong Creatures, he hears echoes of a different trauma, still lingering from the past: the death of the band’s “best friend and father figure, Michael Been”.
The father of BRMC bassist/vocalist Robert Levon Been died of a heart attack in 2010, at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival, where he was working as a sound tech for the band.
“If I’m being truthful, a lot of it is still the repercussions of losing him,” Hayes says. “That’s still, all these years on, coming out on this album. And it could easily pop up on another album. A lot of [my lyrics] are about me working through my confusion, looking for connection.”
Hayes also confesses that lyrics are not his forte. Speaking from Montreal, where BRMC are touring and snow is piled high outside, the 42-year-old is softly-spoken, almost shy. His main tool of expression, he thinks, is his guitar, not his singing voice.
“It’s not so much the words,” he admits, with a quiet chuckle. “I find myself trying to not get too wordy [with lyrics], so I don’t struggle to remember what I’m trying to say. I don’t have a big enough vocabulary, for one thing. I’m not looking to learn big words to explain what I’m feeling. But, musically, I find that that’s where the connection gets a bit deeper. I’m able to express emotion better through sound … you just go with the emotion of the melody. Language can get in the way.”
Setting out to work on Wrong Creatures, the trio didn’t have grand ambitions. “We never come at it with a big vision, it’s more like ‘hopefully we can scratch some songs together, and hopefully they make sense together as an album’,” Hayes says.
The tunes all are thick with noise and propulsive with rock’n’roll swagger; born, most often, in long, loud jam sessions. “A lot of the songs start out as hour-long jams, you have to whittle that down to five minutes,” Hayes says. This means that, as B-sides and “extra tracks”, the San Francisco band has a whole bunch of leftovers that veer closer to sheer noise. “At the end of the day, you’re just really hoping that you’ve got songs, you know what I mean?” Hayes says.
The goal of any BRMC album is to “capture the energy” of their stage show. With that done, the band get to hit the road, revel in the joys of performing. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are one of those bands that hits hardest on stage, and Hayes loves how every show is different, songs never remaining the same.
“A song that’s written out of anger, another day will be played out of joy. I’m a bit schizophrenic, so that changes moment to moment, for me,” Hayes says.
“A repeated line is meant a different way each time it’s sang. It could be out of love, out of hate, out of joy, out of want. Sometimes that’s with the crowd in mind, sometimes it’s pointed at myself: the love, the hatred, all of it. That’s what keeps music alive, to me – you grab that moment’s feeling, and you let it out.”
By Anthony Carew