Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will release their as-yet-untitled seventh studio album this March. The new record comes three years to the month since Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. BRMC wasn’t planning on taking any sort of break, but they were left with an uncertain future following a devastating loss. Just five months after releasing the record, Robert Levon Been’s father, former Call frontman Michael Been, passed away while on tour with the band.
Although BRMC is active again, with a superb new album and a few warm-up shows in December, they are still finding their way. That seemed apparent as Been and drummer Leah Shapiro sat in the VIP loft at L.A.’s Troubadour talking to Rolling Stone.
“I haven’t heard of anyone going through this before, and if anyone has please contact me. Please let me know how to deal with it, because it could really help,” said Been. “It’s closer to losing a band member or losing a Brian Epstein, where we have to carry the weight of that loss, and at the same time carrying all the gifts that are bestowed or things that made us capable of doing it on our own.”
Been admits he wasn’t sure how the group would carry on. “It terrified us that we were robbed of the very thing that we could always call on,” he said. “I described it once where playing rock & roll was an escape. It begins out of, ‘I just want to transport myself out of this pain, this place,’ and it was always like that growing up. And then all of a sudden it switched, and now music is the place where kind of you can’t hide from anything. Everything’s turned around.”
Yet he did find some solace in music when the trio united. “There was a heart, and there was something kind of special that had happened from us coming together and making the choice to come together with no plan at all,” he said.
It did take some time, though, to channel all of that into writing the new material, and it took longer – agonizingly so – to find their groove on the new music. “The writing of it has been a really long process. We were in the rehearsal studio for like a year before I even laid down the first batch of drum tracks,” said Shapiro.
No one wanted to confront the feelings that came with losing the elder Been, who was touring with the group as a sound man but had long been a mentor to the whole group. “That was why this record took so long,” said his son. “No one really wanted to find those words or dig in deep. So we were faking it for a while, not really digging that deep. You have to go back again and dig a bit deeper, and it was excruciating.”
All of that depth and pain is evident in the band’s superb new album. A 14-song journey through all of their emotions during the last two years, it captures the group not only at their fiery best (“Rival,” “Teenage Disease”), but also at their most emotionally open on the sweet “Lullaby” and the gorgeous “Returning.”
“I think it was the weight of everything that was looming on us while making it. The best way to describe it is it stretched us apart,” Been said. “It pulled us further into that fiery rage that comes from all that energy and the anger just spitting out fire. And then stretched on the other side is this ability to find the counterbalance, that depth, which I don’t think we were able to go to before, either. So how we dealt with what we were going through was to feel it all and not really water down one or the other to make something fit.”
Originally unsure if they’d be able to marry the two contrasting moods on one album, they decided to embrace the full soundscape of the new material. “We always were fans of Pink Floyd and Spiritualized records. As far as real albums where we wanted to attempt to take people on a ride and have songs crossfade and reach over and different tricks we’d always wanted to do, it was kind of fun to get to play around with that,” Been said.
Onstage at the Troubadour for their third show in three nights, the band melded the two tempos, mixing familiar tunes such as “Ain’t No Easy Way,” “Six Barrel Shotgun” and “Spread Your Love” with several new songs, including “Lose Yourself,” “Lullaby,” “Funny Games” and “Rival.”
They opened the show with a song that is new for them, their cover of the Call’s “Let the Day Begin.”
“We all wanted to cover a Call song for this record. It means a lot to us to be able to pay respect to Michael for all he’s done for us,” Been said. “I don’t think any of us actually thought ‘Let the Day Begin’ would be the one, though. It wasn’t until one day Leah just started storming away on a new drumbeat, which sounded ferocious. We all jumped in on bass and guitar, and literally 10 minutes later the song was wrapped. Without saying a word we all just fell into it. All the rhythms locked together. It wasn’t even a question anymore after that.”