“How are you going to let yourself be seen? Is somebody going to try and dress you up for a video? Are they going to put you in a pumpkin suit? We’re not going to do that.” Peter Hayes is defending his band’s reputation. It’s something that Hayes, singer/guitarist for San Francisco’s blistering fuzz-rock trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, has been doing quite a bit recently.
The band burst onto the American music landscape in 2000 with a self-titled debut album full of scraping punk guitars, psychedelic vibes and snotty vocals. They made a minor splash on MTV2 with “Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N Roll,” but were largely ignored by mainstream radio and mostly forgotten by major publications. The excitable Brits over at NME, however, likened them to every major British guitar band of the last 15 years, though stateside fans dismissed them as derivative and difficult.
Hayes decries the group’s reputation as a “grumpy, mean, angry, don’t-like-anybody band. We like doing what we do, and we’re of the opinion that we have every right to be involved in our art.” For a band that is so often accused of outright plagiarism, it comes as a bit of surprise that Hayes didn’t grow up listening to his forefathers. “I tried not to listen to too much music, because I didn’t want it affecting what I was doing. I never actually bought a Jesus and Mary Chain album.”
BRMC’s second album, Take Them On, On Your Own, is neither the staggering genius proclaimed by the British rock rags nor the shameless mimicry their critics suggest. It is, rather, the work of a band still at odds with its sound and environment. They build hissy rock stomps out of sexy bass lines and blurred masses of guitar.
Indeed, this album feels harsher and more aggressive than its predecessor. “U.S. Government,” while failing to name any names, is as pointed a song as the young band has produced. Hayes contends that the song “wasn’t really about the U.S. government; It’s about how we’re going to govern ourselves, and we’re letting ourselves be governed, in any culture.” Hayes also warns against assuming the band’s struggle is one born of anger: “It can be taken confrontationally, but it’s getting out ideas and thoughts that are in your head.”
The band, which is used to playing huge outdoor European festivals, is looking forward to taking their new material into America’s rock clubs. “We do like playing the clubs. It’s a wilder sound, to me. It’s hard to get a rock ‘n’ roll sound outside.”
Through all of the praise and comparisons, attitudes and reputations, the band’s intention remains remarkably humble: “Wanting this music to cause enough noise to get people to stand up and be proud for it.” The rock ‘n’ roll sound comes to Detroit’s Majestic Theater tonight.