BRMC's Robert Levon Been Talks Rock 'n' Roll, His Father's Death, and Fronting the Call
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is a band that remains a protector of the rock 'n' roll spirit.
In an age when processed pop, phonetic folk, and hyped hip-hop rule the airwaves and bandwidth, BRMC has stayed true to its roots as a propagator of anthemic rock, creating albums as statements rather than an arrangement of fluff around an easily downloaded single. Though the band found an audience with the wave of garage revivalists that we all took for granted in the early 2000s, its sound has developed, and time has seen Black Rebel Motorcycle Club blossom into what we believe might be the most underrated rock band in the world right now.
Recent times have seen the group appear as part of Dave Grohl's Sound City film and concert experience, release one of its most critically lauded albums ever, and grapple with the tragic loss of singer/bassist Robert Levon Been's father, former frontman of The Call, Michael Been, who had taken on a role as BRMC's sound engineer and confidant.
We spoke with Robert Levon Been about making the band's most dynamic album yet, why the group enjoys touring smaller towns, and paying homage to his late father by fronting The Call for a pair of shows.
Crossfade: Specter at the Feast is a very dynamic album with a really wide range, yet all of the songs work toward a singular statement. Was that a difficult trick for the band to pull off?
Robert Levon Been: For this record in particular, we were kind of coming from all sorts of different directions. So some of it is incredibly raw and punk rock, and some of the angriest songs we've ever written. On the flip side, we were writing a lot of large-soundscape, really touching, personal songs, and we never really knew how to make it feel like one cohesive album. We knew that was going to be the hardest part of the record, but once we found a way to kind of balance the two worlds, then we started playing around with making certain songs meld together -- making an album feel like it's not just a series of individual tracks and make them all lean into each other. That was difficult, but not as hard as getting them to all play together in the first place
To me, it is a real mark of maturity when an artist can produce a dynamic album while keeping its identity. Would you say BRMC has matured at this point?
I think the only thing that really matters in the beginning is writing a good song. The song itself has to cut through and -- in the beginning -- it doesn't matter if they stick together, if they're cohesive, if it has a signature feel, or if it sounds like the band, because no one cares if it sounds like the band if it's not a very good song. It's got to come down to that song connecting, and after that happens, then you do your best to bring as many of those other elements as you can. Yeah, It's a really tricky thing, though, because you can go into the studio or start writing with so many somewhat lofty thoughts and then you stifle yourself and not even know where to begin.
A major part of rock 'n' roll, and BRMC's charm is the the lack of such lofty thoughts, the organic nature of it.
You know, it all gets real lofty, real quick, though. It's a two-headed beast. Playing music starts off in such a real place with just feeling something and playing guitar and feeling like you've got something that's your own, and then it just keeps getting more and more convoluted and out of control. And the convolution is kind of great and beautiful and a part of the experience and takes it further than you ever imagine, but it's so hard to keep connected with that first thing when the ball starts rolling. That's why a lot of bands break up, I think, 'cause you get all wrapped up in what it should be, rather than what it is,
and it's hard to remember what it just felt like to play guitar in your bedroom and not give a fuck about anything else.