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Angry Young Men

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club takes on a lot of targets with its second album

Robert Turner is apologizing profusely. The soft-spoken singer-bassist for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is admittedly "scatterbrained" at the moment. It's the night before the trio -- which also includes singer-guitarist Peter Hayes and drummer Nick Jago -- is set to embark on an all-important U.S. tour in support of its sophomore effort, Take Them On, On Your Own. Squeezing in a last-minute interview may not be the best way to spend some precious time this evening.

Still, he never tries to rush along the proceedings. In fact, the attitude that many journalists have taken for disinterested reticence could be in fact just Turner's careful, staccato way of explaining himself and the band's music so that the reporter (and hence the reader) takes away things as he sees them -- even if it's hard to express.

"The songs on this record came from a very different place than the first…it's tough to talk about," he says. "We changed and did a lot of traveling. The biggest difference between this record and the last [2001's B.R.M.C.] is that we're creating music on the inside now rather than outside, hoping we'd get let into the building someday."

After reuniting with Jago (left), Turner (center) hopes to see his band get in the fast lane stateside.
After reuniting with Jago (left), Turner (center) hopes to see his band get in the fast lane stateside.

Or, to put it in easier-to-comprehend terms: "The other night, it was about 3:30 in the morning, and I just needed to come down. So I put on the first record and played it softly, and it was exactly what I needed. I couldn't have fucking done that with the new one. No way."

And indeed, Take Them On, On Your Own is a far louder, more aggressive effort. And it's not a matter of which one is "better" (although B.R.M.C.was criminally undervalued), it's that they are truly different beasts. The dreamy Jesus and Mary Chain/Velvet Underground-fixated psychedelic dirges from the first record are mostly replaced here by more deeply textured, ballsy tunes. And this time around the band is pissed off -- targets include the government, hype-driven fandom and Generation X, among others.

And the album rocks, for lack of a better word, rocks with a driving forcefulness, punishing beats and withering summations. "I kill you all with a six barreled shotgun / I kill you all but I need you so," they say on one song, which also has the narrator contemplating turning the business end of that unique 12-gauge around.

"This record is a lot more of a collaborative effort and works much better as a whole. The first one was a bit scattered" musically, Turner says. "On this, we wanted to cut through…I don't know, there's so much shit going on, so much confusion…we wanted to speak directly. If you have an hour to reach someone with a show or a CD, you have to make it worthwhile."

Highlights include the guitar-drenched "Stop," a forceful "We're All in Love," the psychedelic "In Like the Rose," and the menacing "Suddenly" and "US Government." The last was actually written for the first record. "It just seemed to fit better here, so it wasn't written in response to any one issue or one man," Turner explains. "But the kind of frightening thing is that it makes as much, if not more, sense now than it did before."

People born in the '70s come in for a slamming too, on "Generation" -- the polar opposite of the proud rallying cry of the Who's paean to their contemporaries. Though laced with a shred of hope, the song chastises superficiality and callousness for those outside one's immediate circle.

"The song isn't talking about just throwing [our] generation away, it's about one last hope, one last reaching out to a thing and hoping it will turn out okay," Turner says, before catching himself sounding ponderous. "I don't know," he laughs. "The whole album is about reaching out to people."

The band was formed in 1998 and, after a brief stint as the Elements, became Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, taking their name from Marlon Brando's biker gang in The Wild One. Peter Hayes had grown up on a small farm in Minnesota and Turner in the mountains around Santa Cruz, California, where he lived with his father, Michael Been, who is better known to music geeks as the front man of '80s new wavers the Call. (Been is now the sound engineer for his son's group.) Hayes and Turner gravitated to San Francisco, and once they met, they formed what Turner believes is an almost telepathic bond.

"By now we have this communication without using words. And after years, we're at a place where everything comes together," Turner offers. "I remember when we found Nick, everything had to be explained at first, and that was different."

Jago, an Englishman, grew up in Devon before coming to the States as a teenager. Jago overstayed his visa by almost a decade, and in a post-9/11 world wary of such things, he found himself getting deported after the release of B.R.M.C. Rather than find a new skin-thumper, the band had Verve drummer Pete Salisbury fill in for a time, and then Turner and Hayes set up shop with Jago in England. They gigged constantly there and on the Continent and recorded Take Them Onat London's Fortress Studios. Happily, Jago has been deemed free of terrorist ties and can now move in and out of the United States.

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