Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Peter Hayes is no stranger to the turbulence synonymous with a long career in rock. The band’s 15-year run seems to have entertained an ever-shifting balance of the good and bad – from great reviews touring the world, to bored critics, substance abuse, and everything between. The band’s most recent hurdle came with the devastating loss of Michael Been, founder of The Call, father of bandmate Robert Levon, touring sound manager, and overall inspiration.
However, light shines in with Specter at the Feast, the band’s sixth studio LP and arguably best work since Howl. We were lucky enough to encounter the soft-spoken wisdom and unaffected perspective of front man Peter Hayes backstage before their show at Terminal 5 to talk about the new album, rebellion, his thoughts on American Idol and The Voice, and the current state of rock.
Specter at the Feast is a welcome departure from a sound beginning to get stuck in a genre that was no longer necessarily exciting, but this album still has those psychedelic and sentimental elements so essential to your sound. Was this shift intentional or part of a natural progression?
It’s always intentional to try and do something different. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, and at the same time don’t want to be too concerned with sounding new because that’s a whole other world of bullshit.
One thing I love about this album is it functions as a unit, like a journey, something commonly forgotten amidst a landscape of disjointed mp3s, Pandora, etc. Is the album as an art form dissolving?
All we’ve got, really, is an album. We don’t have singles that last for too long as far as radio goes. It’s something that you think about in the process. If you happen to have a single, it has to be a certain time, a certain length, blah blah. If that happens to happen, then great, if it doesn’t, you still just want to write a good song. As far as putting it in an album, that’s the fun part of it, to try to make it have a point and have a song movement rather than just slapping songs together. But I guess it doesn’t particularly matter anymore, I can see how people don’t give a shit about it. I guess it’s unfortunate, but that’s their choice. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to want to get involved in music on another level. It’s not for everybody.
You were in the rock band Brian Jonestown Massacre. How did the transition happen from BJM to BRMC?
Well, we already had this band going. Rob and I were playing music together, and we were fans of that band. I was floating around and saw it as an opportunity to see if I wanted to see what could be done with music, to see if I really wanted to do it. I took it as an opportunity to try and learn a little bit. And I did; I learned a lot. I went on their first US tour, did a bit of studio stuff, and then left when I didn’t feel like I was learning anymore. The transition was really that they were moving to Los Angeles [from San Francisco] at the time and one of their guitar players wasn’t willing to move, so I tried out.
Is Anton [Newcomb] really as crazy as he’s portrayed in Dig!?
(Laughs) No, no. I’ve met a lot of weird people. He’s a lovely dude. I think the girl that made that movie got a little too personal. She wanted to be friends and she crossed that line a lot. Then when she’d get angry, she’d… I mean, the shit happened. It’s on tape. You can’t deny it. But she missed a lot. She missed a whole big portion of how that whole tour ended. She kind of had to piece that together in a whole different way because she wasn’t there.
The band suffered a devastating loss with the passing of Michael Been, father of Robert Levon Been and former front man of The Call. How did this shape the album?
It’s a life experience, really. That’s all. We’re all going to have it, if we haven’t already. We tend to come at it more talking to the listener, with the idea being that the listener has already had the experience or is having one similar. It’s not about “here is us and here are our woes,” or my woes. It’s more “here’s ours, so let’s talk about it together.” It’s not about specifics for us in terms of music. But shaping it, yeah. He’s been involved since the very beginning when we were playing in his living room.
It’s been three years since your last album. How much of that time was spent writing and recording, and has the band’s process evolved through the years?
I guess about a year and a half or two of writing and recording. It was off and on. We went from rehearsal to try and piece it all together, throwing around ideas for a long time. Then that turned into picking songs. From there, we went into the studio, put down a few songs, 10 or 12, pieced together another 13, went into the studio again, put those 13, 14 together. We usually just go into the studio to do drums and take it home and do the guitars and vocals. Studios are pretty expensive. So that was LA, then we went to Santa Cruz and did a bunch there. As far as the process evolving, not really. Hopefully we’ve gotten better at recording a little bit. Really, you’re just hoping to write a good song.
You guys experienced a more methodical rise to notoriety, the opposite of Internet where seemingly anyone can pop overnight. How do you feel the Internet has affected music?
It’s a little bit of a confusing mess. On the one hand, there’s a lot you can discover for free or not free, whatever, it’s all open. The reality is, as much as people say they love music, that version of love is very different from person to person. There’s a community thing about it too. Like when somebody says “I love this,” you think “oh, I love it too,” or “I don’t.” When you’re looking at it from the perspective of fame, it’s great because that’s gone, and that’s a good thing to me. That’s where music, rock n’ roll or whatever, lost its point and credibility a long time ago. Now that that’s not there I think it’s a great thing, and the Internet has kind of made it that. There’s no latching on to one thing anymore.
Do you think rock is being created or appreciated anymore, now that rap and electronic are so dominant? Or is rock always going to be created because it can really only be defined as rebellion?
I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think it’s been a worry for a long time that it’s going to go away, or the hope of a bunch of people that it’s going to die out. It’s not going anywhere. But the culture – there are going to be less and less people that give a shit about it maybe, but that all depends on how it’s presented, and how the band presents itself too. I really believe that there’s a reason why it’s kept in a particular place. I subscribe to the following: if you control the arts you control the people. Rebellion is just fucking thought to me. So anything that’s sparking that is not wanted. It’s not going to help with what those folks want. So it’s nice to have things all scatterbrained on the Internet. Keep things this and that. And keep people away from it. Keep people voting for the next American Idol or whatever the fuck, Dancing with the fucking Stars, The Voice, you know. It’s all there for a purpose and its purpose is fucked. You just have to be aware of it and not support it.
Just don’t get cable.
So what’s next?
We’ve got another four weeks of a US tour and we got offered some festivals over in Europe, five or six. Then after that, who knows. We could be gone in a week, then have to figure out what to do with life after that.
Listen to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s music, & read more on Lindsay MaHarry here.