Wednesday, August 16

Interview – Peter Hayes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rides through days and nights to bring us unfiltered music that breaths life and unpredictability. Founded in 1998, BRMC’s first tour with the Dandy Warhols was an introduction to an alternative lifestyle. Leaving any normalcy to frequently tour, the musical rebels embrace life on the road. Comfortable and at home when traveling, entrancingly, BRMC give everything through connecting to each other and fans by delivering music to listeners on common ground. BRMC wants us to know the band are level and stand together creating a mode for expression—whatever form that takes for the individual. There is no wall between musician and fan despite the stage’s amplification.

BRMC are Peter Hayes, Robert Leven Been and Leah Shapiro. They’re gearing up for a show at the Masonic Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday October 22 with Death From Above 1979. SF Sonic was given the opportunity to talk founding member, Peter Hayes.

Hayes has been making music throughout his life. His mother was a guitarist who supported Hayes’ creativity when he started playing trombone while growing up in Minnesota. Rebellious at heart, Hayes got into some adolescent trouble and was dealt much punishment. Grounded to his room, Hayes asked his mother for her guitar. “I’d sit there and play for hours and hours,” said Hayes. Raised in a musical family, he’s blessed with natural talent and a phenomenal ear, though admittedly so, he is not a boasting performer. Acting as a blank canvas when on stage, the band tries not to push anything onto anyone, allowing the audience freedom to associate. Honored by fans, Hayes keeps listeners close in his heart by breaking common stereotypes of inflated musician egos. He reminds us that every one is magical and influences the music, equally as much as the bands own experiences.

SF Sonic: As the future develops, much popular music has lost the power of elasticity and thoughtful frequency. Songs are frozen in time rather than becoming bases for adapting songs. Could you describe what it feels like to perform for audiences who seek genuinely raw, spontaneous, rock’n’roll in this modern era?

Peter Hayes: I don’t know if I can speak for every fan. Some people just want to have a good time, and that’s alright. That’s just as important as anything else sometimes. You wanna get away from thinking about things…I put it as, it really takes a listener to go as deep as they want to go in the music for the music to have more purpose and meaning. What we’re trying to do is hopefully have a few different layers so someone can go as deep as they want to go with it. I’m not saying we are all that deep, but we try anyways. It really takes the other person a while to do that. I can’t tell people or force people to do anything.

SF Sonic: I remember “Black Rebel Motorcycle Club” from the movie The Wild One, how’d the band decide on their name?

Hayes: We stole it outright! We went back to the movie, we rented it or caught it one more time on TV. When we saw it the first time we remembered the other gang in the movie we thought were a bit meaner so we went back to it so we could see if we could try to figure out what the name of the other motorcycle club was. They’re called “The Beatles,” so then we started hearing random rumors that The Beatles maybe got their name from the movie too. So we stuck with it. We thought it was good company, though, Lee Marvin’s gang is a little more rowdy.

 SF Sonic: Touring is not easy. Seems there ain’t no easy way around it. What are some of the aches and pains that come along with being a touring musician.

Hayes: In the beginning, it’s just a lot of driving. There’s a lot of somebody else driving now. We’ve got a bus that we rent or lease out and someone else gets the privilege of doing that. I miss it sometimes, the driving, but there’s some real long hauls. It becomes kinda like anything else, you find yourself puttering around and finding things to do. There’s always ways to try to make it better. Try to make sounds to make them better. I don’t know about aches and pains, I try not to think about that… I really love [touring]. It’s not really a mental pain. There’s the physical, though we have folks help us out lifting gear. You try to help them, and they say “get the fuck out of here you’re gonna break your hand,” and they say they’re gonna lose their job if I lose my hand. The only mental thing is when you come home you feel like it’s kinda hard to land. Sitting in one place becomes real hard. [Touring], we’ve been lucky as fuck.

SF Sonic: BRMC has toured the world. How does your reception differ worldwide?

Hayes: I’ve been trying to figure that out through the years. When we first went over to England in the beginning, it seemed wilder. Maybe our crowd was brought up with us a little bit, we still have patches of wild here and there. Then it started happening in the States. Then it really seemed to come down to how close it was to the weekend, as far as the people willing to let loose a little more than they were if they’ve got work the next day. There’s different culture things a little bit, as far as Asia goes, but that’s changed through the years. I used to think there was more of a difference than there was. I have no idea if it comes down to us just having a bad gig, sometimes people are just talking through an acoustic set, sometimes people are incredibly quiet. It happens all over the world, talking or quiet, and it makes no sense. Maybe it’s a moon thing, maybe it’s us not projecting it out enough and people don’t care, somedays we are and they do.

SF Sonic: How about the reception when BRMC returns to their hometown, San Francisco?

Hayes: That [hometown feeling]feels like it’s slowly dwindling away. It’s nice to be considered from the area. I miss it there, miss a bunch of things, I’ve been stuck in Los Angeles for a while… it’s kind of becoming two hometowns these days.

SF Sonic: Are you currently recording in Los Angeles?

Hayes: Yeah, so far. We’ve got five or so songs recorded there right now. We’re debating if we’re going to use the same place for the next batch of songs or maybe go somewhere else. We’ll figure it out once we get off the road.

SF Sonic: Now, you’re back on tour, how is the tour so far?

Hayes: This will be the third [show]today. The first one went really well. The second one, I hope people enjoyed it… I had a bit of a mess with my gear. None of my pedals were working, so that all of a sudden turned it into partial acoustic slash punk style. Just kinda turn the amps up and go. Which is fun, you know, there are certain things that can’t be done. Over the years we have had it happen a lot.

SF Sonic: Do you have any music planned for us this year and upcoming?

Hayes: This year? Live, we have a couple new [projects]we’re doing. As far as releases, I don’t know. It’s a debate what to do with records a little bit. It’s the style of the full album—people take the journey or don’t take the journey, whatever you want to do. We might, if we get five done before the year [is over]maybe do that and do another batch beginning next year, who knows. I don’t have a problem with that. Sometimes it feels like that’s as much as people can handle these days. At most, it’s five songs, that’s just changing times. That’s about as much as I can handle.

SF Sonic: BRMC, friends and fans raised over $33,000 toward Leah’s surgery. What’s it like to receive such support for your band mate?

Hayes: It’s mind blowing. I constantly feel indebted to our fans. I mean that in a good way, we owe them for helping us survive in more ways than one. It feels good—I hope that we deserve it. It’s an honor and I hope to return the honor. I don’t know what I can do aside from give thanks through music.

SF Sonic: What are your greatest direct influences to the music you create?

Hayes: Jimi Hendrix was an influence as far as “don’t do this, because it’s been done, and he did it pretty fucking great.” That’s why I never really solo in a song. When I was about 16 it was Pink Floyd, T-Rex, the Verve, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash… I’m interested in the story as much as the music. Once you get to know someone’s story their music opens up in a whole other way.

SF Sonic: How about the band, how do you collectively gather inspiration?

Hayes: When we are writing together, the plan is to just do what we do and not think too much about where it came from. Unless it’s a direct rip off, by accident, then we usually throw the song away! (laughs) We both do writing whenever we’re floating about on our own and then we bring it in and do it. It becomes a b-side or a party album, either way. We don’t have too many rules in the band, we said it from day one… we are just fans of music, be it instrumental, country, blues, psychedelic… we’re fans of it all. It’s all gonna come seeping out of us at different points. We’re okay with that. We used to get a little bit too precious with it as far as “oh this is our sound” but at the end of the day I’m proud of the people we’re ripping off, so fuck it! Call us what you will, they’re good fucking bands.

SF Sonic: Yes, well it’s flattery in a sense…

Hayes: Yeah, you know, you’re trying not to directly steal something, though it’s gonna come out! You are what you eat.

SF Sonic: I noticed the band embraces an altered state for creating music, has the band used substances?

Hayes: Yes, there’s a couple different ways… We’ve done it as a band as a whole, or alone with an acoustic guitar coming up with different parts. To me it does hit a wall, kind of like anything, it hits a wall of its usefulness. You gotta not fight it, let it go, then come back to it, when you’re not loaded you try to include that feeling into what you’re doing and be aware of it. There’s a certain point at which it’s absolutely helpful and beautiful. I don’t think there’s reason for it on a constant basis, though it’s there as a reminder to slow down and think a little bit. I was always into experimenting with shit to try to learn from it. That’s my way of thinking, it’s not everybody’s.

SF Sonic: Have you encountered any issues with safe access to cannabis or drugs throughout the world?
Hayes: Well… in the world, there’s absolutely no access in some places. Chancing it is a whole other thing. There are some places you don’t mess around in unless you’re in a hole somewhere and they wouldn’t get ya. It’s all pretty openly available. I guess maybe that’s an issue, things are there if you’re asking for it. Nothing dangerous about it… safe access… I’m really sure what that means. The kinda life that we live… I don’t worry about it too much. *Laughter*


SF Sonic:
How do you feel about the state of cannabis as far as drug legality? 

Hayes: The usefulness of the ban has run its course. I’m not sure it had a whole lot of usefulness. I’m fine with it being legal. I’m not sure what age it would be, it doesn’t seem to matter, drinking is 21, kids are doing it whatever the age. Booze, cigarettes, pot, various drugs… it’s the same effect. The U.S. is pretty puritan, there’s this under and overtone of religion that’s so stifling it keeps these things a mystery. Because of that the drugs aren’t even respected for what they can do, one they can destroy your life (not pot..) and two they can be a use and medicine, a bunch of shit. Making it is legal is fine, I think it’s more than just legal. That’s a good step to take the mystery out of it, it’s just a fucking drug. Everybody knows certain ones are dangerous. It’s your choice as an adult to do what you want to do with it. If you take the mystery out of it for kids, that’s better…more information, the better.

SF Sonic: Air is a precious resource, you’ve acknowledged that in song and conversation. How do you remain conscious of respecting that space within music and speech?

Hayes: It comes down to a life choice. I don’t know how well we do that. Personally, this is gonna sound pretty hippy, it comes down to being thankful for the breath and not wasting it. There’s no need to waste air. Maybe that comes across in different ways. As far as in the music, there’s time for both. There’s time to rattle off a bunch of words and then settle down and listen to the music. I do a ton of um’s, ah’s and yeah’s, all those words that fill up space. I’m really conscious of that and I try not to do it the best I can.

SF Sonic: Thank you for your time Peter. Really looking forward to seeing you guys again, it’s been since 2012 at Slim’s I saw you last.

Hayes: Cool, I hope you enjoy it when you see the show. Come say hi!

Find out more about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on their website.

Photo by Ashleigh Castro. 

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About Author

Ashleigh is a young, stealthy photographer who grew up on a healthy dose of punk, funk, hip-hop and rock n roll. Shooting musicians since 14, she developed an eye for capturing passionate moments. The first concert she remembers was No Doubt, Cake and the Vandals at Arco Arena in 1997 and most memorable concert was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s acoustic set at Great American Music Hall in 2008. Her personal projects chronicle bay-area bands including the Coup, who published her work on their single cover. After graduating SFSU, she’s spent much time working at a San Francisco photo lab and now works as the content, office and photography manager for DOPE Magazine's Northern California Region. Her analog taste creates photographs that emphasize timeless emotion. Find her in the pit!

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