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BRMC has been through as many scuffles as the gang in the Marlon Brando film they were named for. After two impressive records, the band split when Jago walked out while the group was on tour, leaving his bandmates drummerless in Edinburgh in the midst of their tour for Take Them On, On Your Own. Around the same time in 2004, some label reshuffling resulting in Virgin dropping BRMC from their roster. With the band in disarray, Hayes and Been went back to where it all started, and to what they enjoyed most - writing and music. Just in from Boston, a drowsy Been sits across the table at Webster Hall in New York City and explains why it was the right time to put out a record like Howl.
"I guess Peter and I had always been playing bluesy kind of songs written on an acoustic guitar. They were always in the back of our head and we'd sit down a lot of the time at nights, jam and play these kinds of songs. It wasn't the kind of thing that we could blend together with the old sound - we knew it had to be a separate record. When I think back about the earlier songs, I knew some of them we had to live a bit more to finish the story."
Hayes and Been have known each other since their high school days in San Francisco. Jago came along later, after his family relocated from the UK to suburban East Bay. It didn't take long for the three to hook up and realize they were kindred spirits. Been could not find the words to explain any common trait amongst the three of them. He says that Hayes is like his brother and Nick, who returned to the fold in time to play one track on Howl, is just "one of the strangest people he has ever met".
Howl "feels like a first record," Been proclaims as he starts to wake up and become more animated with his gestures. His energy is infectious as he discusses the various instruments he and Hayes learned for the album.
"You get stuck in a studio and you need something to bridge the gap between the second verse and the third chorus and you want to add something. You know there needs to be something so you just reach for a guitar because its an impulse, but its kind of the most lazy thing your mind could possibly do. You know how to do that: some wailing feedback, reverse it, make it some noise and then put it in. It's just a little too simple of a road to go down. So we found an instrument that we didn't know and we would try and find what we wanted out of the sound and not of the instrument."
The two also rediscovered the importance of language. Hayes and Been both read anything they could get their hands on just to "fill the brain with words" and get the feel for writing again. As evidenced by the record's title, they found particular inspiration in the Beat poets and, more specifically, Alan Ginsberg's epic poem.
"Howl is the most recognizable declaration of that scene, so when we say that, it's not so much Ginsberg as that movement. We were trying to give a nod to everyone. There is something about that poem as well. It feels like the way we sadly look at things sometimes. Maybe we are overdramatic, but music should be much more - cared for much more. We should try and wear our hearts on our sleeves like that. It feels as if those words are as relative today as they were back then."
Their work paid off. Now signed to RCA and its Echo imprint, their Howl is a tribute to what the band has accomplished. BRMC dropped the studio tricks, picked up a few new instruments, and focused on writing, and the resulting stripped down record manages to sound larger than life. Even with these bold moves, one track sets itself apart even from all the rest - "Promise." As if the record wasn't quite adventurous enough, "Promise" hints at yet another direction for the men in black.
"I can't foresee where it would go right now and that's the most interesting place if I were to start writing more like that. I don't know where it would land or if it would go anywhere, so it's exciting for me that that would be the next place we try and write."
Well, if anything can be said for these rebellious lads, an unpredictable future has certainly worked well for them in the past - so here's to hoping they don't try and figure anything out. SEE ALSO: www.blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com
A contributor of feature articles and the occasional review, Amber Cartwright calls New York City home. Find Amber on the Lower East Side at Motor City with a whiskey in hand, chatting it up with the leather clad bartenders.
See other articles by Amber Cartwright.
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