When a new band that’s refreshingly melodic and provocative pops up, word spreads quickly in the hard-to-impress, heard-it-all-before music-industry circles of Southern California.
If you can make it there, where hundreds – if not thousands – of bands try to stand out above the crowd, you can make it anywhere.
The latest diamond in the rough is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a rock trio weaned on Ride, the Stone Roses, Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.
When Oasis’ Noel Gallagher heard their 16-track demo CD in 1999, he wanted to sign singer-guitarist Peter Hayes, bassist Robert Turner and drummer Nick Jago to his new Brother Records imprint. Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr have sung their praises, and the Dandy Warhols asked them to join their U.S. tour last year.
Now the rest of the free world will get to hear what all the justified fuss is about with the April 3 release of their self-produced debut album, “B.R.M.C.” (Virgin). Hayes likes the view from where he’s sitting.
“It may sound pretty trite, but this is pretty neat,” he said recently. “We came down (to Los Angeles from their native San Francisco) definitely with the idea of getting involved, but we had no idea how involved we were going to get. We always knew what we had, we were just hoping some other people would see it.
“We knew we wanted to do music for a living, and by any means. That was our plan. All that really mattered, for the most part, was letting us do it the way we wanted to do it. So far, so good.”
Hayes, age 23, and Turner, 22, met in 1995 while attending high school and kept in touch with each other, even though they played in different bands. By 1998, they both had left their respective bands and hooked up with Jago, 23, a former art school student who moved to San Francisco from his native England in 1996.
“Robert came up to me one day while I was playing the guitar and said, ‘Are you in a band?’ And I said, ‘No.’ Since that day, we’ve been playing together,” Hayes said. “We get along really great. I wasn’t listening to too much music before I met him, then he turned me onto most of what I’m listening to now.
“We knew Nick from some of the clubs we used to go to. We’d see him about once a week, then we started looking for a drummer and we auditioned some for like two years. Then it hit us, ‘What about Nick?’ We called him up and we all jammed for like six hours, and we knew immediately he was the one.”
They originally called themselves the Elements, but they abandoned the name after discovering that it was being used by several other bands. They turned to the Marlon Brando movie, “The Wild One,” for inspiration, taking the name of his gang, the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club and dropping the “S” in rebels.
From there, they pooled what little money they had to finance a full-length demo.
“After we finished it, we would hand out the tapes at clubs,” Hayes said, “but we didn’t walk into a record company and hand them out. They just got there somehow. People were passing them on.”
A review of the demo in BAM magazine raised even more eyebrows.
“I don’t know if it was the press, necessarily, in the beginning that got the labels interested,” Hayes said. “It was us playing a lot of gigs in Los Angeles … a lot. Then within the business, they share the same interests so the word got around, so it kind of happened that way. A lot of things came on its own without a record company being around, some press here and there.”
Virgin won the bidding war, mostly because it guaranteed the band autonomy.
“The A&R guy seemed real interested in letting us do what we wanted to do, so we went with that,” Hayes said. “I think the album’s going to do great. There’s more people involved now, so now it’s a little out of our hands and you just have to trust that we made the right decision. The record company really believes in the music. I hope it does great, maybe better than anyone imagined.”
Fresh off a U.S. tour opening for the Waterboys, B.R.M.C. is in the midst of a tour of its own. In the meantime, Virgin will assess the situation and decide if a single will be released.
“We’re taking it slow,” Haye said. “We don’t want to cram things too quickly, which is the plan, and I don’t mind that. We’re trying to do it tastefully, thinly and organically as much as it can be.”
Though those in the know knew there was something special about B.R.M.C., the group members feel out of place in La-La Land.
“I’m not sure we fit in now, really,” Hayes said. “We’re accepted, I think, right now, but there’s not a whole lot of bands doing a similar thing as this. There’s a couple bands I know that are doing something like this, sound-wise.
“There are scenes that do their own thing, but there aren’t that many people. At the same time, they like to see the bands they like get well known, but there’s a certain thing where you’d like to keep those bands that you discover in their world. I also think they’d like to see us change some things, too.”
Gaining the respect of peers like Gallagher, Reid and Marr leaves Hayes nearly speechless.
“I don’t know what to say, because it’s such a nice thing,” he said. “Back at ’em, you know. To be accepted by some folks who’ve been doing it for a while, it’s great.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Johnny Cash’s ‘Live at San Quentin,’ when I was 19. I just didn’t really have the dough before to buy any records. I liked his life story and making it through the problems of life, and I like his style.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “In 1993 or ’94, I saw The Verve on their ‘Northern Soul’ tour at Slim’s in San Francisco. It was a great show; it made my feelings stronger about wanting to be in music, seeing a guy up there singing his guts out.”
IF I WEREN’T A MUSICIAN, I’D BE A …: “Well, that depends on a lot of things. I have no idea. At one time, I figured I would just play music on the street. I never had any visions of doing anything else but music. The only other interest I had was in cooking; if anything, I’d probably be a cook on a fishing boat or something. Right now, if music was stripped from me, I don’t know where I’d be.”
BWF (before we forget): Get your motor runnin’ with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the Web @ www.blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com or www.aboutmotorcycle.com (fan-site listing).