Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is currently on a co-headlining with Death from Above 1979 on what vocalist and bass player Robert Levon Been calls the band’s first proper tour in awhile. Even though it has been three years since BRMC released a studio album, they’re ready to put on a good show showcasing their entire catalog, including a few new songs off of their highly anticipated follow up to 2013’s Specter at the Feast.
Been spoke with us via the phone before the band’s show at Showbox SoDo in Seattle to discuss what goes into a live show, why talking about new music before it comes out is lie spoiling Christmas, and what his favorite songs to play live are.
Thanks for taking the time to talk before a show on the new tour. How’s tour been?
BRMC: It seems like we’re getting our bearings. It’s been a while since we’ve done a proper tour and we were flipping all over the place, but I don’t think anyone noticed. Feeling better now.
You’ve been in this band for awhile now. What goes in to putting on a live show after all of these years?
BRMC: There’s the obvious answer of everyone working hard around us. The production team makes it possible for us to make it an experience instead of just running through songs. We’re doing our best to make a few people happy. We can’t make everyone happy because we’ve run into the good problem of having a lot of records and can’t play all of the songs to appease everyone all at once, but we’re doing our best.
What went into this setlist?
BRMC: We’re playing a little bit from each [album]. We’re also testing out some new songs that we’ve been working on for the new record that’s coming out in the new year. More or less we’re just trying to appease while being in a battle with Death from Above 1979.
You mentioned you’re playing new songs, how has writing new music now different from when you first started?
BRMC: We’re always a little at the mercy of whatever’s going to come at the time. You can’t really force that too much. We’re working with a new producer named Nick Launay. We’ve been a fan of his work for a long time and I’ve known him for a long time. We always had this chip on our shoulder about wanting to produce ourselves, but this time we’re trying to see how much outside influence we can take, which has been different. Nick’s done albums for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grinder Man, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We have a lot of respect for his work and his thoughts. It’s been different and it’s taken the music in a little bit of a different direction, but it’s still us and where we’re at right now.
In what ways is it a different direction?
BRMC: I like to leave that part a little bit of a mystery. There’s a couple of songs we are playing live, but… [laughs] I’ll answer every other question straight forward, but it’s kind of like revealing what you’re getting on Christmas morning and it makes the presents not quite as cool.
It’s been three years since the last album. Do you have a timeline for this next one?
BRMC: We made it through half of the record and when we get back home we are going to try and finish the second half. We’re doing it in two halves. We tracked five our six songs and finished those and now we’ll do the second half. We’ve never done it that way before and we’re hoping it will give us more focus and more detailed. Doing a small handful at once as opposed to trying to keep twelve of fifteen songs in your head is kind of the new process.
So that first half of songs is done or is there a little more work to do?
BRMC: A little bit, but they’re pretty much there.
You mentioned how you have to write with what is going on. I spoke with a musician earlier who mentioned that it’s hard to find a place for straight forward rock music because everything is either very genre-specific or even a bit gimmicky. Where do you feel rock ’n roll fits in 2016?
BRMC: I agree to some extent. I think it’s more about where people are in their own heads and not what it’s dressed up to be or sonically how it sounds. I think the idea of rock ’n’ roll music is that there is an opposing voice or the spirit of defiance. Maybe it’s a little more conscious and in tune with people and what’s happening in the world. Not super politically, just something that requires your brain to actually work. People these days don’t want to be tuned in. It’s all about tuning out and keeping things very surfaced. Then it just becomes entertainment and window dressing. Dance music kind of takes over because a shoe fits that foot. It’s kind of where people are at.
You’re playing with Death from Above 1979 on a coheadling tour. Does that mean you’re alternating nights?
BRMC: We’re closing each night, but it’s because we wanted to play a longer set. It’s nothing like a rank or whatever. We’re keeping it very communal.
Do you keep your setlist the same or mix it up each night?
BRMC: The first week we’ve tried to keep it a bit consistent to get our heads back to a level where we are confident performing. When you’re changing it too much every night you start to become an amateur at each song. The hope is to stop thinking and making it muscle memory. I think as the tour goes on we always shift and change things as we go. Right now the setlist is a bit balanced from every album, but there are a few songs we want to bring out and get to a bit later.
Out of all of your songs, which song do you just love playing after all of these years?
BRMC: The ones that surprise me the most are “Awake” and “Red Eyes and Tears”. Finding new things in it and that the spirit is still strong when we play it live as opposed to just going through the motions kind of baffles me because it’s not only from our first record, but it was written a few years before our first record came out.
There are a few off of Howl that are a little more difficult to play because there is a piano or trombone that is a little harder to control on a live stage than just powering through electrically turned up to eleven, so there are few songs from that which I adore.