Skip to content

Painting the Town Black with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

By: Marc Spitz“I’ll have a Jack Daniel’s–as strong as you canmake it,” says Peter Hayes of the psychedelic garage-gothband Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s a humid July day inNew York City and singer/guitarist Hayes and bassist Robert Turnerof the San Francisco trio are clad in head-to-toe black denim. AmidWall Street traders and indie-film execs in a posh downtownrestaurant, they look bleary-eyed and out of their element. Whenthe nervous waitress brings Hayes a water glass filled withwhiskey, he can barely lift his head to thank her, but she hasalready fled.

Perhaps their high-piled dirty hair rattled her, but more likely, it’s the vibe of utter contempt they radiate in every direction: at the tape recorder, at the dinner rolls, at the art on the walls. Doing interviews is so establishment, and they are, after all, black rebels. Drummer Nick Jago is so rebellious he doesn’t even show up.

“This band is changing,” Turner announces, when asked about Black Rebel’s confrontational second album, Take Them On, On Your Own. “When we first started, we thought we could drift out into the dark more,” he says, “but there’s less time to make a point. People’s attentions are getting shorter every fucking minute!” His gaze shifts abruptly from me to the CD’s booklet. “Shit like this is important,” he says, studying the grainy, black-and-white band shots. Clearly, any questions, like our dinner, will have to wait. Hayes staggers outside for a smoke. I follow with my tape recorder.

Me: “You guys wear a lot of black.”

Hayes: “Really?”

Black Rebel have earned the right to conduct themselves like triple-whiskey-drinking rock stars. The brooding melodies and aloof stance they affected on their debut, B.R.M.C., drew comparisons to shoegazer legends the Jesus and Mary Chain. “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘N’ Roll (Punk Song)” became a minor hit on MTV2. Take Them On is full of similarly scuzzed-up classic pop, but this time the songs attack our devious government and call to action a generation of American youth in search of an identity.

Sprawled on a stoop like a homeless vampire, Hayes suddenly becomes animated as he tells me that the government hides surveillance cameras in fire alarms. I ask if he’s serious. “There’s one in every building,” he whispers. “And they make you feel safe. Think about it.” I think about it. When we return to the restaurant, Turner is slumped over in the booth, snoring. The check is on the table. No one had requested it.

Twenty-four hours later, we meet again at Shout!–the mod-soul club night where Black Rebel played some of their earliest shows. Hayes and Turner are still wearing the same clothes but must have gotten some sleep, because they’re thrashing through new songs like “Six Barrel Shotgun” and “Stop” with a no-tomorrow urgency. In front of 200 sweaty loyalists, Black Rebel deliver their conspiracy theories the way they should: couched in brilliant rock’n’roll. There indeed may be a camera hidden in the club’s fire alarm, but if only for an hour, it feels like the kids are in control.