Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have always been among the AQ staff’s favorite bands. Their records always seem to show up on our year-end lists, and their concerts can be jaw-dropping.
During their recent co-headlining tour with Death From Above 1979, we caught up with guitarist/singer Peter Hayes to talk about a lot of things, including their upcoming new album. The interview took place on the same day Donald Trump was elected president, which is all the context you need for the first question:
I guess the only way I can start this interview is by asking, “What the hell is going on in your country?”
I don’t know. I gave up long ago. Let it be. Can’t really have sour grapes over it. People wanted it. So be it, we’ll see what happens. It’s all business, it always has been. It affects everybody’s lives. But, just let it be.
Do you just tune out of those events when it comes to writing music?
Sort of. How politics affects people’s lives, is what you end up writing about. It’s been messy for a while. I’m not sure that’s really politics, I think it’s just capitalism. That’s what people have chosen to try to live in, and I’m not sure I can get on that train, but it is what it is. It kinda goes bad both ways, there should be more options than just two. Been waiting for a long time for another option. People just aren’t ready for that. I try not to get too involved in it as far as talking bad about either candidate – I’ll at least talk bad about both the same way [laughs]. If there’s only gonna be two choices, they both deserve the same amount of hatred.
So, are you recording a new album now?
We’re in the process. Once we get off this tour, we’ll get back to writing and recording. We started a bit, got 5 or 6 started.
And the new songs you’re playing live now, are they basically finished?
Yeah, one of them is almost done. We finished the singing, as far as dividing the lyric parts. Pretty sure it will be on the album.
I know it’s boring shit to ask, but I gotta ask: what can we expect from the new album?
I can never really say, I don’t know. No huge surprises, I guess, we’re not trying to be another band. We’ll hopefully evolve.
No horns or string sections then?
[laughs] No, not yet anyway. It might happen. Probably not. It comes down to trying to write a good song, at the end of the day. It’s still what we’re trying to do. Some day hopefully we’ll get one written. [laughs]
When you go back to recording, do you have like a strict time limit, or is it done when it’s done?
Well, we try to give ourselves a time limit. It’s kind of a fine line. As soon as you do that, things become more of a chore. We kind of got into this to not have chores [laughs]. Dodge the chore part of life. Like anything, we start running out of money and life starts to happen. Hopefully you get the timing right, you get the music out before you’ve run completely dry. But at the same time, we try to take our time. It’s strange when you try to rush it, to get it done for done’s sake – that’s not my way of going about it.
Would you say that touring ever becomes a chore for you?
Yeah, it has been. But even when you’re repeating yourself, you can definitely look at it as a job – soundcheck and perform, a rinse and repeat -, the music changes, the people change every night. It’s really hard for it to become too much of a chore, just because there are so many variables. That’s just life, one day you’re happy, the next you’re sad or angry, that kind of keeps things lively, for me anyway. I try to keep it simple like that.
Looking back on previous records, was there one that felt more like a chore, or the opposite?
I guess I’m proud of our work. From day one, on the first album, there were people from the record company trying to drop us. All the business side of it, we try to push that to the side. We do what we wanna do. And that’s why we’ve been dropped so many times.
One record that people don’t talk about much is The Effects of 333. Would you go back and do something in the same vein in the future, or do you think that’s done for you?
I actually, I see it kinda showing up again. Having done that one, I see a version of that kinda showing up again, but more in depth than that one. I’m not sure exactly what, but instrumental is a huge part of what we love to listen to and there’s something about it that’s freeing, you don’t have to get stressed about words. It’s nice not to have words get in the way of music sometimes. I like the idea of music having its own emotion, and taking people on that journey without talking over it.
Do you and Robert write the same amount, or is it different every record?
We usually just sing what we write, even within a song. Musically, it’s a collaboration, but word-wise, we’ve never been too good at “covering” songs, if that makes sense. We never really memorize somebody else’s words. What we write, we sing.
I remember this interview with Kiss, in which Paul Stanley mentions a gig when his voice was completely shot and Gene Simmons had to sing all the songs. He didn’t know the words to Paul’s songs and just mumbled them. If you ever had to sing all of Robert’s songs, would you be able to?
I would fake it. I’d write them all out. Right now I know the majority of them, but not all of them. That’s what teleprompters are for, right? [laughs]
So, you played Brazil earlier this year, at a very small event, and a lot of people couldn’t get in because tickets weren’t actually being sold. How do you feel about playing small events like that?
It depends on… There’s a reasoning to it. First, if there’s no way of getting to a place on our own, where maybe we don’t have enough money to get there, that becomes a way of getting to a place we haven’t ever gone to, or haven’t gone back to in a long time. We’ll do those type of gigs, no matter how big or small they are, just to travel and bring the music to people. And then, because of that one gig, sometimes we’ll be able to do other ones, get more people in. Gigs don’t have to be big, anything anywhere can be cool.
I was extremely grateful to be at that gig, and the only reason I got in was because your band gave away some tickets on Facebook.
I’m glad it worked out. The room only holds so many. [laughs]
Are you comfortable playing festivals? Are their drawbacks made up for somehow?
It depends on how the festival’s run. I don’t really feel it’s all that respectful to the music in a way, but it’s alright, it can be a fun thing to do. But sometimes it feels kinda like a machine where they run the bands through and there isn’t much attention paid to quality. You learn how to live with it, try to do your best. It’s similar to how we started, 17 bands in a club and you sort of throw your hands up.
It’s really cool that you did a tour with Death From Above 1979.
If I had my pick, I’d like to have you guys and The White Stripes co-headlining. But it’s never happening.
I always dug that band, the way Jack White plays. But give it time, who knows, they might get back together.
The infamous Coachella reunion.
Oh god. [laughs] We only played there once. Nightmare.
A bunch of shit gone wrong. Rob’s bass broke that day. I had all my amps go down. We were touring the second album, in 2004. We ended up playing acoustic, a bunch of songs from [2005’s] Howl, and no one knew what the fuck they were. [laughs]
I think Howl is such a cool thing, it stands on its own.
I can see that. But it was something we’d always talked about, as far as music we’re fans of, Dylan, Cash, The Band. We’d been saving up those songs since day one – Complicated Situation and Ain’t No Easy Way were written for the first record, we just cut them off because we knew that people would kinda throw them away. “Oh that’s a nice song but that’s not what they do”. And we wanted to give those songs proper attention on a proper album. So we just held on to them until we had the moment to do it.
The last time I saw you, people lost their shit when you played Weight of the World.
Yeah, people dig that one. And it changes from place to place, actually.
I think it’s great that you don’t play the same set every night, also.
We try to change it up. I wish we could do it more, sometimes, because, well, the thing is… we forget how to play everything. [laughs]
What about taking requests?
We have taken requests. Later into the night, we ask people what they wanna hear. But it gets harder and harder, the more albums we make. And it’s hard because I’ve got five guitars, all with different tunings, and there’s actually five tunings on each of those. So, often I’m just not prepared, I can’t do it unless you give me five minutes for tuning.
And I guess the crew isn’t too happy about changing the set either.
Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody starts scrambling real fast. But that’s the fun part of it, keep them on their toes.
How do you listen to music? Do you have a preferred format?
Every which way, anything and everything. Vinyl is kinda fun, but I’ll use MP3s too. It doesn’t matter much.
Well I guess you won’t be pulling your music from Spotify or whatever.
Yeah, I don’t care about that. It always made sense for me why the music was taken in some ways, because, 1, it was too expensive, and 2, the money that was made off the music, and the way the money was used and abused, needed to change. It was shown, to me anyway, that the money wasn’t respected, therefore the fans weren’t respected. If someone’s buying thirty-thousand-dollar pants, you don’t need to sell another fucking album.
Kanye West’s infamous leather jogging pants.
He can go chew on them, as far as I care.
Speaking of leather, do you still own a motorcycle?
[laughs] Yes, I do. It was all I had for a long time, actually, at my home.
Have you got time to ride it at all?
Last album, there was a lot of riding, actually, around Santa Cruz, a daily ride up the mountain and back down into town. We’re still trying to figure out ways to do it on the road. Find a way to get a motorcycle on a trailer or something. Be able to go cross-country on it. Right now, only at home.
Might wanna ask Rob Halford how he does it, because as far as I know, he still rides a motorcycle onto the stage at every Judas Priest concert.
[laughs] He could have it rented at every town. I wonder if it’s the same bike, though. It’s either a rental, or he carries it with him. That’s not a long enough ride for me, anyway. [laughs] From the back door to the stage? I need more riding time than that.
Not to get too off-topic here, but you’ve been to Argentina quite a few times. Have you tried buying leather jackets there?
No, I haven’t. Do they make better leather there?
Yeah, they make and export a ton of it.
Well, I guess that makes sense. There’s a huge cattle business there. Our crew’s always talking about going to the steakhouses there.
Oh, shit, you didn’t go to one?
No, I don’t eat meat.
Well, I didn’t mean to offend you, sir. [laughs]
Nah, it doesn’t offend me, I’m not that kind of vegetarian. [laughs]
Well, you didn’t start the conversation by saying, “I’m Peter Hayes, vegetarian, also in a band”, so I know you’re not that kind of vegetarian.
Oh god, no. I grew up on a farm, and I worked at some fast food restaurants, so that kinda turned me off from meat.
It’s better talking about this stuff than “What does the new album sound like?”
Yeah, you can’t explain the album anyway. It’s impossible. I wouldn’t wanna be in a music reviewer’s shoes.
Anyway, what instruments would you like to play onstage that you haven’t played yet?
Oh, actually… I can’t remember the name, it’s either a gayageum or a kayagum, this Chinese string instrument, kinda like a harp. I’d like to figure out how to play those.
Alright, I’ll look forward to that on album number 9.
[laughs] We’ll figure it out.