Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

BRMC rev up for their NZ return

San Francisco bluesy rock trio happy to raise Specter of new album after passing through some dark times.

San Francisco trio BRMC, from left, Robert Been, Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro, look forward to playing in NZ.
San Francisco trio BRMC, from left, Robert Been, Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro, look forward to playing in NZ.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bassist-vocalist Robert Been has not long come off stage in Newcastle, England. It's fairly late but he's happy to talk.

"I'll be staying awake for the next seven hours, with my usual insomnia, so it's actually no trouble ... it's harder for me to do interviews in the morning or afternoon because I'm usually waking up around then."

The San Francisco bluesy rock trio were last in New Zealand in July 2010. They're looking forward to returning.

"Getting to come to New Zealand again is kind of a special thing, because that door doesn't open up for every tour. I jumped off the harbour bridge last time we were there - Leah [Shapiro, drummer] and I had an afternoon to kill. So that's my last memory of New Zealand - nearly falling to my death," he says, laughing.

A lot has happened in the intervening years. Less than a month after their last visit to Auckland, Been's father, Michael, who had been BRMC's live sound engineer, died from a heart attack backstage at a Belgium festival.

Been senior had been the frontman for 1980s outfit the Call. His death was a huge shock for the band but they continued the tour. When that came to an end, however, it wasn't clear exactly what would happen next.

"We kind of needed to take some time, and just start figuring out where we wanted to go next," Been explains. "Making the [new] record kind of turned into a guiding spirit - it helped us get through things, got us to a new place. That's the best thing that can come from it really, making a record with friends and family and people that you love, and creating something that you can hold on to."

That's not to say that the songs on Specter are all dark and melancholy. In fact Been thinks they may be some of the most joyful songs they've written together.

"All the songs of Specter are a celebration of what we created in the midst of something that I don't think any of us want to go back to. It was something we had to pass through, so the songs represent getting through it, but there's more joy in them than some of our past records even, because they represent that celebration, they don't drag me back.

"And it's a powerful thing, getting to tour this record, just because it has so many memories associated, and getting to share it with other people and bring something new to it is important. I wasn't sure about it when we first started playing them, but they kind of have that weight to them now, which is a great thing."

The title of the album also has a noteworthy story behind it. Been went to a play in New York, along with guitarist-vocalist Peter Hayes, at the behest of Shapiro, called Sleep No More, which is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

"The play takes place over five floors of this building, and you're allowed to wander through these different rooms, and see different aspects, different scenes of the play, in no particular order. And it changed the way I saw things. So I started reading Macbeth again, trying to figure out what I'd seen in this play, and Leah was talking to me about it, and she caught this line, 'specter at the feast', and I just really liked it. The album kind of felt like there was a spirit hanging over it, and I wanted to acknowledge that, and not hide from it."

Live preview

Who: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Where and when: Playing at the Powerstation, Wednesday November 20
Latest album: Specter at the Feast

- NZ Herald

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