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Despite line up change, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rides tall

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Tovin Lapan

The Los Angeles-based Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been touring heavily in the US and across the globe to promote their latest album Baby 81, which came out in May 2007. The tour has seen its share of bumps in the road. In June drummer Nick Jago was replaced with Leah Shapiro. The Las Vegas Weekly caught up with BRMC co-founder Robert Levon Been on the phone in Paso Robles, Cal. where they are opening for the Stone Temple Pilots. BRMC will be the headliner at the Beauty Bar Monday, July 28.

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"Weapon of Choice" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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"Berlin" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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"All You Do is Talk" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

How was the show with Stone Temple Pilots at Berekeley’s Greek Theater last night?

It actually was a short show, and we didn’t have an idea of what to expect. This was a bigger operation where we were small fish in bigger pond. The crowd seemed to really like it. Maybe there is a common tie between the two bands. We’ve only had one show so far with STP, and we talked to them briefly. They have a family vibe, their wife and kids are with them on tour … which is actually kind of cool. I’d met Scott Wieland before and he’s really cool. He’s been trying to get us out [on tour with them] for a while. One reason we wanted to do shows with them was that it came from the band, instead of some set up with the record company.

Speaking of family, I heard your father does sound engineering for BRMC. Is he touring with you now?

Yea, he’s been out with us for years. He’s a brilliant sound engineer. I thought it might be weird at first. You know it wouldn’t be as much fun and we couldn’t get into more trouble. But it’s the other way around. He’s a bit more nutty than I am, so I’ve been keeping any eye on him.

You have been touring heavily since Baby 81 came out last May. What have been some of the challenges of touring continuously without a break?

Keeping the band together, that’s been hard. It’s not a very easy job … nothing in this world that’s worth doing is easy. In music with as many highs as there are, there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, which is just as low as the highs are high. If you just expect everything to be OK, it won’t get that bad. But if you need things to be otherworldly then you are going to be disappointed. You need to be ready for the inevitable dark side. I haven’t found anything in life that doesn’t equate to that. It’s f-cking worth it though, that’s the good news.

Leah Shapiro replaced Nick Jago in June as the band’s drummer. How has the transition been going?

[Leah’s] kind of a blessing. She came along when we didn’t know what we were going to do. Nick didn’t seem happy for a while and was interested in making his own music. We sort of walked off the deep end. We had a tour coming up and nobody was happy playing together. We asked Leah to play with us. To be honest I thought it would be a Band-Aid, a crutch to get us through a tour. It’s kind of surprising how much she brings to the band. The door is open for Nick, but it’s been an amazing blessing to find her at this time. There’s no big loss in what we are able to bring. I feel guilty for enjoying it so much. She’s scary good. She makes us look bad sometimes, but I like the challenge.

The song “Shuffle Your Feet” is being used in commercials for the new HBO series Generation Kill. Have you seen the show and what do you think?

I only saw a little bit of it. I saw the end of one episode. I probably should watch a whole episode. It seemed like a show I would watch anyways, even if they weren’t using our song. I like that they are using that particular song, it’s seems to be fitting.

It’s a horrible time to go on world-wide tour with fuel prices and airline ticket prices at record highs. Has your bottom line been hurt?

Yea, it’s bad. We’re just trying to get to the next town. We basically just don’t make any money, but there’s nothing new about that. I think the couple of grand we would’ve had at the end of the tour is gone.

You’ve been through Asia, Europe and South America so far. Do you have a favorite country to perform in?

There are a couple cities I look forward to in weird ways. I don’t know, some of the most extreme crowds are in Japan, Glasgow and Buenos Aires. But we were just in Russia, in Moscow, and the fans were insane. I think the more dire the situation, the more oppression, the better the crowds are. If there is something wrong or constraining about a place the rock and roll spirit is needed more. It keeps people alive.

What are you listening to while on the road?

Portishead’s new record, there’s something about this new one. It’s really cool and I’ve been listening to it a lot. I’ve also been listening to the Telescopes, new Nick Cave record and Seed.

Many critics have lauded Baby 81 as continuing BRMC’s musical evolution, instead of playing it safe by mimicking the commercially successful tracks you’ve already produced. Is that a conscious decision or just a product of your changing tastes and musical progress?

There’s always a question in the head before you start or before it comes out; you aren’t sure if it’s right for other people. You don’t have that much of a choice over it, we write what we write. With the album Howl we set out to make it more acoustic, and with Baby 81 we wanted it to be more electric. Besides that we don’t know what’s really going on.

When you come to Las Vegas where do you like to go?

Usually it’s wise to get out as soon as we can. Otherwise everything is our favorite.

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