Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is not having an identity crisis.
It may have looked like it in 2005, when the rock trio briefly broke up and abandoned its distorted wall-of-guitars sound in favor of acoustic country and folk on its third album, “Howl.”
But Robert Levon Been, Peter Hayes and Nick Jago see their acoustic dalliance as just a natural step in their evolution. Embracing their unplugged side made them yearn to turn up the volume. And they do that on “Baby 81,” their new album due May 1.
The record represents a rocking return to form for the band. They’re back to rich, ear-catching riffs and back to working as a threesome after Jago temporarily left the band in 2004.
‘History and anger and reservations’
Relations were tenuous when he returned, and that energy is on the album, Been said.
“It was a really powerful thing because of the state of mind we were in,” he said. “We had a lot of history and anger and reservations about giving our whole heart to each other again, because we kind of just trampled on it. We didn’t say anything to each other and just put on our guitars and played. ... And all the sounds sounded amazing turned up loud.”
“It all came out sounding like it belongs,” said Hayes.
So they went with it, indulging their tastes for crunchy rock ’n’ roll while maintaining the nuanced musical stylings of “Howl.” “Baby 81” might just be their most organic album yet — a reflection of the band’s growth, said Nic Harcourt, longtime host of public radio’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.”
Radio host calls new CD more accessible
“It’s a very clean sound,” he said, “not that sort of dirty wall of sound they had on their earlier albums. There’s a lot more room between the grooves, which will make it a little more accessible than the first two were.”
Hayes, Jago and Been have been making music together for half of their lives. The 30-year-olds met as teenagers in Lafayette, a suburb of San Francisco.
“We were the three weirdest guys in the nearest town,” Hayes said.
Together they learned how to write music, recording their creations on a four-track cassette machine. They formed a band, called themselves the Elements and sought gigs in San Francisco. But the name didn’t stick.
The trio has been known ever since as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. (Only Hayes actually rides a motorcycle.)
They released their first major-label CD, “B.R.M.C.,” in 2000, followed by “Take Them on, on Your Own” in 2003.
‘It was a really good break’
Then came the breakup, with drummer Jago leaving Been and Hayes, both singer-guitarists, to make “Howl.”
“It was a really good break,” Been said. “It was what we needed, all three of us equally. And we were inspired again to make a record.”
Once in the studio, they let the music lead the way and left their differences behind. The result is “Baby 81” (the title inspired by the name given an infant rescued from the 2004 tsunami).
“You’ve got to let your baby grow up to be what it wants to be,” Been said of the band’s new work. “You’ve got to let it go.”