Peter Hayes rolls his words. He talks in a drawl, and he pauses before every reply. And even then, after a long contemplation and a breath, the response can still feel vague, as though the whole story just happens around him without him ever really digging in. It is what it is, he implies. Hayes, singer-guitarist for Los Angeles-based Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (which plays Saturday at First Avenue), is something of an enigma: He doesn’t mind the questions, he just doesn’t contend to have all the answers.
Hayes’ life thus far has been storybook rock ’n’ roll. He played for a while in revivalist act Brian Jonestown Massacre; then, shortly after departing, Hayes formed BRMC with high school friend Robert Been, the two splitting vocal and guitar duties and continuing the organic, neo-psych sound gleaned from Brian Jonestown. Early praise followed; major labels came and eventually left. The rest of the history is filled out with long tours, dramatic lineup changes (drummer Leah Shapiro recently joined the band, replacing Nick Jago, who had notoriously been back and forth with BRMC for some time), green rooms, tense stage shows, critically adored albums, and a couple of albums people hated. It is what it is. BRMC is touring now behind the new Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. Hayes talked with The A.V. Club about, well, whatever we wanted to know about.
The A.V. Club: How has the new lineup been? Do things feel much different?
Peter Hayes: It’s changed a bit. It’s hard to see it from the inside when you’re living it, though. But, no, it doesn’t feel all that different.
AVC: Have you talked to Nick? What is he up to now?
PH: I haven’t talked to Nick in a while. I’m not sure what he’s up to. I’m sure he’s still putting an album together.
AVC: The departure was amiable, wasn’t it?
PH: For a long time, Nick had said that he wanted to do something different, something else, and it finally it just came down to it. We were on tour, and we all sat down and talked, “If you’re miserable, then you shouldn’t be here.” [Laughs.] That’s the last thing you want when you join a band is to be miserable.
AVC: You’ve never been miserable in this band?
PH: That was different. I always wanted to be there. He didn’t want to be there, so—yeah. I’ve never not wanted to do [this], not for any extended period of time. The music kind of draws you back.
AVC: You guys have moved around a lot over the years, between labels, bandmates, cities. Are you drawn to change?
PH: [Laughs.] That sounds like a question from a counselor or something. I don’t know. Maybe. Some of it is definitely self-imposed. But a lot of it is, you know, life happening. You make decisions to not do certain things, and next thing you know, your label goes away.
AVC: Is that what happened with Virgin?
PH: [With] Virgin, we were threatening to get dropped during the first record, while we were making it. They just didn’t like the way we were doing things, as far as recording. They thought we were going about it in a wrong way. I’m not quite sure what that meant, but they saw a more professional way of doing things, and we weren’t doing them. And then there was the thing with putting out commercials and stuff like that—the company saw an opportunity to make some money and get your name out there, and as far as doing it that way, we’d rather tour and work hard than try to get big off a commercial. So it was a lot of that back and forth. Mainly, we weren’t making them their money back quick enough. But I don’t know, maybe we did make some money back. I’m not sure.
AVC: And with RCA?
PH: That was a similar type thing. I’m not sure what they wanted [from us].
AVC: Is that why you started your own label, Abstract Dragon?
PH: Yeah, that was the kind of the fallback plan. When [the labels] go away, you still got to try and survive, you know? It’s a ton easier this way. A lot less people involved. But at the same time, none of us are all that business-minded, so as far as sending things out to the press and stuff, we don’t have those connections. I don’t know the name of every magazine everywhere. They probably have lists of that kind of thing.
AVC: Hasn’t Vagrant, which released a live BRMC DVD last year, been doing a lot of that for you? Contacting press, sending out releases?
PH: Yeah. As far as I understand, it’s everybody pitching in as much as they can. We’re calling up friends to help us put together the record. And they’re calling up who they can to let people know the record is coming out.
AVC: Does it feel almost like you’re starting over again?
PH: Yeah, maybe, but that’s okay.
AVC: Early reviews for the new album seem generally positive, which seems to be the opposite of what happened with The Effects Of 333. People were really down on that one being all noise and instrumental.
PH: Some folks were. I think we gave a fair warning what it was, and some people just didn’t heed the warning. [Laughs.] I don’t much care what people thought about it. It doesn’t bother me. It’s all pretty fair game if you put something out there. That’s some people’s jobs to pick apart other people’s bullshit.
AVC: Why did you decide to go in that direction for 333?
PH: We’d been working on it for a long time. Both me and Rob are bad insomniacs and I have a hard time listening to music with words to go to sleep. So it started out that we wanted to make some noise to go to sleep to, and then it kind of turned into a nightmare. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did it work?
PH: I put it on once and was able to sleep, but woke up soon after when some other song came on that wasn’t quite as friendly.
AVC: It’s hard not to ask this: Do you like doing interviews?
PH: I don’t have an issue with it. There’s an art to it that some people have and can push things where they want to go. I’m not particularly like that. I don’t have an agenda, really. To tell everybody that the album’s great and fantastic and you’re going to love it and hype it up and play that game—I’ve never really wanted to do that, but I know that that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.
AVC: Do you feel put on the spot?
PH: I don’t mind that too much. When it comes down to [talking about] songs and the music, it changes from day to day what they’re about. So you try to explain to somebody in that moment, and then the next thing you know, they put it in the paper that the song is about that. And then the other idea doesn’t really get across as well that it’s also about this, you know? It’s all pretty self-explanatory, I think, as far as songs go.
But I think it’s dangerous waters to get too used to talking about yourself too much. You got to keep perspective. There’s other things out there, more important things.
AVC: You seem pretty well-grounded. With all the touring you do, do you ever get homesick?
PH: No, not really. I like traveling. You have to like moving. If you got a problem with not showering and not sleeping in your own bed, it’s the wrong job for you.
AVC: So you never miss Los Angeles?
PH: I made the decision to not say that I don’t like it, because I think that’s cursed me to have to stay here. I’ve said it for too many years that I really don’t like it here, and I’ve been stuck here for too long. So, I’m going to say I love it here, in hopes that I get the fuck out of here. [Laughs.]
AVC: Where would you go?
PH: Shit. Anywhere.