Imagine the dilemma. Your band is on tour for months on end, playing the same songs night after night. Sometimes you don’t even have a soundcheck to jam new ideas, and creative inspiration isn’t usually overflowing while driving around during off-days in a van. When do you have time to actually write and work on new songs?
This paradox fueled rock trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as it came time to work on its sophomore album, “Take Them On, On Your Own,” due Sept. 2 from Virgin. At shows, the group began extending older songs such as “Failsafe” and “Salvation” into epic jams, and according to bassist Robert Turner, “the inevitable result of not being able to play anywhere but on stage” was that the jams spawned entirely new songs in their wake.
“We played ‘Salvation’ every night at the end of shows and we were just tired of ending on a somber note,” he says of the origin of the rapturous, seven-minute-plus rocker “Heart and Soul.” “Sure enough, [drummer] Nick [Jago] exploded on the drum beat and just turned it over.” First single “Stop” morphed from an extended ending to the B-side “Failsafe” into a song charged with the confidence and swagger referred to in the new album’s title.
“We don’t like you / we just want to try you,” Turner sings on the cut, which didn’t sprout lyrics until one fateful night in London, where BRMC had been the subject of “next big thing” hype. “That’s what it felt like everyone in the room was thinking. The words just came. I realized it could actually be a song other than just some ending.”
The new album also includes several songs that have been kicking around BRMC’s repertoire for years, but are only now seeing the light of day. “US Government” was intended for release as a B-side on a commercial single for “Love Burns,” drawn from the group’s 2001 self-titled debut. Although Turner says the cut is not overtly political, the group pulled it off the single after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “It didn’t seem right to release it then,” he says.
The dark ballad “Suddenly” dates back even farther, to the group’s first demo CD. “Everything is so fragmented because of touring, and you’re constantly moving,” Turner offers. “But albums can’t keep up. Every band goes through it, but it’s still something I never really expected.”
Although still steeped in the glory days of 1990s British rock a la the Verve and the Jesus And Mary Chain, “Take Them On, On Your Own” heralds a clear progression from its predecessor. The layers of guitars are even more psychedelic and the songs kick much harder, offering more of an accurate depiction of BRMC’s live shows.
“This album to me is a mixture of a little less concentration and more just going for it,” guitarist Peter Hayes says. “On the first album, I was more intent on just getting tones. I would sit there and tweak out just trying to get them perfect. This one, I relaxed a little bit and just let us barrel through.”
BRMC has already completed one North American tour this summer, and will begin another stint Sept. 3 in Sacramento, Calif. This weekend, the group is filling in for the White Stripes at the U.K.’s annual Reading/Leeds festival, after White Stripes guitarist/vocalist Jack White broke a finger in a recent car accident, forcing the postponement of several live dates.
Hayes says the group’s setlists are partially dictated by the alternate tunings in which many of the songs are written. “On this album, I wound up using the same guitar in three different tunings,” he says. “So, placing things sometimes doesn’t work during shows and it gets complicated. I try to at least play a couple of songs in a row with the same guitar.”
BRMC’s hard-touring ways are documented in a video for “Stop,” shot by friend Charles Mehling. “What we wanted to do was drive across country and just document in three minutes getting in a car and going straight through,” Hayes says. “All it is us in a car, but he’s thrown in some other weird things to make it more interesting.”