With the North By Northeast Festival set to kick off on Thursday, the undeniably most coveted ticket is for the big Toronto debut of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Lee's Palace. Currently all the rage in England and in North American hipster circles, the Toronto show for BRMC sold out virtually instantaneously. The band also added an in-store performance at the Queen Street West HMV outlet on Friday which is sure to send drone rock fans to white heat heaven.
Still, despite this being their inaugural trip to Canada, they've already met one of our greatest musical fathers. On a recent U.K. tour they got to open for Neil Young at the Brixton Academy in London.
"I guess he's into the band a little bit," says guitarist Peter Hayes. "I dunno. He showed up and said, 'Thanks for playing.' We made a hundred bucks playing the Neil Young show. It's not like we were doing it for the money."
The Black Rebel opening slot was unannounced, so Hayes says it was something of a sonic surprise for the Neil fans.
"We scared the Neil Young crowd a little bit. Woke 'em up, man. They didn't know what they were getting into."
The band have been knocking down the idols on their to-play-with list of late. In addition to the Young gig, BRMC also toured with Spiritualized in the States this spring and now say Primal Scream, Death In Vegas, Nine Inch Nails, Bob Dylan and "The Rolling Stones... maybe" are the next set of targets. Tellingly, while we're still mired in the joyless warble of Creed in North America, the Rebels managed to hit #18 on the U.K. charts for their most recent single, the dirty gem "Spread Your Love."
Perhaps being exposed to forward thinking noisemakers like Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine in the past has made our English colleagues more open to such things, but whatever the case, Hayes is at a loss to explain it.
"It's a lot more compact over there," he says. "And the main music paper is the main music paper and people are into it [NME are big BRMC supporters]. Here, Rolling Stone is advertising movies as much as music and it's not really a top place to get into.
"Maybe it's just different cultures. I don't know if people there respect it more. Maybe they're just into it. It's not as spread out in a weird way like in America. It's not such a big extreme like here where the south only likes country and the east and west like certain things..."
The video for the aforementioned "Spread Your Love" caused a bit of consternation for the band's record label considering it was based on footage of an illegal backyard party the band were hosting.
"This is actually what we wanted to do for 'Love Burns' and we felt horrible the way 'Love Burns' went down," says Hayes. "We wanted to be playing music and having drinks and having fun. [For 'Love Burns'] a bunch of fans came out for free in the middle of nowhere and we wanted to play 'em some music and put on a show. What happened was every time a take was done we were told to shut up because some guy was getting paid $10,000 to hold a camera."
Instead, they used the backyard party as an excuse to create the new video. For added outlaw effect, they were also going to use the show to collect bail money for fairweather friend Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Newcombe was in jail at the time for his part in a bar brawl.
"We basically wanted to try it again on our own so we threw a party and at the same time Anton had been put in jail. So, we were like, 'Maybe we could play for him...' but he was already out of jail by the time the party started. He was there walking around," says Hayes. "It turned into madness where the record company didn't want anything to do with it. They told everybody to get out before it all went bad and someone died. We had no insurance so they didn't want to get involved in that at all. They've got insurance to worry about I guess... someone gets sued if something happens."
Hayes, who used to play in BJM, has something of a peculiar relationship to his former boss. Though "Free Anton" may have been a theme for the party, the two bands don't get on that well, with Newcombe going so far as to conduct some mocking BRMC banter while playing a Toronto show some months ago.
"Yeah, he doesn't like us much. But you can't please everybody. Tell Anton I said 'Hi.'"
Of course, Anton's presence wasn't the only drama at the video shoot. Take Peaches' attempt to do a set of her patented electro-smut, for example.
"She tried to play," says Hayes. "But we had a second stage where she was playing in another backyard and the p.a. wasn't all that good so it was pretty hard for her. Rough sounding. The power went out during the second or third song and then she just left. She could have stuck around for some of the party but she was just gone, just walked off and said forget about it.
"I guess she wasn't mad though. It was the weirdest timing in the world. The song started and she shouted out, 'You wanna see a rock show?!' and the power just — bam — went."