Interview by Deb Draisin
Photos courtesy of Tessa Angus
A new album from the Bay Area’s Black Rebel Motorcycle
Club (so named, for the uninitiated, after Marlon Brando’s
infamous gang in “The Wild One”) is no short
gesture. The band took a five-year recording hiatus after
releasing 2013's Specter at the Feast, the band’s
send-up to singer Robert Been’s father, their sound
manager and mentor). The hiatus was taken in order to allow
drummer Leah Shapiro to overcome her struggle with complications
from Chiari Malfunction (which she discusses at length here.)
The ten-year old trio is now back at full strength, and
making the rounds in support of their January release of
Wrong Creatures (Vagrant,) which they refer to as a collection
of song snippets which finally found their way into fruition.
Jersey Beat was honored to grab a few moments with guitarist
and co-founder, Peter Hayes, as the band prepares to make
a rare New Jersey appearance at Jersey City's White Eagle
Hall on Friday, May 11.
Deb Draisin caught the band as they were setting up to perform
at the Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta (hence the background
Q: (as the golf cart driver is overheard announcing to
the band that they are in for a bumpy ride) Do you prefer
to playing big festivals, or would you rather a small club
show - or perhaps an arena?
PH: I used to judge them all is if they belonged anywhere
near each other, but I don’t think they do –
they’re very different animals. I enjoy them each
in their own ways. I’ve always felt, though, that
festivals should be more like a juke box. I really would
like to see that happen, where everybody who buys a ticket,
for whomever they want to see, they can dial in and just
request the songs of the bands that they most want to see.
For the bands whom they don’t want to see, they can
just pick up one or two songs. That could be kind of fun,
Q: That actually sounds amazing. I wish they were like that.
PH: Yeah, that’s the thing about festivals: attendees
want to have a good time, but they don’t necessarily
know who they want to listen to, or where to find them.
This could help out with that. Maybe someday, it’ll
Q: That would be sick. Okay, so the band has stated that
Wrong Creatures is, essentially, a collection of ideas –
both older and newer – which the band finally sat
down and finished. Which song, for you, has had the coolest
evolution, and why?
PH: Hm…I guess I’d go with the one that came
the smoothest and the quickest, which is “Night Configuration.”
That one, as a jam, was longer (maybe an hour), but the
parts really came together in the studio – melody,
guitar parts – without talking, or even thinking.
Yeah, that one was the smoothest – and it kinda came
across that way on the album, too, hopefully?
Q: As opposed to the ones which gave you a bit of a struggle,
I guess? We’ll get to those. I really wanted to ask
you guys this: the band really stuck by Leah while she was
battling complications from chiari malformation –
which a friend of mine actually has, so that was close to
PH: Oh, wow…
Q: Mm-hm. Not every band would have done what you guys did,
for her. What has made you feel the most proud of her throughout
all of this, where you just thought “Wow, you’re
an amazing person, and I really want to back you”?
PH: Well, throughout the whole “Specter” tour,
she was just struggling, as far as lights would go, and
never being able to be comfortable onstage – it was
really affecting her. It was hard just seeing her struggle,
knowing that something was up, but not understanding what
- wondering “Is it like OCD? Watch out for that!”
and her saying “It’s not that.” She’d
be playing these shows, saying “I don’t know
what’s wrong with me.” So, she finds out what’s
going on, and that scares the living shit out of everybody,
you know? More so her, but also me - being a band mate,
being a friend. Then she scares the living shit out of us
again by firing right back into playing as quickly as possible.
Her doctor is a fan of music, and actually knew of our band
– he gave her a process of how to get back up and
move. I think it started with maybe a week of two minutes
of a day, just hitting the snare and the kick hard by herself,
with no loud music. Then it became five minutes the next
week, ten minutes the next, twenty the week after that.
Then, we came in, and we’d only do five minutes of
loud music, then ten, then a half hour – week by week.
After about a month or two of this, we went out on the road,
and she was playing, which was just like “Holy fuck.”
Q: That is crazy impressive.
PH: Yeah, she just wasn’t having it, she was like
“I’m fucking doing this”, and she did.
Q: And I don’t think she would have been able to do
it, if you guys hadn’t been patient, and just worked
with her like that. Not every band would have done that.
PH: I guess…I mean, I don’t take much credit
for her work, but yeah, we were supportive. It just didn’t
feel right to start working on music without her. I didn’t
play music at all while that was going on – didn’t
write, probably should have, the album may have come out
more quickly. I should have been working on words or something,
maybe, but, for me, it just felt wrong to do that, knowing
that she was still needing to be in recovery for a while.
Q: I respect that - I think that’s really sweet. So,
Pete, I’ve gotta ask: what the hell type of trouble
can a fourteen-year-old get into to warrant over a year’s
PH: It was drugs - I’ve had drug trouble since I was
thirteen. It was me sneaking out and drinking and smoking
meth, doing LSD – all the shit that was making life
Q: Meth is very hard to get off of – how have you
PH: Well, I’ve battled just about all of them (chuckles).
It’s just kind of an endless process, you know? It’s
about learning yourself: where that lack of self-confidence
stems from. For me, I’m adopted, and I come from a
broken home within that – that stuff plays into your
self-worth, and drugs are self-medication, that’s
what it comes down to.
Q: So what are you self-medicating with now? (both laugh.)
PH: Right now, I’m sticking to cigarettes, but I’m
trying to cut back down.
Q: Everything is a process. One step at a time.
PH: God, I just read this thing – I think it was in
The New York Times, listing the twenty-five top things which
will give you cancer. The top one was sugar, then meat,
then cancer, then processed meats and foods. This, to me,
means that meat belongs around second or third, pushing
cigarettes even further down (giggles.)
Q: And sugar is my number one addiction, so I’m pretty
screwed if I don’t start laying off.
PH: Ah, I don’t know. Hopefully, in time, we’ll
look back at ourselves as a culture and say “Yeah,
we were all being pretty foolish back then,” but we
have to get to that point. That’s going to take time
and the evolution of our healing capabilities.
Q: Well, based upon the evidence we have in The White House
right now, I’d agree that we definitely need some
more evolution, that’s for sure (both laugh.)
PH: You know, I wasn’t actually surprised that he
Q: No, I wasn’t either.
PH: I do feel bad about the way they turned Hilary into
such an evil person - I don’t think that’s necessarily
true -.and people fell for that.
PH: It was obvious that people didn’t want the usual.
Republican / Democrat wasn’t really working. Trump
happened to put himself onto that ticket, but he was kinda
Q: Himself. He represents himself.
PH: Yeah, he’s selling the bullshit, fake “American
dream”, which I think is horseshit, but people fall
for that. But I do see a little bit of hope down the way,
that maybe this gives another chance for a Third Party to
get in there, since people really do want this change -
a Bernie Sanders, a Green Party candidate, whatever the
Q: Oh, I would love that so much. We need that breathe of
fresh air. We need a person who remembers that there’s
more than one type of American - that would be really lovely.
Someone who recognizes that the voting bloc also consists
of women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, immigrants,
other religions, and not just a bunch of straight, Christian
white guys from the Midwest.
PH: Absolutely. I’ve got a bit of hope that that door
has now been opened.
Q: Peter, I hope you’re right.
PH: Hopefully. I don’t know, it’s scary that
this has turned into sort of a…
Q: Shit show?
PH: Well, a joke, but a scary joke. All of this Right Wing
Q: It’s very Fascist.
PH: Yeah, it’s spooky that it’s swung that far.
Hopefully, that goes away.
Q: Hopefully, the pendulum swing back the other way. Anyway,
switching gears: are the new jams being well-received on
the road so far? Do the crowds know the words yet?
PH: Yes, I think? I’m actually interested in seeing
the reviews from what we did last night. We had been doing
two-hour shows, which gives people a lot of older songs
along with the new album. But, last night, we did an hour
show, with a good chunk of mostly new stuff – I’m
curious to see how angry people are (laughing.)
Q: “Fuck those guys – I’m never spending
my money on them again!”
PH: But it’s been cool. It’s always surprising
- but always a nice thing - seeing which songs fans choose
to latch onto that maybe you weren’t expecting.
Q: What do you think they’re latching onto this go-round?
PH: They’re reacting a lot to “Question of Faith”,
“Carried From the Start,” and “Circus
Bazooko” Not sure about “Spook” –
we’ve been opening with that. You have these talks
with record companies slash managers, trying to pick singles.
Then you get out on the road, and you see what people latch
onto, and you wind up coming back and saying “Hey,
how about making a video for this one? People seem to be
Q: You never know how well something is going to be received,
or why, and it may not be the one that you thought it was
going to be.
PH: Yeah, that seems to be kinda how it’s always worked,
with us (chuckles.) You figure it out on the road.
Q: You don’t know what’s going to resonate with
somebody, and you don’t know what’s making it
do so. It may not come from the same place that you were
in when you wrote and recorded it. I’ve heard a lot
of artists actually say that, once a song is out there,
it doesn’t belong to them anymore, and it’s
not theirs to interpret.
PH: There’s a definite truth to that, yeah. For me,
just to make it interesting, I find different ways to interpret
each song, each night. That keeps things fresh for me, so
I don’t get too bored of a song.
Q: You know, I’ve always wondered about that: if bands
get tired of playing the same songs over and over again,
but that’s a good strategy, actually.
PH: I’ve probably said this before, but something
like “Punk Song - Whatever Happened to My Rock N Roll?”
is a personal song as much anything. It’s asking myself
that question, literally, what the fuck happened to myself.
Like, “I don’t even talk about rock n’
roll some nights, what the fuck’s happened to me?
(laughs.) But it’s right fucking here, I’m playing
it.” On other days, it’s different.
Q: “Who am I?” Well, you’ve always been
described by your bandmates, and by interviewers, as “The
Quiet One”. I do see why, but I would say “The
Mellow One”. Are you just taking it all in, or quietly
PH: Quietly plotting.
PH: You know, some guy said that to me – I actually
kinda took offense to it. He told me “You seem to
be careful with your words; are you scared of saying something?”
I looked at him like “What the fuck do you mean by
that?” (both laugh.) I mean, I’m trying to be
Q: Yeah, I would’ve said that you’re measuring
your words because you’re thinking through what you’re
saying as you’re saying it, not that you’re
avoiding anything. I mean, it’s not like I’m
asking you Brian Jonestown Massacre questions, or questions
about Nick that you might want to avoid – and I don’t
like to do that sort of stuff in my interviews, anyhow,
PH: I don’t necessarily avoid it. I can say that would
be obvious, if a question like that was to come up, I would
Q: No comment.
PH: No comment, yes (laughs.)
Q: Stands on its own laurels, nothing else needs to be said.
PH: No need to dance around it.
Q: Alright, so “Storytellers” time – I
like to do this with my artists. Can you share an interesting
tidbit from the “Wrong Creatures” recording
sessions? A fun anecdote, a weird moment, an interesting
PH: I guess I would say…it’s a little similar
to Specter. The dude that helped us with Specter –
Chris Goss, I believe his name was – he’s a
pretty laid-back dude, like “Just do as you do,”
you know? That really gave us the confidence to just trust
ourselves. With (Wrong Creatures producer) Nick Launay,
he came at it a little bit differently while trying to propose
the same thing. Like: “Here’s an option: maybe
if this was a little shorter, it would make more sense to
me, but do what you do. I like what you do, people like
what you do, trust yourself.” Even when it came to
mixing, and things like that. I don’t know if that
counts as an anecdote, but…
Q: Well, how do you find advice like that from a producer
to be? I wouldn’t know how to interpret that if I
were sitting in your shoes, you know? I’d be like
“Are you basically passive-aggressively nudging me
in the direction of shortening my song, but wanting me to
decide that on my own, or are you saying to leave it longer?”
PH: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Well, the brain goes right to the
paranoid, hearing “Yeah, that’s really great,
but maybe if you did this…”
Q: “But you do you, Man - whatever you think is best.”
I’d have so much self-doubt, like “Maybe I should
PH: It’s interesting how that doesn’t get easier
with time, either, but that’s okay. It’s alright.
Q: I’ve heard that the self-doubt is always there,
and the stage fright too. You would never know it, but a
lot of artists are actually nervous wrecks.
PH: Yeah, the stage fright – that’s never gone
Q: It’s crazy, you would think it would over time,
but it doesn’t?
Q: What do you to cope with stage fright?
PH: I do different things, I go through stages. Sometimes,
I’ll sage whatever room I’m standing in, which
kinda forces me to settle myself. I’m not sure how
much I believe about it washing off the negativity of the
day, but, you know…
Q: You do like a mental sweep?
PH: It helps me get more into a centered kind of state,
like “I’m just doing music here, if I fuck up,
I fuck up. If people don’t like it, that’s okay
– people have not liked it before, it’s no big
Q: You know what’s funny? Unless like it’s a
dropped lyric, or something that’s really obvious,
even with bands that I’ve seen enough times live that
I know all the songs by heart, and I know when to clap and
all that, I generally do not notice a musical error until
the artist points it out themselves, for what that’s
worth. The artist’s reaction is the clue that they’ve
dropped a chord or something. You actually won’t realize
that from the audience - just so you know.
PH: That’s usually why we’re laughing onstage:
we’re looking at each other like “Well, that
was a good fuck-up.”
Q: Some artists have talked about using a dead mic to critique
each other so we can’t hear the conversation from
the pit. Okay, we actually started to talk about this earlier:
I do have a “Question of Faith” question. How
would you characterize the line “I’ll give you
what you want, if you promise you’ll keep walking
PH: What does it mean to me?
PH: It’s about what somebody needs from you –
what they want you to be, as a human, what they think you
should be. How far along you are in your process of becoming
an adult – it’s coming from that, a little bit.
There a few other things wrapped up in that, but that’s
the simplest way to put it. “I’ll say what you
need for now, just make sure you get out of my way for a
while, at the same time.”
Q: Fair enough. How about this one, from “Haunt”:
“It’s all I can leave you, Babe, ‘cause
the world was never yours”?
PH: Oh, that might have been a Rob lyric. I don’t
think he’d mind me saying this: the working title
of that song was “Cohen Haunt”. We’re
all big fans of Leonard Cohen. That’s where that was
coming from. As far as that particular line goes, there
are a lot of those themes in both of our writings. The way
that I mean it, and the way that I take it, when he says
it, is remembering that the world is not mine. My opinion
- my viewpoint - of how I think things should be, and ought
to be, isn’t necessarily right, and neither is yours,
and it’s important to remember that. Nothing really
belongs to us: not even the people we love.
Q: That’s so true. So, let’s round up the interview
by having you do an inside joke shout-out to each of your
band members? And an inspirational word to your fans?
PH: Let’s see…I guess for Leah, it would be
“Your rack tom’s fine. It’s placed just
right.” Where it’s sitting is just fine, she
doesn’t need to move it anymore - it’s never
in the right place. I guess for Rob…Leah’s talking
in my ear right now, she says “Tell him that the other
distortion sounds just fine too.” As for the fans,
no encouraging words at all, we’re dark like that
(laughs.) No, I’m just kidding! Mostly - and I know
it’s corny - but I just want to say thank you for
allowing me to get through everything by playing. We may
not be selling any cds, but at least we’re able to
get up there every night and scream it all out.
Q: And have lots of people screaming along with you, that’s
the best part. Now go take advantage of that free barbecue,
since you don’t get to eat that often. Thank you for
PH: (chuckles) Okay, hopefully! Thank you.
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