I try to keep [rock and roll’s] roots alive.
|Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Tickets|
story by Caroline Evans
photo by Tessa Angus
Talking to Peter Hayes is like talking to a spy who is closely guarding classified state secrets. The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club guitarist and lead vocalist is tight-lipped, secretive and never gives you anything unless you ask for it. And even if you ask for it, he doesn’t always give it to you.
Case in point:
Chicago Innerview: So what are some of your favorite songs on the album?
Peter Hayes: ‘The Toll’ and ‘Aya’.
Chicago Innerview: Why?
Peter Hayes: They captured moments for me personally.
Chicago Innerview: I hate to pry into your personal life, but can you be more specific?
Peter Hayes: No.
To be fair, Hayes doesn’t have to tell me anything. He and his band have been successful enough over the past 11 years that they don’t need someone like me telling you to listen to their new album, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. They’ve survived being dropped by multiple labels, an experience some artists would call frightening, but Hayes calls freeing. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, featuring new drummer Leah Shapiro of The Raveonettes, wrote the album in a friend’s house near Philadelphia. From dawn to dusk, they played music until Beat The Devil’s Tattoo emerged. “It was nice to have that freedom,” Hayes says hoarsely, “the ability to play when you felt like it without the stress or pressure of a label.”
Those familiar with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club canon will recognize the signature droning vocals, dirty guitar distortion and haunted Americana sound. When I remark that it really does sound like the devil’s music, Hayes laughs a little bit. “That’s what they called it back in the day,” he says. “I try to keep the roots alive.”
We chat a little longer, mostly about bands he’s listening to, and he tells me Elvis Presley was a big influence on “Conscience Killer”, but the sore throat he’s nursing seems to render him for the most part unresponsive.
I have interviewed enough musicians over the years to know not to expect most of them to say anything too profound. They are profound in their music; that’s why we love them. I’ve had my share of disappointing and mediocre interviews (usually in cases in which I wasn’t prepared), and I’ve been disillusioned before when interviewing personal heroes. But that doesn’t make them any less musicians or give their music any less worth. Yet, I can’t help being surprised at my disappointment after hanging up the phone with Hayes. Maybe it was the realization that he really didn’t have to tell me anything, that he really didn’t need me, that no musician needs us like we need them.
It wasn’t Hayes’ fault the interview went so poorly. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he had a rough night. Maybe the 27 minutes I had him on the phone weren’t enough. Maybe he just didn’t have any answers.
Simply put, Hayes is one of the greatest rock musicians alive today. He is a legend and an icon to many of our generation. Perhaps it was folly to expect anything more.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club :: Metro :: March 25.