You’d think a rock musician as accomplished as Peter Hayes would be a bit… excitable?
But when I recently asked the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club singer/guitarist about his band — which plays the Majestic on Wednesday night — and the five years between their last album and 2018’s Wrong Creatures, he is almost terminally nonchalant.
“Well, one (thing) was Leah’s surgery. And then we did some touring after.”
He says this as if it was something routine like tonsillitis, but that’s hardly the case. Hayes is referring to drummer Leah Shapiro, who in 2014 was diagnosed with a brain condition called Chiari malformations, which affects balance and muscle strength. It’s the type of disorder that could derail any musician, let alone someone as reliant on those things as a drummer.
“She was pushing herself pretty hard,” he says, “probably harder than the doctor wanted.” Because of this, Hayes said he felt almost guilty thinking about the band. “I found myself going to a place that it didn’t feel right to try to play music.”Even so, they were back on the road by that summer, which might be because Black Rebel Motorcycle Club goes through such setbacks almost comically often. Since forming in the late 1990s, they lost a founding member less-than-amicably, they’ve fought a record label, and in 2010 their longtime sound engineer Michael Been, the father of BRMC singer/bassist Robert Levon Been, died of a heart attack. In Europe. While on tour with them.
“We were just in fucking shock,” Hayes says. “We were like, well, we’ll just play and deal with it then. We’ll be in shock together.”
Sharing shock is a common theme in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. They ended up channelling Michael Been’s death into 2013’s Specter at the Feast. And while Hayes says that Wrong Creatures isn’t born of any specific event — skeletons of some songs, like “Haunt,” had been around for a while — the band began work in earnest about a year after Shapiro’s surgery.Tonally, Wrong Creatures is very much the work of a band coming out the other side of something serious. There’s certainly some downer moments — as has always been the case with their particular brand of garage-shoegaze malaise — but much of the album is downright triumphant, such as the cascading wall-of-sound that is “Ninth Configuration.”
Wrong Creatures doesn’t marry itself to one end of the emotional spectrum, and that’s the point. It’s a gauzy, amorphous record, filled with vague, ambling lyrics that, according to Hayes, come as much from necessity as anything.
“I was never very good at telling stories,” he admits. “Mike (Been) used to say, ‘Just because it happened to you, doesn’t mean it’s interesting.’”