Psych album of the week: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s B.R.M.C. (2001)

The band creates memorable tunes that swagger and will themselves into existence despite changing musical trends—pretty much what rock ‘n’ roll is all about


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's sonic world includes a fondness for vintage hollow-bodied Gibson and Epiphone guitars and basses, alternate tunings, and stereo amp rigs.


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are based on the partnership between founding members bassist/guitarist Robert Levon Been and guitarist/bassist Peter Hayes. Their sound is part garage rock and part psychedelic drone with a dollop of shoegaze wall-of-noise on top. Their sonic world includes a fondness for vintage hollow-bodied Gibson and Epiphone guitars and basses, alternate tunings, and stereo amp rigs. They also trade off lead vocal duties and regularly swap instruments and sides of the stage.

Like their psych-rock revival cousins the Black Angels, BRMC lean on two tempo ranges to get their message across: numbing 75-85 beats per minute stoner rock grooves and raging 120+ bpm barn-burners. 

BRMC burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, hyped up by Noel Gallagher and fawning reviews by the NME. Some find their brand of reverb-soaked, retro-rock uninspired and one-dimensional. However, their longevity alone—they’ve been around for two decades—is a clue that something good is going on, and as shown on their 2001 debut B.R.M.C., what is going on is good songs. 

Brisk and aching

The album opens with the brisk and aching “Love Burns”. Aggressive strumming underpins the song, and the chorus features a sing-along hook: “Now she’s gone, love burns inside of me”. Devon-raised drummer Nick Jago brings a U.K. connection to the band’s DNA and his stomp grooves and minimalist beats are the perfect foundation for the group’s American lo-fi rock meets Jesus and Mary Chain sound. 

“Red Eyes and Tears” is a slow-burn number with roaring guitar breaks and an irresistible head-bobbing & hypnotic feel.

“Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll (Punk Song)” is an instant classic that rages along at 145bpm and remains a staple in their setlists to this day.  It reveals the band’s earnest longing for more rocking days of yore: “I fell in love with the sweet sensation/I gave my heart to a simple chord/I gave my soul to a new religion/Whatever happened to you?/Whatever happened to our rock ‘n’ roll?/ Whatever happened to my rock ‘n’ roll?”

Drifting dreamily

“Awake” drifts along dreamily and “As Sure As the Sun” slows things down even more. Hayes capos his bass and creates a wonderful looping line while Been accompanies himself on guitar and plays the blame game: “And all the time/I thought your words were mine/You held me down/As sure as the sun”. 

“Spread Your Love” may be BRMC’s best-known song. Hayes and Been trade verses over a bouncing feel that incorporates Hayes’ guitar and harmonica breaks. 

“Head Up High” is another languid, dream-like number with a trademark Hayes bass loop. Been is found pulling himself up out of a failed relationship: “This song is not about you but the life that stands without you/Your body and blood, your body and blood, you’re leaving us all/I keep my head up high to ease my mind of all these true sensations.”

Closer “Salvation”, is a trance-like meditation that fades out understatedly: “So Jesus left you lonely, feels like nothing’s really holy/No one, no one hears your calling, falling, everything is falling/Do you feel alive? Can you feel alive?”

After three more albums, Jago abdicated his throne in 2008. Leah Shapiro of the Raveonettes stepped up to fill the void, where she still remains. 

Behind their irony-free, leather-clad image, and sunglasses-at-night poses, Been and Hayes’ hearts remain firmly pinned on the sleeves of their worn jackets. The two musicians and songwriters have carved out their own place in the rock world. They create memorable tunes that swagger and will themselves into existence despite detractors and changing musical trends.  Which is pretty much what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. 


Been was going by Robert Turner for the first two BRMC albums to distance himself from his father, Michael Been. He was the leader of the ’80s band The Call, most famous for their song “Let the Day Begin”. Been Senior ended up working with his son’s band, engineering studio sessions and doing live sound.  Regrettably, he passed away after a BRMC show while on tour in Belgium in 2010.

Sonic psych-out

At 3:06 of “As Sure As the Sun”, Been snaps on his tremolo pedal at the climax of a lead line. The tortured flutter that winds down, out of sync with the beat, is a wonder to behold.

In their own words

“The usefulness of the ban has run its course. I’m not sure it had a whole lot of usefulness. I’m not sure what age it would be, it doesn’t seem to matter, drinking is 21, kids are doing it whatever the age. The U.S. is pretty puritan, there’s this under and overtone of religion that’s so stifling it keeps these things a mystery. Making it legal is fine. That’s a good step to take the mystery out of it. If you take the mystery out of it for kids, that’s better…more information, the better.”  (Peter Hayes, speaking in 2016 about legalizing cannabis)

“We started with the demo. At the same time, we were playing a ton of shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco—we developed very fast as a live act and we wrote a lot of songs. We soon got a lot of attention from the record companies. We were able to do the music the way we wanted to—we produced the record ourselves because it felt right.”  (Robert Been, 2001)

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