NEW YORK (Billboard) - “After six months of always pulling back, you just want to slam your fist through a wall,” according to Black Rebel Motorcyle Club’s Robert Levon Been.
He was explaining how, as he and bandmate Peter Hayes worked on BRMC’s third album — the 2005 release “Howl,” a mostly restrained country- and folk-tinged affair that radically departed from previous efforts — the duo’s pent-up energy rose to a threatening boil.
“We burned out on being delicate.”
Once known as a garage-meets-shoegazer-meets-psychedelic rock outfit — thanks to its first two Virgin albums, “B.R.M.C.” and “Take Them On, On Your Own” — BRMC turned its sound on its head with “Howl.”
“‘Howl’ was definitely a test for the fan base,” said Hugh Surratt, senior vice president of creative and marketing for RCA, which signed the group after BRMC and Virgin parted ways following “Take Them On.”
“But,” he added, “the game plan from the moment we signed them was that the band was going to come back after ‘Howl’ with more familiar BRMC sounds.”
New album “Baby 81,” due May 1 in North America and a day earlier in the United Kingdom and Ireland via Island, fulfills that goal. With British-born drummer Nick Jago, who’d quit the band shortly before the split with Virgin, back in the mix, the reconstituted trio returned to its usual business — kicking out the jams.
“‘Howl’ was written on acoustic guitars mostly in bedrooms, outside of the rock ‘n’ roll world, while a lot of ‘Baby’ was written on the road, with the whole band,” Been said. “It’s a completely different outcome because of all that electricity.”
The high-volume, guitar-heavy result has RCA gunning for modern-rock radio, which virtually abandoned the group last time around.
“Howl” has moved 90,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, about 10,000 fewer than either of its predecessors. Surratt said he expects “Baby 81” to surpass all three of BRMC’s previous efforts in terms of sales.
RCA senior director of marketing Brad Oldham acknowledged that “the sound of the record leans toward a broader, more mainstream audience” than BRMC’s first two, but feels “the aesthetic of the band is still indie. The way they tour, their style — they’re still a little bit left of center.”
Oldham said college and “tastemaker” stations remain key, and during a U.S. headlining tour spanning May and June, the band will stick with 1,500- to 2,000-capacity theaters. “That’s a smart move,” Oldham said, “because it’s in line with the venues they played last time. It will help create a high-demand situation.”
But Been isn’t worried about buzz. “A lot of indie bands have that ‘too cool for school’ attitude and I think they’re nitwits,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to fight from the inside out, rather than being cynical from the outside in. It’s much more powerful.”