The opening track of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s new album is like an incantation – a kind of droning necromancy that you can breathe in to ready you for the Wrong Creatures journey. “The real version of that song is eight-and-a-half minutes long,” Robert Levon Been smiles. “We almost started the record with an eight-minute instrumental, which we thought was a great idea. Kind of last minute, people started getting scared. Big ideas, I guess – focusing in and focusing out at the same time. There was something we touched on with the Specter at the Feast album, that felt like we almost got there.”
Specter is the 2013 precursor to Wrong Creatures, and was written during a time of awful upheaval for the San Fran three-piece: Robert’s father Michael Been – the group’s longtime producer, live technician and mentor – had just passed away from a heart attack while on tour with the band. Specter explored the ensuing emotional disorder, and Wrong Creatures seems to extend the invitation, offering grief an almost merciful, permanent place to rest.
“It’s like knowing what the climax of a movie’s going to be but you have no idea how it gets there”
While slow, macabre and terrifyingly beautiful, you’ll also find the dirty Black Rebel spirit in tracks like first single Little Thing Gone Wild, with its relentless drive and rattlesnake vibraslap. “It’s a strange song that I didn’t know was ever going to have the right place,” says Been. “I’m proud of it because it took six years to create. It started off as this jam – it was 50 seconds long, it was just an instrumental. Then that scream, ‘Little thing gone wild, little thing gone wild…’ I kind of fell in love with the idea of that, and had no song around it. So I tried to reverse-engineer- Frankenstein this song by thinking everything backwards. It’s like knowing what the climax of a movie’s going to be but you have no idea how it gets there. That one was done outside of how a lot of the other ones were created.”
The eerie and impish Circus Bazooko was written in a more natural fashion. It utilises these chromatic steps up and down the scale – you can hear the effect in single King Of Bones too – and towards the end there’re dual vocals: one a jungle bird squawk, the other a deep tiki growl. “Well, it’s creepy – that’s one thing we’ve never had to fight to do,” Been laughs. “I think Circus was the thing [on which] we let ourselves be the creepiest. As soon as we start playing it, one of us will start doing this silly dance… it was nice not to hide that though, and just be the weirdos we are. Also, it’s weirdly personal, because it’s horribly heartbreaking. It’s about feeling very out of place and isolated in your own mind.”
The crown jewel of the album is Echo: its bass and guitar lead lines’ interplay is integral to its charm, with spirit-chatter in the background and cello lines bending away from one another. Been says that those strings are the work of a friend of past bandmember Nick Jago, whom the guys told: “Don’t do anything that sounds too good.” They were after a “non-typical” approach; Been mentions Mica Levi’s score for Under The Skin, and admits there’s something of a homage to Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side in there too. “Some songs, just the first couple of seconds, are incredible… it’s like it doesn’t even have to get to the words,” he says. “I actually love that more than the song. It’s something magical that can happen right when you put some [song] on and your whole body feels better… I can’t explain it.”
As we realise we’re close to the anniversary of Lou Reed’s death (he passed in 2013), Been laments the difficulty in registering the passing of your heroes. “It’s hard to pay mind, and, I don’t know… understand what we lost,” he says. “In some way, I guess the positive side is that you do hopefully get to remember them and see them, feel their spirit in a different way. Detached from the present, or taking it for granted.”
Wrong Creatures is out January 12 via Inertia.