Interview: Leah Shapiro Of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – November 2, 2016
Leah Shapiro Of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
By Todd Stevens.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Leah Shapiro from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The BRMC is on tour with Death From Above 1979. Sit back and get to know BRMC!
Indie Minded: How did the band meet?
Leah Shapiro: Okay, Rob and Pete went to the same high school; they grew up in the Bay area, something like that. I met the guys on the Baby 81 tour when I was living in New York at the time and I was working with a band called The Dead Combo. We opened up for them so that how I met them.
IM : Cool.
IM: How did the band get its name?
LS: There’s a film called “The Wild Ones” with Marlon Brando in it and it was the name of one of the biker gangs in the movie. So that’s where it came from. It’s a pretty cool movie. Check it out!
IM: I’ve actually seen it!
IM: Do you guys ride motorcycles?
LS: Yes, I actually ended up riding because I couldn’t afford a car when I moved to LA. So, you really can’t live there without some sort of transportation with an engine. I’ve upgraded to a car since then. It gets a little dangerous riding in LA, people drive like shit (laughs). The other guys ride too.
IM: How’s the music scene in LA?
LS: Oh God. I don’t really know? We’ve been home for a while, well since I’ve been more or less recovered, we’ve been writing and I can’t process too much other music or too much other input to my brain because it makes it harder for me to write. I think there’s a lot of good bands out there. Deap Valley, the band that we are touring with is awesome. They’re an LA band. I’m actually in their dressing room, so I should do a shout out (laughs). There was a band that was called Restaurant, they changed their name and I can’t remember what they changed it to but they’re a great fucking band as well.
IM: If you don’t mind? Could you tell us a little bit about your surgery?
LS: Yeah sure. I had surgery at the end of 2014. I was starting to have some pretty noticeable neurological issues because of Chiari Malformations. So I had brain surgery and it took a good 6 months to recover from. There was a lot of physical therapy. I just somehow happened to find a surgeon that happened to be a fan of the band so he was really helpful in getting me back on the drums in a responsible way. Probably much better than what I could have done for myself. He put together a 4-week drum rehab program and helped me out a lot with that. I got really lucky with that. I talk to him every once in a while. He’s great.
IM: When did you first start playing an instrument?
LS: When did I first start? I was kinda old actually, 17 or 18, I think. I grew up in Denmark so it was while I was still living there. Then I moved from there to England, then from there to Boston and from Boston to New York and now I’m in LA.
All because of the drums.
IM: Wow, that’s awesome.
IM: What bands have you played in?
LS: Dead Combo when I met the guys, and the Raveonettes.
IM: How does the band create music? How does it work?
LS: We write everything in our rehearsal studio, like loud and live which is good for capturing a certain energy versus writing in a recording studio which a little stressful because its so fucking expensive. But we kinda go over every possible option for arrangement like 10 times over before we settle on things. Usually by the time we go into record drums in the practice studio I’m pretty quick to get all that done and then the rest of the stuff we can kinda use somewhere else in the mix at the expensive studio. But with the drums, you kinda have to have a decent sounding drum room.
IM: Who are your musical influences?
LS: Mmmm. I guess the biggest would be Rob and Pete. Like when we write; a lot of it just comes from our dynamics, whatever our telepathy skills are, if that makes any sense? Rob’s dad Michael Been (The Call), he helped me a lot when I first started with the band. He put me though a bit of a boot camp, he kinda changed my approach to both, the way I drum and to music overall. He taught me how to work on action tracks where I’d have to be pretty much disciplined and more rigid in my drumming. He kinda pushed me into being a lot freer in my playing and being more okay with working in the studio and live and being able to let things go a little bit more. I think he would be the person who has shaped my playing the most, to be honest.
IM: Who are your favorite artists and what are your favorite songs?
LS: My favorite? Oh shit! I don’t know umm. I think it would depend on my mood. Let me try to think about this. As far as record production and especially when it comes to the rhythm section and stuff, I think Tom Waits is always a pretty big inspiration. I like the way he goes about during his records. I love the way he does the drums, a lot of it sounds more like pots and pans buts its just so cool. Nine-Inch Nails. My favorite drummer that’s alive is Josh Freese and I can’t think I’ve my favorite song right now. Sorry. (laughs) I should probably be looking at my iPod or something. I’m totally drawing a blank.
IM: It’s alright, I did put you on the spot. I’m sorry.
IM: What are your favorite concerts?
LS: My favorite concerts? I think when I first started with BRMC we played a festival somewhere on the East Coast. I think it was the Virgin Music Festival (2008), Iggy and the Stooges were there and I watched them side stage. I happened to get really awesome videos from that show. I think that would be one of my all time favorites. This was also fairly early on, we were touring in South America and we were playing around the same time as Nine Inch Nails. We got to go see them in Santiago in Chile and that was an incredible show. And the third one would have to be Yonge in Japan. It was at a festival in Tokyo. That was probably one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen, like every little detail, the playing, and the stage production and everything was so well done. Yeah, it was really amazing.
IM: What are your favorite Black Rebel songs?
LS: I think to play live – “Awake,” probably. It is always pretty drony and trampy and I like playing that song. Also, “Half-State,” although we haven’t played it in awhile. I would probably be a bit rusty with that now. That’s another one that’s really nice and floaty to play.
IM: Is there a new album? Are you guys working on anything?
LS: Yes, what we’ve got is some stuff recorded and we’ve been playing two of our new songs on this tour. The plan is when we come back from this tour, we’re gonna go straight into the rehearsal studio and finish writing up the next batch of songs, then go into recording and production, mixing the songs. I’m not totally sure on when its actually going to be done. It’s kinda hard to stage the sidelines right now, hopefully sooner rather than later. Yeah, we’re working on it! (laughs)
IM: How’s the tour going? When I was supposed to interview you last week, you were at The House Of Blues in Las Vegas, I believe? How’s everything going on down there?
LS: Well, this tour has been great. I think this is probably one of my favorite tours, it’s really nice to play being fully recovered from surgery and also not having any of those neurological issues that make life a little difficult and the bands that I’m with on this tour are awesome bands, everyone from all the bands are so nice, everyone is just so cool. It’s been a great tour. Yeah, I’m pretty happy out here at the moment.
IM: Great. Where are you right now?
LS: I’m in Austin and we’re playing at Stubb’s, which is outdoors. It’s cooling down little bit but it was hot as hell earlier.
IM: What have your travel arrangements been?
LS: How we travel?
LS: We’re on the bus. We have our little sleep shells on the bus. (laughs)
IM: Is it just the three of you or is it beyond that?
LS: No, no there’s a bunch of people, we have … well … everybody who works with us, our techs, our tour manager, sound guys, lights, merch, yeah there’s a whole bunch of people. Like one big, happy, weird family.
IM: How do you make your set lists? How do you guys do it?
LS: We make it rather last minute, which really irritates a lot of people who we work with because it makes their lives a little more stressful. We try to get it done sooner in the day and not freak them out. Yeah, we do change it night to night, there are songs that are favorites, and we have others that are kinda rotated in and out depending. Rob had a pretty bad cold for the past week and it finally seems like its getting better so Pete had to do a lot more singing. And in the beginning it was kind of the opposite, Pete blew his voice out right at the beginning, and Rob had to do a lot more of the singing. Its that kind of stuff that plays its part too. We try to make a good blend from all the records.
IM: Do you have any cover songs?
LS: Oh yeah! “Let The Day Begin,” that’s Rob’s dad’s song. That’s their song. Actually the guitarist from The Call came to the San Francisco show to play the song with us, which was fun. Rob has done a few acoustic cover songs; let me think, “Chelsea Hotel” and “Visions Of Johanna,” by Bob Dylan.
IM: Oh nice, I love that song!
LS: And I vaguely remember, I don’t know why we did it but I think we played it at one point a cover of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” at some show. I can’t remember where or why but I’m pretty sure it happened.
IM: Just a couple more questions. Do you have any special memories with the band?
LS: The first time we went to Japan we had extra time so we rented motorcycles and went on a little adventure. The first time we played China afterwards Rob and I went to Cambodia and rode dirt bikes around in the jungle. And in South Africa, we actually did the same. In Cape Town, we came a week early, rented bikes, and went out exploring. I think taking the time when you go that far to play a show, you’re taking a little bit of extra time to actually get to see something other than wherever than you’re playing than whatever hotel your staying at, it makes it a lot more fun. Then you have the insanely long flight home. (Laughs)
IM: What’s it like in the studio?
LS: Recording or rehearsal studio?
IM: Lets go recording, I guess.
LS: The main thing is getting a studio with a good sounding drum room when we go in to track the drums. I tend do go through it pretty quickly and I try to be as prepared as I can be. It’s pretty expensive and I don’t want to waste a bunch of money. We usually go tracking somewhere else so we aren’t watching the clock all the time and it gets pretty stressful with you know how expensive the studios can be. So yeah, that’s generally how that works. And the bulk, the main writing is done in the rehearsal studio, we’re all in there together, fuckin’ playing loud, going through like a million different arrangements, options for every song a hundred times over. But yeah, that’s more or less our process.
IM: Is there anything that you’d like to add? This is basically your last question so if there’s anything that we haven’t covered and you want to cover it. Here’s your shot.
LS: I think I’m good. I think we covered most of it, all of it. (Laughs)
IM: I think so! It’s been a pleasure to interview you Leah.
LS: Well thank you very much. Thanks for taking the time.
IM: Indie Minded and Todd Stevens Photo thank you for everything. I’ll be at your show at The House of Blues in Boston on November 12th.
LS: Oh cool!
IM: I’ll see you there and hopefully I can meet you.
LS: Yeah, come on by.
IM: Yeah, that’s about it.
LS: I hope you have a good rest of your day and I’ll see you in Boston.
IM: Thank you so much, have a great night.