This Election Day eve, co-headliners Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979 will be taking their signature brands of straightforward, take-no-prisoners rock n’ roll to The Fillmore. A few songs in each band’s catalog (for instance, BRMC’s “US Government” and DFA’s “Government Trash”) highlight various issues in the American government and political system, but both bands chalk it up to their penchant for honesty rather than a deliberate attempt at the soapbox.
“Those songs came the same way a love song would come, where you don’t expect it but that’s where you were at at the time. I like any song that is speaking honestly and not sort of planned, that’s the music I like the most whether it’s any type of subject, and I trust those songs more just personally, they had impact at the time, and now especially when politics is sort of at a fever pitch that I’m kinda waiting and wondering when [the next song] will make itself shown,” says Robert Levon Been, guitarist and singer of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Sebastien Grainger, drummer and singer for Death From Above 1979, agrees that these songs are influenced most by the world around them. “We were recording ‘Government Trash’ the day the Boston bombing happened, we were getting the news as we were recording that song. That violence and tribalism is what’s still going on, that’s really the crux of the whole thing…and now there’s the tribalism between black youth and cops, and the tribes between Republicans and Democrats, and everyone’s picking these definitive sides and it’s very primal. It’s weird because most of my life I felt detached from those conversations and society in a way, because being in music you sort of live in this alternate universe, but more and more I feel connected to other people”.
It is this sincerity that has made both bands popular over the years. Death From Above and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are both legacy acts with careers spanning roughly two decades, but the two took different paths to get there. BRMC took the more orthodox route, releasing seven albums and gradually building up a loyal, international fanbase.
“It’s strange that one record might really tap into something in a certain place,” Been explains. “We toured for a full year in the US before our first record even came out abroad and we thought we were gonna be dropped from the label because we were doing pretty bad over here, then all of a sudden it blew up abroad in the UK. Then we released [2005 album] Howl which is the more American rootsy album and all of a sudden we were loved more in the States again, but Europe loves the last record. It’s so random because you think people are either gonna like it or not like it but it’s not that way, it’s been the weirdest part of putting out music: you just never know.”
Meanwhile, Death From Above took a different approach. After releasing their debut album You’re a Woman, I’m A Machine in 2004 to critical acclaim, the band disbanded in 2006. Grainger pursued a solo project, while bassist Jesse Keeler continued his work as half of the electronic duo MSTRKRFT, before Death From Above reformed in 2011.
Death From Above is still busy touring their second and most recent album, 2014’s The Physical World. Notorious for their heavy and mosh-worthy live shows, Death From Above is also known for their unusual stage setup; Keeler is able to roam the stage freely on bass, while Grainger does double duty commanding the set and the vocals.
“It’s an interesting idea,” notes Grainger. “Jesse is such a good performer that he can play and be all over the place and dance and headbang, when I look at it objectively he’s sorta the mascot of our band; if you look at our logo he has the same haircut and features so he looks like the cartoon character. The enthusiasm he brings supplements the fact that I’m shackled behind this archaic instrument.”
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will be using this tour to continue promoting their last studio release, 2013’s Specter At The Feast before they put the final touches on their currently unannounced upcoming album. Though BRMC fans don’t know much about the new project as of now, Been hopes to test out some of the songs the band has been working on as they’re out on the road. “We’re recording and writing right now and trying to get as much of the record done before the tour starts. It’s a good timing to get to play some things and get an initial reaction so we can do a little more after the tour. It’s nice to keep working and playing instead of relying on the back catalog”.
Of course, both acts are looking forward to seeing their Philly fans and treating them to another wild, unabashed performance. “Philly’s always been a really cool spot for us”, says Grainger. “I remember playing a few shows at [First Unitarian] and I have really fun memories of Philly. It’s a cool town!” As for Been and the rest of BRMC, a Philly visit is a bit more personal. “We’ve got a lot of friends out [in Philly]. There’s a band called The Cobbs who took us in when we were making our third album Howl and [sixth album] Beat The Devil’s Tattoo so we recorded a lot of those albums out there. They’re a good connection and they’re like family to us so it’s like we get to meet up with the second half of BRMC every time we visit.” No matter what the final results may be on Election Day, November 7 will surely be a can’t-miss night for fans of good old fashioned rock bands.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979 with special guest Deap Vally will be playing The Fillmore on Monday, November 7. Check back to Rock On Philly for information on how you can win your way into the show!