Q&A: Leah Shapiro of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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Local heroes Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will be headlining a hometown show at The Fillmore in SF on Wednesday, May 23, in support of Wrong Creatures, their eighth full-length studio album, and one that took the band five years to complete. About the record Pitchfork said, “Black Rebel Motorcycle Club don’t sound like a band winding things down on Wrong Creatures.”

From the looks of it, the band doesn’t look like it’s even getting close to winding down any time soon, especially considering the time that these guys spend on the road. They’ve been at it since October of last year, their drummer Leah told us, and San Francisco will be the fifth stop off of their latest trek across the US that will eventually lead them to open for British synth-rock icons Depeche Mode. Here’s more on what Leah and I talked about.

Where are you right now?
Orlando.

Orlando, so you’re getting ready for a show?
Yes, we got in yesterday and had a day off, which is rare.

Is tonight the first show of the tour?
No, we’ve already had four shows, so tonight will be the fifth. We’ve actually been going since October.

Is life on the road for you guys the way the rest of us fantasize it to be? Are you all living that wild rock n roll lifestyle?
No, it’s not like that. I’ve been with the band for 10 years. This Summer will be my 10 year anniversary with the band and I don’t remember ever really being that type of cliche, boring lifestyle. It’s just that we tour so much that it’s not very…I just don’t see how that would be physically possible.

What are some of the challenges of being on the road so much?
I think for me, kinda having to sorta find a healthy way to get your system down back to normal after playing. I tend to not know what to do with myself. Usually, I like to go for a walk or something like that. I don’t know. It can take hours for the adrenaline to die down and be able to go to sleep sometimes. There’s a kind of shift in your whole system that happens because it’s so intense going through the show and your brain is so hyper-focused on everything. Also, the physical wear and tear after a while can be a challenge. But I’ve learned to be a little bit better about warming up and doing cool-down stretches. All that stuff that you’re supposed to do.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

I think especially for you drummers since you suffer so much from tendonitis and carpal tunnel.
I have so many other injuries as it is. I used to be horrible about it, but now especially after having recovered from certain things, it’s become a necessity. If I don’t do it, I pay for it.

What do you think drives you to do it?
I absolutely love it. I can’t in a million years imagine what else I could be doing otherwise. I don’t think I have any other skills (laugh). And there’s also a little bit of the therapeutic element in performing. Especially with the drums. There’s a lot of repetition. If you want to go there it can put your brain in a meditative state. It helps a lot with your sanity. So yeah, I think it helps me in a lot of ways. But, you can make it completely unhealthy too if you want to go down that road (laugh).

What about performing the same songs all the time. Do you have a predefined setlist that you stick to every night or do you leave some room for improv?
We’re not the kind of band that will make a set list before a tour and play the same thing every night. We have some that are set but also have a handful of others that we’ll rotate out, and random ones that will come in a couple of times during the tour. Depending on if we haven’t played a song in say three or four years we have to play it before one or twice to get it back in the system (laugh). But yeah, we try to change it up. Even with the songs that we play every night. They’re never really played exactly the same. It might not be something that you notice as an audience member since it has to do with the feel, the push and the pull of the music and how everything flows within the song. And in certain songs, we improvise certain sections and we just go off.

What do you think your role is as far as being the drummer for BRMC?
Keeping everything glued together I suppose. Making sure that each song the way the tempo feels, giving it a little bit of a push or a pull. Kind of giving the guys the heartbeat of the song in the best way I can. Knowing that they can rely on that and being solid every night.

I think that’s what I really appreciate about your drumming. You play a solid backbeat and not just fills left and right, which I think is needed to really keep songs pushing forward.
I’m glad that you noticed that. It’s one of those things. To me, it’s very subtle. It’s those times when you place minute little hits that make all the difference versus just doing shit all over the place. Like that to me, depending on what kind of music you’re playing, that can easily turn into playing for your own ego rather than the song. That’s my whole approach to drumming. I find it more interesting to get the exact placement of every hit and having the fluidity of the drums just right, rather than just hitting all over the fucking place. I can’t anyway, so … (laugh)

When you guys are writing the material, when do the drums come in? Do you start with a melody, lay down some guitar then a drum beat, or do you start with the drums sometimes?
A lot of time when we write it can be during soundcheck when ideas pop up. We record and come back to them later on and make a song out of it. We’ll even come back to stuff years later. We also spend a lot of time in the rehearsal studio where we just start playing and we don’t really talk too much about what direction we should go. Someone just starts. There’s also been a couple of times where Pete and I will have some random weird drum thing that we’ve recorded but then, later on, it turns into a song. Or I’ve been in the studio alone and just recorded stuff on my cell phone, on my crappy Blackberry, where the distortion itself became the idea for a song.

Let me ask you. This band’s been around for so many years now. What do you think accounts for your guys’ longevity?
A huge reason why bands don’t last that long is because of the relationship between the people. I think it’s really important to put a lot of effort into maintaining that friendship and maintaining respect for everyone that you work with. You really need to continue to inspire each other. I think that you also need to look at those times outside of the band to learn something new about how to work better together. It’s like any relationship. You have to put work into a friendship right?

A lot of the bands that I’ve talked to have told me that being in a band is very similar to being in a marriage.
Yeah, it’s like being in a marriage with too many people! (laugh) What are the divorce rates these days? You multiply it by the number of people involved. So it’s no surprise that so many bands don’t last that long! (laugh)

Check out our review and slideshow of the last BRMC show at the Fox in Oakland HERE.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club plays the Fillmore in San Francisco with Restavrant // Wednesday May 23, 2018 // Doors 7:00 p.m. // Show 8:00 p.m. // Tickets are $35.00 plus applicable charges.

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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