Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been Revisits His Father’s Legacy With the Call

Robert Levon Been plays with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in Nottingham, Eng., March 2013. Photo: Ollie Millington/WireImage

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club singer/bassist Robert Levon Been is part of a rock & roll legacy. His father, Michael Been, was the fiery frontman and bass player for ‘80s cult heroes the Call, whose emotion-packed anthems (“The Walls Came Down,” “Let the Day Begin”) should have made them the American U2 (in fact, Bono guested on their 1990 album, Red Moon). When Robert made his own musical path with BRMC in the early 2000s, Papa Been began traveling with the band as their soundman/guru. In August 19, 2010, Michael Been died of a heart attack while on tour with BRMC in Belgium, pulling the emotional rug out from under the band.

Now Robert is paying back a bit of his debt to his father by fronting a reunited Call for two West Coast shows, the first of which happened last night at Slim’s in San Francisco and the second is tonight at the Troubadour in Los Angeles (there are also plans for a live CD/DVD). The elder Been’s passing casts a long shadow over the new BRMC album, Specter at the Feast, which contains a cover of “Let the Day Begin.” As the band prepares for a U.S. tour, Been shares his thoughts about moving forward.

How did your father start working with the band?

It started off around the second album, we went through four or five different front-of-house sound engineers and we couldn’t find anybody that we felt really got our sound. We asked him at first in a panic … he offered his time to come out and help us on a tour, and it just ended up sounding so good and felt so right that we asked him to do the next leg and the next album and it just carried on from there. He was like a father figure to Peter [Hayes, BRMC singer/guitarist] as well, so it was really good to have someone looking out for us out here… he had some good experience and knowledge of some basic things that were good for keeping our heads on straight, from someone who’s been down that road before.

Did going out on the road with your dad ever make you feel awkward or self-conscious?

He definitely wasn’t like a normal father. He’d hold down the fort, but at the same time, [he was] never the judgmental kind of father. He’d let me take my own falls, and that’s maybe why it worked.

Was he the one who first taught you to play?

When I was like 12 or 13 I picked up the guitar for the first time and I really couldn’t play it at all. He tried to teach me things, but I didn’t have a fundamental understanding of music. He didn’t say it to me, but apparently he told my mother in confidence, “You never have to worry about your son following in my footsteps, because he doesn’t have it, he has no understanding of it.” Thankfully he didn’t tell me that to my face. It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I picked up the bass guitar on my own, and I learned how to play. I taught myself how to do that and he overheard me messing around one day and was really surprised.

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