Leah Shapiro, drummer with American rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, chats with Kevin Cooper about her brain surgery, what drew her to the drums, their new album Wrong Creatures and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Leah Shapiro is the drummer with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, an American rock band from San Francisco. She joined the band in 2008 when the band parted company with Nick Jago, who left to concentrate on his solo career.

Other band members include lead vocalist and guitarist Peter Hayes, and Robert Levon Been who plays bass and guitar. Having admitted that they have been influenced by such artists as Lou reed, The Verve, The Rolling Stones and the Jesus And Mary Chain.

They have released seven studio albums; three of them involving Leah. Their last album Specter At The Feast, released in 2013 was very well received and the band are currently working on their latest release, Wrong Creatures which is due for release early next year.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour of the UK, Leah took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Hi Leah how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m doing okay thanks, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s okay it’s my pleasure.

I understand that you used to live here in Nottingham is that correct?

Yes that’s right I actually did live over there in Nottingham for a while. After summer high school in Denmark I attended the Clarendon College for a year on their music programme.

So you will already know all about Rock City then?

Yes I do, of course (laughter).

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that life at the moment is all good. I am a little scatter brained because we are at the moment putting the finishing touches on everything ready for the forthcoming tour and I am also trying to get my head into the fact that I am now once again able to talk about music. I then have to start rehearsing and getting myself in shape ready for the tour but I have to say that at the moment it really feels as though my brain has exploded all over the place (laughter). Although I suppose that is nothing new for me at least. But yes all is well.

You mention that you feel as though your brain has exploded all over the place. In October 2014 you were diagnosed with a brain condition called Chiari Malformations which causes problems with your balance and muscle strength. Thankfully you had successful surgery in November the same year. How is your health now?

Yes it is all well now and even though we went out on tour six months after my surgery it took longer than that for me to feel properly healed. The Doctors always tell you that it takes a certain amount of time but I think that the total amount of time that it should take is when you no longer feel like epic shit (laughter). After that there was still a huge amount of internal healing that needed to happen. Your body has to adjust to whatever major surgery has taken place and I found that takes a little longer but I still feel that it was good for me to do that tour though. I remember at that point that I was feeling really fed up and tired of my life revolving solely around going to physical therapy together with other forms of checkups with numerous Doctors and things like that. And let me tell you it really was not that much fun. Some people will say that it was not the right thing to do, going out on tour only six months after major brain surgery but hey, it worked for me (laughter).

When you got the call to join the band back in 2008, was it an easy decision for you to make?

Yes it was, it totally was. I got the panic call from Robert (Levon Been) the bass player in the band a bit before the tour started and he told me that things with the then drummer Nicholas (Jago) were deteriorating rather quickly and he suggested that I learn the songs for the tour to the point where I would be able to fly over and step in overnight if needed with basically a sound check and a rehearsal (laughter). So I was on standby for a little bit and thankfully they painfully managed to make it through the tour so it wasn’t that much of a chaotic transition even though it was pretty hectic with me not getting to rehearse that much before we went out on a European tour. It was my dream job and I wanted that gig so bad. There is no better band for me to be in and there are no better people for me to be in a band with, and I still to this day feel that way. I really wanted it (laughter).

The new studio album Wrong Creatures has a projected release date of 12th January 2018. Is everything looking good for you to hit that date?

Yes all is good and it will be released on January 12th 2018. Yes it will be (laughter). We are currently just putting the finishing touches on the last few songs and I promise you that it will be on schedule and it will most definitely be out in January. Hopefully people will like it as we have most definitely worked really hard on this album. It has been a slightly longer process because of all of my health stuff. It took a little longer before I was able to work as many hours in one day as I was used to being able to do. Before my heath issues there would be many an eight hour marathon writing session but it took me a while to get back into that. Plus we had a couple of tours here and there so the writing and recording sessions for the album was taking longer and was more scattered. It has been an intense process with lots of good moments with the three of us being totally locked into what we were doing together with moments where we have disagreed and wanted to kill each other (laughter).

Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about the album?

(Laughter) I think that my perspective of the album is probably the worst ever right now because I am so into it. If I had a month to step away from it I would probably look at it differently then but I honestly think that we have made a good record. I feel that it is perhaps a little bit darker in its energy than the last record but that wasn’t really a choice that we made, it just happened that way. There is one song in particular on the album that we recorded during the sessions for the last record but it wasn’t quite right so didn’t make it onto Specter At The Feast. Thanks to Robert we revisited the song and he was the one who pushed really hard for us to try and nail that song. It always had potential but we had worked it to death the last time around so we were all hesitant and already sick of it (laughter). I think that song had traumatised us a little bit but in the end it actually came out good. It’s the first track on the album and it is called Spooks. Some of the other tracks on the album started off whilst we were away on the Specter At The Feast touring cycle here in the USA about a year ago now.

You have mentioned the last album Specter At The Feast and I have to say that personally I feel that it shadows a softer side to the band. Would you agree with that?

Yes I think it had a softer side and I also think that it had a really aggressive side to it with some of the songs. There are some pretty angry songs on that album which came out of us having gone through some tremendous mood swings. I can remember that some days back then we would show up for rehearsals and all that we would want to play was swingy, psychedelic music that was very soft and rolling whilst other days we would all just come in there full of primal anger and that is where songs such as Rival and Teenage Disease came from. They came out of those days when we were a little bit more pissed off with the world (laughter). I guess that the new album doesn’t have that schizophrenic nature to it (laughter). I am curious to see what other people think because I am so in the middle of everything that my perspective is naturally going to be completely different to someone who is listening to the album with fresh ears.

What was it like working with producer Nick (Nicolas) Launay?

Nick is such a lovely guy. He is super sweet and he brought that element of sanity to the room that we sometimes need because we are all such perfectionists and we will keep trying to, especially with arrangements, find the right parts to what becomes putting together the puzzle of the song. We will keep going through every single possible option and then some. We will probably cycle through sometimes some of the same things more than once just to be sure. When we started going way overboard with that and we were just heading off towards insanity Nick would be good at stepping in and telling us to stop (laughter). He would tell us to take a step back and listen to what we had already recorded because what we had was good, and that we had to stop destroying ourselves over this because it was already good. I think that is something that we have to learn to do or it is going to be necessary for us to have some sort of voice of reason that comes into the writing process at some point that lets us know ‘you guys are ready to go into the studio, record it and forget it’ (laughter). But being honest with you we are not too good at that (laughter).

You will be here in Nottingham at Rock City on Friday 3rd November. Is Rock City a must play venue for you?

Yes it is; I mean that it is and it is the only venue that I have ever been in up there in Nottingham. I have played a few smaller clubs in Nottingham before my BRMC days but since I joined the band back in 2008 it is the one club that we always seem to return to in Nottingham. I like it, it’s a dirty old rock club and it doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t know how it is in the UK but over here there are a lot of chains who put on shows and they can get sterile, they all look the same, they crank up the air conditioning too much and it’s too cold in there; it feels as though you are playing in a cold office space; it’s weird. I have no idea as to why they would do that to a music venue, be a little more nasty (laughter). We recently played a few gigs at The House Of Blues venues throughout the States and they all look completely identical when you step in there. Touring can get like Groundhog Day already but when you are in a venue in a different city everyday but they look identical then I really do start to get pissed off (laughter).

Was it always going to be a career in music?

(Laughter) well I sort of have an education but there really wasn’t much of a back-up plan (laughter). I finished high school in Denmark and then I spent a year in Nottingham before I went over to the USA where I got a bachelors degree. However, as soon as I graduated I panicked because at that point I thought that people would be expecting me to get a job. I did at one point have an office job in Times Square of all fucking places, and I remember stepping out from the subway and a dead bird just dropped from the sky right in front of me and I felt that was some sort of a sign (laughter). At that point I thought no matter what it takes I could hustle but I couldn’t do this. It felt to me as though a series of random events were telling me what to do with my life, or more to the point what not to do with my life (laughter).

What was it that drew you to the drums?

I always say that it was the drums that kind of picked me (laughter). There was nothing in particular that made me go ‘wow that would be so cool’ or ‘that seems like the thing for me’ I just kind of out of the blue started to be interested in the drums. I hadn’t been playing music or anything, I had always loved music but I hadn’t been playing up until all of a sudden my two friends made plans to go over to Nottingham and study on a one year music programme at the Clarendon College. I didn’t know what to do after high school; I was kind of at a loss so I signed up and started playing. That was kind of it (laughter). At that time my brother was living in New York so I went over and learnt how to play because I had to, because I was on my way to music school (laughter). I found this great drum teacher over in New York who I would meet with four times a week who really did set me up with a good start.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh fuck, I honestly have no idea (laughter). I was mostly listening to my dad’s vinyl collection as I was growing up and he had a huge collection of Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Doors, all of that older stuff. So I went through his vinyl collection a lot when I was younger but I just don’t have a memory of going out and buying a CD. I vaguely remember being really young and I would run home for lunch during lunch hour in school and I would head bang along to Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine and then I would run back to school (laughter).

On that note Leah let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great.

Thanks Kevin, you take care and I will see you at Rock City.