Music News & Reviews

There is a good reason this drummer doesn't play bass

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

There’s a reason that Leah Shapiro became a drummer rather than playing bass, the instrument that, most often, is played by women in otherwise all-male bands.

“Because I can’t play bass,” she replied laughing. “I actually tried it at one point. It was very clear from the beginning that if I could ever become mediocre, it would be a compliment. When I started playing drums, everything about it felt very natural and I could play very easily.”

The Denmark-born Shapiro said in a recent phone interview that when she was growing up, girls just didn’t think about playing drums.

“A lot it had to do with growing up into the expectations of what things girls are expected to do, that you couldn’t do things that are stereotypically masculine or whatever,” she said. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m seeing more and more young girls and women behind the kit and we are seeing more women getting serious session player gigs. I wouldn’t say it’s even, but it’s a little more.”

Shapiro has played drums for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for a decade, half the lifespan of the rock ‘n’ roll band that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

But that almost came to an abrupt halt four years ago when Shapiro had to have brain surgery.

In Oct. 2014, Shapiro announced that she’d been diagnosed with Chiari malformations -- structural defects in part of the brain and skull that control balance, muscle strength and other functions, such as the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. That discovery came after an MRI.

“The eye doctor (who had ordered the MRI) said ‘You need to find a neuro person to talk to as soon as possible,” she said. “Then I went on Google, on WebMD. Then I freaked out.”

BMRC fans and her bandmates Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been raised more than $30,000 to pay for the surgery, and by June 2015, Shapiro was back on the drums, a changed woman, thankful and happy and trying to help others who have the same condition.

“It’s hard to go through anything like that and not have it change you,” she said. “It’s not instantly, an overnight shift in how you live your life...I just keep working so I stay healthy.”

Shapiro’s surgery and recovery threw BMRC off its planned album cycle. The band had released “Spectre at the Feast” in March 2013, then didn’t put out another record until “Wrong Creatures,” which arrived in January.

“It definitely played a role, right?” Shapiro said. “It’s a combination of things. For starters, we do tour a lot. On the last album cycle, we were on the for a year and a half solid, right up ‘til Aug. 2014, which is when I found out about my health issues.

“On top of that, we’ve never been good at -- well I shouldn’t say that, let’s say we take our time at writing,” she said. “We’re not a concept type of band. We go into the studio and write songs….It takes some time to find your groove.”

The trio certainly found its groove on “Wrong Creatures,” which takes its buzzing wall-of-sound from garage rock to Velvet Underground drone to 'Beatlesque' pop. They also are playing it live -- which is a challenge, particularly for Hayes, who only has one guitar to create the dense sound.

“Peter’s setup looks like a spaceship,” Shapiro said. “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that crazy setup every day. He does a lot of things in the studio that sound like two or three guitars and has to figure out how to them live as one person. I can’t explain how it works, I’m not a guitarist. But he’s able to get all the sounds and textures.”

After a few months on the road in the U.S., Australia and Europe, the issue for BMRC isn’t playing the “Wrong Creatures” songs live. It’s figuring out what to play each night to cover the band’s long career and satisfy its loyal fans -- and the band members themselves.

“We have to make a set list of all the material we have and keep it to two, two and a half hours,’ she said. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world. Everybody’s always welcome to shout requests. I don’t want anyone to leave disappointed. But we don’t have unlimited time.

“A live show is an experience,” Shapiro said. “If you put a great set together, it’s kind of a journey you go through together. It can be fun to play a long set where you’re on the journey with everybody in the room.”

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, opening for Depeche Mode

When:7:30 p.m., May 24

Where: Golden 1 Center, 500 David J. Stern Walk, Sacramento

Tickets: $125.97-$35

Info: 916-701-5400,