Layabozi

The Secret Machines On the Way to Shanghai: "Rock 'n Roll Can Change your Life"

Photo by McNamara Photography

New York-adopted band The Secret Machines is coming to Shanghai’s Mao Livehouse this Saturday, thanks to Icon Promotions, within the framework of their first China Tour. Flares of thick, hypnotic music will act as a welcome party to spring. You don’t want to miss it…

A quick glance: The Secret Machines took shape in 2000 in Texas and, after a shift in the earlier formation, the band is now composed by Brandon Curtis (vocals, bass, keyboards), Phil Karnats (guitar) and Josh Garza (drums). The decision to move to New York proved to be pivotal and, thanks to an outright devotion to music, in a short time they released three successful full-length albums: Now Here is Nowhere (2004), Ten Silver Drops (2006), and Secret Machines (2008). These gained them recognition worldwide. They count U2 and David Bowie as fans.

The music of The Secret Machines has often been associated with the spacey soundscapes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Flaming Lips, and Spacemen 3,  but it also displays a unique taste for gritty sounds and restless beats that may recall some post-grunge hints. Best served live.

In a word, expect to get what you came for: Good music, unconditionally.

Layabozi caught up with drummer Josh Garza, who provided insight into the band’s core features and inspirations, and gave us rocking songs for you to listen to while you read. The first one is a single from 2008, “Dreaming of Dreaming”. “Like I Can” and “Terrible Light” are their two newest songs, released just this year on a singles album. “Like I Can” will be free for you to download until this Sunday, the day after the concert.

[gplayer href=”http://www.layabozi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Dreaming-of-Dreaming.mp3″ ] The Secret Machines “Dreaming of Dreaming” [/gplayer]

[gplayer href=”http://www.layabozi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Terrible-Light.mp3″ ] The Secret Machines “Terrible Light” [/gplayer]

[gplayer href=”http://www.layabozi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Like-I-Can.mp3
” ] The Secret Machines “Like I can”[/gplayer]

Layabozi: ”Secret Machines”  must have secret ignition devices… we don’t ask you to unravel them, but perhaps you can give us some clue about what is it that got you started and that keeps fueling the sonic grandiosity showcased in your works…

Josh Garza: A love of music is what really inspires us… we feel a need to contribute to the great works of music that exist and try not to add any more “bad” music to the world. “Bad” meaning music made with a lack of desire or not being a true soulful statement from the heart. We do this because we love to do it.

LYBZ: Is there any artist that did somehow cast an influence over you and that, most likely, no one would ever think of?

JG: We are big fans of country music (Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt), golden oldies (The Flamingos, Doo Wop) and Motown (the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye). We could make a list of about 200 bands that are very influential and not likely or obvious. I recently began listening to a Chinese group called the Hanggai Band, they are amazing! They are my new favorite band. I am hoping to meet them on this China tour.

LYBZ: You moved to New York at the early beginning of your career and managed to make a neat breakthrough in short time, what have been the propelling factors? Which the deterrent ones?

JG: One cannot live in NYC and not be motivated. The city itself kinda makes you either fight or flight. It’s a buzz that never sleeps but that can also be a major deterrent. Most people can’t handle the pace and get run over. The best thing is to use the energy and channel it into the music.

LYBZ: To what extent, and in what fashion is your Texas legacy still interwoven with the New York inspiration?

JG: Being born in Texas means it never leaves your heart. I will always have a fondness for Texas, but slowly over the years the influence has eased back a bit because of distance. Living in NYC for ten years has become a bigger and more immediate inspiration. One is a product of their surroundings and Texas has become a chapter from our past. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much of it still exists in our music but I can say that it hasn’t disappeared completely. Our music is still as big and vast as our first album, but now we are more conscious and aware of the rest of the world. It’s called “getting older”.

LYBZ: With increasing confidence over the years, your music keeps venturing into mighty sound cascades where lunar, psychedelic echoes are cleverly interlayered with the rougher pulses of the urban flesh. Is this creative process intentional or it’s just the natural outcome of an innate urge common to all the band-mates? Has it changed throughout your career?

JG: We don’t try to sound a certain way or be too methodical about the direction of a song, but yes, we do have particular tendencies as musicians. Sometimes we try and let the songs tell us what to do and it’s hard to stay out of the way because we might not all see the same purpose of a song. Sometimes a song is only chords and a beat and we have to “feel it out” and see if it sounds better as a ten minute epic or a shorter 4 minute rocker. Just like everybody else we go through different moods and our sound evolves with time. We rely on each other to help guide what emotions we want to express musically and this is something that changes with each song, if not daily.

LYBZ: Many of your tracks (“The Fire Is Waiting”, “The Walls Are Starting To Crack”, “First Wave Intact”…) feature this epic, majestic allure, like you were knights who embarked on some unspoken battle against all the nuances of paranoia post-modern society is imbued with. Yet, and for the best, some sarcasm is detectable in the overall attitude… How seriously do you take this battle? Is it out of self-irony or of far-sightedness that you admit to be “a graveyard of hopes”?

JG: We definitely don’t try to take ourselves too seriously but that doesn’t mean we don’t take music seriously… The best part of our music is that it allows for various interpretations. Obviously there is a “story” for each song but that specifically belongs to Brandon and his lyrics. It wouldn’t be fun to explain it all away and confirm or deny some type of opinion that somebody has about us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of humor and a light-hearted touch with our songs either. All our songs would be 10 minutes long if we really felt that righteous about ourselves. At the end of the day it’s only a rock ’n roll band having some kind of fun together.

LYBZ: The Secret Machines have been out and about for quite a while already: extensive tours, festivals, movie soundtracks, support acts for  artists like  U2, Interpol, Blonde Redhead, Spiritualized… can you highlight some unforgettable moments that stand out when you look back? And when you look ahead…?

JG: One of the greatest moments in TSM history was when we supported U2 in Mexico. We played two shows in Mexico City and one in Monterrey. The two shows in Mexico City are remarkable because we played at Aztec Stadium in front of 100,000 each night. The Monterrey show is significant because my parents are from this city and I had tons of family at the show. Right now we are very excited to be going to China. To play there is an honor and we all feel lucky to have the chance to do what we do in such a far and exotic place.

LYBZ: China, the homeland of piracy (DVDs for 1$!)… It may have all started here but nowadays movies, music and to a certain extent culture in general can sometimes spread more easily as control-free traveling files than as original hard copies. Is this endemic and almost institutional new way of music diffusion detrimental for record labels in the end? Now that you have your own (TSM Recordings), do you notice any difficulties in staying afloat?

JG: The problem with a lot of labels is that they didn’t see the Internet as a tool initially. It’s a different story today, but in the mid-90s, not a lot of label execs gave much thought to the Internet…who did? Labels were too busy ignoring the potential and this did lead to them having problems dealing with downloads and how to use them. Blogs and web-zines are the norm now and labels are having to play the game or risk falling behind the times. The Internet is very “band-friendly” and it is a sure way to stay connected to fans and have a platform to exhibit new material and other items that may or may not be music-related. It’s hard to stay afloat as an artist these days, but I think the Internet is a strong ally to have.

LYBZ: How do you picture the audience and the experience of the upcoming tour in China? With the exception of few cases of “erudites” who already know the band and the lyrics, most of the audience is not quite as mature and will probably enjoy the show mainly based on the live performance. How do you feel about it, pressured? Challenged? Reminiscent of the band’s earlier stages…?

JG: It’s exciting to be playing in front of a “new” crowd. Definitely like the earlier days where nobody knew the songs and we had to “rock” or else be forgotten. Fortunately, we aren’t a “new” band so maybe the fans that do show up can kinda give it a buzz type of atmosphere. I think that all bands should be able to perform well in a live setting and it’s always a challenge for us. We don’t assume anything at a show. It’s a time to deliver on the promise that rock ‘n roll can change your life.

LYBZ: So tell us, what is the flaw that makes you perfect?

JG: We carry our heart on our sleeves. It makes us vulnerable but at least we remain honest. It’s a pretentious answer but…

Find more about this band on their official website, and on their Myspace page.

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