Secret Machines

Silent Uproar: Tell me how you came up with the idea for the upcoming “In the Round” tour?

Josh: It was just an idea that had been floating around with us since the beginnings of the band. It actually was something from a previous band that Brandon and I had been involved in. So when the new record finally came out, our management was like we should do something really different and interesting for our record release shows. And it’s really weird, it seems so obvious to do it, but we had to think about it for a minute and were like why don’t we do it in the round? Those shows went off so well that and our crew got a lot confidence that they could pull it off so we decided to take this on tour. Instead of making any money on the tour we decided to put it all back into the show and put on a great show.

SU: Is it forcing you to play some more non-traditional venues to accommodate the setup?

Josh: Yeah, because of the dimensions of the whole thing – it is definitely requiring certain kinds of rooms and we are playing places that we wouldn’t necessarily play otherwise. In some markets we are still only bringing like 300 people but we are playing an 800-seater because that is the only way we can do. We will see how it works out. It is pretty ambitious of a tour, but I think in rock a lot of bands are taking the easy way out. So we are trying to do something that is not only financially difficult but difficult to pull off in general.

SU: Now that you have done a couple of these, how has the vibe of the shows been?

Josh: Yeah, I think so. For the most part the people at our shows are our fans and have already seen us. So it gives them a reason to come see us again other than just being a fan. We are giving them another angle, almost an inside look of being in a band and making it worthwhile I guess.

SU: This concept is really interesting to me because in the past shows of yours I have seen, the lights are a huge part of the show and at times are so blinding that you can’t see the band. So to go from that to being presented in the round seems like a completely different kind of show.

Josh:Yeah, it is still blinding - that’s the thing with our lights, it will always be blinding. But it is just taking that whole concept and putting it in the middle and letting people see the band from a completely different angle that they never saw it from.

SU: On Ten Silver Drops, you seemed to use a lot of tones to open up the tracks – we had a reader question of what the significance of the simple tone introduction.

Josh: Because it fits the mood. To be quite honest with you I think it’s almost like asking an artist why did you use that frame on this painting? You really want the artist to be all deep and philosophical and give you the answer that makes you feel like the gods have spoken upon you, but it could just be like ‘well shit that was the wood that was around and I put it up’.

The fact is that in the studio a lot of those things were happy accidents that we kept on the record. It just happened to work, and sometimes we just stumbled upon things. In the studio that happens quite often with us and so we try and use the studio as an instrument as well. You just have to be open to it.

SU: It is tough to think of other current bands that are similar in sound to the Secret Machines – who would you consider to be your musical peers?

Josh: Well it’s funny because I think for us when we think of musical peers it is less bands we sound like than bands we get a long with. I guess it is mainly bands we have toured with – you spend so much time together that you actually connect and the music doesn’t mean shit. There are bands that we really like and we tour with them and we don’t really ever become super bros. Then there are bands that we probably aren’t really big fans of, but we go on tour and end up being bros. It’s really weird, the peers tend those people you get along with and there is a level of respect that exists. We know the Blonde Redhead people and Helio Sequence, Kings of Leon, Autolux - those are the bands that we have spent time with and were able to make a connection with.

Living in New York you would thing we hang out with The Animal Collective and all these crazy bands, but no, everyone pretty much sticks to themselves in New York and we don’t even know them. We toured with Interpol and no those guys and will see them out, but that’s really it.

SU: What kind of role do the band members play in the art and packaging of the album?

Josh: We have a guy we work with Named Frank and he puts it all together. He doesn’t do it until he has gotten the record and the ideas from us. For Ten Silver Drops, we were working with him and he couldn’t come up with anything until we came up with the title for the record. Then once we got that, the color, the way it was packaged, the way it was stamp foiled, the concept of the inside not being obvious as one big picture – that was all our ideas, but we didn’t sit there and put it together. So we have a lot to do with it and any band can choose to do as much as they want, but we choose to be highly involved. We want it to be someone conceptual and deliberate and kinda nice and cool.

SU: How important do you feel the visual element is now that we are in a world of iTunes and digital music?

Josh: Well that is an interesting question because I think it is two-fold. When you are talking about iPod and iTunes and MySpace, it is a good thing because it is easy, and it’s highly accessible. For MySpace for instance you can see how many people listen to a song and that is probably more people than would have heard it 15 years ago on an indie level.

But, the things I am starting to really get annoyed with is that now music has turned into this disposable commodity like McDonalds where people can just grab a song and there is no visual, there is no connection and there is no reason to connect. I know what people do, everyone goes to MySpace and listens to the song and in one minute you have already decided whether you think the band sucks or not. Without ever having to see the bands art or seeing the band play and without reading Pitchfork to tell you what is cool and not cool.

There used to be a day where your friends would get you into things. I had a friend who got me into Fugazi and really friends probably got me into every band I ever listened to by saying hey check this band out or check that band out. Maybe now and then you would hear something on the radio and you would get into it, which is fine or fair, but the computer age is turning music into something that people can eat and chew and spit out in a matter of seconds. That’s not good because music is art and it isn’t suppose to always be easy and convenient.

SU: As a band, how does that change your approach, or does it? Do you work to create songs as opposed to an album?

Josh: You work with it. It’s a tool at the same time and we try to use our website and MySpace as much as anyone else. You have to be careful because even though you recognize what the downfalls and the side effects of it can be you also have to take into consideration the positive side. It is a place people can come check us out and hear us so you try not to get too wrapped up into it one way or another. I personally am in the middle of the road – I think it is a good thing, but I don’t think it is the greatest thing on the planet. It’s a tool, use it. We took back control of our website from the label and it was just like if you want it done right, let us own it, let us hire our own guy who can keep it and maintain it and make it cool and look right - then the aesthetic part is still in tact.

SU: Are major labels still important – do you think you would be just as successful with a smaller label or by releasing music yourselves?

Josh: Well it’s hard to say what would have happened if we had chose another path. I think labels are still important, I mean just look at the charts, there are no bands in the top 10 that aren’t on a label. So you can’t overlook that obvious fact. But what we are really talking about is the major labels that have the bands that aren’t “cool” like the Built to Spills and Secret Machines and Flaming Lips and TV on the Radio and Trail of Dead. At that level labels aren’t able to change up the model. They can’t say ‘well this band is different so let’s try something different’. That is when I think labels aren’t as powerful. It used to be that if you were a different kind of band playing a different kind of music then what is going on now, they would fucking use that to their advantage. But now it’s like oh, you are two different because what’s in right now is emo, punk rock, bullshit. It’s almost like labels look at bands and in a round about way, blame the band for not making an accessible record.

SU: At this point in your career, are you happy or content with the band has achieved so far or do you still feel like you have something to prove to people or to yourself.

Josh: Well the thing we have to ask ourselves is can we keep doing this? We just really want the opportunity to show people that our 5th or 6th record is going to be really badass and we really want the chance to prove that to people. It’s kinda annoying when you have a couple records out and we are still underground. We are on a major label with two records and we are still one of the uncool underground bands. The cool underground scene doesn’t like us for whatever reasons and everyone else has never heard us. So all these bands that people think are cool now, we just want to wait and see what happens on their 4th or 5th record. Let’s see if they turn into the band everyone expected them to. We are going to keep doing our thing and see if we can pull a Modest Mouse thing where people have no idea how many records they have out. We want to prove to people this isn’t just some psych band being different and weird and hard to get, we are actually trying to make good music.

Oct 5 2006