Thursday, November 6, 2008

Secret Machines

My interview with the band, Secret Machines, appears in this week's WE. I saw them open for Blonde Redhead a number of years ago and they're pretty great live.

Secret Machines
By Andrea Warner

Brandon Curtis, lead singer of Secret Machines, is in Aspen, Colorado, for the first time, looking into the distance at snow-capped mountains, a jarring contrast to the balmy temperature outside. He calls the city “exotic,” and though that may be an exaggeration, it’s easy to understand why the New York-by-way-of-Dallas transplant is allowing himself a moment to be awed by the unfamiliar landscape.

This has been an overwhelming year for the Dallas-based trio. In the midst of their first tour as newly independent artists, they’re making stops in places the band’s former label, Warner Bros., would have overlooked. The group’s self-described “space rock” borrows heavily from forefathers like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and big, atmospheric, riff-heavy sounds populate their new self-released, self-titled album. With a fresh lease on life as a bona fide indie band comes a line-up change, too: Last year, Curtis’s brother, Benjamin, departed Secret Machines to focus on his new band, School of Seven Bells.

Curtis took a quick break to talk with WE about his new commitment to fiscal conservatism, getting the finger in Milan, and receiving David Bowie’s stamp of approval.

What’s your mindset when you’re going on stage to play a gig?
Brandon Curtis: It’s kind of a strange thing to do night after night. Playing a song that we’ve played for years and feeling like we’re connecting with feelings that existed when we were writing the song, and bringing that to the surface night after night, is odd. There’s some kind of psychological manipulation that I go through to rediscover that state of mind.

Do the fans’ reactions translate from the crowd onto the stage?
Definitely, especially in support slots. Like the Foo Fighters, for example — there were some pretty rabid Foo Fighters fans, and you’d think they would be very tolerant and happy, but they weren’t. They were very anxious and just “Get off the stage, already,” and that creates a very confrontational kind of atmosphere. But, afterwards, it’s like a notch — you know, that time in Milan with the Foo Fighters and the sea of middle fingers.

Obviously, Secret Machines have been through some changes in the last few years. How is that reflected in the new album?
Well, first of all, Phil’s [Karmats] contributions on guitar — he’s a different player and a very different personality than Benjamin, and that’s pretty evident on the album. He has a different way of hearing music and playing. For me, that’s the biggest difference. I don’t think we approached the process any differently based on our business situation, not making a record for Warner Bros.

Was it scary to do it on your own?
With Warner Bros., you have this big, bureaucratic monolith with seemingly endless resources, and we don’t have that anymore. It’s not scary, but it changes the context of things and the way we view the business. We have to be more precise and conservative with time and money. The weirdest thing about Warner Bros. is that the money didn’t come out of anyone’s pockets, so they were very happy to spend it. But when it’s your own circumstances, your own livelihood, it’s a finite amount and it comes from here to go there — you can see where everything’s going. That’s taken some adjustments.

David Bowie asked you to close out the Highline Festival he curated in New York. What does it mean when a big name like that endorses you?
It’s very flattering. We’ve been really fortunate. And someone like David Bowie, who I’ve grown up adoring and wishing to emulate, basically worshipping on some level — you know, someone who represents music and art on the highest level, like a name that doesn’t even equal human to me — and then to have an opportunity to meet someone like that... I’m pinching myself sometimes. It’s fucking great.

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