Secret Machines: Still Stirring
Longtime festival favorite Secret Machines has been relatively quiet lately, but the Austin-bred, New York-based indie psychedelic rock band has been quite busy behind the scenes. Having weathered the departure of its founding guitarist, released two albums on a major label and a third on an indie that went under, the group is taking matters into its own hands on its next release: the three musicians are recording the disc’s basic tracks at new guitarist Phil Karnats’s house and building new songs out of improvised full-band jams. In advance of the album’s release, Secret Machines has also issued the new single “Like I Can,” an outtake from 2008’s Secret Machines that also previews the space rockers’ forthcoming release. Below, keyboardist/vocalist Brandon Curtis discusses the group’s current recording sessions, its new single and the benefits of having a major label in the indie world.
Secret Machines recently released the digital single “Like I Can.” When was that song originally written and recorded?
The song was written when we wrote songs for the last record, Secret Machines. We recorded it then as well and, when we were putting the record together, it didn’t really fit with the rest of the material—the mood of the record was different. So we waited for a better time to put the song out. After our record came out, I guess not too long after, our label went out of business so we didn’t really think that would be the good thing to put it out with them [laughter]. Then I came across a couple of guys who had an idea of doing some singles—digital singles—and who were willing to do the label side of things: finding a distributor, getting it online and stuff. So that’s when we decided to release it. The timing is based on the fact that we’re just finishing another record, and we thought it might be good to put something out a little bit before the next record.
You also released the non-album single “Dreaming of Dreaming” right around the last record, right?
That’s right. I guess it’s the same thing, really. Neither fit on an album. I feel like these songs—they have a different kind of feel. It’s funny because it feels to me like the song writing on those songs are more closely related to the songs we have now for the next record. It’s something I can’t really explain—it just felt like the songs were of a different family and so it just made sense to me that they should come out on their own. It seems like the way this record is progressing that is was a good choice because they kind of feel like they fit better with this material.
The new songs we are working on are definitely a different direction for us. The songs are kind of more nonlinear, and I think there’s more of an open feeling to the newer songs.
You have been playing around New York a bit recently. Have you played any of these new songs live?
No. We haven’t played any of them live at these more intimate shows.
Now that Phil Karnats has been in Secret Machines for three years, would you say he has a bigger influence on the new album’s sound?
I think with this record we were a lot more comfortable. I think there was a lot more open communication and, well, we recorded these songs a lot differently. We recorded it ourselves and mixed it ourselves and there was a lot more hands on feel to the process—everyone gets a look. I think for Phil, there’s a little more freedom for him to do his thing, you know?
This record was written…basically the way we recorded this record was we setup a recording situation at Phil’s house and then recorded fifteen hours of music. Then over the course of the next six-to-eight months we edited those fifteen hours down to ten songs—ten song-links or segments and then recorded. I guess what presented itself was different sections of the music, and then we embellished and recorded a second layer on top of those sections. From then on we’ve just been adding elements: a vocal, some kind of musical embellishment, some kind of a counterpoint. We’ve just been constructing the songs in that way.
How far along is the album?
I’m at the point now where I’m mixing it so it’s just a totally different way of working for us. In the past I would usually come up with some kind of song, then the band would learn it and then we would work on the arrangement. Everyone would figure out how to integrate themselves into the structure and then we would record it, so it’s a totally different way of working.
It’s interesting. I think, to me, it was just an interesting process—it’s a lot more difficult but it’s definitely a way of leaving your comfort zone.