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Old 03-27-2006, 09:22 AM   #1
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Secret Machines' Garza Talks New Album, Fickle Industry and Touring With U2

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By Carrie Alison, Chief Editor
2006.03



Imagine going from a being a young man in Texas loving Larry Mullen Jr.'s drumming skills, to opening for U2 in two of the biggest stadiums in the world years later, to talking shop with Mullen after shows and recording a cover of "I Am the Walrus" with Bono for Julie Taymor's upcoming musical featuring Beatles songs, "Across the Universe."

Secret Machines drummer Josh Garza grew up a U2 fan. He loved "The Joshua Tree" and "Rattle and Hum." He was even at the show where BB King performed with the band, as shown in the feature film version of the latter album. When first asked what it was like to open for U2 in Monterrey and Mexico City, Mexico, Garza's opening line was, "Man, are you kidding me?" He still considers himself “a U2 freak.”

One thing you should know about New York City-based Secret Machines is that the band's in it for the long haul, even if that means it takes until the fourth album to get some regular radio play and a sizeable fan base. Interference.com spoke with Garza earlier this month about opening for U2, the new album, “10 Silver Drops,” the band’s second, and the problem with achieving longevity in the music industry today.


(Photo credit: Klaus Thymann)

You've just opened for U2 in Mexico. How did it go?

Man, are you kidding me? It was amazing.

It's such a long story. I mean, it's actually not a simple question because growing up I was a U2 freak. I kind of broke away because I started getting into rock music and playing rock music. I'm a drummer. [The band] kind of lost me in the '90s because they started going all electronic, but playing with them and seeing them again, it was like, all is forgiven. I'm still a U2 freak. I think I couldn't talk for at least three days after those shows because I was just yelling my ass off to every song.

Was that your first time seeing the band?

No, believe it or not, I saw them on the Joshua Tree Tour. You know in "Rattle and Hum" where they had B.B. King in Fort Worth? I was at that show.

It was really weird because I always felt that they betrayed … I grew up air-drumming to Larry Mullen and putting on the headphones and beating on pillows to Larry Mullen and then at some point they went "Achtung" and "Zooropa" where they went a little more electronic. They lost a bit of Larry that I loved…that sound that he had. But, it was more me than them because that's the time I started getting into rock 'n' roll. That's when I started really playing in bands and we were into rock and, in a weird way, U2 wasn't cool then in the rock scene, especially my college rock scene.

They've always had a coolness problem. But in the '90s when they got a little weird and experimental, they became a little more cool because they were more dialing into the music of that time. The darker edge of Nine Inch Nails really influenced "Achtung Baby" and the club scene in Europe really influenced the work of "Pop," but I can see the more classic rock-ish sound of "The Joshua Tree" was uncool back then even though "With or Without You" was such a major hit.

Yeah, exactly. I still love "Rattle and Hum," especially the studio songs and I still listen to that record.

It's a wonderful record. I love the Dylan duet, "Love Rescue Me," and I think that they did that one night recently in Brazil. After all these years to pull that out of the hat.

Well that's the funny thing about seeing them play is that you'll see them play two-and-a-half hours and then it's like, "Well they didn't play this, this and this," and then, "Where could they have played that?" Unless it's going to be a four-hour concert, they can't play all the songs that people love. It's ridiculous to be at that point in a band where you can actually not play a handful of hits because there's not enough time.

Exactly, there's not enough time. Fans like to discuss and pick apart the set list, saying, "Where's ‘Electrical Storm'?" or "Why aren't you doing more songs off of ‘Achtung Baby?' or even "Bad" from "Unforgettable Fire" …

They played "Bad" in Monterrey. I was blown away because they do do the occasional deep album cut for the fans.

But playing with them and getting to hang out with Larry, like after the Mexico City shows, I got to really talk to him about drums. He's a really cool cat, it wasn't like he couldn't be bothered, he really wanted to talk shop and we just talked about drums.

As a band, you always want … when you start playing gigs and start playing in front of your five friends, you always go, "Well just imagine if you're playing the biggest stadium." And then the chance actually comes to play with U2 in Mexico City, which is one of the largest stadiums on the planet, just filled to capacity and it's like, okay, what do I imagine now, you know? That I'm only playing to those five friends?

I know … where do you go from there?

Exactly. They're really inspiring, and in a good healthy way. This is a band that, as big as they are, nobody gave a shit about them on their first two records. It took the third record just to be college cool and then it took the fifth record to be a household name and that is what we want to do. Because obviously we're not cool. The Secret Machines aren't the hip new band. Outside of the critics and journalists, other bands like us and that's where we'll start and I'm not worried about it because maybe it'll take our fourth, fifth, sixth record before people are like, "Oh yeah, I was into them since day one." It's like, yeah, whatever, it doesn't matter.

I like the way U2 has … they're just having a really good time with it. I can imagine them really being a bitch about, "Man, screw you guys, this is our X record and we've been doing it for years." And no, they're actually really fun and they take what they could get.

They're still hungry.

Yeah. And it's still cool that they have us opening up because it shows me that they still keeping in touch with bands that are off the radar, that are bubbling up and they're like, okay, this band is supposed to be kind of cool, let's see if they are worth a shit. We'll have them open up, see if they can hang, if they can play a show in front of this many people without losing their cool.

Exactly, and to give bands like the Secret Machines a shot at wider exposure …

Yeah and it just sucked that it was in Mexico because Mexico's not really known for its influence on world music. If you're big in the UK it means so much more, but it's funny because people in Mexico were more fans of rock 'n' roll that I've seen in all of Europe. It was twofold. A., you have U2 and B., they haven't been there in awhile, so it was a big party and like I said, the people in Mexico like rock 'n' roll. Especially Mexico City, that's a rock n' roll city and it was cool to get that experience because you never know when you go somewhere if [it] is or isn't into rock. You go to Italy and it's like, they're not really into rock. They're fans of rock 'n' roll and they'll come see the Foo Fighters play, but there's not the vibe of a rock 'n' roll city. In Mexico, they love rock 'n' roll and U2's a rock 'n' roll band and it was really, really a big party.

That's such a great environment to play in. To know the audience is right there with you and it's just a big celebration, which I don't think happens nearly often enough because rock concerts should be a celebration, it shouldn't be so … We all live in New York City and so many shows are filled with hipsters who just cross their arms and roll their eyes or whatever, trying to be cool.

Yeah, there's this level of here we are and I don't mean to quote Kurt Cobain, but, here we are now, entertain us. And that isn't really there … when we were in Mexico, it wouldn't have really mattered who opened up for U2, they would have been into it because it was a celebration, it was a party, there's some rock 'n' roll, we're all here. I'm glad it was us and I think it went over well, but it just really helps when the crowd is ready and they don't see it as like they paid money now they've got to be entertained. They paid money to be at a party. The whole place was dancing. I don't know how Bono made the guy in the top-most row, the shittiest seat in the house, feel like dancing, but he was up there dancing and it was really amazing.

When you were on the road, did you receive the famous Bono talk?

Well it's funny, we didn't really get that one, but with the one we got, it did come up. We did a song with him. There's a movie coming out, "Across the Universe." Julie Taymor's making a movie, a musical, with The Beatles' songs and we did "I Am the Walrus" and Bono sang it. We didn't really get a chance to meet him. We recorded the music and then sent it to him as they were on tour in Canada and he did the vocals in Montreal. So he was already kind of familiar with us. He's doing a movie, singing the song and you know it's going to come up—"Who's this band?" And doing The Beatles in general is pretty difficult, it's almost like you don't do that, you don't cover Beatles because it's The Beatles and, on top of that, it was "I Am the Walrus," which is a difficult psychedelic song that they already pretty much perfected.

So when it came up there, we just talked about that recording and there was talking about us maybe doing some more songs for the movie because Julie ended up liking the song, the way it sounded and Bono I think gave us some mad props. So we talked about that, we were like, hey, maybe we'll do some more songs, telling him thanks for making us sound good and he was like, "Man …" He was thanking us for making him sound good. It was really cool. So I think we bonded like that on a weird musical level, like we were musicians as opposed to him being Bono and us being this band he doesn't know from a hole in the ground.

I've heard a lot about Secret Machines' live shows. You're very passionate and very into connecting with your audience like U2 was when they were starting out and how they are now. Why do you feel all of that is important?

Well, I think it's only because sometimes I don't see it happening as often as it should be. One of the main reasons people start a band is because they went to see a show and were so blown away and so inspired, that you want to do that yourself. The "Wow I want to do that when I grow up" kind of attitude. And then you start playing music and then, you know, we moved to New York and, even from Texas days we would go see a band and a lot of times it's like, you know what, I think the songs are great but there's no intensity, there's no … I don't believe the band.

It doesn't ring true.

Right. You're going, "Man, do I need to be here?" That was one of our missions with the band. Let's make everybody feel like they're a part of this. Being intense, being loud, or having your shit together and just putting on a good show. I think one of the biggest compliments I ever got was about four years ago. We were playing in Brooklyn and there was only a handful of people there and we played and went to the bar and had a drink. And this guy was like, "Hey, you're in the band, right? You know what? It's not really my type of music and I'm not really into that kind of thing and it's not my style, but I couldn't leave because I had to see how it ended." And I was like, wow, you know? That's all you want. You want people to feel …

You want them to feel something.

Right. And even if they're not into it, you want them to get sucked in. And you can only do that by just really going up there and doing your thing and not trying to be cool and not trying to be hip. It just seems like a lot of bands these days have great albums, but you go see them live and it's like, man, this is a recital.

It's like you're watching robots and they're just going through the motions. You don't believe it. Their heart just doesn't seem to be in it. You wonder where their intentions are. Is it just for the money or the girls or the fame, or is it to truly connect with an audience.

Yeah, it's different for every band. There used to be a time when it was live and die for it on stage and I think that's not the case anymore. A band will become really, really popular and successful before they even set a foot onstage. And I think that's not really helping music out, but at the end of the day, I don't really care too much. It's like, well, I have my band and we have our agenda and we're just going to do our thing and let everybody else do theirs and I think the audience will be the final judge.

Your conscience is clear because you're in it for the right reasons.

The only reasons. But we'll see if that rings true for the rest of rock 'n' roll and its legacy that it's making right now.

You mentioned that you had moved to New York. What do you think it is with New York that that makes musicians and artists want to live here?

We were living in Dallas and that part of the country, basically the whole middle part, it's just really difficult to be any type of artist. You know, a band, a photographer or a writer. There's just not really the infrastructure, so to speak, to support it. We were really into music and we really wanted to feel like the day we die that we gave it our all. And we couldn't say that living in Dallas. We felt that if we stayed in Dallas we would get nowhere fast. We would just be stuck there and at the time, one of the main things that all people have in common on this whole planet is that they want to see this world. People call it vacationing, or trips, so whatever you want to call it, people want to go see the whole world. And we were like, let's move.

We moved to New York because we felt like it got us that much closer to Europe and we're really interested in going to the UK, going to the Germany and just seeing Europe in general. And we moved here and hit the streets hard and we really tried to make something happen here. It was a little bit harder and easier. Harder in a sense that it's harder to get your foot in the door in New York because with some bands, if you're not cool, you're not cool. If you're cool, then you're set. And we were never really cool because when we moved to town in the fall of 2000, we moved just in time to have it be the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Rapture and that whole scene was exploding. I think one of the first gigs we saw was the Strokes at Mercury Lounge when they had their month-long residency there. And we were looking at each other going, damn, this sucks because we're coming to town with our thing and our thing is not cool right now. It's not in, it's not happening. Everybody's looking at us going, man, what are you doing? If you do four songs in 40 minutes, it's like, what are you doing? And we just stuck with it and it just seems like, here we are, years later, we have our second record coming out. And people have kind of taken to it. I feel like music should be like restaurants, you know? You don't always want to eat Indian food every day. Sometimes you want Chinese or vegetarian. Some nights you want to cook at home.

Right now it's so, there's only this type of band. And this type of band only does one type of song. And it's like, Jesus, what happened to the good ole days with like U2, where every album has its ups and downs, they have the slow songs, they have the rock songs. It feels like that's being lost these days. You get one band, you get a good song and it's like, damn, the whole record is that one song over and over again.

It's like they're a one-trick pony. And then you have all these other bands that get signed because they sound just like that other band. We're going to have Killers clones all over the place next year.

Yeah and the Killers are just basically what was going on before them—the dance electronic pop. And that's totally cool and I have nothing against it, but it doesn't help a lot of the smaller scenes. It definitely doesn't help TV on the Radio, doesn't help Secret Machines. But at the end of the day, we're gonna be the best band that is still putting records out. That's the problem with getting to the masses too quick. They'll drop you.

Exactly. You become the flavor of the week and people get sick of you because of the media saturation around you. Slow and steady wins the race.

Hell yeah. We're not going to have a problem with that! [laughs]

A great thing to strive for is longevity.

Exactly. You have to put the extra effort in. You have to stay on the road and keep putting records out and I think eventually if you are good and you have a good team put together, then you can sustain and hopefully you get to the point one day when you're playing bigger and bigger places, but even then it's not always about that. I mean, Townes Van Zandt wrote some of the greatest songs and to this day nobody even knows who he is. I'm glad he kept putting records out. And there's actually a thousand examples of bands like that. Occasionally one of them breaks into the mainstream and the mainstream goes to them, but I think that's what U2 really inspired in us. They kind of reminded us of that fact. It's like, hey, do your thing and if you do it well and you do it right and you're lucky, you'll be rewarded.

If you build it, they will come …

Yeah. I think that's the old school way. They don't really let that happen too much anymore. But I think we're really going to try and change that and after every record we're going to try and get a few more crowds, a few more people.

Speaking of which, I understand you are playing SXSW and the Langerado festivals. Do you enjoy playing those types of shows?

Actually I do. They're kind of fun. For awhile there, it seemed like festivals in the US were kind of … they weren't too fun. Even Lollapalooza in the mid '90s, it just seemed like they were trying too hard. And in a weird way, in the last five to six years there's been a resurgence with Bonnaroo, Coachella and all these festivals. SXSW has always been around and it's doing really well. It's a good chance to go play somewhere where there's this crowd that wants to hear music. They want to check out something good, something new and a little more experimental. The festivals are fun, but you almost lose track because it's not your show. So you can just show up, play and leave it at that. And it's always fun. We hope to do festivals in Europe this summer.

Those are great. They have amazing bills.

Yeah, they do. They always have a ton of festivals everywhere.

You wonder what the US is doing wrong, why New York can't manage to put one together. I mean, Across the Narrows last year bombed for whatever reason and, then, Field Day hasn't worked out, but you wonder why the New York area can't pull it together and have our own Coachella.

I know, I've thought about that. I just think it's too ambitious. You look at these festivals … I remember the last one where it was like, they were on the same day. I'm not much of a rock scientist, but, you can't particularly split your crowd in half. And then on top of that, they have to choose between two locations that are not near each other. I just thought it was a bit ridiculous. I think they really need to think about making a festival in New York and have it actually be in Manhattan. I think the Manhattan crowd is very particular to Manhattan. I live in New York City, Manhattan and I don't care who's playing in Jersey, it's just over a bridge. I don't go over there. And that's just how it is, but if you put a show in Manhattan, one that you could take a cab or a train to, I'll go to it. I think they're underestimating people's willingness to not leave Manhattan, to not leave Brooklyn.

We're so insular … we don't get off the island very much.

I know, and I think they have to cater to that. It's like, the crowd at Bonnaroo, that's a different crowd of people. It's further out, people can camp; it's that kind of crowd, it's that kind of scene, it's that kind of people who probably do camp more often. I know people in New York that like to camp, but not at a show. It's just a different crowd and I think that's why it usually doesn't work here. I think it's a little too ambitious, a little too greedy and then the next thing you know, it's just a bunch of crap.

Tell me about "10 Silver Drops."

It's the new record … it's the classic second album. We feel like we didn't have much of a sophomore slump on this one. We produced it ourselves; we mixed it with Alan Moulder [Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins]. We've wanted to work with him for awhile, since the first album, but the scheduling didn't really work out. So when this next album came up, he was still at the top of the list. I think this time around it was easier for us to mix it with him because we were able to pick and choose where we mixed.



On the first record, I think the label really wanted us to mix it in LA because it's closer to the label, since it was our first record. They weren't really worried, they just wanted to keep a good eye on us, have us nearby. Moulder doesn't really work outside of London, he likes to work near home. So this time around, we were able to go and mix in London, for about three-and-a-half weeks and it was great. I just think it's the next step. We tried not to make the same record again and we tried to do things differently and, also, we were somewhere else. When we made the first record, we hadn't been on the road, we've always played shows here and there and for this album we'd been on the road. There's a different feel, a different vibe, a little more confidence that the first album didn't have. I think that it sounds different, but yet it's still us.

What are your touring plans behind it?

After we do SXSW, we go to the UK for a proper UK tour and that'll be a good month. In April we do some US dates, in May I think we do Europe and then after that I think we do a US tour. Basically it's just staying busy. The record will come out and I think most of our fans will get it and these initial tours will be catering to them, playing smaller venues.

We told the label to kind of ease off of it. We told them, look, let's not come out of the gate swinging because I think our fans will be turned off by that because, in a weird way, it's like ignoring your fan base and trying to have a radio hit single. And so we told them, just ease up a bit; let the record come out, let us tour, let it bubble up, let the press come out because we really feel like we've been fortunate enough with the press that they like us, every review's been positive, it's like four-out-of-five stars and it's always been really good, so we're like, let's do it that kind of way, let it be gradual and, if by chance, somebody somewhere wants to play it on the radio, okay, then maybe we'll start saying let's go for it. Let's maybe take it to that next level.

I think the mistake we made on the first album … the mistake the label made is thinking that they would try too much too soon. And then what happens is, after two years touring, they're already over it. The label is like, okay, the record didn't do anything, so they're over it. And it's like, how about we do it gradually? We come out slowly but surely and just let it happen and maybe near the second half of the touring, near the end of the record, that's when they can come in and be like, if there's anything happening we'll help out. We want to do it more natural because everyone knows when a band is forced and nobody likes that, especially your fans. We have a really small fan base and we don't want to alienate them. People are smart enough to recognize that. You can't pull a fast one on anybody these days.


"10 Silver Drops" will be released April 25th on Warner Brothers Records. For more information on the Secret Machines, visit the band's official website or MySpace page.
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:00 PM   #2
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Nice Job Carrie.

Fun interview.
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:47 PM   #3
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Amazing interview Carrie, Great job!
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Old 03-28-2006, 04:51 AM   #4
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Old 03-28-2006, 04:12 PM   #5
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Old 03-30-2006, 09:18 AM   #6
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I'm curious... and will be getting the album... great convo/interview!
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