Aug 4, 2010
Formed out of the ashes of the critically acclaimed indie pop group My Favorite, Brooklyn based outfit The Secret History pens catchy cinematic post-pop tunes that pick up where My Favorite left off. The band centers around Michael Grace, Jr. and two talented vocalists - Erin Dermody and Lisa Ronson (daughter of Mick Ronson). Guitarist Darren Amadio, keyboardist Kurt Brondo, bassist Gil Abad, and drummer Tod Karasik round out the group.
Organic in nature, with warm vintage undertones, The Secret History’s latest release, The World That Never Was (Le Grand Magistery), is a powerful and lyrically provocative album that is already being hailed as a modern classic. If you’re the type that likes to discover the next big thing before everyone else then you best be quick because TSH won’t be a secret much longer.
Michael, the band’s bios states that you write songs about ghosts, monsters, and sometimes Italy. Why Italy?
M: Ha, well I was being a little cheeky. Actually, I visited Sicily a few years ago, trying to trace some family footsteps, and I was really taken by how beautiful, but tragic the country was - half in ruins. It was like the medieval version of Manchester, England with thieves and farmers taking the place of The Smiths or Joy Division. There is a haunted quality that hangs over everything, but also an ancientness that's hard to describe. But, I could almost believe in things like Zeus and Neptune there. Nature and time had an almost human personality. So, I wrote a couple songs, "Our Lady of Palermo" and "Sister Rose," based on how it felt to be there.
What influences your lyrics?
M: Aside from Sicily? An awful lot of things I think. In terms of this record I took some themes from pulp horror and monster movies and such, but that's more the outer layer of the onion. I'm probably guilty of trying to combine poetry and pop...and…well that sounds dreadful but I think it's important. We've lost a lot of sublime things to technology and a sort of accompanying isolation takes hold. So, I'm trying to help people remember the potential for words to really bring music to a different emotional level. I'm trying. I think there are stories worth telling about these last couple generations. Dylan, Morrissey, Patti Smith, and many, many more people really struck me with what they could do with words. Then there is probably the influence of some actual writers, various films, and probably a comic book or two that maybe seeps in but, honestly, I've been saying strange things in a strange way since I was a small boy.
What was the central point of inspiration for The World That Never Was?
M: Well, when my previous band was breaking up and my previous partner vanishing from my life the world took on this really dark hue. It really did seem fraught with monsters and horrors and I wanted to capture that feeling of being kind of caught in a nightmare and trying to find your way out of it. I was probably in that nightmare long before things started to break apart that was probably why it did, so it was more like realizing that you yourself are the monster. Musically, we wanted an almost operatic range from high to low, gloss to grime, pop to almost death rock. I wanted something surrealistic on both levels. That sure sounds like total insanity, but I think for the most part we pulled it off.
What was it like working with Josh Clarke?
M: He's a great guy - really intuitive engineer. He is used to working with people like the New Pornographers who solve songs in unexpected ways. Hopefully, we do that too and, if so, he certainly helped us. His studio with Charles Burst, The Seaside Lounge, is a great place to be an artist within.
My Favorite had a strong cult following. Has that fanbase transferred over to The Secret History?
M: I think for some of the older fans it took a while to accept the harder edge and glam influence that was mixed into the pop. MF was almost ethereal at points and Andrea had an almost 'little girl lost' quality. Lisa is much more confrontational and grown up in her performances. But, they've come around and fortunately we've made a lot of new fans, which in some ways is even more gratifying.
How does the band’s music benefit from the addition of Lisa and Erin on vocals?
M: Quite simply, it allows us to do a lot of harmonies - some really rich girl-group type stuff that I really like.
You recently played a couple of shows on the West Coast. How did those go?
M: Really well. L.A. was a lot of fun, probably better than any show there with My Favorite. I'm one of those New Yorkers who doesn't hesitate to say he loves coming to L.A. I need a few months here with a manual typewriter. Portland was really tremendous…a quirky venue, which was a converted chapel of a funeral parlor - great crowd, atmosphere….San Fran was also really special - a solid gang of really passionate people that really supported us.
For those who have yet to see your live show, what can they expect?
M: A lot of different levels from jangly to chaotic. Lisa and I sweating and thrashing about. We don't look at our feet. We perform and try to express everything we put into these songs. Occasionally there is a rambling monologue from me while people tune.
What are the Modern Problem parties like and how does one get invited?
M: Ha! All are invited! Just show up. We basically just wanted to really take control of some of our shows. Curate the bands, the venues, the DJs, show films, etc. Make it a real complete event with a focus on supporting different artists, so we've shown short films, featured a graphic novelist, etc.
Has Myspace been a beneficial outlet for the band?
M: It is what it is - a place for people to hear some of our music. I think Facebook has been more beneficial because we are able to have a more direct dialogue with fans and also share things we are interested in.
Lisa, what was life like growing up with your father Mick Ronson?
L: My dad was a warm, funny, and very kind person. He was a working musician and a husband and father. He didn't always want to go out on the road, but he had to pay the bills. He liked to watch 'The Price is Right'. He liked to play card games and to go bowling. I was young when he passed... I wish I could have known him as an adult... but growing up he was just a normal dad. I still had to show him my report card. I miss him so much.
How did that experience shape your life as a musician today?
L: I suppose it helped me listen to and appreciate all different types of music. He had eclectic taste... some of the music he liked still mystifies me. I don't necessarily have to like everything I listen to but I like to be affected by it.
What was it like working with Ian Hunter?
L: Ian is amazing, talented, and truly a lovely person. His energy is infectious. The ease with which he plays is inspiring. You can tell he is having a lot of fun up there playing. He is one of the best live performers around today. I hope we will work together again one day.
What was Morrissey like?
L: I met Morrissey in the studio when he was working with my dad on 'Your Arsenal'. He was... polite.... and uninterested in me. Why would he be? I remember we said, “Hello” and then he went off to play a piano. I imagine he was thinking about the album he was making, as he should. It was a pleasure and privilege to have met him.
My family is from Brooklyn, and I go there about once a year. What are some places I should check out?
M: Well, both myself and keyboardist/co-producer Kurt Brondo love to go to Barcade in Williamsburg in the early evening before it gets too crowded. They have great obscure beers and 50 vintage arcade games from the 70s and 80s lining the walls. Mondo is a great dance party run by some friends. I like to have pizza and peronis at Motorino. Another chum spins great tunes at night at the Last Exit bar. Aside from Barcade...I like Harefield Road, Zablowski's, and Bruar Falls.
L: The Bellhouse, Little Field, Southpaw, Black Sheep, and Fort Defiance.
M: Aside from Motorino...Du Mont Burger is tasty. I like 'Diner' for brunch, mainly because it's in a decaying diner far from the 40s. If you venture into Queens, Dehli Heights in Jackson Heights is an ace Indian joint. It’s better than the more famous Jackson Diner.
L: Gen and The Good Fork.
M: I like 10 ft. Single right off Meeker. There’s a giant surfboard outside.
L: Eponymy, 10 ft. Single by Stella Dallas, and Fluke Vintage Clothing.
What does The Secret History have in store for the rest of the year?
M: Time to really get to work on the follow up LP. We are also going to do a couple more videos for the current record and play more shows here in Gotham and wherever else people want us.
Check out the band’s video for “Johnny Anorak” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvmfsbT2NfY
For more on The Secret History visit: http://thesecrethistory.net/, www.facebook.com/thesecrethistory, www.myspace.com/friendsofthesecrethistory
Interview by Nikki Neil, Photo courtesy of The Secret History