LOW MAINTENANCEBy Suzanne Ely
Forget drama - Secret Machines focuses on the music.
Some rock bands and solo artists thrive on dysfunction and chaos. They possess an uncanny skill for bottling tension, processing it, and releasing it back out into the world, beautifully synthesized into a killer song. This is the realm of a genius like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.
And then there are the well-adjusted, high-functioning musicians who toil quietly, free of internal drama yet still capable of producing highly nuanced, dynamic, and fresh music. They don't score the tabloid headlines but build a slow burn to success and respect. This is the realm of the Secret Machines, two brothers and a friend who are pleasant, polite, well spoken, and most importantly, talented, as evidenced on their sophomore release, Ten Silver Drops. Forget high drama - bassist/keyboardist/singer Brandon Curtis describes the Secret Machines' songwriting process as no-nonsense and extraordinarily basic. "We just do what we like to do. We want to spend our time making music. It's not a discipline; it's just how you end up living your life."
The Dallas-bred, New York-based trio tasted their first nibble of success two years ago with the release of their debut album, Now Here Is Nowhere. In an age when album sales are judged like opening night at the megaplex - 50 Cent's The Massacre sells 1.14 million copies in its first week! - the Secret Machines are entirely comfortable with the 100,000 copies that their debut has sold. Not bad for a band whose sound is experimental like the Flaming Lips, psychedelic like Pink Floyd, and rock and roll like Led Zeppelin.
No doubt, in terms of quantity, their success thus far has been modest, but consider that the Secret Machines' debut landed on quite a few critics' year-end top 10 lists and that their fans include legends such as David Bowie, U2, and the Band's Garth Hudson. "It's nice to be recognized," Curtis, 33, admits during a break in filming a video. "But we've never internalized it beyond the notion of it's nice to be noticed."
Forgive this trio if they haven't taken much time to indulge in praise. They've been too busy writing new songs, touring (two years and counting), toiling in the studio, and, most recently, filming an experimental, musically based art film in a small Texas arts community. The Secret Machines are assiduously focused on figuring out how to evolve musically - their main goal is to satisfy their own expectations. Their first album, Curtis explains, "was more of an introduction, a statement to our audience about who we are and what we're about. Once you've attracted everyone's attention, then what do you do? Our intention is to expand the conversation with this record."
Early buzz has been positive, but the group is already adept at shrugging off hype like so much background noise. Curtis sees an upside to such decidedly non-rock-and-roll pragmatism. "One good thing is that we're never going to have to do the artsy record to prove we're musicians, and we're never going to have to worry that we're just pinups. We're making music because we care about it."