Josh Garza was sitting in a cabin in the Catskills-cold and isolated, with no cell phone reception-when he decided that David Bowie was completely out of his fucking mind.
"Bowie told us to check out this studio in upstate New York," the Secret Machines drummer explains. "And at the time, we were like, "Fuck, if Bowie says it's cool, then we should do our next record there.'"
But after hours in the car up a nearly impassable mountain and miles away from civilization, Garza realized that recording their second album would be a completely different experience than their first, which was done in urban Chicago. The Catskills were beautiful, he says, but it was also one of the loneliest places the band had ever been. And Garza's originally from the middle of Texas, so he's seen lonely.
"I remember feeling really isolated going into it, and feeling even more alone when I got there," Garza says. "I guess I would recommend it to other musicians, but, at the same time, I ask myself, "Would I really want to go back to that place? To relive that?'"
It's been nearly four years since the Secret Machines left Dallas and plopped down in the middle of New York City. Garza and the Curtis brothers-Brandon (vocals, bass, keys) and Benjamin (guitars, vocals)-had spent time in the bands UFOFU, Captain Audio, Comet and Tripping Daisy before forming their own trio. When they finally did, the Secret Machines took off almost immediately. With only one EP (2002's September 000) and a handful of live shows, they signed to a major label and released their debut, Now Here is Nowhere, in 2004. The album's meandering indie-pop power made it a quick hit.
"It's funny, because that's all the shit we knew," Garza laughs. "We put everything we had on the record and hoped it was good enough, because we didn't have anything else to play. Somehow, it worked."
After two consecutive years of touring for Now Here is Nowhere, the trio returned to New York City, to relationships and a home life they didn't recognize. No surprise that things change a bit after two years, but Garza insists that the sense of isolation pushed their sophomore album, Ten Silver Drops, into much more interesting territory.
Garza likens recording in the Catskills to summer camp. You get there, you don't know anyone, you hate it. But after a couple days, you get over it and begin to have some fun with your new friends. Feeling the alienation and then the sense of belonging make it an intense experience.
"I think that's why there are a lot of indie bands I don't like, because there's no intensity," Garza says. "I want to believe you. Our whole goal as musicians is to spark something in the audience, to make them feel as honestly as we do."
The band's new tour is a creative chance to do that. The Secret Machines will be playing dozens of shows in the round-an idiosyncratic set-up for a rock tour.
"We want to see a rock show from a different angle," Garza says. "It's like one of our earliest tours with Trail of Dead. Every night they would completely fucking kick our ass and just blow us off the stage, and it showed us that every night there are no excuses.
"Unless you're in the hospital, you gotta get up there and make it the best night of your life."