SECRET CITIES: Reveals Themselves (Musically)

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I interviewed Secret Cities for innovative pop culture site FruitFlyLife. Click the link to read the article over on FFL and to browse this amazing site. Full interview below.

Secret Cities’ MJ Parker, Charlie Gokey and Alex Abnos have been touring at an accelerated pace since the release of their sophomore effort, Strange Hearts. In the past couple months alone they’ve played with The Love Language, Abe Vigoda, Toro y Moi and Crystal Stilts.

Having just flown back to the U.S. from Faenza, Italy, Secret Cities took time to talk to FruitFlyLife before running off to sound check for their next show at The Bishop in Bloomington, Indiana.

FruitFlyLife: You just returned from a European tour, how was it?
MJ Parker: Fantastic.
Charlie Gokey: It was pretty amazing.

Which city did you enjoy performing the most in?
Alex Abnos: We probably all have different ones. I’ll let somebody else answer while I figure out what my favorite is.
Charlie: My favorite place was a small town in Spain called Don Benito, mostly because it was such an incredible surprise to have such an amazing show in the middle of nowhere, halfway across the world. It was awesome.
MJ: My favorite city itself is maybe Amsterdam, but the shows in Don Benito were pretty fantastic.
Alex: I haven’t decide. I love them all for different reasons. In terms of an actual venue it was really an honor to play Zamora. We played at the Teatro Principal, which is a theater in the center of the city where they have opera performances and things like that. So we were playing in this giant really ornate theater with box seats and a big chandelier. I couldn’t pinch myself because I was playing drums and that would be hard — but I did the closest thing I could do to that in the middle of the show because we were playing such a beautiful space it was constantly overwhelming.

Now you’re touring all over the states. How is the energy different here compared to playing in Europe?
Charlie: Every country seemed to have a different energy to it in a way. Playing in the UK seems pretty much exactly like playing in the US. Some places like Spain seem overflowing with energy, goodwill and enthusiasm in a very unique way. We like both.
Alex: I’d say the one thing that’s different all over Europe and something that they have over the US is that they treat bands way better over there. Sorry US but you’re not doing it as good as they are, and that’s true on multiple levels whether it just be professionalism about sound check, and load in and stuff like that, and also being really nice and generous people about food and drinks. It’s kind of a whole different class in terms of that. I don’t know if the fact that we’re an American band going over there has anything to do with it, it probably does, but it’s better. It’s the little things.

You recorded your newest album Strange Hearts in an abandoned bank in Kansas City, Missouri — how did that come about? What was the experience like?

Alex: The bank building is actually something that my dad owns. How I came up in music is that I would put on shows in spaces that he had around town. He owns a lot of real estate and a lot of warehouse spaces so I’m constantly moving my stuff in and out of these various warehouse spaces across Kansas City. There came a point where I stored a bunch of recording equipment in my moms basement but I could never play it because we had elderly neighbors and they would complain so I had to get it out of there and there was this room off to the side in this bank building. The bank crashed and went out of business and my dad bought the space and there was a little room off to the side there that he wasn’t really planning on doing anything with so I just moved all my recording stuff in there and it was my studio for a while. Then we ended up recording the album there because we could make all the noise we wanted, anytime we wanted and nobody cared.

The album artwork is amazing. How did the concept come about?
MJ: You’d have to ask Micha Lidberg about that. He’s the artist.
Charlie: He’s awesome.
MJ: He’s awesome!
Charlie: He’s a wonderful guy, a wonderful artist. He did the artwork for both of our albums. We get compliments on that album art all the time, but the reality is that we like it as much as they do. We’re fans who were lucky enough to be able to put it on ourselves.

How did you become aware of him?
Charlie: Alex knew him from posters he’d make around town, and I was a fan of his from an art blog that I saw and we ended up approaching him and he was nice enough to lower his standards and do work for us.
Alex: When Charlie brought him up first and we were thinking of people to do art, as soon as he said it I was like “Oh, yeah, of course! Micah Lidberg. I don’t know why I didn’t think of him earlier. That’s perfect.” He did Pink Graffiti as well. Both of them are completely outstanding.

You aggressively recorded the album in three months and released it 7 months after your 2010 Pink Graffiti release. Do you see yourself continuing to put out albums at this pace?
MJ: We all live in different places and we were together in Kansas City for a brief period of time when recording Strange Hearts. Now we’re going to different places again.
Alex: The album came out so fast because we all made a concerted effort to take a year off from everything else and come together and make music and play shows. Unfortunately unless we become a huge hit in Japan or something like that I don’t see us being able to finance another year like that.

Where do all three of you live now?
Alex: In a van. In a couple months though, once were done with all this I’m moving to New York City, Charlie’s moving to D.C. and MJ is moving to Kansas City. So nowhere close to each other.

With each new release there’s a sense of growth and experimentation each time. What are some sources of inspiration for you when writing and recording?
Alex: We’re equally bored. We all like really different stuff. All three of us are into really different kinds of music and there’s a kind of push and pull with the influences. The recording process is always about trying to merge together about 13 different things into one thing that doesn’t sound scatterbrained. So it’s the process of making it sound real and not like a mash-up of something.

For Strange Hearts you took a lot of inspiration from the 60’s. What is it about that style of music that appeals to you?
Charlie: I think all of us go through different periods, different kinds of music that we like — but we all sort of returned to that 60’s pop sound. We all grew up on Elvis basically so we learned to love the music through that. It always seems like a good place to start. As far as actual music from the 60’s, it’s hard to describe reasons why you love it without sending pretentious, but I like the sort of the deceptive simplicity of a lot of pop music, the Shangri-las and stuff like that, and the flat out beauty of it. I think records from that era sound better. Period. They’re using “inferior” equipment from what we have now but those records still sound magical. We put it on today and it doesn’t sound dated, it sounds really smoky and nice and I think that’s lacking in a lot of today’s music. People are too eager to make everything sound really clean. Really it’s just about having a nice mix between clean and not clean.

You’ve been a band since you were 15, how do you feel your style and taste has evolved since then?
Charlie: I guess when we say the band’s been together since we were 15 it’s a little deceptive, we only really started playing a lot and acting like a band in the last year. Until now we’d been trading tapes and recording whenever we can but our taste has developed basically in the way it’s developed in our love. We all love the same things and it just evolved. It’s been a part of our lives.
MJ: [sings] Been a part of our lives…
Charlie: That’s our new single right there.

What are some of your favorite “secret” cities?
Alex: Lots. It’s hard to separate liking a city just because I like the city and liking a city because I like playing that city. I’d say one city that does both of those is the city we’re in right now which is Bloomington, ID. I walk around and I’m like, “Hey this is a really awesome college town, there’s a lot of cool things happening, a lot of people doing cool musical things and they also have a bunch of great venues, with great people who run them that are really fun to play. One in particular would be the Bishop where we’re playing at. So Bloomington!” Charlie: Also Chattanooga, Tennessee is great.
MJ: I like New York City; I’m a New Yorker. Also obviously Kansas City because I’m about to live there.
Alex: We like lots of places. We like America.

What’s your ultimate summer jam?
Charlie: Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison. We’ve been listening to this a lot.
Alex: We recently we’ve been having an ongoing conversation about albums from the 90’s that were really big that may or may not have aged well, and the one we all wanted to listen to again was Tragic Kingdom, the No Doubt album. We did that yesterday and remembered how great of a song Spiderwebs is and Sunday Morning. So I’m going to pick Sunday Morning because we listened to that just a little while ago and I love that song.

For more information on Secret Cities and their upcoming tour dates, please visit: http://westernvinyl.com/artists/secretcities.html

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