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Secret Colours Discuss Stepping Out of the ‘New Psychedelic’ Bubble

Secret Colours
Lenny Gilmore

Secret Colours have one of the least appropriate band names on the planet. The Chicago rockers have made absolutely no secret about what colors their sound, and really, why would they? They could lie and say they’re not into ’60s garage and psychedelia and ’90s Britpop and shoegaze, but their 2010 self-titled debut outs them as unabashed fans of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Stone Roses and Brian Jonestown Massacre. So are lots of other bands, and following the release of that first album, the group got in good with the giants of their backward-looking, pedal-stomping scene. They’ve since shared stages with the likes of the Raveonettes and Warlocks and fuzzed it up at such festivals as Austin’s Psych Fest.

Having proved quite adept at mystic jangling and distorted droning, Secret Colours aim for a slightly more expansive sound on ‘Peach,’ their recently released sophomore effort. It’s not a huge departure — the prefix “neo” and suffix “gaze” still offer reasonable shorthand for whatever critics decide to call this stuff — but every now and then, the group throws in some piano or melodica, just to prove they haven’t nodded off at the controls.

Checking in with Diffuser.fm via email, singer, guitarist and songwriter Tommy Evans explained how ‘Peach’ producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine) helped Secret Colours achieve their goal of sounding less like their influences and more like themselves.

This record has lots of the distorted guitar people expect, but with the melodica on tunes like ‘Blackhole’ and ‘Me’ and piano on ‘My Home Is In Your Soul’ and ‘Love Like a Fool,’ you veer off in some really cool directions. To what extent was branching out and experimenting a goal?

We did strive to experiment a bit on this one. We didn’t want to make the same record twice. However, most of the new direction on this record was inspired directly from us becoming comfortable with ourselves, musically, and not using our influences as a crutch. For all the people involved in creating this record, their personalities more easily shine through then the last.

Are there any songs you really pushed yourself on? Did you surprise yourselves at any point?

We pushed ourselves on all of these tracks. Brian made sure of that. Before working with him, our attitudes let us settle for good enough. I felt we’ve learned a lot about the importance to giving it all you have to make a record because that’s what makes it genuine. Not the ideas themselves. This process and production our this entire record felt like a surprise, or more of a discovery.

You call yourself a “sleeker” band now, since you’re down to four members. How has that affected the sound? Is less more, in terms of personnel?  (Fewer to split those fat paychecks, eh?)

Being a four-piece again has nothing to do with us getting more money, because we don’t really make money as a band [haha]. All lot of personal things happened between the members of the band following the ‘Peach’ sessions which forced us to rearrange our lineup a bit. The ‘Peach’ sessions have become a little nostalgic for us now, since it was the last collaboration with the original members.

Playing in a quartet again, with a new bassist, allows us to have a fresh perspective on songs that are becoming aged to us. We are able to reinvent the performance of these songs to fit more with the direction we seem to be going. It’s also easier to manage with less personalities in the band, [guitarist] Dave [Stach]‘s and mine are big enough for Secret Colours as it is [haha]. But un actuality, it makes the songwriting process more interesting, because everybody’s voice is heard.

What role did Brian Deck play? Is he a hands-on producer, or did he kind of let you guys go? Was there a record he’s made that you really like and wanted to borrow elements of?

Brian was amazing to us. He pushed us out of our comfort zone which made us better technically and creatively. I remember doing takes while tracking drums, bass and guitar where we thought we nailed the take, but he would tell us something like it wasn’t quite there yet, or that was s–, do it again. It was a new too us to have to play to that level of perfection. It made us grow, for sure. Definitely a fantastic experience working with him.

Is it challenging to borrow from your influences — ’60s psych-rock, Britpop, etc. — but still put your own spin on things? Do you guys feel like you’ve carved out your own identity and avoided becoming a genre band?

Early on, we made the mistake of wearing our influences on our sleeves, which trapped us under the “new psychedelic” bubble. As we are getting older, we are becoming less concerned about being a genre band and more concerned about being ourselves. What made bands from those eras so great wasn’t really the music itself but the message behind it, or more or less what was pushing them personally to create the beauty they did. That’s what made the greats (that were available to us) stand out from the pretenders. That’s what we feel is important to focus on when creating something.

What’s next for Secret Colours?

We are writing loads of new material and ready to hit the Chicago street festivals, so come say hey if you’re around.

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