- Bowie Approves: The Secret Machines challenge the conventional gig set-up with an 'in-the-round' performance<
"There's a statement made in art that for every new element you add, it decreases the value of all the other elements you had previously," says keyboardist/singer Brandon Curtis, of Texas rock trio The Secret Machines. "It's just like, you have three strong personalities, and three strong musicians and three strong ideas. When you add a fourth, it decreases the value of those previous three."
The Machines' belief in that concept is apparent, beginning with its trio format of Brandon Curtis, his brother, Benjamin Curtis (guitar/vocals), and Josh Garza (drummer). It's hard to argue with the less is more approach considering the music these three make.
The Secret Machines create a deceptively big sound. On Ten Silver Drops, the recently released follow-up to 2004's Now Here Is Nowhere, the trio craft an intriguing blend of atmospheric psychedelic pop and hooky, anthemic guitar rock. The airier side is represented by tracks like "1,000 Seconds" and "I Want To Know If It's Still Possible." The more direct, rocking side emerges on songs like the urgent "All At Once (It's Not Important)" and the brisk and hard-hitting "Lightning Blue Eyes."
According to Curtis, one reason they can create the illusion of sonic mass is rooted in the group's minimalist approach to creating music.
"For us, we feel like the space and the emptiness that goes between our musical ideas is actually enough of a statement in and of itself without having to fill it up with lush instrumentation or extra people strumming acoustic guitars or shaking stuff," says the keyboardist/singer.
The use of space in the songs also allows the group to realistically reproduce its music live. For their fall tour, they will perform "in the round" — a setting designed to bring fans up close to the band and its music.
"It's kind of like the next step for us in the sense of looking to this notion or idea of creating like an immersive experience with music, kind of going into a room, filling it with an audience and then making everyone forget that they're in a room," Curtis says. "You just kind of get the feeling of space and floating. I don't know, it's taking a very familiar element, which would be the club that people frequently go see bands in their town, and then making it seem completely different for a little bit."
So far, the band's efforts haven't produced huge record sales in the States, although the group enjoys greater popularity in the United Kingdom. But they have enjoyed a strong critical buzz from the start on both sides of the Atlantic.
They've also gained a particularly notable fan in David Bowie, who has touted the group on his website. Bowie also recently interviewed the Curtis brothers and Garza for a podcast set up on his website. Curtis, who considers Bowie one of his main musical influences, admits it's been a wild experience to get to know Bowie.
"There's a schizophrenia involved," he says. "Here's someone whose face you know from videos and album covers. Then here's this man who's like funny and nice and really cool and we're talking about people that we know and music that we like that's current. So it's like there's a split. [But] just to have entered into his consciousness, I think, is a really big compliment."