When The Secret Machines released their debut album, "Now Here Is Nowhere," in 2004, the future seemed limitless. The band's combination of Pink Floyd–style psychedelia, Zeppelin-esque crunch and Beatles-influenced melodies sent critics’ hearts aflutter and landed the band's music in TV shows ranging from "The O.C." to "CSI: NY." (How many other bands can say their music works equally well as the soundtrack to teenage romance and murder)?
Unfortunately, it's been downhill ever since. The band's 2006 follow-up, "Ten Silver Drops," was considered a disappointment. Then lead guitarist Ben Curtis left the band and Warner Bros. Records soon dropped the Brooklyn-based band.
"Warner Bros. conveyed to us that because of the way the record business is right now, they can't put their full energy into bands that are selling below a certain number of records," remembers singer/bassist/keyboardist Brandon Curtis (Ben's brother). "That number was much higher than what we ever sold. They were basically telling us we wouldn't be a priority, so we licensed our new record back from them and decided to put it out ourselves."
Despite all the drama, fans who lost touch with the band will find the group pretty much as they left it. Their latest self-titled album has the same strong melodies and dynamic range as their debut. But in the words of LL Cool J, don't call it a comeback.
"It's not a comeback, just a continuation," says Curtis. "I can see why it might seem that we haven't done much the last two years, but I'd rather describe it as a reintroduction."
We spoke with the singer about splitting with his brother, 20-minute jams and the reason he should have attended more laser shows as a kid.
Your concerts are full of crazy lighting and special effects. What inspired you to put so much into the visuals?
I like that stuff. I enjoy watching bands that pay attention to their visual presentation.
Did you go to a lot of laser shows as a kid?
Maybe I didn't go to enough of them. I could have gotten it out of my system then.
What bands do you think have great visuals?
When I was 18 or 19, I saw Skinny Puppy. The singer was really theatrical. There were televisions onstage and he vomited on them. At the end of the show, he hung himself. It was very over the top and you got the feeling there was something dangerous that was going on. [Secret Machines drummer] Josh Garza talks about the first time he saw the Flaming Lips. They used fire and also presented this element of fear and danger. It conveyed that on the one hand, it's just rock and roll, but it's also something to be a little afraid of.
What environment do you want to create?
When we first started, we used lights behind us lighting the audience. It was a little unsettling, listening to loud music with bright lights shining in their eyes. That created a certain kind of environment. Then we started using moving lights and colors that changed with the tone of the music. The idea was to create a hypnotic quality. Then we did an in-the-round tour to create an immersive feeling and bring people inside the music. We're working a new idea for this tour, but I can't talk about it yet.
Your shows are also known for their length—with songs sometimes extending to 20 minutes. Why stretch them out like that?
I just saw [German Krautrock band] Harmonia play last night. There are moments when they were playing that were so perfect and hypnotic and beautiful that I didn't want it to stop. I felt like I could listen all night. What's the hurry? If you find something good that gives everyone a good feeling, what's the point of moving on? I realize some people may think it's boring and repetitive, but to me it's interesting. It gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the music.
After your last album, your brother Ben left the band. What happened?
He decided he was interested in focusing his attention on his new band, School of Seven Bells. He felt that it would be difficult for him to do both. Was it a surprise? Yes and no. I noticed Ben was working on School of Seven Bells a lot and it was taking up a lot of his time. But I didn't think it would result in him leaving Secret Machines.
Did you think at any point that his departure might have meant the end of the band?
I don't know if I ever thought about it that concretely. But it definitely called things into question. I don't think it was ever like, "We're finished." It was more like, "Now what?"