Right off the top I offer a word of warning: be careful when googling The Wet Secrets – it will lead you down a rabbit hole you may or may not want to go down.
That aside, writing about or discussing music often leaves me scratching my head about how to describe a band’s sound. It’s always easiest to just compare a band to other bands to give readers an idea. Yet, even though I know what I hear, I don’t always want to force a band into a particular corner and individually we all don’t hear the same thing. In the case of Edmonton, Alberta’s The Wet Secrets, it’s best to just let them tell you. The Wet Secrets are “a five-piece rock’n’roll dance band that plays the kind of music you could expect to hear if The Stranglers piggybacked Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass through the Rose Parade”.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The Wet Secrets do have a gimmick, okay maybe two – there are no guitars, and they all wear marching band costumes. I hate to actually call them gimmicks because once you hear the music it all comes together. This is smart, catchy, new wave/post punk inspired music – along the lines of what Talking Heads were putting out in the late 70s and early 80s.
The Wet Secrets are:
Lyle Bell on lead bass and vocals
Trevor Anderson on drums and vocals
Kim Rackel on trumpet, tuba and vocals
Emma Frazier on trombone and vocals
Paul Arnusch on keys, congas and vocals
Christan Maslyk on saxophone, timbales and vocals
We caught up with lead vocalist and bassist Lyle Bell to give the goods on The Wet Secrets interesting background story – and why their new record “Free Candy” is only their third in almost 10 years.
50third: The band’s origin is explained as: “an impromptu drunken dare to write, record and release an album within one week. “ That record was “A Whale of a Cow” way back in 2005. Tell us what was behind the dare.
LB: I’ve always kind of had this ability to fire out songs pretty quickly and (while totally smashed) it seemed plausible that we could write, record and play a whole album in a week. It was an escalation of the usual “we should totally start a band” thing that all musicians do when drinking. I’m actually kind of proud of that week though because we managed to write some great tracks, some of which we still play today.
50third: The band members have other projects – Lyle (Shout Out Out Out Out) and Trevor (Dirt City Films), where does The Wet Secrets fit in term of priorities?
LB: This band was pretty much a side project since we started in 2005 but in the spring of 2013 Trevor and I made a pact to really concentrate on The Secrets as a serious project. We ate eggs and wrote out a plan of attack for the next five years. I feel like we’re rather on top of our shit now.
50third: The Wet Secrets have a very unorthodox lineup. Two keyboard players, tuba, trombone, bass and drums. Why no guitars?
LB: I was a guitar player in bands for years so I’m not sure how my disdain for guitar was fomented. I switched over to bass around the time Whitey Houston started in 1999 and developed a pretty distinctive playing style that sort of hogs the sonic middle ground, so guitar was unnecessary. I also always wanted a horn section in a band and it seemed like a good fit musically. Most horns sections are either doing ska or funk lines. I wanted our horns to hold down long chords so the bass could be more melodic without the harmonic centre being lost.
50third: How did the marching band costume concept come about?
LB: That was pure serendipity! We already had this pompous band going with horns and hot dancing ladies. Trevor’s mom brokered a deal to get us the old Red Deer Royals 70’s marching outfits. Trevor marched in the Royals when he was a kid so it was kind of a perfect sartorial Ouroboros.
50third: The first two records have a true garage sound, complete with punk-like titles like “I Teabagged Myself With Three Cans of Paint” and “Mr. Rimjob” – what were the band’s aspirations at the time?
LB: We were pretty drunk from 2005-2010. Original aspirations were to play some sweet shows and rage out.
50third: “Secret March” (amazing song!) from the second record “Rock Fantasy” was a favourite on the national CBC charts. There must have been momentum happening, why did it take 7 years to put out the next album?
LB: The CBC support was actually the glue that kept us together for a while. We were coming out of the boozy haze, had a keyboard player implode on us, had our OG trombonist leave for Scotland. We got hit in the face with some adult personal issues and also got busy with the other aforementioned projects. It seems ludicrous that it took seven years to get rolling again but those seven years went by in a heartbeat.
50third: I’ve seen Arcade Fire comparisons, but I also hear a bit of Talking Heads, B52s and The White Stripes. What were the band’s early influences and have they changed over the years?
LB: I’ve always been a huge fan of ’77 punk and post punk. Talking Heads, Buzzcocks, Television, The Stranglers, even XTC. That kind of thing was certainly my main influence in the early days plus a healthy amount of Iggy, Blue Cheer, MC5. As we got rolling along I got somewhat obsessed with Os Mutantes, Brazilian psych plus Afrobeat stuff like Fela Kuti & Africa 70. You may not hear that stuff directly in what I’m writing now, but it altered my mind. (Probably also why we added a timbale/sax as the new sixth secret.)
50third: The new record “Free Candy” is more polished and accessible – “We Should Make A Plan” should be on high rotation everywhere. How are things going for the band?
LB: We agree. This should be in high rotation everywhere!
Free Candy was maybe more polished because we were deliberately trying to write hooks and that lends itself to a smoother production style (IMO), and we recorded with Nik Kozub who is pretty precise at the desk. I also spent a lot more time tracking vocals, horns and keys so there is less punk rock slop in the mix (for better or worse).
This year has been great though! I feel like we’re the best we’ve ever been as a unit, sonically and mentally.
50third: It seems as the band has changed on “Free Candy” with more serious themes being explored – death, failed relationships, negativity – what changed in inspiring the band lyrically?
LB: We kind of came out of what I call the ‘weird period’ of 2010-2012. Inner turmoil and adult shit made it impossible for me to write songs like “Grow your own fucking moustache asshole” anymore. I stopped drinking and it made me shift my perspective. We are still running everything through the Wet Secrets kook filter so the new songs weren’t bummer jams but there was no going back to the bacchanal that was the first two albums. That was not a sustainable lifestyle.
50third: What is the Edmonton scene like? Is it conducive to a band like The Wet Secrets “making it”?
LB: The scene here is great but Edmonton is the musical farm team for Montreal / Toronto / Vancouver. I’m kind of entrenched here so I’ve resisted the pull of the monster cities, but so many talented people move away. Some of them do really well, some of them work at Starbucks on Sherbrooke.
50third: What’s next for The Wet Secrets in 2014/15 and beyond?
LB: We’ve got two of the best tracks we’ve ever written about to come out right away here on a special edition 7″. We’re already working on the next album which is tentatively titled “The Tyranny of Objects”. World domination to follow shortly after that.
Photo credit Max Telzerow