Secret Broadcast’s triumphant return

If you love ‘em so they say set ‘em free. That at least is that rationale taken by fans of Secret Broadcast a beloved once-local atmospheric rock act who’ve moved to greener — ahem greyer — pastures in Toronto. As a parting gift the band cut 2009’s Exploding Spiders the record that landed the band considerable notoriety and incredulous reviews. (“The best thing that’s come out of Calgary since well ever” writes the Georgia Straight . Tommy Chong is pissed.)

Fast forward to the present and the band’s making its first appearance in Calgary — that’ll be on Saturday July 30 at the Marquee Room — since early 2010. And as it turns out they’re also armed with a batch of new songs from their upcoming album Hungry Ghosts set for release in September. Naturally we were curious. Read on.

Word has it that Fast Forward played a role in the genesis of Secret Broadcast. What’s the story behind that?

Singer-guitarist Matt Lightstone: The original lineup of the band came from a Fast Forward ad and we started the band really quickly after that. But now we have a new lineup relocated the band to Toronto a year ago although our bassist was in Fast Romantics so he’s from Calgary as well. The reason we relocated had to do with the proximity to more places to play. We were really grateful to Calgary and we had amazing experiences there — we got to play the main stage at Virgin Fest we opened for Metric and Matthew Good. But for us to progress we wanted to reach more people with our music and that had a lot to do with why we moved out East.

Fair play. Is there anything distinctly Calgarian that you carry with your sound?

I wouldn’t say so with our sound. But I think we brought some of the sensibilities — it was the sense of community that we built with other bands. It’s something we’re really grateful for and even when we moved to Toronto we’ve remained really good friends with the Fast Romantics and other bands in Calgary. The one thing we took away from Calgary was an amazing sense of community people working together to build a scene.

How do you think each city’s music scenes compare? Is it harder to get noticed in Toronto?

It’s been a great experience so far. Right away we’ve been playing the major venues in Toronto — The Horseshoe El Mocambo — and they’ve really embraced us. We’ve captured the interest of Jon Drew who produced Tokyo Police Club Fucked Up and the Arkells. I mean there’s industry in Toronto and they’ll be at your shows and in Alberta it wasn’t always likely to have a label at one of your gigs. So far we’ve captured a lot of notoriety for only having been there for 10 months.

You’re originally a Torontonian though. What were some of your finest memories?

Well one was when we played Virgin Fest for the first time standing at the side of the stage watching Stone Temple Pilots and Flaming Lips and having beers. That was one of the best experiences of my life — being on stage with our friends in Fast Romantics and some of the people in X92. It’s tough to beat that.

That and you piqued the ears of Richard Branson.

We won something called the Oh Henry What Feeds Your Hunger contest where we were competing with 100 bands. The judges were Alan Cross [of the Ongoing History of New Music] and Richard Branson and we were chosen as the winner. We got flown out to Toronto to play Virgin Fest and we performed at a private concert for Richard Branson. It was surreal he got on stage and danced while we were playing. It’s the first time we were introduced on stage by a billionaire!

So what’s a private party with him like? Was it like full of white tigers and stuff?

[Laughs] It was an afterparty. You had areas sectioned off for bottle service and it was full of people who were dressed really nice but were still willing to dance. It was a pretty cool experience.

Exploding Spiders received some pretty high praise from amongst others us the Georgia Straight and ChartATTACK. Did you feel any pressures with Hungry Ghosts to live up to the standards it set?

No because our new record is the best thing we’ve ever done. We don’t compare it to our last work — we’re just doing what comes naturally. I’m more connected to the music on this record than anything I’ve written in the past. And the songs live the response has been tremendous from the audience. So we’re not concerned with what the critics say but we’re really happy with what we made.

So why do you say you have a closer connection to the new songs?

We got caught up in a sound with the last record. We were expected to do a dance-rock sound but there were some acoustic songs some droney atmospheric songs. But this is closer to what I grew up with and my main inspirations — my influences range from Elliott Smith to classic rock to ‘90s rock. But what got me to pick up the guitar was stuff like Nirvana and that sound is captured on this record.

Now you selected an acclaimed Canadian producer Jon Drew to work on your new record. What was it like working with him?

We were just looking for a producer that we respected. He’s done albums that we actually enjoy — the Arkells record was amazing we love all the Tokyo Police Records. From a technical level the sound is top-notch. He was interested in working with us so it came together really well.

What specifically did he bring to the table?

He has an amazing ear for tone. He’s a drummer in a band called Uncut so he’s good at capturing big drums amazing guitar tones amazing bass tones and amazing vocal sounds. With that it helped us capture the sound we wanted for this record. And he gave us feedback if songs would need parts cut — the typical stuff.

We touched on this earlier but sonically what did you decide to mix up with your new LP?

Well we’re getting back to our roots which is rock. They’re still [use] of delays [pedals] which give it a dream-like feel but it’s a rock record. And that’s what we wanted to make. We mess around with different sounds — there’s trumpets on some of the songs there’s synths. But primarily this is a guitar-driven rock record to get people’s booties shaking.

Thematically and lyrically are there any common threads that run through the record? What informed the writing process?

I naturally [gravitate] towards escape in my lyrics. For me music is my religion it’s my biggest escape. And when I write lyrics I try to write something that gets listeners to lose themselves in the moment. I wrote a song called “Los Angeles” which is a little about the move to Toronto but it’s also about the theme of moving somewhere else to escape. It’s about the craving for something new — there’s a million different ways to look about how to run away or how to progress. I see it in religion the pursuit of money or the pursuit of career. And moving to a new city that’s a matter of progress to me.

You’re performing with two up-and-comers in Nix Dicksons and Black Phoenix Orchestra. What do you think of both bands?

I love them. There’s a huge amount of great bands in Calgary’s scene. It was a hard decision to choose the bands we wanted to play with — but we’ve played with Darren [McDade Black Phoenix Orchestra’s singer] in the Lions and we’ve seen Nix Dicksons and we really respect them. Both create high-energy fun music. While we’re all different I think we’ll work really well together.