One our favorite Chicago psych rock acts returned to Austin this May to play the Psych Fest stage for the second time. Austin seems to be becoming a second home for Secret Colours, having recorded their new album there just a few months prior. We caught up with the band at the fest and talked about the new LP, Positive Distractions, the festival itself, and how they escaped one of Chicago’s worst winters to record some of their best work to date.
MWA: The new album came out Tuesday, right? More or less?
Hah, yep! The 28th… or was it the 29th..
MWA: I’m losing all track of the days, too. You recorded it here Austin, am I right?
Yeah, at Dripping Springs; it’s about 40 minutes outside Austin.
MWA: So, what was it like recording in Austin? Was it cool to get out of your element?
Ah yeah, it was incredible. I dunno, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. You’re like… out on a ranch with no distractions, and you know we lose track of time, its easy to get lost in it
It was definitely an immersive experience.
We talked, like, if we’d done it in Chicago, there were distractions, there’s home.. So, for us, we were forced into a situation where we wanted to create something.
MWA: Well, you were in Chicago in the dead of one of the shittiest winters we’ve ever had, so I can’t quite blame you for leaving for a bit. I was talking to The Asteroid #4 about their move from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and it’s like.. well, sometimes you just can’t write a certain type of music in a certain climate. So anyways, was there anything you were going for in the new album as opposed to what Peach strived for?
Yeah, we definitely wanted a bit more of a pop sensibility and with the new members and recording with Dan [at Dandysounds] we definitely got that. We wanted to keep the psychedelic heart true, but add a little bit more pop.
MWA: I hear that. When I heard you were heading down to Austin, it definitely seemed fitting. This is the mecca of psych music. But yeah – the new album – some of the songs remind me of the Zombies and the keyboards sound like old farfisa’s and hammond’s, what kind of 60s influences do you guys have?
Well, the Beatles for sure.
Like you said, The Zombies. The Kinks. Buffalo Springfield.
Oh yeah, we listened to Buffalo Springfield, the self-titled album every night before we went to bed while recording down in Austin. We did it the first two nights, and then we were like ‘Well, we might as well keep it going!’
MWA: So this is the second time you’ve played psych fest. How do you feel about playing psych fest as opposed to local gigs, like at the Empty Bottle back in Chicago. Is it a much different crowd?
It’s definitely a lot more immense out here… a lot more fun I feel like. I mean, we love playing Chicago. We always will – it’s our home.
MWA: You guys have a pretty good following. It’s always good to see Chicago bands down here. It’s nice to see you guys getting national attention. Are you enjoying the festival so far?
Oh yeah, of course. We caught Unknown Mortal Orchestra yesterday, which was awesome. Woods, The Zombies (of course). It’s insane – just being at this festival with so many like-minded people and bands.. It’s so, like, for the bands.. and the fans.. it’s everything.
MWA: It’s more like a psychedelic conference. We all just meet and mingle over music we love.
Yeah, it’s very simple. Everyone enjoys themselves.
MWA: How’d you get involved with APF to begin with? Do you know Christian Bland/The Black Angels, or was it a friend-of-a-friend situation, or just plain old good luck?
Ok so, at 2012 at South by Southwest, we were invited to play the Austin Psych Fest stage – so Reverberation Appreciation Society – and they did it at Emo’s before it was torn down. We just met them, they’re rad guys, Rob was one of the dudes involved, and we just kind of went from there. We stayed in contact, and we’re lucky to be part of this.
MWA: Yeah, they seem to just rotate the line-ups every few years, yet still incorporate a bunch of really good new acts – switch it around. Who have you guys been excited to see so far?
Well, the Dandy Warhols somehow get better every time. We caught some of the BJM, too…
Yeah, we were back and forth between that and of Montreal.
MWA: Yeah, that was killing us too; they were on at the same time.
I haven’t seen of Montreal since I was 18, and it’s just such an experience. It’s amazing.
MWA: He’s real good at crafting an entire experience out of a live performance.
We saw Golden Dawn Arkestra; they were pretty sweet. Had dancers and everything. It was a total theatrical experience. I really liked it.
MWA: What was the decision to release the new album as two EPs – you released it as two parts and then the full album came out. Was it to generate a little bit more buzz?
Well, the first two EPs you can only get separately, digitally. The album itself you can only get analog, on vinyl, cassette, CD – even though those do come with digital downloads. But still, if you want to listen to the full album as an album, you’ve gotta get the real deal. It’s also to give people a taste of what the album is. If you don’t like the first EP then you don’t have to buy the second one. I feel like it hasn’t happened quite yet, but i feel like within five years, in the future, the idea of a band putting out an album is going to be an archaic idea. it’s already starting to happen because of digital media – where it’s easier to put ut EPs and singles. So that was the route we weaned to go where it was trying to be progressive, but it just going back to how music was released in the 50’s and the 60’s with more of a series of singles and 45s.
I’m a huge fan of records – full LPs – so when we were floating around the idea of released EPs, I was kind of like “Okay..”, but in my mind, I just really wanted to put out an LP. This was kind of like our compromise.
I mean, you can still approach it as an album, and then just kind of split it up after it’s done. With the ease of digital media, it’s really a mixed blessing, because you can put out a single, you don’t need to really compile an album, but it’s maybe just making bands lazy. An album takes a lot more thought, a lot more energy.
MWA: You released a video maybe a month ago made of all stock footage…
Oh! “Can’t be Simple”.
MWA: Yeah! What made you guys take that route as opposed to a plot-based video?
It was more of a practical choice. At least for bands at our tier, it’s hard to get a budget together and find a director, agree on a plot line, schedule a shoot date… More or less, we were thinking about doing that eventually, but in the meantime, I went into the Prelinger Archives, which are a public domain site on the internet, and I was just like “If things don’t work out, let’s have this as a back-up”. I sent it over to the guys, and they liked it. I think that the idea of the video correlated to the theme of the song in the sense that the song was “Can’t Be Simple” which is kind of the idea that from Step A of writing a song to Step Z which is the printed vinyl that’s shrink-wrapped… it’s a very difficult process and to show a video that is going through the process of ‘this is how sounds works’ and ‘you record it into this medium and then it goes to thIS medium’, it’s a confusing process.
MWA: It’s a great video, and I thought it fit very well. Your sound is very vintage, so the vintage footage seemed like it worked.
It was all educational films from the 60’s that was shown in science class about how vibrations work.
MWA: What’s next? tour or are you done recording for a while?
I dunno! We want to tour, but we’re also down to come back here and make another record, so we’ll just see what happens.
MWA: There wasn’t a huge gap between Peach and this one..
Well, Peach was recorded in 2011, it just took a bit longer to put out for… many reasons.
We learned from it, which is why I feel like we’re at a much faster pace now.
MWA: With the line-up change, what’s the dynamic like now? Was there a big difference, was there a lot of adjustment to be made, or did it just kind of fit?
It’s definitely a big difference. the work is definitely spread out a lot more equally whereas before I’d just write, like, all the tunes and we’d have skeletons and we’d all take it from there, but now everyone has an equal part in it I feel like. it’s a lot more democratic.
This is the first time I recorded with Secret Colours, on this album, but compared to what I gather from how the previous albums were recorded, I feel like there’s a lot more time spent in the pre-production period where it was when you went to record we had the songs and a majority of the arrangements and their structure, and then we just focused on the details for the recording process. I think the previous albums were done more in the studio, all at once. We spent a lot more time ourselves, just us four, figuring out the parts.
MWA: So, before you even went to Austin, the skeletal form of the album was pretty much there, as far as the structure?
Yeah – there’s a song “Quite Like You” that’s on the album, and that’s the only one that we did while recording. It just kind of popped up. Other than that, everything else we’d kind of done our own pre-production in Chicago.
Just the skeletons and stuff where there, but all the bells and whistles came from the recoding process. We were able to experiment with keyboards and alternate percussion parts and stuff.
Positive Distractions is available via bandcamp in just about every format might imaginable, Digital, Vinyl, CD, & Cassette (sorry 8-Track lovers). Give it a spin in whatever flavor you prefer, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
LIVE PHOTOS BY DAN JARVIS