“Dude, did you take drugs?” “Were you high?” This is the type of question that can cut short your recap of a show by the Secret Machines. And you can’t blame the Rolling Stone co-workers who ask: The New York-based psychedelic rockers’ newly released second album, Ten Silver Drops, does open with the track “Alone, Jealous and Stoned.” Oh, and their strobed-out live act is like a budget club precursor to Pink Floyd’s 1994 Division Bell Tour, with songs and lights creating the musical montage for an acid trip.
“That’s the way psychedelic music is supposed to be,” says guitarist Ben Curtis. “You’re going to get pigeonholed anyway. You might as well dig your own grave.”
The Secret Machines rockumentary started in Dallas, where Oklahoma-bred brothers Ben and bassist/singer Brandon Curtis met drummer Josh Garza. Jacked-up on similar sonic goals, the three recorded their first EP, September 000, in a Chicago studio within two months of getting together. From there, the trio would follow the fork in the road that led to Brooklyn — and New York’s ever-churning garage rock scene — renting a one-room apartment that doubled as their rehearsal space. No heat or hot water for weeks, the story goes, with the chapter ending with a record deal with Reprise. Their critically lauded full-length debut, Now Here Is Nowhere, following in 2004.
After road-testing many new tunes — including “Faded Lines,” “Lightning Blue Eyes” and “Daddy’s in the Doldrums” — the Secret Machines holed up at Allaire Studios in the Catskills in upstate New York to record. “Being able to sleep and work in such a beautiful situation is pretty lucky,” Ben says of the mountaintop set-up where artists including David Bowie, Norah Jones and My Morning Jacket have recorded. “We make music that’s kind of atmospheric, so we tend to be influenced by the scenes.”
While Ten Silver Drops righteously boasts the Band’s Garth Hudson on accordion on “I Want to Know If It’s Still Possible,” the album brings a more subdued soundscape than the rocket-launching music of Nowhere, with lyrics true to the open-ended psych-rock form. Also faithful to psychedelia, the album was named after a poem Brandon composed in a dream: “The lining’s gone and all that’s left is ten silver drops.”
“We don’t make songs about stories,” explains Brandon, the band’s main songwriter. “We want to leave the audience and the listener to their interpretation,” adds Garza. “That’s the beauty of listening to someone like Pink Floyd.”
“There’s no reason to take the mystery away because of your ego,” says Ben. “Everything we do is really for our audience.”