Written By Laura Curry
Allow the music of Secret Sound to sweep you away with their funky blues-tinged rock music that’s full of jammy instrumental breakdowns. From Kevin Hill’s soulful vocals, to the Hammond organ sound of the keys, and chord progressions that create a danceable groove, jazz elements add to the allure of their music. The Pop Break had the chance to interview Secret Sound in honor of their performance at Wonder Bar this Memorial Day to find out more about their history, funky sound, inspirations and what’s it means to be a part of the band.
Who are Secret Sound? (Names of the band members & the instruments you play): Secret Sound is Kevin Hill on guitar/vocals, Adam Alexander on drums, Dave Ferraro on bass, Bob Larsen on percussion and Andy Feldman on keys.
As an Asbury Park-based band, what’s your favorite part about the music scene there: Our favorite part of the scene is that there is an expectation for something good and unique to happen when a band takes the stage in Asbury at one of the major venues. The audience is open-minded and has high standards for what they are spending their time on. That’s a by-product of a music scene that is vibrant and competitive in terms of attracting crowds.
When did you form as a band? Has Secret Sound been a steady band since then? Over the years, how have you balanced your lives in order to stay in the band? What keeps you going: We formed during the Spanish-American War as a military brass band, but since that conflict was so short-lived and the need for battlefield music had become passè, we took to the bars of New Brunswick, NJ and Asbury Park around the turn of the century. There was a brief hiatus after the passing of Teddy Roosevelt, but we reformed in time for World War 3, around 2011. We’ve headlined the Stone Pony a number of times, most notably in the summer of 2016 when we did a rendition of the Allman Brothers’ Fillmore Album. It was timed perfectly and we had a packed house.
We’ve balanced our lives by making the band profitable and fun, so that playing gigs is never ever a drag for us. We have been through a lot personally and have seen each other through some very rough patches, and it’s understood that we’re there for each other come hell or high water. Our deep concern for each other’s well being and the spiritual connection we share is what makes our band special.
I’ve played with some of the top jazz musicians in the world in professional settings, but the “pro” vibe, with all the false humility and muted one-upmanship only causes the music to suffer in the end and create a disconnect between the stage and the audience. What keeps us going? The Krebs Cycle – check it out.
You have some clear blues vibes going with the Hammond organ, Kevin’s vocals and the harmonica, there’s plenty of instrumental breakdowns that are very “jammy” and have a nice groove to them and the guitar solos just add to the overall “Wow factor.” Considering all of this, how would you describe the sound and genre of Secret Sound? How does it reflect the personality of the band: We draw on a variety of styles – pretty much everything but metal and hardcore music – though at times, the music can be somewhat heavy. As a composer, I draw on my years playing blues, funk and jazz to inform the rhythmic and harmonic content of the music. The jammy approach to playing is really an offshoot of jazz improvisation, but with less sonic and formal constraints than a lot of straight ahead jazz playing.
The Grateful Dead would play the beginning verses/choruses of a song, then use that as a basis for improvisation, whether it was improvising on the chords, the feel or the general vibe of the song, but because there were no limits or pre-defined destinations for the jams, it could go anywhere. We try to do that to a certain degree. The lyrics to the songs are sometimes humorous and that’s us to a T. Maybe a Zappa kind of vibe there, not sure, probably not as clever actually…We play funky rock music, and as it has been described, rock is an amalgam of every style of music before it, American or otherwise. We like it when people dance so its gotta be funky.
I can see that you are very focused on the instrumentals and creating a groove that takes listeners along for the ride. What do you think are the most recognizable components of a Secret Sound song: The most recognizable components of a Secret Sound song would probably be a really danceable groove, lyrics that are maybe odd but somewhat interesting, chord progressions that are colorful and a good energy level all around. That’s what happens when it’s really working and when I don’t screw it up too much!
What inspires you to create and perform music: I can speak for myself in that I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s pretty much a biological function at this point. (see Krebs Cycle above) The possibilities that exist in creating music are literally infinite and the more I seem to think I know, the more I realize what’s out there and that I literally don’t know or haven’t experienced yet. There are technical challenges that are fun to try but that’s not the name of the game, really. Lately the motivation to create and perform music in Secret Sound is to make people happy and bring them together.
At a basic level, we like people to party responsibly and have a good time, dance and hang with their friends and get their groove on. If we can facilitate people’s happiness and sense of wonder for a little and that’s why we get money at the end of the night, not because we are great instrumentalists or are cute or funny. People come out to a show to have a good time and that’s what they are spending their hard earned-money on. We do not want to disappoint them and we want them to come back and take part in that circle of happiness that takes place at an awesome show. We’ve all felt it at times and we know how good it can be. What we can do as a band is make the world a little more beautiful and interesting for a while and help people embrace reality, because it is essentially beautiful—a lot of the time anyhow.
What message do you want to come across to listeners during your shows? At the end of your set, how do you feel? What do you want show-goers to takeaway from your performance: One message that we want people to get from our shows is that everything is really ok and that they’re awesome. It’s hard in music to create a back and forth like that and not have it be all about the performers. There are times when you are at a show and you are just basking in the glory of what’s going on onstage or the realization that you are witnessing greatness, but again if that’s the goal you get that “EW” moment more often than not. It’s not about avoiding that disconnect, but trying to create a connection and a participation feeling. At the end of a show, we definitely feel spent but when something magical happens, it has the feeling of a really good meal or watching a young child do something awesome and new. It’s gratification, not for us but because something cool happened and we were a part of it. We want the take away to be that show-goers were a part of that too.
As far as music releases, what songs do you have out: We have live versions of our songs available on a few platforms, bandcamp, Youtube etc. We’re currently working on a flurry of radio single releases that will comprise an EP or full album. I guess it depends on how many we eventually want to do.
What are your preferences when it comes to recording music? It seems like you prefer having live recordings of your songs: Personally speaking, I like live recordings because of the magic factor that takes place, but the unpredictability of the finished product makes it risky. Most of my favorite albums are live albums and that’s because of the feeling that anything can happen. The beautiful convergences and coincidences that take place musically in a live setting are what makes that worth it. That being said, we’ve really gone into the studio lately to create some recordings where those convergences and vibes are forged in a controlled setting. You can do very special things with technology if you use it right—as a vehicle rather than the ends themselves.
What are some of Secret Sound’s best achievements: Our Fillmore Album show as I said before, opening for Levon Helm, Johnny Winter, Booker T Jones, Dickey Betts, Johnnie Johnson. Pulling off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack last Halloween. Starting a very successful jam night on Tuesdays at Crossroads in Garwood. Staying together and keeping it going for a long time through major ups and downs. Being complimented by Asbury wrestling legend Bam Bam Bigelow. Convincing Jon Fishman of Phish to let us open for him by answering his question “What kind of music do you guys play?” with “Christian Death Metal” (all credit goes to Dave Ferraro, our bassist). In all seriousness, Dave getting his master’s degree in social work, raising families, being good to each other and ourselves, overcoming the demons that take out so many people in this music world—those outweigh the big slam bang successes or even the cool things that happen to a band if you do it long enough.
What does it mean to be a part of Secret Sound: TOTAL COMMITMENT (just kidding) Be there for each other and play your ass off. The two newest additions to the band, Bob Larsen on percussion and Andy Feldman on keys have elevated our groove to levels that it was never at before. We are tight and all are going in the same direction personally, musically etc.
The love is there and you can feel it. In a funny way, it caused me to write one of our newer songs called “Budding Bromance,” which is a lighthearted look at male friendship and the paradoxical ways we can express that. We support each other and we want that feeling to go out into the audience so people feel accepted and supported, regardless of anything.
If someone has never heard your music before, what song would you recommend that they listen to in order to understand what Secret Sound is all about? Why did you pick that song: I think there are maybe two songs, “Little Hours” and “Cruise Control.” Both are older songs, but they have their roots in the jazziness that typified a lot of early Secret Sound tunes. If you look at “Picture of Nectar” by Phish I guess you could say that those are our “Nectar” kind of tunes. The lyrics to “Little Hours” are quirky, historical, slightly humorous, but thought-provoking in a way. It’s also kind of historical fiction about New Jersey, our home state. “Cruise Control” just goes back forever and our longtime fans and friends all know it and it’s been one of our big show closers since the earliest times before mankind learned to master and control fire. It gives all of us a feature to blow, has the elements of a rockin’ blues tune on the guitar solo. It allows our drummer Adam Alexander to show how amazingly talented he is on the drums and gives us a chance to do some really tight group playing. It’s a pleasure to play. Those two songs encapsulate who we are I suppose, but some new stuff is coming out and like life, the music changes and evolves.
SECRET SOUND PLAYS TONIGHT AT WONDER BAR AT 7 P.M. WITH DES & THE SWAGMATICS AND TASH EVEN & KYLE