An Interview with Secret Shine
For many who read Somewherecold, Secret Shine is a very familiar band. They were one of those who emerged out of the shoegaze scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s, helping to forge what would become a movement among music lovers. After a hiatus, the band reformed in 2006 and has been releasing EPs, singles, and albums ever since. After seven long years, Secret Shine is now releasing their much anticipated There is Only Now, a triumphant album for the band, at least in this reviewer’s humble opinion. Before heading out on a European tour, the band answered my questions about how they write music, a bit about the history about their about to be released record, and what comes next.
Hello all in Secret Shine. Could you please introduce yourselves and tell us all what you do in the band?
Jamie – Bass and vocals
Kathryn – keyboards vocals
Dean – Guitar, vocals
Scott – guitar
Tom – Drums
What is the general writing process like for the band? How do you all go about constructing songs?
Jamie and Scott write most of the material, with Dean adding ideas sometimes. Jamie constructs the songs using Reason and Logic Pro normally, and the whole process can take months as each instrument is added bit by bit. For There is Only Now we decided to record in France in one week, though.
It’s been almost thirty years since the band came into being. Can you talk a bit about how the technological changes in recording and equipment have affected how you approach the recording process as well as your choice of how to make tones and textures in your music?
Since computers have become available for recording music, we generally tend to write, mix and produce on Mac computers, without the recordings ever leaving this environment. It’s also built bit by bit rather than all in one go. You might think computers would speed up the process, but it slows it down because there isn’t the urgency of paying a studio by the day to record your material. Since we have a choice of thousands of sounds, it’s really important to know what sound you want already before engaging with the software, otherwise, you could be there all day going through the sounds!
When you are exploring tones and textures in your sound, how do you go about choosing what you use and what attracts you to tones and textures? I want to ask the drummer and bass player the same question in relation to their own instruments. How do you choose tones (on bass) and then particular accents (on drums)?
We like a wall of sound for our guitars, and so tend to go for distortion, delay, and reverb, although to achieve the particular tone we want, we do need specialized reverbs that create pitch-shifted feedback.
Keyboards are also important to our sound and we tend to go for cinematic sounds like sampled vocals and strings. Also, some big bass synths which add low-end presence are helpful. The bass on the last album was run through a LA2A compressor which allows it to cut through the mix and creates a solid low end.
The drums don’t really deviate from a 2/4 accent and Tom likes to keep rolls to minium since the sound is already dense and the music doesn’t really call for it apart from the choruses and endings. A solid, steady beat is important for this type of music. The drums were heavily processed for the last album to allow them to really punch through the heavy mix.
Saint Marie Records re-released Untouched in 2015. First, how did that come about? Second, how does the album stand up in your eyes and what is your favorite part of that records?
Saint Marie approached us to let us know that they were fans of our original music and wanted to re-release most of our back catalog on one record. We were happy for them to do it, although didn’t know how much interest there would be in it at the time. It was really nice to see new artwork applied to the record and the best bit about it was hearing all the songs in one collection.
Looking back your entire catalog, what was your favorite era and do you all have any favorite tracks you like to play live that comes before There is Only Now?
It was pretty exciting in the early days when we had just been signed to Sarah and went into recording studios for the first time. You didn’t really know what you were capable of until you tried it since you couldn’t experiment much outside of that environment back in the 90s. It turned out we were the kind of band that liked to sonically experiment, which is why Untouched became such a rich sounding record.
Alright, on to There is Only Now. It’s no secret that I think this album is amazing. Can you talk about your recording and writing process behind the new album? Also, why the seven-year gap?
Jamie wrote quite a lot of the songs on that album, with Scott joining for the rest and dean contributing to one or two. Jamie wrote his songs using either an iPad or on Macs, and Scott wrote most of his on guitars. The songs tended to be built up in layers on the demos. We decided to record it in one go and went to the South of France to lay the tracks down with Corin Dingley, a producer and sound engineer we originally worked with on Untouched. We actually recorded the album in 2014, but got bogged down trying to perfect the mix, which went through three iterations before we were totally happy with it. We only release something when its right, and that takes as long as it takes.
I like to ask bands about specific songs that stand out to me on the most recent release. I was absolutely blown away by “All in Your Head” and “Make Me You”. Can you talk specifically about the writing and recording of these specific songs?
“All in Your Head” was written as an epic cinematic sound concept song by Jamie, with the chorus being the first idea. It was originally written completely on an iPad, which is a great mobile composition tool. “Make Me You” was a joint effort between Jamie, Scott, and Dean and when this happens, the melodies tend to be the strongest element of the song. It was more traditionally recorded on a Logic Pro with each of us playing our own instruments for the demo. When we got to France to record them properly, they were both recorded in much the same way. The vocals were the most intense part. We use around 18-20 tracks of vocals on average for these songs.
For the gearheads who read Somewherecold, what gear do you use both in the studio and live?
The gear in the studio tends to be fairly similar to our live. The exception is that we use for keys and effects, which tend to be software emulations of amps, pedals, and keyboards. Live we use a Fender, Gretch and Rickenbaker guitars and bass, Kathyn uses Propellerhead Reason for the key sounds and Tom uses Ludwig and Zildjian gear. Effects wise, we use a mix if distortion, delay, and specialized reverbs for the guitars, leaving the bass and drums pretty clean. In the studio, we also tend to use a lot of vintage compressors to achieve a tight, punchy sound on the final mixes.
Thanks so much for answering my questions. So, what’s next for Secret Shine?
We would like to tour with the new album some more, so any offers are welcome, but we’re also working on another new idea which will be mixed media.
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