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A Conversation with Secret Machines' Josh Garza

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Cranking up Secret Machines' Ten Silver Drops entails some risk: the risk that, like Kurt Vonnegut's character Billy Pilgrim, you'll find yourself unstuck in time. From the plainspoken regret of "Alone, Jealous and Stoned" through the interstellar "Lightning Blue Eyes" and the tumultuous "Daddy's in the Doldrums," the record's a mesmerizing, epic trip. It's reasonable to assume some of that sweeping vision stems from the Texas landscape where the trio got its start, some from the grind of touring, and some from, well, psychedelics, however you wish to define those. "I wish we could sell records and include a smoke machine, a strobe light and really loud speakers," says drummer Josh Garza. Gearing up for a unique tour "in the round," Garza's vegging out like any good rock star -- in San Antonio, with his mom.

Now, Ten Silver Dropsis reportedly a breakup record multiplied by three.

Sort of, yeah. This was the first time in our lives where we were touring this much, and we put a lot of strain on our relationships. And not even just breakups with the girls, the lady friends. It's like coming back and not even being able to deal with your old crew, your old buddies. You come back and your buddies want to go out to the bar, drink and shoot pool. And you're like, "Dude, I just came back from six months of hanging out at a club every night ... I'd rather rent a movie, wake up early, and go for a walk in the park."

So it's that kind of a breakup: the breakup with what once was yours. And now there's this new life. And ... it had a lot to do with girls. Girls don't like guys who aren't around. Much less, not around and on the road.

Isn't the "rock-musician boyfriend" a cliché?

The funny thing is, yeah. It is. In a weird way, all we have now is the music. 'Cause you can be a cliché -- as long as you deliver the goods.

Speaking of which, how does your in-the-round show work?

We all play facing the center. But depending on where you're standing, you're either in front of me or behind me, or in front of Ben or in front of Brandon. For me it's kinda exciting. Now people can get behind us -- it kinda lets them in on a world where they can see what I'm doing. The [usual] point of reference is blown out of the water -- you're really seeing it from a different angle, not the usual rock show.

You see musicians making music.

The one point we were mildly concerned about was "Secret Machines: In the Round." It sounds really pretentious, like "Who the fuck do these guys think they are?" And it's actually the opposite. We wanted to do something that was very indie rock, very psychedelic, very space-rock and very in your face. But we're not Def Leppard, we're not Neil Diamond, we're not in-the-round at the arena. We wanted to ride that fine line of, "Man, are these guys full of shit?" and "Man, wow, this is cool!" Biting off more than we can chew has kinda been one of our biggest fuckin' habits. We're always going for something, and would rather sound a bit pretentious than not do anything at all.

Why "psychedelic"? It sounds like a more naturalistic setting.

Because of the music involved, brother! We're not just playing pop music. I don't really feel like, in order to be psychedelic and indie, you have to be Lightning Bolt. I love Lightning Bolt. But it would be cool if, for once ... people besides those surrounding them in the center of the room [were] able to see them. It would be cool if I could hear what the hell he was singing through his fuckin' helmet or face-thing. And he could counter and say, "Well, that's the point." Well, OK, cool -- that's your point.

As a trio, how do you recreate the sounds on Ten Silver Drops? Do you use a sequencer?

No sequencers and no clicks. I'm gonna tell you a funny story: Warner signed us basically just because of the live show. The funniest thing was ... the label was like, "Can you put on the tape what completely blew us away live? Can you grab that intensity and put it on the record?" ... When we delivered the record, they started coming back to us like, "Do you think you can do this live?" Man, we can't win!

On that first record, Now Here is Nowhere, the huge drum sound blew people away. Why leave that behind on the new one?

There was never a decision to do that on the first record. Never, "OK, Josh is the focal point, so turn it up." It just happened. ... So when we started working on the second record, we never sat down like, "Oh, everybody loves the way the drums sound, so we can't lose that," or "Everybody loves it, so let's flip everybody out and lose it." It's really weird: Considering how loud the drums are on the second record, it's funny how for some people it's not loud enough.

I guessed you just tired of the John Bonham comparisons.

Let's not forget, I mean, I get compared to Bonham all the time, but I always think of Led Zeppelin III, where it's basically a guitar record. I never remember hearing anybody go, "Where's Bonham?" He was there.

Is there a sense that this is your make-or-break record?

Initially we thought it was gonna do decent, considering where we left off on the last record, the last tour. We felt like things were going OK. We recorded as best we could, mixed it the best we could, played the best shows we could. But we just felt like the label wasn't able to click with the consumer, if you will -- not to completely sound like an idiot. But the label did really did have a hard time connecting the dots. It's almost like that, in turn, has put pressure on us. Everything we do is make or break.

I meant, artistically the make-or-break?

Nah. Nah.

Secret Machines 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.). Sun., Oct. 8. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $16 ($18 day of show). All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

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