Words by: Richard Clarke
On March 3, The Secret Machines announced that founding member and guitarist Benjamin Curtis was leaving the band. His brother Brandon said:
The Secret Machines: Josh Garza & Brandon Curtis
Unfortunately, I also must share that after 7 and 1/2 years of playing music together Benjamin has decided to no longer be a part of the band. It is a sad day but also an exciting one as he prepares to focus full time on his new creative venture, School of Seven Bells.
The news of Benjamin's departure shocked fans and sent ripples through the music community. The Secret Machines have been on a steady rise, releasing two stellar full-length albums, including 2006's Ten Silver Drops. In addition to their vast studio abilities, the Machines have established themselves as a premier live act, so why did Benjamin leave his brother, child hood friend and band? And what does this mean for the future of Secret Machines? Will they forge on as a duo? Will they attempt to replace Ben? These are the questions that fans across the world have been asking. JamBase catches up with drummer Josh Garza to get some answers.
JamBase: First, I would like to say that I was thrilled to see that your band is going to be at the High Line Festival [on May 19 in New York City]. Is Benjamin Curtis [guitar] going to be with the band for that show?
Josh Garza: No, he left the band in January, and since then he's actually been focusing on his new band [School of Seven Bells]. It's just rough. We're on good terms and all, but I don't know if we're going to have him appear as a guest in the future.
Josh Garza by Richard Clarke
JamBase: So, are you going to have a different guitar player with you?
Josh Garza: That seems to be the question everyone's asking, and it's a hard one because at the end of the day, Benjamin really isn't replaceable. So, we've opted to really use it to our advantage. Instead of saying, "Let's go find a guy," we've decided to focus on me and Brandon being the main centerpiece of the music. About a guitarist, we might get our friends up on stage or playing on the album. Instead of running to try to replace him we can just say that now the band has entered into this more open thing where whoever is around, whoever we're cool with, we can say, "Hey, if you've got some time you can try to do a couple of shows with us."
What we really want to do is be open to the situation, almost like taking a page out of [David] Bowie's book. Every few years [he] would just get a new band. We want to use that kind of angle, too, instead of looking at it like a big bummer. In any band, if a person leaves, the chemistry changes. But, the chemistry can be kind of the glass half-full, half-empty syndrome. There's someone leaving. That could be a bad thing, but can we turn it into a good thing? It's like being open to the new chemistry and the new ways of writing music that are available. It's nice. It's been a lot of fun. It's probably been just as much fun for us as it has been for Ben. We're such strong individuals. We have such strong personalities. It's really hard to be in a band with us because we're really smart. We know what we like. We're cool with everybody but we're also really headstrong, and that can be really stifling sometimes to an artist if they have a particular vision. Ben had a vision, and the band he's doing now accomplishes that. If you look into his stuff it's the sort of stuff we wouldn't do.
On the last two albums the whole band is credited with writing and producing. Was everyone in the band writing together or did you bring separate songwriting ideas into the band and then work on it together? What was the process like?
There's never really been a set process. Basically, it always started with Brandon. Brandon always had a couple of chords, a change-up, maybe a melody line, and he was always smart enough to realize that he has two guys in the band that could help him take it to this other place. He would just come in with these ideas and we would just jam. We would work on tempos and beats, then we'd work on riffs. Then, we'd work on the song and decide should it be a long, mellow song or a shorter to-the-point song. We'd make it less democratic and more like a socialist situation where it wasn't about being right or talking people into it. It was more like, "Does it fit the song? Does the song need it?" It was always fun to write music. It's still fun to write for Secret Machines. It allows everyone to be involved. If you can't contribute and be a part of it then you don't actually have a part in the band. That's why it's so hard. That's why we don't want to replace Ben. I think it would be hard to find the right kind of person to be thrown into this situation. You have to be able to hang, and I don't think a lot of people have been in the situation where they not only have to justify their position in the band but actually have to carry their weight.
Brandon Curtis by Richard Clarke
So then, your process hasn't really changed much. It's just the two of you working on the new album?
Yeah, that's what we've been doing this whole year. Going on tour, doing the whole summer festival thing just wasn't an option for us this year. If Ben hadn't left, that's what we'd be doing. We didn't have that option, so we thought let's dive back into songwriting and work on the new record and maybe think about recording this summer. If we're really lucky, it will be out at the end of this year. Knowing major labels, we'll be lucky if it comes out a year from now. I think in the long run being under the radar this year will help us down the road and we can continue this thing.