Secret Machines are a three-piece American alternative rock band. Originally from Dallas, Texas, before moving to New York City, they describe their musical style as space rock. The original lineup consisted of two brothers, Brandon and Benjamin Curtis, and Josh Garza. In March 2007, Benjamin left the band, and was replaced by Phil Karnats.
Before forming Secret Machines, the members played in various Dallas bands such as UFOFU, Captain Audio, Comet, When Babies Eat Pennies, and Tripping Daisy. Captain Audio was formed by Garza and vocalist/guitarist/chief songwriter Regina Chellew in the late 1990s as a two-piece noise duo. Brandon — and occasionally Ben — Curtis joined soon after as the original duo began to develop a more standard rock sound.
In a few months the band was getting regular local press, and in a little over a year they had recorded and released the EP My Ears Are Ringing But My Heart’s OK (1999) and the full-length Luxury or Whether It Is Better To Be Loved than Feared (2000) to positive reviews. Shortly after the release of Luxury the band went on extended hiatus and eventually disbanded when Garza and the Curtises moved to New York, leaving Chellew in Dallas to form the band Chao and later join indie pop outfit The Happy Bullets.
Sonically, Captain Audio and Secret Machines are very similar, much more so than any of the members’ other former bands. Although Captain Audio employed more experimentation and sound collage and Secret Machines are a more structured indie rock band, the Captain Audio records form the template that the Curtis brothers built upon when they headed for New York. In the liner notes for Captain Audio’s Luxury, all of the additional musicians who played on the album are credited simply as “Secret Machines”.
September 000 and Now Here Is Nowhere
The band went to Chicago first, where they recorded their EP, September 000, six weeks after forming, before continuing to New York. The EP didn’t sell well, but remained a hit on indie radio.
In 2004, Secret Machines released their first full-length CD – Now Here Is Nowhere. The song “Nowhere Again”, from their debut album, was used in promotional spots for American during its launch, and appeared in the 2006 videogame Driver: Parallel Lines. Their second EP, The Road Leads Where It’s Led, was released on 7 June 2005. The EP includes a re-recording of the song “The Road Leads Where It’s Led”, which originally appeared on the debut full-length.
Ten Silver Drops and Ben’s departure
Ten Silver Drops, their second album, leaked onto file sharing websites following the release of their lead single “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” in the UK. The album once again did not sell well but garnered favorable reviews.
In 2006, the band did a headlining In-the-Round tour.
Benjamin Curtis left the band on March 3, 2007, to focus full-time on his new band, School of Seven Bells. The news was posted by Brandon Curtis on the Secret Machines’ message board.
After Ben’s departure from the band, Secret Machines played two shows in New York, one at the Annex, and the other at the newly opened Highline Ballroom. At these shows, the band played mostly new material to be put on their next album. They included two new members: Blasco (Interpol’s touring keyboardist) on guitar, keyboards, and bass, and ex-Tripping Daisy member Phil E. Karnats on guitar. Since these shows, Karnats has become the official guitarist of the band, replacing Ben.
The band finished recording quickly during May 2007 and released a new, self-titled album in the United States on October 14, 2008. The online release notice features a free download of a non-album B-side titled “Dreaming of Dreaming”. Phil E. Karnats announced on his MySpace blog that he recorded guitar parts for the album and will continue to play live with the band.
In 2010, a new single “Like I Can” was released, and Brandon Curtis announced plans for a new Secret Machines album, to be titled The Lizard and the Moth. Also Phil E. Karnats may not return. He reunited with former Tripping Daisy, and current The Polyphonic Spree front man Tim DeLaughter to form Preteen Zenith.
On December 29, 2013, former member Benjamin Curtis died of lymphoma in New York City at the age of 35.
“They take Pink Floyd psychedelia, Led Zeppelin stomp, and The Who-inspired choruses and charge them full of big-rock beats, atmospheric keyboards and all kinds of electronic whooshes.” — Rolling Stone
Secret Machines can be best described as progressive rock with some krautrock influences mixed in. They describe themselves as space rock. Many have also cited the Secret Machines as a style of shoegaze. Listeners can hear hints of Procol Harum, U2, and The Flaming Lips.
They have toured with Foo Fighters, Spiritualized, Oasis, Interpol, M83, Kings of Leon and many others. Secret Machines supported the British rock trio Muse at London’s Earls Court in December 2004. They appeared at Lollapalooza 2006 in Chicago and the Carling Reading and Leeds Festivals in England in the same year, as well as the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas.