Secret Fires
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Secret Fires

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Secret Fires
I Only Want What I Can't See
Routine

BRYAN BIRTLES / bryan@vueweekly.com

A while ago punk rock suffered a schism of some sort and it all centred around the concept of feelings. Those kids who wanted to sing about their feelings were all of a sudden “emo” and those who didn’t could still be punks. It always seemed a little silly—after all, music has always been about feelings and punk rock has produced some of the greatest love songs, angry songs, and even impassioned pleas for political change, of any musical genre, so how did having emotions become bad all of a sudden?

The truth is, it didn’t. It was, and sadly continues to be, just a way to divide people along micro-genre lines because some people just can’t get enough of the us-vs-them mentality and can’t function without an enemy.

Where is all of this going? It’s simply a roundabout way of telling you that the new Secret Fires disc I Only Want What I Can’t See is the most emotionally complicated release I’ve heard in a long time—something a bit surprising given that we’re not talking about a band that creates tech-y soundscapes or anything, but straight up balls to the wall rock ‘n’ roll.

Secret Fires has experienced emotions you’ve likely never even thought of, or at the very least wouldn’t consider fodder for a song. Like when lead singer Travis Sargent explains how sometimes he has to lie to keep from hurting the feelings of someone he loves on “Travis vs the Truth” or when he describes a much more complicated than usual feeling of regret after a breakup on “Baby, I’m a Rat” where he doesn’t seem to feel as bad about the terrible things he did within the context of the relationship as he does about the fact that he wasted some poor girl’s time on a relationship that was never headed anywhere in the first place, and he’s sorry she fell in love with him—it’s not exactly the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Secret Fires will make you happy that punk rock found its way back to emotion, and not in some ridiculously ironic way either, but with the passionate fire of the reason punk came to exist in the first place—because people are complicated and sometimes they need to tell you about it.

The sound of the album is also influenced by the fact it was recorded onto tape which, because it was so expensive, necessitated a two-takes-only rule. It’s a subtle difference to be sure, but one that matches the aesthetic of the band and the songs nicely in that it sounds rawer and more to the point—the drums are more guttural, guitars and bass sound warm and sexy and the whole package sounds impulsive but polished, balanced but manic.

Overall, Secret Fires has produced a debut well worth the wait, and well worth the effort—due to some “complications” the band reportedly had to commit a break and enter to retrieve their master tapes so that they could be mixed—it took to make. Now that it’s okay to have feelings again, I’m really looking forward to whatever is next for the Secret Fires (and actually, the band just released a split 7” with local 12-steppers the City Streets) as well as whatever the bands that find themselves influenced by Secret Fires come up with. - Vue Weekly


Fanning the flames
Rock 'n' roll monsters the Secret Fires burn up the dance floor, one club at a time
Francois Marchand, edmontonjournal.com
Published: Thursday, May 08

Microphones will be swung, stands will be thrown about, guitar and bass will be beaten into submission, and drums will be pounded to oblivion.

If you've seen the Secret Fires play live, you know rock 'n' roll leaves bruises.

"A good show's a good show, and who knows what's going to happen?" guitarist James Stewart says with a chuckle. Ladies and gentlemen, the Secret Fires!

But both Stewart and frontman Travis Sargent are quick to point out they're not in the "breaking stuff for the sake of breaking stuff" business.

Sargent knows better -- he has punished his fair share of microphones and stands in his lifetime -- and now brings his own gear to the band's live performances, or else -- as he's fully aware -- he might be losing out on part of his bar tab, or even the band's paycheque.

The Secret Fires are loud, pure, unadulterated punk rock -- not a single drop of either that fluffy emo stuff or over-produced pop-punk will ever come out of their amps. They're pretty clear about what drives the band's no-holds-barred sonic assault.

"It's inspired by a lot of early '80s punk rock bands," Stewart explains, "SST Records, that kind of first movement of punk rock and rock 'n' roll, when the bands were trying things and weren't afraid to incorporate different elements into their style. We wanted to keep it rock 'n' roll. We didn't want it to be a dum-dum punk rock band. That's not what we're about."

Names are easy to drop -- Hot Snakes (Secret Fires originally started as tribute cover-band Not Snakes), the Replacements, Black Flag, Drive Like Jehu -- but there are quintessential Edmontonian elements that make Secret Fires sound so much like "here and now."

The roster -- Stewart, Sargent, bassist Stefan Duret and drummer Dallas Thompson -- is composed of a pedigree of local indies, from angular rockers The Last Deal to scream-dance act The Wolfnote to neo-prog-politicos Fractal Pattern.

One could have thought the combination of all these elements would spell doom for the Secret Fires but, instead, the distilled product is an honest-to-goodness rock 'n' roll monster.

"We are an Edmonton band," Stewart says. "I think that definitely has informed why we sound the way we do, and why we act the way we do. There's something weird about that desperation of being an Edmonton band and a bit of the isolation."

The Secret Fires' debut, I Only Want What I Can't See, clocks in at just over 23 minutes for 11 songs.

The band wanted to get the album done the old-fashioned way, and went on the hunt for two-inch tape to use with an old analog machine.

Though the band had gotten the album ready rather quickly, writing the bulk of the material in just three months last year, the release was delayed due to some post-production issues.

The band would rather not say who was at fault, so let's just say it was a fairly reputed indie name from Calgary. In the end, the Secret Fires asked their friends Jim Lang and Dave Alcock to finish mixing and mastering the album, and I Only Want finally made its appearance in early April.

"It's fairly typical," Stewart admits with a shrug. "We didn't let it get us down. We were frustrated with parties involved, but it didn't transfer into anything we were doing. We kept playing shows and writing songs."

Stewart is now looking forward to putting newer material to tape, and is planning an excursion to Steve Albini's Electrical Audio in Chicago at some point later this year.

But if the Secret Fires' energy is palpable on record, there's nothing like seeing them rock a small club.

"In a band, you're always kind of in the red, it seems," says Sargent. "And playing shows is the payoff, the real fun part." - Edmonton Journal


THE SECRET FIRES

I Only Want What I Can't See

Routine Records

Four out of five

Aggressive, messy and seriously fun, The Secret Fires' debut matches our hardcore city so perfectly. Yes, yet another proud flag to wave in "Dirt City," as we call this place in the underground (about one millimetre beneath the surface.) They're an indie band that embraces and fulfils the punk roots that Nirvana went and polished to such a shine more than a decade ago. In doing so, something was lost.

The history of rock and roll aside, take a song like the Fires' Black Swan - pure garage kick in its dual vocals, a guitar line that breaks even European speed limits where they don't treat their drivers like children. The whole thing smells like cars revving, echoing through unknown canyons.

Yet given the rawness of the recording, there's a subtle control. It's not toxic punk, but friendly. Bass lines that make you hold your breath as they lurch in, drumming, hammering nails with precision into a candy coffin. The mess, as it were, is both intricate and in a common language. It's rock basics punked up with all the casual sexiness of modern indie. The more you hear, the more you want, especially, I must admit, the slightly chill cherry on top in the last song, Baby, I'm a Rat. Here, the Secret Fires come down from a relentless Les Savy Fav screamfest and get almost huggable. It's a trick good punk bands all learn, to pull back a little and harmonize without being corny or dopey or ironic. Love that song, but especially after the rest of them. The Secret Fires are Stefan Duret, Travis Sargent, James Stewart and Dallas Thompson. You may know them from other bands; you may soon forget you ever did. - Edmonton Sun


See Magazine, Issue 757: May 29-June 4, 2008

The Secret Fires are champions of Edmonton's new punk scene--one that's fiercely punk in spirit, and thankfully more than a few yards away from a "traditional" punk sound. Their first full-length captures all the ferocity of their ferocious live show on analog tape: I Only Want What I Can't See was recorded live off the floor, with two inches and a hundred feet of plastic spinning and flailing around on the reels. Perhaps the sweat and spit of these four fine gentlemen landed on that magnetic strip--how else to explain the piss, vinegar, and cheap red wine practically dripping off these songs?
"I Surrneder" is a perfect opener: with a snare line that signals the end of time, steamrolling bass, an unrelenting guitar attack, and poisonous, cryptic lyrics, the track sets the precedent for a record that could very well become Western Canada's new textbook for good, punishing, artistic rock 'n' roll. And it doesn't let up: "She Takes Her Time", "Travis vs. The Truth", "Highway Creep", and "Drug Front" are all destined to be anthems for Edmonton's newborn scene--with a slew of slurred-word punk rockers shouting along, ritualistically waving drink-filled hands. It's a rarity for an album to replicate the live show, but in Secret Fires' case, I really mean it when I say it. I Only Want What I Can't See comes so close it's scary.

Eamon McGrath - See Magazine


[An advance copy of the album was provided for review; proper release date was 2008]

These scotch guzzling assholes have made the finest record in their musical careers, and that’s quite an achievement, considering the former bands they’ve been in. Recorded live to 2” tape, it’s got that early 80’s punk recording style that you don’t hear enough of anymore.

Rick Reid - Beatroute Magazine


Week of April 3, 2008, Issue #650

MUSIC
Secret Fires
Four Secret Fires, two takes and some tape

EDEN MUNRO / eden@vueweekly.com

In a time when the music industry is swirling with new technologies and approaches to everything from recording to distribution, there’s still a certain sweetness to doing something the old fashioned way. You know, back when band’s recorded their albums onto tape instead of into GarageBand.
That’s what Edmonton’s Secret Fires did when they decided to record a record, the upcoming full-length I Only Want What I Can’t See, and drummer Dallas Thompson is thrilled with the results, even if it was a lot of work to get to the finished album.

“We actually recorded about a year ago, but it’s taken a really long time to get it together,” he says. “The whole process has taken longer than we anticipated. We recorded to analogue tape, and the guy who originally did the record kind of flaked out on us so we had to take the tape to another studio to clean it up and do the mixing.”

Despite any difficulties that the band encountered along the way, Thompson says that the decision to record to tape was a no-brainer, especially considering that it was something that everyone in the band had always wanted to do. They simply took this opportunity to satisfy that desire.

“I think it’s cool that people can put together their own stuff all by themselves on a laptop and burn a CD right afterwards—it cuts a lot of the headaches out of it,” Thompson admits before adding, “But for what we wanted to capture and how we wanted it to sound, tape was the way to go and you just can’t replicate that digitally. Maybe you can, maybe you can get it sounding fairly similar or whatever, but to us we can listen to it and we can picture us going through those songs in the rain in this garage. I guess it means more to us.”

When Thompson says that the record reminds him of playing the songs in a garage, he’s not kidding. “We heard that there were two 24-track two-inch tape machines in Alberta and that they were both in Calgary,” he explains. “One is Sunday Sound and the other one is with this guy that we recorded with, which was obviously much cheaper, and since we were running a pretty tight budget—new band, we didn’t have a lot of dough—we bought the tape on eBay because you can’t buy new tape anymore because no one produces it, so we did it as cheap as we could and as best as we could, and we ended up recording in this garage.”

He’s quick to reiterate that the end result was worth any hardships along the way, though. Among other things, he says that recording process itself was much more natural than it might have been if the band had the luxury of a digital setup with unlimited freedom for overdubbing and smoothing over rough patches. In the end, he says that the group went in and played each song twice, keeping the best of the two cuts for each track and preserving a loose, human feel. And, he points out, no click tracks were used during the sessions.

“Click tracks are the bane of my existence,” he says. “I’d go as far as to say they’re ruining music. It’s just taking everything human out of it.
“Good sounding music isn’t perfect, you know? It captures the humanness of the whole thing.” - Vue Weekly


Discography

Split 7" w/ The City Streets. (Movies Are For Retards)
I Only Want What I Can't See - Full Length

Photos

Bio

SECRET FIRES

Secret Fires formed in the fall of 2006 with the agenda to perform sincere and stripped-down Rock and Roll music influenced by the finest deviants of the genre’s checkered past. Travis Sargent howls over a driving back-beat provided by Dallas Thompson (drums), Stefan Duret (bass) and James Stewart’s damaged guitar lines. Secret Fires bridge the gap between slash-and-burn punk rock, dirty blues, and 60's pop. It’s honest and urgent music that harkens back to the sounds of the Birthday Party, Replacements, Wipers, and Black Flag–Rock and Roll in it's most stripped down and primitive form.

Secret Fires formed from the ashes of some of Edmonton’s best and brightest: The Wolfnote, Fractal Pattern, The Last Deal, and totheteeth/tothehilt. Bands who collectively toured North America, recorded several full lengths and ultimately imploded before you had a chance to remember their names.

With a handful of scrappy demo recordings making their way onto local radio charts, the band was profiled for Radio-Canada before venturing south into the hostile climes of Calgary for a few days of recording. I Only Want What I Can’t See was recorded live off the floor to 2” magnetic tape over a two-day session punctuated by rainstorms and allergy meds. The result is "...the finest record in their musical careers …it's got that early 80's punk style that you don't hear enough of anymore." [Beatroute Magazine--Best of 2007].” “Aggressive, messy and seriously fun…the more you hear, the more you want.” [Edmonton Sun, 2008]

Playing to sold-out crowds at all ages show and seedy bar alike, the band has also been found performing at art galleries, dirty basements and even a small town Alberta Junior High school, playing a surprise show when DJ’s refused to show up at the school dance for less than a grand. Secret Fires have shared the stage with the likes of Fucked Up, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Ladyhawk as well as the best and brightest in every Western Canadian city they’ve visited thus far.

"Secret Fires specialize in revitalizing the attitude and sounds of some of the greatest icons of punk rock–a welcome arrival in a scene dominated by arm-crossed, tweed-sweater-wearing Hipsters. Punk isn't dead, folks; it's just having an identity crisis. Secret Fires are the slap in the face."
--Eamon McGrath, SEE Magazine, 2007

“Secret Fires are loud, pure, unadulterated punk rock -- not a single drop of either that fluffy emo stuff or over-produced pop”
--Francois Marchand, Edmonton Journal, 2008