The Secret History is an NYC-based band featuring cult songwriter Michael Grace, Jr. and his decade-long co-conspirators from the adored (but obscured) indiepop group My Favorite. The band features the debut of vocalist Lisa Ronson (daughter of glam rock legend Mick Ronson) supported by Jamie Babic. Grace's lyrics create drive-in theatres out of bare bedsit walls, while Ronson's singings alternates between the emotive and the plaintive – one minute channeling Dusty Springfield, the next, Kirsty Macoll. Behind them, guitarist Darren Amadio, keyboardist Kurt Brondo, bassist Gil Abad, and drummer Tod Karasik tailor soundscapes to each changing mood. Together, they are creating a new kind of cinematic post-pop, drawing from the rainy jangles of C86, the buzz and stomp of glam, and the light and air of the classic girl groups (particularly apparent in Babic's harmonies). The end result has drawn comparisons to The Patti Smith Group, Roxy Music, The Smiths, and Felt.
The Secret History crystallized when Ronson answered an ad placed by Grace, Jr. in the Village Voice seeking a "tragic female voice." She noted that the influences he listed – Dylan, Bowie, Lou Reed, Morrissey – had all worked with her father. Living with her mother on the edge of Chelsea, Ronson had never been in a band before, content to occasionally sing back-up for artists like Ian Hunter. After growing up around great music in London and Woodstock, NY, she was willing to wait until she happened across songs (and people) she could believe in. As she explains:
"I always thought a memorable song was one that seemed to have existed before anyone ever wrote it. Like all of the music and lyrics were there just waiting to be found. That's the sort of thing I wanted to be a part of. When I met Michael and the boys, I felt like I had finally found it."
Grace, Jr., for his part, spent the late Nineties as the prototypical small town savant. Dressing like F. Scott Fitzgerald while kicking around in a skin head gang on Long Island made him an enigma, even if his songs made him a contender. His first foray into music was My Favorite, formed with childhood schoolmate Amadio, which overcame its DJ-befuddling name to release two critically acclaimed records at the turn of the century. Many of their favorite artists took note, leading to opening slots for Belle & Sebastian, The Magnetic Fields, and The Bouncing Souls. Morrissey featured one of their tracks on his between act concert mix and the second My Favorite album, 2003's The Happiest Days of Our Lives, was named "Best of the Decade" in Pitchfork by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kip Berman.
Shining moments aside, My Favorite became used to swimming against the tide, pushing literate new wave on a nation still in the lingering throes of grunge. After a decade as perpetual outsiders, the band broke up in 2005, a mere two years before The Killers would ride a similar sound to fame and fortune.
The demise of My Favorite left a handful of unfinished songs, the first inkling of a much-rumored "B-Movie Monster" album. In 2009, The Secret History came together to expand on those early sketches and breathe new life into a cast of characters that includes zombie hipsters, suicidal vampires, flickering phantoms, and the occasional Sicilian saint. Grace, Jr. elaborates:
"I began to see so many of my friends and other people of my generation as haunted creatures. The Smiths, drugs, the end of the century…something had cast a long shadow over us. We began this record wanting to make heroes out of them, but ended up with only monsters. And that's the horror of our age: the creeping sense that only ghosts remain and that somehow we've all been marked for darkness."
The resulting full-length, entitled The World That Never Was, was recorded with Josh Clarke (Beirut, The New Pornographers) and a little transatlantic help from Woodie Taylor (Love Is All, Comet Gain). Like The Secret History's debut EP Desolation Town, it will be released by the lauded Le Grand Magistery label, responsible for bringing literate and provocative artists like Momus, Stars, Baxendale, and PAS/CAL to American audiences.
The band has been building a steady buzz with their quarterly Modern Problems parties in Brooklyn, playing alongside bands like Murder Mystery and My Teenage Stride. At NYC Popfest, they've shared the stage with Love Is All and The Radio Dept. Now, at long last, they've collected all their demons together into a monstrously beautiful record, a glittering thing made from the broken bits of their pasts.
The World That Never Was will be released by Le Grand Magistery on March 22, 2010.
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