Matthew Davies, (singer of Funeral for a Friend) caused quite a stir last year by introducing his new side project, The Secret Show.
Alongside a few of his musical buddies from South Wales, Matt formed an alternative country group with various folk influences ranging from The Byrds, Johnny Cash and Ryan Adams.
One thing’s for certain, The Secret Show are joined together for one reason, their genuine passion for writing and playing music that makes them feel good.
Debut album, Impressionist Road Map Of The West was released at the dawn of this month, and Joe Moynihan, after a hectic journey through time and space (Central London!), caught up with the man himself to get a wee insight into the group.
So, if we start from the beginning then, how did The Secret Show Form?
The Secret Show formed when I was home for Christmas the year before last. I had these songs that I had written and spent some more time with, and my friend offered to record them for me, make a few demos, just so I could actually hear how they sound on playback. I was playing them all the time for months, some of them I had for about seven or eight years anyway, so you can see it took me a while to get them down on some format!
Then my friend, Lianne Francis came down to put some vocal parts down, and I played the songs to my wife, and she really loved them so I thought I’d send them to Funeral’s management to see what they think about it. They thought it was cool, and asked me if I thought I could make a record with it, so I thought, well I’ll give it a shot! So I got some friends together from some local indie bands together, and The Secret Show was born!
Nice one! A lot of the members of The Secret Show have got side projects as you mentioned, did this create any trouble getting everyone together to write and record?
Not really, I was quite fortunate. I did most of the recording of the album in the nights while Funeral were writing for the new record, so I kind of pulled a double time thing. It was good to know that Mark and Andrew could play bass and drums, and they run a rehearsal space in Cardiff in which they have a little studio section. They let me use that, which they were really cool with. Rhod could play pedal steels, he was really up for it and everyone found the time to come down and record their parts, all pretty easily.
That’s cool. What about Rhod, he’s got a lot of bands going with him in, did this cause him any stress?
I think he takes it all in his stride, he just really loves making music, which is great, it’s the really cool thing about working with all the people in The Secret Show, it’s all for the music. The fact that we love performing together and stuff like that. Rhod’s got some fantastic bands, Broken Leaf being one of his main things. It’s great to have him onboard, playing guitar, sing a little bit and play some pedal steels on the record is brilliant. Awesome musician and an outstanding feller.
Will Broken Leaf be supporting again on future tours?
I don’t know, I think we have some supports lined up, I don’t know who we’ve got, which is a shame, as I’m the last person to know anything! (Matt laughs) Well he’s playing some other shows himself; he’s playing with a band called Silver Spurs, who are a really good, sort of old school folk, country/Americana group. So he’ll be around, you might have to catch up with him after a show or something, get him to sing you one of his songs! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Awesome. On the last Funeral tour you mentioned about not touring for a while because of the new Funeral album, at the time were you thinking, “Oh it’s actually two albums…”?
At the time no! I think I realised, as it was, after the Funeral tour, that I was going to have to find some time to do something as I’d told the record label that I was going to make the record. I just had to find the time to do it really. As Funeral got off tour, we were writing on weekdays, we had the weekends to ourselves and whatnot. So what I did, and as with any person with something they love to do, after writing 10am-6pm with Funeral, I’d pack my stuff up, go home and make music there, put stuff down and starting tracking. I did that for two weeks and it drove me nuts.
Bit busy then eh?
It was fucking busy! It was nuts! I was unbearable to be around! (Matt laughs) I was the grumpiest out of all of us. We did vocals on the last two days in the studio, and I was miserable, I was almost fucking falling asleep! I couldn’t concentrate. I was so involved with the whole process that I couldn’t differentiate where I was beginning or ending. It came to the point where Lianne was doing her vocal parts and I couldn’t really feel good or bad! I was like “yeah, yeah they’re great, we’ll do something with them, great.” Thankfully, she nailed everything on the first go where as me on the other hand.
(Matt pauses followed by laughter). I was so paranoid that what I was doing was fucking shit, I did it over and over again, until about two or three takes on a song and then I was comfortable with it. I realised that country music isn’t all about perfection, it’s about the passion you put into it, and it didn’t matter if there were any slightly dodgy notes. It was a very rushed album to make, but I think that’s what the charm of making the album was. It was a very rewarding and fun experience making that record.
It’s certainly paid off, the album is sounding great!
Why thank you very much. It’s nice to know that something you’ve put a lot of effort into, I think I’m actually more critical of The Secret Show album than any Funeral album because it was all off my own back. Financially and everything like that. It was cool that we could do everything by ourselves, and have that sort of encouragement from people when they hear our stuff. It’s nice.
When did you think it was ready to release The Secret Show out to the masses?
I didn’t really have a time, no better time than now I guess! (Laughs) I think if I held on to it any longer, I probably would have talked myself out of doing it. The Funeral thing is so intense, that I didn’t want it to come up and then be forgotten. But I thought if it’s out there, then it’s out there and people can come up to it, find it and stuff. It’s the start of something, you know what I mean? It was the start of another whole musical aspect of what I am. So it was definitely a case of sooner rather than later.
The style of The Secret Show is incredibly different to Funeral For A Friend; did this affect, or open any new windows for your vocals at all?
It was very cool actually. I learnt to play on an acoustic guitar when I was 11, I used to sing along to The Eagles and stuff all the time so that way of singing was kind of almost engrained in me anyway, y’know? So I don’t know it’s just, I think it’s really refreshing to do things and just not have to push yourself too much. It was a nice change, a more relaxed vibe and atmosphere to sing in. And to sing with Lianne as well was a really cool thing, as we’ve been friends since school. We’ve been through band projects and stuff before and they never went anywhere, so it’s nice to have something, and have it go that little bit more than the things in the past. Which is kinda cool.
Does Lianne have any influence on your voice at all? Her voice is really beautiful.
Her voice is really pure, and that’s something I’ve always admired about her. She’s really not affected by anything and doesn’t really try to sing in a particular way, or try to imitate and emulate people. For me it was very nice to sing with somebody like that. I suppose it did kind of make me learn from that, and realise that it’s better to have your own voice than to be somebody else.
I think I’ve found my own voice now. I’ve been very fortunate to have a voice where people like the sound of it when I sing, so I can’t really complain! (Matt laughs)
Your voice has become quite distinctive now.
It’s the same with anything I guess, y’know I’m older, and I never really set out to be a singer, I only began singing when Funeral started. It took me a while to find my feet, and I feel my voice has developed now and found it’s own kind of footing. I’ve found where it works and I know now where my vocal ranges lie, and I’m quite comfortable with that now. Hopefully I’ll be able to expand it and do different things in the future and stuff.
Cool. So the album has just been released on vinyl and limited to various Indie shops like Spillers in Cardiff, did anything provoke that decision to make a limited edition?
Well, I used to own an independent record store in my hometown. I think that the independent sector is something I feel very strongly about, they’ve got the whole Mama and Papa sort of record stores and stuff like that. I feel that chain stores are taking over and destroying local industries in local towns. I’ve always been a big fan of Spillers and other independent shops so I just thought it was a cool idea to a limited edition vinyl with Atlantic, which in fact is going to be the last vinyl album that Atlantic will ever make, so I did manage to have my own cheeky way with that. I was pretty stoked! (Matt laughs)
What made ‘Lovers‘ the best choice for a first single?
I think it was the consensus of everybody really, if we would have picked any of the songs off the album I would have been happy y’know? I suppose it represents the record in its best capacity. It’s the most rock song on the album. I love bands like Son Volt and Wilco and those sorts of things, so I suppose from a fanboy aspect, to have that kind of song out there, the ballsy, Americana rock song is kind of nice. I would have put any song out really, it just so happened it was the first song on the album! Everyone agreed that it was a good song to release and I’d say it was an easy step into The Secret Show.
On the last tour, the venues were no doubt a wee bit smaller than what you were used to when playing with Funeral. Do you prefer those more intimate venues?
I think that’s where I feel really comfortable playing. You get to connect to the audience and feel the vibe a lot easier when playing those sorts of venues rather than playing to 1000+ capacity halls where you can barely see the front row. Those shows have their quality about them, they’re cool. But I think my heart will always be, and especially when it comes to The Secret Show, in venues where the crowd can see the whites of your eyes. That’s where you can feel the connection and that’s what’s important I think.
That’s what makes folk music very important at the end of the day, it catches on y’know? It’s porous; it seeps through everybody’s collective consciousness and becomes a part of you. And that’s what folk music is, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Folk music is a huge part of our cultures, we’ve grown up listening to folk stories, old wives tales and what not, and that’s it. It’s just put to music.
Definitely. I think fans on the last tour were a bit bemused by the change maybe? Do you think that next time round maybe they’ll feel the vibe themselves and get their bodies moving a bit more?
(Matt laughs) I hope so! In all fairness, for us it was a new experience as well. It was a bit weird, I was used to people interacting a bit more, and I was kinda nervous. Even though I’d played guitar for god knows how many years now, it was still bizarre standing up on stage with a guitar singing, and trying to think of things to say between songs!
It’ll probably be a lot easier this time around, people will know what to expect, the songs will be on the myspace a lot longer and the album would have been out for a good couple of weeks or so. Hopefully people will come down and treat it like I’d like it to be treated, just come down and have a bit of fun. It’s not one of those ‘scene’ kind of things y’know? It is what it is and you can only treat it like that really.
Lianne’s profession as a schoolteacher caused this tour to have fewer dates it didn’t it?
It did, the one problem is we can’t really treat The Secret Show as to what Funeral is to me. It’s not a full time thing that people can live off, so everyone’s day job had to be taken into consideration. So we had to operate through the half terms, and that was the only opportunity we had to tour. It did mean that we couldn’t play everywhere we wanted to go, I just want people to know that it wasn’t our decision not to omit those places. Places like Scotland and stuff, I love the Scottish crowd.
They’re really lively up there…
Oh they’re fantastic. I just want them to know that we couldn’t play there because of circumstances beyond our control; we couldn’t just force people out of their jobs for extra tour dates. I suppose the shorter tour makes it kind of fun at the same time, it means that we have to put the best into that limited amount of time and it makes for a cool reward in that aspect.
I noticed on the Myspace a few of her pupils were commenting, do I spy a little word of mouth promotion going on?
I don’t know, I doubt she told everyone in a sort of “ooh look at me, look at me” sort of way. When Funeral used to go to Birmingham, Lianne used to teach up there and she would come down and hang out with us. Her pupils would come to the Funeral show and see her there, then realising that we had a connection and that she knew me, and she was like ‘the cool teacher’ then. And then when The Secret Show came about, Lianne, blatantly had a connection with it, and her pupils were definitely very proud of their teacher. So I guess it’s pretty cool for them having a teacher that’s in a pretty big band and stuff.
Totally. Do you hope that through your connection with Funeral that some existing Funeral fans’ music taste will be expanded through The Secret Show?
I think that will be an unexpected gift if that happened. If they would come to the band because of me and then leave with a more expansive knowledge of where they could go musically then that would be amazing. I don’t listen to hardcore or whatever every fucking day, I don’t really listen to much ’emo’ at all, what I do listen to emo-wise isn’t emo apparently so I dunno!
(Matt laughs) I listen to a lot of old school music these days. In don’t think I’ve listened to anything new in the last three years really, purely because I don’t really think any of it is that great… But if The Secret Show does open people’s minds to a selection of music that’s very passionate, and thought provoking in its own way, then I’ll be a very happy man! That’s all that you can ever hope for really, that people learn from what you bring to the table.
Excellent! Well I’m just about out of time so I’ll just sneak in one more question. Are we going to expect more from The Secret Show in the future?
Yes. This is the start of stuff with The Secret Show. It will evolve and create and do new things. It’s a cool thing, as it gives me something to do on downtime from Funeral, which beats having nothing to go to. I’ve always loved writing music, and I’m always writing, and it’s nice to be able to do some stuff which is the complete opposite to Funeral. It’ll exist, it’ll carry on, it will release more records, it’ll tour, the whole shebang. So yes, expect to see more!
Sweet… Well, thanks a lot for the interview mate, it’s been a pleasure!
Thanks yourself! Stay cool!
You can find The Secret Show at www.myspace.com/thesecretshow