Photos by Jane Chardiet
On November 9, 2013 I met up with lo-fi experimental solo artist Secret Boyfriend to see My Bloody Valentine and they kind of sucked. Despite hearing that MBV retained their dizzying phenomenal live show, something was totally off that night. For a band whose reputation is hinged on being so loud and intense that they can allegedly make you throw up or shit yourself, MBV were underwhelming. That may have been the venue’s fault but they also trainwrecked several songs so badly that they would just stop playing them. Kevin Shields even apologized to the audience “for all the fuck ups” which validated my disappointment. People began to heckle the band, which came as quite a surprise and when the show was over there was no attempt from the audience to persuade MBV to play an encore. The set had its redeeming moments but the whole thing was a pretty big let down.
It was a strange experience to share with the Carrboro, NC-based Ryan Martin, who has been performing as Secret Boyfriend since 2005. Until now, Martin’s brutally tender back catalog has only been made available in very limited runs. Finally, Blackest Ever Black is pressing Secret Boyfriend’s first full-length LP This Is Always Where You’ve Lived on December 9. I had a chance to debrief our disappointments with MBV, talk a little about death dreams, and discuss the pleasure in drawing blood during a good live show.
Listen to "Beyond the Darkness," a cut from This Is Always Where You've Lived below.
Noisey: You must be a pretty big My Bloody Valentine fan to drive to Philadelphia from North Carolina to see them.
Secret Boyfriend: I love their music. I just wanted a physical experience with them. I first heard them when I was seventeen and wasn’t quite into it but they kept sounding better to my ears as the years went on, which is strange, because usually the opposite happens. I really like the androgynous, sensualstyle that they have. Kind of like a too-lazy-to-get-out-of-bed erotic vibe.
I suppose you did not get the intense physical experience you expected.
Alene [Lambskin] made it sound like ‘it’s so loud that you will puke if you don’t have ear plugs’ and you just feel your whole body vibrate and it’s totally awesome. I didn’t even need earplugs. We were probably in what was the shittiest place to stand, which we didn’t realize but also I think it was just a bad show. I don’t think they were firing on all cylinders. It sounded like they couldn't hear each other well a lot of the time.
There certainly were a lot of misfires…
Lots of misfires, puttering about, confusion. It was a lackluster experience, but you roll the dice at a live show. I don't regret going.
Boyzone, Martin's first band, live
You have been playing as Secret Boyfriend for almost a decade now and have definitely gone through different incarnations with the project. Tell me a little bit about how you got started.
Secret Boyfriend started off as kind of a weird joke. I started booking shows at a venue, where you can't just solely book shows you're interested in.I had to book all kinds of shows. Every once in a while there would be a singer/songwriter night and no one would come. I thought that those shows would give me a really good opportunity to play solo. I created a persona, Secret Boyfriend.
At the first show I made a leather mask from a friend’s leather and fur vest. The joke of the performance that was that it was built to fail. I wanted to make this really awkward experience for people, playing bass and singing, having a lot of space between notes and a lot of uncomfortable pauses. One thing that I didn’t count on was that while I was breathing and talking, I would breathe in the fur lining of the leather mask I had madeand start having coughing fits. The first set was really weird and sparse and then there would be longer periods of me just coughing.
Secret Boyfriend kept changing. I think around 2008 the project began to become what it is and means to me today.
What would you say that Secret Boyfriend means to you today? How did this tongue-in-cheek project become something more serious?
Well when I would play shows around 2006, the sets would just be harsh noise. It definitely was not all tongue in cheek. I think that since 2009 I started to approach the project in a more cohesive way, and that happened to coincide with starting to give my music to people I didn't know very well, and actuallygetting positive feedback from them. I was mostly playing harsh noise shows and I thought that the songs might be too cheesy. I think getting feedback from people sort of encouraged me to make more and more things but I was initially shy about showing people my real songs.
It must be strange to have Blackest Ever Black releasing your album when you have been putting out all your music yourself for years and have your own record label, Hot Releases.
It’s exciting. I usually just dub my own tapes and very sheepishly give music to people. It has been easier for me to put out someone else’s stuff. It’s easy to put support behind someone that you believe in but it feels hard to put that sort of attention behind your own project. You don’t even know if you suck. It's hard to tell what is appealing to other people. It’s flattering that someone would take their time and money to listen to or release your music.
Blackest Ever Black is a really interesting label. I first heard Tropic Of Cancer and liked it but then dug in deeper. I really like Black Rain and the Flaming Tunes record that they reissued. I like Raspberry Bulbs.
In regards to your own label, do you have anything in the works?
There is a split between Horsebladder and Farewell My Concubine that is coming out along with a record that will be a retrospective of Brigid Ochshorn’s recordings.
Well, your new album is great. I found it really interesting that the titular song “This is Always Where You’ve Lived” sounds completely different than the rest of the record. Can you tell me what that song was about?
There is no real reason why it is different. The record was originally a tape that I put out for tour last summer. I almost don’t want to get into the meaning of the song because it is alreadyevocative. Have you read the Shirley Jackson book The Haunting of Hill House? It’s really scary; it just gives me the creeps. The film adaptation is more of an examination of the deteriorating psychological state of the main character. It was an inspiration. When I think of “This is Always Where you’ve Lived” I think of the heroine of The Haunting.The main characters’ mood fits my mood when I am recording.
I fall into a weird dream state when I record. It is apocalyptic and scary. It feels empty, the landscape lonely. It is like a dream where you go outside and it is 3 AM but it’s broad daylight and no one around. You know something is wrong. It’s a dream where, for example, your mouth is coming apart and you don’t know why, and eventually you join a horde ofdead souls on a march towards the woods.
That’s pretty specific.
That was a death dream that I had. It was one of the dreams that I have had that emotionally resonated with me and I have never forgotten about it. Anyway, when I record it is that sort of a vibe. To me, it feels very explicit but I’m not saying anything explicitly.
Every time that I have seen you play live you play an effected cymbal through a contact mic…
I like having a piece of metal near me. It’s comforting. I like to do vocals into a cymbal or a piece of metal or a bowl of water. I like that you are struggling with an object and sometimes it is hurting you. You can start choking or your face is getting cut and you are putting yourself through some sort of ordeal. I like the process of making things uncomfortable for myself. One of the things that I like most about playing the cymbal is that I can lay it across my face and punch myself in the face and get a nice dull thud.
Do you normally like to put yourself though unnecessary torture?
In private I am probably more of an emotional masochist but publicly, for performance, I am willing to torture myself. I am almost proud if there is some sort of injury involved in performing because I feel like I have shed some blood and put some effort into it. I also like playing the acoustic songs because of their weird fragility. It feels uncomfortable. Ideally I just want to rip my guts out when I play and expose myself completely. I can’t really do a killer guitar solo or rock out alone so I might as well try to do something that is intimate.
It is cool because I have seen you play all these harsher noise fests and your sets always stick out. I think that Secret Boyfriend catches people’s attention because you are so intimate.
I like fucking up the vibe a little bit. I wonder if I would like my project if I was outside of myself. I kind of can’t tell. When you are by yourself you have no idea what to do. You can’t tell if something is even good or not. You can just do whatever you want. You can just decide that you are going to do a harsh noise set instead of whatever you had planned. It’s hard to have self-discipline. I could just play acoustic guitar for a whole set if I felt like it. But would that kind of suck? I don’t know. You have to find a way to keep yourself interested.
I know that recorded the new record some time ago and that you are looking forward to recording some new stuff. What sort of things are you working on for your next record?
I already have a ton of stuff recorded. In September and October I played about six shows and played different sets each time. I feel like I have so much material that it is overwhelming. I just work with whatever I am feeling on a particular day, but I really need to wrap some things up.
Chapel Hill’s noise scene has been thriving for a couple of years now artists like Profligate, Lambskin and Outmode have recently migrated there from bigger cities. What is the Chapel Hill scene like these days?
I think it changes up a lot. There are a lot of shows for a small scene of people. A lot of interesting music comes through and a lot of people are doing interesting stuff. In the past year there have been so many shows that it almost feels exhausting. People are active but not jaded. Friends leave though, and when someone leaves you feel their absence.
Generally, I would say it is good and I am happy that people come through and play as much as they do. I hope people feel welcomed that, even if there are only fifteen people there, they are being appreciated.
Well, we have established that My Bloody Valentine didn’t quite kill it last night. If you could say one thing to Kevin Shields right now, what would it be?
That is very classy.
Bad shows happen.
Find Jane on Twitter - @coldforever