Sunday, May 08, 2011

I've Got a Secret and I Can't Explain
The Secret History
Interview by Kenyon Hopkin
Long delayed, especially since I first met The Secret History's frontman, Michael Grace, Jr, in the mid-90s, here finally is the interview with the native Long Islander, former My Favorite vocalist and romantic writer. After ten years of indie pop with My Favorite--highlights of which included rabid fans in Sweden and opening for Belle & Sebastian--Grace and most of the other members re-grouped with a slightly altered sound, while adding a few more people. This includes vocalist Lisa Ronson, daughter of 1970s glam rocket Mick Ronson. Other members are guitarist Darren Amadio, keyboardist Kurt Brondo, drummer Todd Karasik, bassist Gil Abad and singer Jaime Kozyra. In this latest incarnation, currently backed by indie label Le Grand Magistery, the band shifts its analysis of the 1980s to the entire century (scroll down for their latest video). Now, Grace reveals his views on My Favorite's end, life in Europe, life in New York City, and what is killing music.

Advance Copy: Aside from the line-up change, what are the differences between the Secret History and My Favorite?
Grace: Well when we started My Favorite in the 90s as teenagers, we were mourning the loss of a 1980s we really never experienced, something we gleaned from records and fanzines. So that whole group was really like an incantation trying to astral project our reality somewhere else. A failure on a metaphysical level, but an interesting group for trying I think. The Secret History is more about trying to untangle the 20th century into something that makes sense in our current slum of an age. So it's like a drifting AM radio signal lost in space. Sometimes a bit of the Shirelles tunes in, sometimes the New York Dolls, or Felt. It's forever now. We are the "constant."

AC: Why did My Favorite end?
Grace: Well it's amazing we made it a decade as a small, cult indie band with a name which sounds like a bad Situationist joke. I mean peoples' recent nostalgia for the first wave of American indie pop is somewhat charming, but it was a wilderness then. In the end, you know, a lot of the texture of that group came from the specific dynamic which singer Andrea Vaughn and I had creatively, so when that dynamic changed, it was time to put that book on the shelf, so to speak.

AC: So I know your influences are as much from writers, philosophers, literature, etc. What would some of those recent ones be that inspire your songwriting and style?
Grace: There is really no way to answer that without most people reading this beginning to projectile vomit. l like art and books and records. I'm interested in how the art we make helps us sort out the time in which we live. It wasn't so much a stigma in decades past, to feel this way, in fact it was encouraged. But I mean we are in a period of forced aesthetic re-education, so now it just seems quaint to care about art. I was re-reading "Day of The Locust," and Brett Easton Ellis's sequel to "Less Than Zero" when we were touring out on the West coast.

AC: Is there any literature you ever read and you were like, "this is just crap"?
Grace: Oh sure, but I mean I at least respect someone for going the distance and writing a book. I've been trying to do it recently and it's not easy. Shitty novelists still make above average dinner guests. I'm usually more demoralized by music. It's just too easy to make shitty music, and too many people are doing it and you are at risk of being sent to an internment camp if you dare to say so. So as a result, we all have to just keep lowering our standards and drinking more and more to make certain bands seem passable. We make concessions and tell ourselves some pastiche of a pop group is just fantastic and then herd ourselves into the [New York City venue] Bowery Ballroom. The names just blur together, but the disappointment lingers. In the past music journalists were critics, who were able to put art into context, and usually had strong ideas about where they wanted music to go and respected strong artists for making their jobs easier. Now, a lot of music journalists are bloggers who see themselves as "tastemakers" and that is an offensive perspective. If you want to influence what sneakers someone buys, that's fine. But music should be sacred. It shouldn't be just seasons of disposal separates. Hipsterism is killing music.

AC: Lisa Ronson's dad was buddies with Dylan, Bowie, Lou Reed, Morrissey. How exciting was that? Or is it like no big deal. I mean you must have been psyched.
Grace: I mean it could have went either way. She could have been some spoiled rock royalty dilettante with no real passion. I've seen enough of them on reality television. But instead she was this really gritty individual with a lot churning about inside, wanting to come out. Her dad was a genius, but he didn't make a fortune in the music business, so Lisa grew up in small seaside town on Long Island. Ironically, the same as most of us did. I mean it has been really great to meet Ian Hunter and Mick Rock, but mainly Lisa has been great because she is a talented singer, and a really cool girl. However if Morrissey wanted to come round for a show that would be splendid.

AC: You've been to Europe a few times. What are your favorite countries and spots and locations? What in Europe do you HATE?
Grace: As a band, My Favorite only played in Sweden, Norway and London. As a person, I've also been to Italy and France. Not to sound too much like a clove smoking beatnik, but there isn't much about Europe I don't like. The passion and intelligence of the Swedish pop fan will never cease to inspire me. Paris is just an amazingly atmospheric place to kick around. Italy is a mystical and emotional place for me. London is well London. Home of the brash, outrageous and free. And thus concludes my Lonely Planet Guide blurb. As far as things I hate, well Europeans don't understand politics quite as well as they think they do, and considering how protective they are of their "nationality" in regard to immigrants, I sometimes find their critiques of the U.S. a little vexing. Having said that, I find the reality of the U.S. profoundly more vexing. So its relative.

AC: You had a band prior to the internet thingy, and now less kids read actual books and magazines and look down while walking, texting someone that's two minutes away. And they don’t spell too good. What's your tragic romantic view of the deteriorating social skills of people resulting from overload of cell phones/internet/ipods/droids/xbox?
Grace: Oh I know I should say the kids and the world etc are going to hell in a breadbasket. And clearly they are. But I find the way the world decays and devolves fascinating. Not to say we shouldn't resist, we should. I'd love if people still wrote me letters full of drawings and such, but they don't. They comment on facebook. So life goes on. I think the most important thing is what people think and feel and do with their lives. The medium of their communication is less important. Having said that though, I think the latter is affecting the prior.

AC: What do you think about the collapse of print news media?
Grace: I think it is very sad if it comes to fruition. I read three newspapers a day, from a trashy tabloid to as much of the New York Times as I can get through. I love glossy magazines. I love fanzines and self publishing. I like paper. I don't like turning pages by breezing my finger across the screen of an iPad and then giving the universe a smug grin.

AC: How's life in Brooklyn? Do you miss Long Island at all? What do you hate about Brooklyn and Manhattan?
Grace: Ironically I'm living in Long Island City, Queens, though most of my band mates are in Brooklyn. I do miss Long Island a lot actually, though I always have to make sure I'm not missing a certain memory of place and time more than the place itself. I think lonesome, desperate, beautiful places are better for artists than cities like New York or L.A. or London. I came to understand alienation and isolation on Long Island in a way that will always manifest itself in my work. I miss the small secret beaches and WUSB, the record stores that don't exist anymore. Driving and driving with nowhere to go. I love New York City, but I'm essentially always just A Kid From Long Island Who Read The NME. Deep inside I think that is still how I see myself. A hopeless Mod going to Stony Brook. If I hate anything about Brooklyn/New York it's just how self-conscious and insecure people are. They flock like sheep around colorful piles of crap and it's slightly disheartening. People are not as audacious and outrageous anymore in NYC as generations past, and if they're going to think they are cooler than everyone, they need to at least be entertaining. Instead, most people are deeply tiresome.


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