by Daniel Emberg
Most guitar slinging party pigs have, at some point, talked themselves into thinking a spontaneous band would turn out great. How could it not? Get a few pals together, crack a couple bottles, don’t plan anything and just bang out a quick record. It’ll be legendary, man! Of course, this method rarely spawns anything worth sharing outside the basement where it starts, but once in a looooong while, someone catches lightning in a bottle.
The Wet Secrets were those someones nearly a decade ago in Edmonton, Alberta. As the story goes, a few of the original members got hammered and went through the “let’s just do this” song and dance. Within a week, they put together a record (A Whale of a Cow) and played their first show at a long-defunct bar called Seedy’s. It went so well the band decided they might consider treating themselves as more than a lark.
Soon enough The Wet Secrets were hopping all across the land to lead punky dance parties. They stuck in memories by way of stellar performances coupled with matching uniforms reclaimed from the drummer’s old adolescent marching band. Again, though, somehow they never found their way to Winnipeg. They can’t explain it either.
“When you’re from Edmonton—or Winnipeg, as you can attest—you’re kind of landlocked. There are vast expanses you have to cross to really make a mark as a band. [Winnipeg] is really not that far away when you’re used to travelling 12 hours to play a show,” says Lyle Bell (bass, lead vocals), who speaks from experience as he has been here plenty of times with other bands.
Trevor Anderson (drums, vocals) interjects, “You should really just judge it by how many cities are in between, so we should look at Winnipeg on a map and say it’s only two or three cities away.”
The band’s 2007 record, Rock Fantasy, garnered heaps of love all over the place, even beyond the independent media circuit: CBC was impressed enough to name “Secret March” to their list of the twenty best Canadian songs of the decade. This was a hoppin’ dance band with lots to like: sweet horns, his/hers vocal harmonies, fuzzed out bass riffs, and keyboard fills so evocative of the Stranglers that it could not have been an accident. Titles such as “Grow Your Own Fucking Moustache, Asshole,” “Chinball Wizard,” and “I Tea Bagged Myself” clearly suggested a healthy appetite for toilet humour, but there was a tense undercurrent to be found beneath the bacchanalian beats. A closer parsing of the album revealed the songs were all dark as hell, filled with observational barbs that should make the audience question whether the band is laughing with them or at them.
All arrows seemed to be pointing up, then the band suddenly went dormant. There was no breakup announcement to bemoan, there just weren’t any more shows or records. To an outsider, the most pertinent reason was that other projects were simply taking up a lot of their time. Bell plays with Shout Out Out Out Out and is the “Whitey” of Whitey Houston, while Anderson is an accomplished filmmaker who takes home enough trophies from festivals that keeping them polished could be a full-time job.
Late last year, though, word got out that The Wet Secrets would be dropping a new record and going hard for 2014. The time away from this project helped the members hone their respective perspectives, set some goals, and finally right the wrong of never having played in Winnipeg. Accordingly, this year has already seen them chew up SXSW, spit out some UK festivals, and now they are poised to get feet stomping here for the first time on June 8.
“I’m half optimist, half kinda cynical curmudgeon,” says Bell of the band’s current status, “so now we’ve got a way more sound kinda business plan. That may not be exactly rock ‘n’ roll but I think it’s a smarter way to do this.”
How does a band with a serious plan get back on its horse after a few years away? In this case, a couple of funny videos are helping move things along in support of Free Candy, which came out a few months ago and is just as catchy, moody, and wry as its predecessor.
“Sunshine” announced the band’s return to activity with a cute cat video, which is irresistible enough. Then the follow-up single, “Nightlife,” brought with it a genuinely hilarious video that even managed to get Joe Flaherty to dust off his old Count Floyd character from the SCTV days.
Explains Anderson, “I also direct theatre. [Flaherty] came and guest starred with this improv comedy show I was directing, then we just stayed friendly ever since.” When the time came to make the video, “we were spitballing ideas about this ageing vampire character, and I was like, ‘Hey, I know an ageing actor who plays a vampire.’ Joe said yes, came to Edmonton in December from his sunny home in Los Angeles,” and soon enough the deed was done.
Continuing on the Free Candy theme, if you go find that “Nightlife” video on YouTube there are some no-cost goodies to find in the description. As put by Anderson, “There’s the song itself, then a Nik Kozub remix, and a skronky disco version with a saxophone solo by this great guy from our hometown called Mitchmatic. As Lyle says, it’s about 30 minutes of the same hook available for free download!”
Videos? Free downloads? Sounds like The Wet Secrets are as ready as ever to reveal themselves to you, and they even check off the key requirements Winnipeggers demand of visitors: they know how long winter lasts, they gasp at the thought of effective urban planning, and they need not be told that the plural for “beer” is “beer,” so maybe come on down and tilt a few of those if you’re into that kind of thing. Give ’em a warm welcome, dance the night away, and strut your way out with the satisfaction of a Sunday well spent.
The Wet Secrets play the Pyramid Cabaret on June 8 with Gay Nineties. Tickets are $7 in advance at Into the Music, Soul Survivors, or the Pyramid.