THE SECRET MACHINES and Moving Units at Mod Club (722 College), Wednesday (February 2). $14.99. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Moving to a big city to "make it" can be dicey. Transplant a band into a new town devoid of high school buddies, compassionate girlfriends and supportive relatives and one of two things usually happens: the band crashes fast or burns out slowly.
Texas-bred space rockers the Secret Machines, however, are one happy exception.
And while their hometown of Dallas - population 5.6 million - isn't exactly Smallsville, USA, after trudging through that city's insular music scene for the better part of a decade, the three members of the Secret Machines decided to roll the bones, hop in the van and make for the Big Apple.
"Some bands like the Flaming Lips or Sigur Rós have been successful playing from really remote places," says vocalist Brandon Curtis over the phone from his adopted home of New York City. "But for us, playing in Dallas, we got the feeling that the world was going on somewhere else. It also inspired us to say, 'If we're gonna go for it, let's go for it. '"
And just as the band hit NYC in November 2000, the scene there exploded.
"It seemed like as soon as we got there things started to happen," says Curtis. "It became this frenzy, and a lot of people started talking about the New York sound. In some ways I think we got overlooked. We did lots of interviews, but it was like we never made the final copy."
The band's semi-outsider status has paid off, though. Rather than being famous as Karen O. accessories or a batch of mini-Strokes, TSM are gaining notoriety the old-fashioned way: from the music.
"It doesn't matter how cool you are or who you hang out with if the music doesn't make people want to listen," says Curtis. "We've always wanted to sound intense and powerful."
Truly, the band's sprawling, woozy vibe has little in common with the punky stomp of the Rapture or the suave sheen of Interpol.
Not even close, in fact. TSM's latest LP, Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise), is a spacey trek through Krautrock drones, Floydian psychedelia and good old-fashioned rock, served up Led Zep style. In other words, the record sounds huge.
Despite all the massive production, though, Curtis says the band has little trouble recreating the sound live.
"We got signed to Warner because of our live show," he explains. "So the question wasn't 'Can you guys do this live?' It was actually 'Can you guys do in the studio what you do live?'"
For the uninitiated, Curtis says the band's live approach is a little like sliding into a very hot Jacuzzi: initially unnerving but ultimately satisfying.
"Growing up in the 80s, we saw bands like the Flaming Lips and the Butthole Surfers really set the standard," he says. "It's stuff that blurs the line between safety and danger, and it can really get into your space. At first it can make you uncomfortable, but once you get into it you just want to soak yourself in it."