Edmonton’s favourite imaginary friend the Wet Secrets is a band that wants to stick their tongue in your ear. And by tongue they mean their sweeter-than-sin new album, Free Candy. Conceived as a cunning stunt in 2005 by bassist/vocalist Lyle Bell and drummer/vocalist Trevor Anderson, the Wet Secrets made their first appearance on stage at a reputable establishment called Seedy’s. Invigorated by the thrill they received from that initial act of exposure, the Wet Secrets swiftly assembled and issued their debut album, A Whale of a Cow, later that year.
By 2007, the Wet Secrets had found a rhythm to match their trumped-up, pop-rock methodology with their sophomoric release, the appropriately titled Rock Fantasy. Received with open arms, the catchy cache of Rock Fantasy was a magic bullet that shot the Wet Secrets to the top of the Canadian charts, where they lingered on well into 2008.
“Trevor and I were at a show and kind of made a pact/dare to start a band and write and record an album before the first show,” Bell recalls. “We took a show and promptly forgot about all of this until a week before our first gig. We did a crazy, no-sleep week of practice/recording and got it done literally five minutes before the show started. At the time, both Trevor and I were in bands and fairly accomplished and we mutually knew some people we thought would be fun to play with. We wanted to avoid guitar, for whatever reason, so it was horns and keys with everyone singing. It was thrown together pretty quickly without too much thought about anything further into the future than that one gig. Also, that first night we made our pact-dare, our friend Fish took a photo of us that looked like I was telling Trevor a wet secret. Can’t remember if Fish said that or Trevor, but it was the genesis of the name.”
Obviously accustomed to making a serious racket when performing as a part of his erstwhile bands, Shout Out Out Out Out and Whitey Houston, bassist and lead vocalist Lyle Bell has never shied away from making a scene in public. Pursuing his affection for the campiness and controversy, Bell and his long time friend and collaborator drummer/vocalist Trevor Anderson have discovered likeminded musicians in trumpet player/vocalist Kim Rackel, trombonist/vocalist Emma Frazier and keyboardist/conga player like Paul Arnusch. Settling into their role within the dynamic group, Paul and the two majorettes are primed to deliver Bell and Anderson’s madcap musical mash-up.
“We sometimes spontaneously write jams during practices, make wonky demos and then refine them in the studio,” says Bell of the group’s evolving songwriting process. “Sometimes, I’ll get bombarded with an idea and work out most of the song in my head. I can generally hear how everything is going to go and then I’ll show it to Trevor, who often sends it spiralling into a different dimension. Everyone in this band is actually pretty fucking talented musically. Zero slouch. Kim and Emma are superstars!”
Now, you might be tempted to think that blasting out starry-eyed tunes like “Hot Hot Hotter than the Sun,” “The Chinball Wizard” and “The Ballad of El Doucho,” while being backed by a fulsome brass section, would be enough for any band on the march. But if you need to know one thing about the Wet Secrets, it’s that they love being the centre of your attention and will stop at nothing to get there. Plying their eminently danceable hooks whilst decked-out in tasseled red-and-white marching-band uniforms, Bell and company demonstrate that no loud outfit is complete without an equally loud outfit.
“The outfits were the old uniforms of the Red Deer Royals. Unlike Lorde, Trevor was once a Royal and we were able to buy about twenty complete marching band outfits in a sweet deal brokered by his mom.”
After five years of anticipation and planning, the Wet Secrets’ next great orchestral manoeuvre is finally ready to be unveiled. The musical counterpart of the cat hair-covered sweater in your closet (also Bell’s wardrobe of choice when he’s not in uniform), Free Candy comes across as fun, friendly and a little bit freaky. A return to the halcyon days of one’s cavity-filled youth, the gratuitously tasteful album came together during this past summer, guided by the hand of producer Nik Kozub (White Horse, Cadence Weapon, Shout Out Out Out Out).
“I learned a lot about the business in general from being in Shout Out Out Out Out: take the work involved seriously and have a plan,” Bell says. “In the four years (five?) since our last album, we went through some personnel changes and had general life bullshit drop down on us. We got older, wiser and slightly sadder. Rock Fantasy was kind of about sex and hedonism with a bit of whimsical bullshit. Free Candy is a more adult album, loosely about sex, death and humanity, supernatural claptrap, the untimely death of a friend, evangelicals banging on your door way too early, people who sit in the green room and eat your deli tray while you play, dyin’ — the usual.”
Bell confesses that their predilection for stirring crowds into frenzies has led them down the yellow brick road to chaos on more than one occasion. He recalls a pie giveaway that resulted in an Animal House-calibre food fight. How does one get pie out of a trumpet? Marx Brothers-inspired tomfoolery aside, these festival veterans have a history of engaging audiences with a constant parade of well-composed and skillfully-executed aural pleasures. Indeed, the Wet Secrets strive to infuse their musical presentations with an intelligent and slightly warped sense of humour. In doing so, they seldom fail to elicit an appreciative response from their listeners.
“I am my own harshest critic and I am super-pumped that we had the stick-to-it-iveness to get Free Candy done,” Bell reports. “We are all totally proud of this one, our little breach baby. I’m already working hard on the next album. We have big plans. I want to take this as far as we can possibly can. We also want to reunite the Smugglers so we can do a split 7″.”
Tongue firmly planted in cheek, the Wet Secrets plan to exercise their right to party as they champion Free Candy across the land.
“It’s amazing how fast the years can slip by, but our mandate of having fun together hasn’t changed. Once we got rolling again everyone started to get excited about pushing this album through to completion. Lately, we’ve been playing some of our best shows ever. It does sound like the same band, but I think we’re also a band in transition. Maybe in the future we won’t be quite as jokey… Of course, when you wear marching band outfits there’s a pretty fine line between being seen as a glib gimmick and being taken seriously. There are tons of weird art rock bands out there that we love, like Devo and Ween. I think it’s possible to play completely ridiculous material really well. That’s when it’s the most entertaining.”
Catch Wet Secrets at the Palomino on December 13. Free Candy will be released on February 4, 2014.
By Christine Leonard
Photo: Fish Griwkowsky