Marching On with The Wet Secrets

The Wet Secrets. Photo Fish Griwkowsky

Not every band likes to dress in marching band uniforms, but then again not every band is The Wet Secrets. This Edmonton dance-pop band might sound light-hearted with its triumphant horn section and booty-moving grooves, but long-awaited album Free Candy (released February 4th) does some soul-searching about growing older and facing life’s cruelties. Lyrics about death, suicide, and frustration juxtapose the upbeat, uplifting signature Wet Secret sound.

Lyle Bell, lead signer and bassist, also member of Shout Out Out Out Out and Whitey Houston, talked to me about The Wet Secrets on the eve of the new record’s release.

The Wet Secrets began the way all great bands do — a joke gone too far (ok, not all bands begin that way). Bell explains, “Every musician does this sort of thing where you’re at the bar, drunk with your friends, other band guys, and you say we should start a band called the Lightbulbs and we’ll wear marching band outfits. Then you sober up and you’re like that’s funny.”

In this case, Bell and Trevor Anderson (drums, vocals) took things one step further. They were pondering why they weren’t in a band together. “We went to the bar and we’re like ‘We want to play a show and book us a show.’ And then we forgot about it,” explains Bell. “A little over a week before the show, we saw posters and there was an ad in the paper and everyone’s like ‘You’ve got a new band!’ So, we made it a challenge. Instead of doing the practical thing and calling the bar back up and saying we don’t actually have a band, we picked people we thought it was fun to play with.”

Things went better than anticipated. “It was basically a bacchanal for the first week, being drunk, recording, and cobbling this thing together. We recorded all 10 of the songs we had written,” says Bell.

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The Wet Secrets had  an equally unconventional path to recording its third album, six years after the last in 2008. An earlier attempt to release an album in 2009 was abandoned, though some of the songs were retained on the new album. Everyone was occupied with different projects. Bell had Shout Out Out Out Out. Anderson was managing a successful film career. A trombone player was “obsconded by a Scottish bank fraud detective.”  Finding a replacement was difficult, and it was Emma Frazier, the younger sister of a Shout Out Out Out Out bandmade who stepped in.

“The first time she played with us, she was 14. We snuck her into the show because the bar was 18+,” says Bell. “Kim [Rackel] taught her how to put make up on and how to push her boobs together to make them look bigger.”

“As the elder statesman of the band, playing with a 14-year-old seems strange at first,” he continues. “But she’s amazing and unbelievably talented. One of the big surprises of writing the record is doing her vocal takes. She can belt it out and is an unbelievable singer. She’s a One-Take-Jake and has become our secret weapon.”

“It kind of worked out for the best,” he says.

The new album is more reflective in its lyrical content, but remains true to the spirit of the band. “[Anderson] and I were making a conscious decision to go for meaning. Previously, it was tossed off with not a lot of thought. There are darker, more adult themes that reflect on events of the last 6 years ago or so. You get older, life punches you in the mind a few times, and you can’t write about hedonism anymore like you used to,” says Bell.

In particular, Bell points to Zenko’s Theme, a song that morphs into a triumphant parade at the end. The song is a tribute to a friend, Darren Zenko who died of cancer. Zenko was close to the band and was partially responsible for turning the band onto a work of  art that appears on the first album. “It was a sculpture that his grandfather had whittled,” says Bell.

The Wet Secretes are heading out on tour, and Bell says that even though playing live can be stressful, it can be unbelievably fun too. “There’s nothing like playing a show when you get into a weird magical moment and everyone is losing their minds — the audience and the band — a sweaty punk rock type show and everyone is having a great time,” Bell says. “There’s so much promise in a life-affirming show.”

Whatever special sauce gives Bell and the Secrets their staying power  is probably the same magic that keeps the band uniforms intact. The band picked them up when Anderson’s school in rural Alberta sold the outfits. “We ended up getting 20 of them. We were like a weird, gay campy garage band,” says Bell.

The uniforms now, though have been well used and (dare I say it) never washed. “There were two things I promised we’d reward ourselves with when the album was released. A fancy meal at Pampa (a Brazilian steak house) and getting the outfits dry cleaned. I haven’t set either up yet, but I don’t want to disappoint.”

The Wet Secrets and Le Monde Dans le Feu play at Quai des Brumes (4481 ST. Denis) on Feb 13. 9:30 p.m. $8.

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