They say great minds think alike. Secret Broadcast and The Fast Romantics were two of the five local bands to win $15,000 from Calgary radio station X92 last year as part of its Xposure contest. There were no strings attached to the money and no guidelines for how it should be spent; just the hope that the winners would put the cash to good use.
From there, the two bands have taken remarkably similar paths. Both played at the Virgin Festival last year in Calgary (also part of the radio station’s prize), with Secret Broadcast getting invited to last year’s Toronto event and this year’s Virgin sequel, as well. Both also used the cash to enlist A-list talent for recording their full-length debuts — producer Laurence Currie (Wintersleep, Holy Fuck, Sloan) for Secret Broadcast and multi-Juno-winning engineer Mike Fraser (Franz Ferdinand, Elvis Costello, Metallica) for the Romantics. And both wrapped up their recordings at about the same time, leading almost inevitably to this Saturday’s dual CD release. It makes you wonder — just how close are these two bands?
“I think we’ve just partnered up,” says Fast Romantics vocalist Matthew Angus. “We’ve been helping each other by nature, with this whole tour. Even just booking shows, it’s been an incredible partnership.”
“It’s like you’re in the same band,” he adds, turning to guitarist Matthew Kliewer. “You talk to them more than you talk to me now.”
They may act like they’re in the same band, but The Fast Romantics and Secret Broadcast are far from musical clones. The Romantics trade in highly danceable, keyboard-laced indie-pop — it’s entirely appropriate that Fraser was mixing Franz Ferdinand’s new album at the same time he was working with the Calgary quartet. Secret Broadcast is the more dramatic of the pair, all shimmering guitar tones and minor-key chord shifts — the kind of sound you could easily picture filling an arena within a few years’ time. They’re completely distinct sounds, but also oddly complementary, a fact the two bands have realized is well worth exploiting.
“We played just for fun at the HiFi club about six months ago,” says Secret Broadcast singer (and this article’s third Matt) Matt Lightstone. “In Calgary, it’s tough to get a good crowd out to a show. Really, it is. We didn’t expect that. We had never had this happen before — the place was completely rammed solid, completely sold out, with a lineup around the block. And we’re like, OK, we did that. Let’s try to get that at a bigger venue.”
Bigger is clearly the plan with this weekend’s CD release (which includes copies of the two discs for fans who buy their tickets in advance), but neither band is expecting it to come easily. The two bands are handling the show entirely independently, rounding up support from local sponsors, co-ordinating publicity and generally doing the kind of grunt work that a lot of bands shy away from. It’s become a full-time job in a very real sense — the members of Secret Broadcast are expecting the band to be their full-time job as early as the new year. For The Fast Romantics, career independence (though not necessarily financial security) has come even sooner — both Angus and Kliewer have already given up their day jobs. Kliewer even got to live out a minor rock ’n’ roll dream when his boss cranked up a Fast Romantics tune on the stereo as he was escorted out of the building for the last time.
Still, Angus makes it clear that the business side of the band isn’t something anyone in the group was itching to take on.
“I think we’re averse to it, but we recognize that you have to do it and you have to be really good at it,” he says. “We’ve learned the hard way how to be good at it. I don’t think any musician really wants to think of themselves as a businessman. It [can be] hard to accept that you have to have a business sense and that you have to spend days crunching numbers and calling booking agents.”
It’s the kind of necessary evil that most artists only dream of when they first start jamming, though, and both bands seem genuinely grateful for the opportunities they’ve been given. It’s tempting to call their rise in profile a quick one — Secret Broadcast have been together for three years, The Fast Romantics for two — but there’s no denying they’ve worked for it, whether in previous bands or the sheer effort they’ve put into their recent success. And now, with the joint CD release and a shared cross-Canada tour, the two bands seem determined to pull each up other to the next level. It’s the kind of commitment that could drive some folks crazy, but according to Angus, it’s working well.
“We’re working really well together — so far, anyway,” he says. “It’s harder. There’s a lot more people to please, and you can’t just be a control freak. You’ve gotta compromise about a few things. With them, it’s been easy. If we were working with a band we hated — not that we hate really anyone at the moment — it would suck. But they’re like family, those guys.”
Lightstone agrees. With the two bands, there is no rivalry — just a strong musical friendship.
“It’s right down the middle,” he says. “It’s completely equal. As far as who’s going to play last [at the CD release], we’re literally going to flip a coin to decide.”