Secret Shine

Secret Shine is an incredible band with elements of shoegaze and dream pop in their majestic sound. They started up in the early 90’s in England, releasing records on Sarah Records, as well as a retrospective release on Claire Records in 2004. The current lineup consists of Kathryn Smith (vocals/keyboards), Scott Purnell (guitars), Jamie Gingell (bass/vocals), Dean Purnell (guitars/vocals), and Tom Adams (drums). Both longtime fans and new listeners of this band’s amazing work will be delighted to know the band has a new album coming out later this year, and that they’ll also be touring. Stateside fans might want to act fast to get tickets for their rare appearance at NYC’s Popfest in late May. Kathryn Smith was kind enough to answer some questions about what the band has been up to. Thanks also to Wyatt Parkins for setting this up.

EK: Going way back, what were the early days like compared to the industry now? You folks started in the midst of the shoegaze boom, what was that like?

KATHRYN: Being in the midst of a shoegaze boom was exciting and even though we were on the edge of the scene, we were doing what we loved and were very much in charge of creating a sound that we wanted to make. It was very different then especially as far as recording goes…it’s far more sophisticated now than in 1993 when we attempted to record multi-layer songs on a 4-track recorder. We now indulge in creating big soundscapes, especially for the new album where we often use 10+ vocal layers in one song. Computer recording has given us the freedom to do this and it really suits our sound. The Internet has killed money-making through record sales, which is difficult when you need to fund future releases, but on the up side, we now have so many more platforms to promote our music and attract more listeners and opportunities to release new material and tour.

EK: What was it like putting music out on Sarah Records?

KATHRYN: Secret Shine started with Jamie and Scott who were very keen to get signed to Sarah. So when they were, it was a massive buzz for two friends at college, just starting out 🙂 We were also one of the few Bristol based bands on the label and proud of our roots. We were definitely outsiders on Sarah when our sound got heavier but Matt and Clare always supported that change of direction. I don’t think we could have predicted at the time the great love and lasting impact that Sarah would have. At the time there was a lot of vitriol from the press about the label and us, so we were always up against it! If you have seen our interview in Lucy Dawkins’ film “My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records” you’ll see what I mean ;)v


EK: How would you describe your sound? A lot of bands don’t like labels, so do you care if you are tagged as shoegaze or dream pop?

KATHRYN: As a band we don’t mind about the tagging as long as people listen to our music and make up their own minds. It’s an honour to be included up there with some of the other legendary bands of that genre, and the resurgence of ‘shoegaze’ pages, fan sites and forums has kept our music ‘out there’ and has even attracted new followers (people not even born when we were first around).

EK: The band went on hiatus, any special reason?

KATHRYN: I think we’d reached a point where we thought the Secret Shine journey was over. Sarah had recently ended and although we had some interest from other labels, it never came to anything. A few of the band members also wanted to explore different music styles and projects for a while. When Clairecords contacted us about re-releasing our back catalogue almost 7 years after we took a break, we realised people were still keen to listen to our music… so we reformed. Don’t tell anyone, but when we heard this and decided to start working on new material, Jamie had to actually Google “How do you play bass?”, as a reminder! The rusty musicians, who had remained really good mates, were coming out of the woodwork. Sadly, we lost our drummer and good friend Tim in 2005 but this spurred us on to release new material in his memory, to celebrate him and our music and time together.

EK: You cracked the Top 20 only once with Loveblind. What did that mean to you? I ask because some bands don’t care, that is not the point of what they are trying to accomplish with their art.

KATHRYN: We are still very proud of reaching the indie charts, especially as previously mentioned, there had been a lot of vitriol towards us and Sarah Records. Our entry in the charts was helped in the main by the legendary John Peel reading the NME review of Loveblind on his show (as above, see the film 😉 ) and thinking that “any band that elicited that much wrath was worthy of some attention”. Leading on from that Steve Lamacq, then presenter of Radio 1’s Evening Session invited us to support The Jesus and Mary Chain when Sound City (Radio 1 festival) came to Bristol. We had a moment of getting national coverage and breaking mainstream radio for the first time which at the time (and now!) was very difficult to do. In reality we were small indie kids in a very big pond. Bands that say they don’t care about chart positions are sort of denying that they want as many people to listen their music as possible. If you’re doing it for yourself then cool but maybe you shouldn’t worry about putting out the records to the public.

EK: How did you make the connection with St. Marie Records? And how has working with Wyatt been for you?

KATHRYN: We first heard from Saint Marie when Wyatt contacted Sarah Records about re-issuing our first album Untouched. From there we asked Wyatt if he’d be interested in hearing new material and releasing a new album. Wyatt is such a supporter and devotee of the shoegaze genre that he didn’t even have to hear the new material before offering us a deal on the new record. He trusts that we will send him something that will be worthy of release which as a band is a comforting thought and give us a lot of freedom to express ourselves in the way we always have. We’re so pleased with our new record despite it being a bit of a monster to mix but to put it on on Saint Marie and reach an audience of fans of this genre of music is priceless for us. We hope Wyatt will be happy too!

EK: What most influences your work?

KATHRYN: Musically, we all grew up in the 80s, so the sounds of that decade probably resonate most profoundly with us, bands like the Smiths, Mary Chain, and Cocteau Twins are evident in our sound.

EK: How has the writing/recording process gone for your upcoming album?

KATHRYN: It’s been a long process (our usual style) but it has given us the opportunity to have the space and time to really create the sound we want. It has also involved moving away from self-taught (learning along the way) home recording, which all our releases post-reunion have been. We also decided to reunite with very lovely, chilled and talented Corin Dingley (Alpha, & dontTouch Recordings), who recorded and produced Untouched, so we headed to him in the South of France for an intense week of laying down 10 tracks. We also chose the tracks we wanted as a band (a more democratic process) from a pot of about 15. We are in the final throes of production after a tricky mix process but it had to be something we were happy with and shows off our shiny new songs in the best light possible – sometimes it just goes like that.


EK: Any favorite new songs you can talk about?

KATHRYN: There’s quite a mix on the new album, a couple of big anthemic songs
like “All in your head” and some real noisy stompers like “Dirty Game” and “To the Well”. I personally like the melody and beauty of “Drift Away” from the new album. We’d all say something different I’m sure! It’s great to return to more songs where the three of us are singing too, so layers of vocals and layers of guitar intricacies abound on this!

EK: Is the band planning to tour in support of the new album?

KATHRYN: It’s just been announced that we are going to be playing New York Popfest, something we were asked to do last year, but couldn’t. We would love to return to the West Coast and play off the back of a new album release and other opportunities often crop up across Europe. We are practising the new material regularly so the intention to play is there. When we think back to the decision to reform and where we have travelled since, the support and genuine love for our music (thank you all!), and the laughter and experiences we have had along the way, I don’t think Secret Shine are quite ready to stop just yet!

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Music has always been a driving force for Elizabeth Klisiewicz, which she days “continues to define my existence”. During and after her college years, she ran a weekly radio show at WMUA FM Radio and also at a community station in Springfield, MA, in addition to writing music and concert reviews for the college newspaper. At present, she writes for The Big Takeover Magazine and The Active Listener Blog, and recently began producing a semi-regular Mixcloud-based show called The Kitchen Sink. In the real world, when not writing technical manuals, she gets her thrills from reading mysteries, birdwatching, and can always be found with a camera and a maxed-out storage card full of music.

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