Secret Friend’s debut album Time Machine is about living out a dream. Its title is testimony to its diversity, exploring a broad canvas but essentially inspired by music of the late ‘70s.
It was born out of a composer’s love of his dog and his desire to overcome the tentacles of quarantine laws. And his need to get his songs out there.
The composer Steven Fox had long contemplated creating an album of the songs he’d been writing as a sideline. While at the same time pursuing a career in the IT world, starting up the first Chinese online dating website, and opening one of Taiwan’s first cyber cafes.
Three years ago, Steven and his partner Nuca adopted a miniature schnauzer puppy in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They named their dog Arrow after the character described by the brilliant singer/songwriter Nilsson in his affectionate ode to dog-dom, Me and My Arrow from The Point album.
This is clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog. With the tale stroking the creative fires!
At age 19, Steven Fox (who had self-taught himself to play guitar and keyboards when 14 and was in a band two years later) relocated from his hometown of Seattle to London in the mid-’80s where he learned the art of computer programming.
A few year later, he moved to Asia to work within the IT field in several areas of online marketing and advertising. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, he forged a cutting-edge career, before immigrating to Australia.
He departed the IT world in 2010 and plunged into a less hectic career in property development in Chiang-Mai. But feeling the desire for a change, Steven and his partner decided to investigate returning to Australia. This required a lengthy stay in California so that the couple’s dog Arrow could avoid a mandatory quarantine period in Australia.
With six months to fill while located in the heart of the music business – Hollywood – Steven set about organising the making of the Time Machine album.
“The thing about the Secret Friend project is that it doesn’t really exist as a band,” Steven explained. “I’ve been in bands before. But I’m not that proficient as a musician that I would want to be going out there performing. I’d actually prefer to stay out of the limelight.” Unlike many music projects, Secret Friend is not ego driven.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Steven set about recruiting some qualified musicians to contribute to the project. On the advice of a friend, he connected with Roger Joseph Manning Jr, a multi-talented keyboard player. This led to the recruitment of producer Linus of Hollywood, and lead vocalists Willie Wisely and Kelly Jones.
“I chose Linus of Hollywood as the producer because I admire his own music,” notes Steve. “It’s melodic, often funny, and well produced. Along the way, we discovered that we shared a lot of the same musical influences growing up.
“For me, it was the Beatles (especially McCartney), the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, the Zombies, the David/Bacharach songbook. I was also influenced – without really knowing it at the time – by a lot of late ‘70s AM radio hits.
“Today I’m listening to Corinne Bailey Rae, Mike Viola, Tame Impala, Animal Collective, King Washington, Bleu, Gotye, Rufus Wainwright, fun, General Electriks, Tim Minchin and Philip Glass.”
The rhythm tracks – which had been previously demo’d in Thailand – were provided to band members in advance and the tunes were cut live over an intense three day period following three days of rehearsals.
Additional musicians were brought in for particular purposes. “On I Don’t Want to Count You Out, I secured a local Brazilian Batucada drum ensemble,” notes Steven.
Three tracks (He’ll Never Know Me, Never Before and The Elephant in the Room) were specifically arranged for string quartet and woodwinds by John Hill. “He’s a respected jazz guitarist who was also responsible for producing and arranging Margo Guryan’s classic 1968 album, Take a Picture.”
“The title of the album Time Machine has special significance,” according to Steven. “All the music was written over a lengthy period of time, principally in the last nine or ten years. Much of the music itself sounds as if it might be from a much earlier period of time, and then there is the title track.
“The album cover is an image of the famous clock in Prague, which has been colourised with an astronomical doppler shift.
“Time and mortality walk hand in hand, so for me time – or rather, an awareness of a rapidly diminishing amount of time, was the real catalyst for the project.”
The name chosen for the artist collective was Secret Friend. This for a number of reasons – it was the title of an obscure Paul McCartney b-side. SF are also Steven’s initials. “I’d like to think that there’s a certain mysteriousness about it,” he says.
Early listeners have noted a McCartney flavor, vintage late ‘70s version, in some of these songs. The composer is happy to accept such reactions as a compliment.
Brisbane, Australia Dec. 2012