Keeping the Beat With Josh Garza - Soul Inside of The Secret Machines

By David Thompson

Nov 08, 2022 02:18 PM EST

Borne from the streets of Dallas, TX, The Secret Machines rose to prominence as a progressive alternative rock band consisting of Brandon and Benjamin Curtis (Guitars, Vocals) and Josh Garza (Drums). 

With more than two decades of sound captured on albums like September 000 and Ten Silver Drops, the Secret Machines would become a central force in both the city of Dallas and the progressive rock scene. After going on hiatus in 2010, the Secret Machines would spring back to life in 2020 as a two-piece unit with founding members Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza helming the operation.

With the two-piece unit back intact, the Secret Machines have begun spreading their sound once again. Before we delve into what the band is up to, let's first take a long look at how they got to be there in the first place.

Music and Childhood: Forming Bands

When you first pick up an instrument, there can be a connection - something that feels different. For drummer Josh Garza, picking up a pair of drumsticks at the age of 15 was a revelatory experience. 

Of course, the experience itself would have been impossible had it not been for a particular kind and caring uncle. Garza had to convince his uncle to sign a lease for a set of drums before the future drummer had ever even picked up a pair of sticks! Garza would end up working in his uncle's restaurant in order to pay off the bill, honing his talents while earning them at the same time.

Born and raised in Dallas, it wasn't long before Garza took his love of drumming to other friends in the area. Garza would begin playing in bands within two years, establishing the band COMET to emulate the smooth 60s sounds of the Beatles. The band took control of Garza's imagination, leading to the release of several albums within the next several years. Garza's drumming touch and signature production sound were notable on every track.

Emulating John Bonham: Finding Sounds

His experiences with COMET would allow Garza the flexibility and freedom to explore his sound, trying to retain some of the flair that he drew from the famous drummer, John Bonham. Garza said of the illustrious musician in a 2009 interview, "My drumming doesn't sound exactly like Bonham, it sounds like Josh Garza, but it's from that same school."

While drummers don't naturally get the same flair and attention that guitarists and vocalists do, Garza's decision to emulate John Bonham in some respects was impossible to miss. Garza said in an interview with Modern Drummer, "John Bonham played his kit the way Hendrix played his guitar."

To try and bring his own sound into the world while recalling that of Bonham, Garza decided to outfit himself with a unique kit. Driving his sound through a Tama kit, Josh likes to tune down his 16" floor tom while working with a 14" rack tom and a 28" bass drum, some of the same measurements found in Bonham's repertoire.

Garza said of his tuning decisions, "I got the idea for the tunings on these big drums from reading that Bonham tuned his drums really high, like a big band drummer."

The First Big Break: Fueled by Bowie

Without the fame associated with Secret Machines, Garza would just be another talented drummer with an ear for creating new sounds. Fortunately for Garza, a chance bit of fortune fueled by his own talent would change his life forever.

It was the Fall of 2004 when David Bowie (yes, that David Bowie) logged onto his personal website. Bowie had just listened to the Arcade Fire, then an up-and-coming band, and he was ready to rave about their talent. But there was a caveat.

Bowie wrote, "Nothing else comes close. Well, maybe 'Secret Machines' and their CD 'Now Here is Nowhere.'"

Recently relocated to New York City, Secret Machines stood out in a rare way above the discordant noise of the city's music scene. Secret Machines blasted their listeners with progressive rock and roll backed by droning soundscapes, wind arrangements, and hypnotic grooves. 

Interpol's lead singer, Paul Banks, had the pleasure of seeing the band live during their early years and it was an experience he never forgot. Banks said in an interview with the NY Times, "I literally felt it was like a spiritual experience. That's worth many, many concert tickets to be able to experience something that visceral."

The Rise and Sudden Stop

After Bowie's ringing endorsement, Josh Garza and the group would explode in popularity by dropping several albums within the next couple of years. The band would drop its first full EP after recording in Chicago, just a few weeks after forming the band. September 000 would hit shelves to critical claim without the commercial success they had been hoping for.

After relocating to New York, the band would end up signing with Warner Brothers. A few years later, Now Here is Nowhere would hit the shelves and Bowie's endorsement would sound alarms around the industry. A touring act with Interpol, Oasis, and Kings of Leon would all follow suit.  

As Secret Machines continued to grow, Garza and the band would see their profile grow alongside it. Charles De Meaux would team up with the band to film and release a surreal outdoor night concert, showcasing and debuting the exclusive 'Marfa Song' along the way.

In 2006, things took a turn for what could only be described as the worst. Secret Machines and Josh Garza published their second album, begrudgingly after it had been leaked to file-sharing sites. Critical and commercial acclaim would follow, and the band would find itself interviewed by David Bowie.

And then everything changed.

Benjamin Curtis would step away from the band to focus on his new project, School of Seven Bells. Secret Machines went officially on hiatus and their worlds were completely rocked when Benjamin tragically died of lymphoma at the age of 35 just a few years later.

Garza said of his friend's tragic passing, "Until that moment, deep, deep down, I always thought we'd do something with him again."

The Big Comeback

With Ben departed from the band, Secret Machines would drop a self-titled album in 2008 with Phil Karnats on guitar. The record was released through Worlds Fair Records and it would be their last activity until their return to action in 2020.

Josh Garza and Brandon would announce through Twitter that they had decided to get the band back together as a two-piece, releasing Awake in the Brain Chamber at the same time with a limited 500 vinyl print run. Their return to action was paired with an announcement that Phil would return to the band on guitar.

With the group back together, Garza and the Secret Machines have maintained high levels of activity with the release of two EPs and a physical cassette tape. 

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