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In early 2013, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriters Bess Rogers, Hannah Winkler, and Lelia Broussard set out on a self-booked house-concert tour of the East Coast and Midwest. With multi-instrumentalist Zach Jones joining as their shared drummer, the three solo artists spent weeks traveling from city to city and performing in strangers’ living rooms sans microphones. “We played as each other’s backing band and harmonized together, and our voices sort of blended together in a really special way,” says Broussard. “At almost every show people kept telling us we should put out something together, so we decided to give it a shot.” After piling into the van for a second house-concert tour that spring, Rogers, Winkler, Broussard and Jones returned to Brooklyn and soon founded a harmony-driven but heavy-hitting alt-rock four-piece named Secret Someones.
On I Won’t Follow—the band’s debut EP for Cherrytree/Interscope Records—Secret Someones take their folk-tinged singer/songwriter roots and twist those tight melodies into a sublimely raw sound. Throughout the EP, the contrast between glistening harmonies, confessional lyrics, and crushing guitars creates a tension that’s sweetly exhilarating. On the title track and lead single, for instance, Secret Someones soulful and soaring vocals shine through a glorious snarl of sludgy guitar riffs, fuzzed-out bass, and pounding drums. In “Chase Your Shadow,” darkly textured grooves and spine-tingling harmonies get gorgeously tangled together and then give way to an epic and fiery guitar solo. Rounding out I Won’t Follow is a stripped-down acoustic version of the title song that intensifies the heartache behind its lyrics (“If you pulled me out to sea/I would drown in what you wanted me to be”), as well as a harmony-powered take on Nirvana’s “Breed” that’s both fierce and giddy.
The EP was produced by Rogers’s husband Chris Kuffner (a musician who has produced songs for Ingrid Michaelson and A Great Big World). Recorded in Kuffner’s home studio, I Won’t Follow finds Secret Someones making use of intricate songcraft inspired by artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell while also tapping into new influences from all corners of the rock & roll world. “On those house-concert tours we were listening to a lot of rock music in the van—stuff like Tom Petty and Talking Heads and Weezer and Radiohead—so that sound really came through once we started writing,” says Jones. “We feel very much inspired by music that’s sometimes aggressive or quirky or even almost sloppy but that still has great songwriting at the heart of it,” he adds.
All longtime musicians, Secret Someones first found each other through what Rogers refers to as “the sort-of incestuous New York City music scene.” Originally from Long Island, Rogers picked up guitar in her early teens, started releasing her music independently in 2007, and has toured with Ingrid Michaelson as her guitarist and background vocalist since 2009. Broussard’s background includes putting out her first album at age 15, as well as performing at Bonnaroo and on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as part of her coming in as a runner-up in Rolling Stone’s 2011 “Choose The Cover Contest” (a competition to showcase the best unsigned artists in the country). Winkler, meanwhile, balanced her work as a pre-school teacher with independently releasing her own music prior to joining Secret Someones, and Jones’s past work includes serving as an in-demand session musician in addition to being the touring drummer for A Great Big World.
While the four musicians had never collaborated with each other in songwriting before forming Secret Someones, their chemistry was instant and powerful. “The first time we ever tried writing together, we wrote a song that’s one of our favorites and one of our fans’ favorites,” says Rogers of “Quit Pulling Me Down,” a track slated for their upcoming full-length album. “Everything just felt really natural and gelled so well, we all put our solo stuff aside and decided that this was going to be our thing from now on.” After coming up with a half-dozen songs in their first few songwriting sessions, Secret Someones holed up in Kuffner’s studio for a week to fine-tune the tracks; then made their live debut days later. In October, the band self-released a three-song EP that soon ended up in the hands of Cherrytree Records founder Martin Kierszenbaum, who signed Secret Someones in time for them to join in the Cherrytree SXSW showcase last March.
Not much more than a year after playing living rooms and backyards to crowds rarely greater than a hundred-people-deep, Secret Someones took the stage before an audience of 5,500 while opening for Ingrid Michaelson at Central Park in July. Now heading out on a national tour with labelmates Sir Sly and Wolf Gang—and gearing up to release their full-length debut in early 2015—the band members pride themselves on delivering a high-energy live show that radiates the same boundless and big-hearted spirit behind their songwriting. “A lot of the time, someone will bring in something personal and we’ll sit around and talk about it, and then we’ll start turning it into a song,” says Winkler of the Secret Someones songwriting process. “Like with ‘I Won’t Follow’—one of us was going through a hard time, so we started talking it over. At some point the words ‘I won’t follow’ were spoken, and then the whole song just came together around that.”
But despite the warm-and-fuzzy vibes—and the palpable synergy that gives their songs such warmth and heart—Secret Someones’ creative collaboration is completely uncompromising when it comes to carrying out the band’s vision. “We’re pretty much best friends, and there’s a certain freedom that comes with that,” Broussard notes. “None of us is afraid to say, ‘That idea’s not working’ or ‘We can beat that.’ All of us just want to make the best songs we can.”
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