The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


An interview with Leeds-based Official Secrets Act

Official Secrets ActFormed in 2006 in Leeds' Official Secrets Act are a new sharply dressed indie fourpiece. Combining the angular riffs of Franz Ferdinand with the synth-based melodies of the 80’s New Romantic era their new CD Understanding Electricity is out now.
The new album is out and you must be delighted with it. Was it an arduous process to record or was it quite easy and natural?
The challenge with making a first album is whether you record the 12 best songs you've ever written as a band up until that point, or whether you select songs with the concept of an 'album' and some kind of consistency in mind. For us, with the recession kicking in and thoroughly disillusioned with the fruits of our education, we were determined to choose songs that we could use to combat our overwhelming scepticism, with romance and escapism. After that it was a question of pushing each song as far as it could go until it found its own place; somewhere that it was full and complete and capable of sailing away by itself.
We were bored of albums that were only consistent in terms of sound (more often than not a cynical attempt to cash in on some kind of Topshop endorsed fashion that is considered passé before the album is even released.) We wanted our album to be consistent in spirit and to be HONEST to our fans. Yes it was hard. We lost a lot of sleep and drank a lot of wine. But it was also one of the most exciting experiences of our lives.
The critical response to this album has been very positive. Is this something that is important to you or are you indifferent to it as long as the album sells?
Of course we're happy that the album has had a positive critical response. Anything that creates an opportunity for us to connect with new fans is a happy moment for us. As long as we keep connecting with people, and they keep connecting with us we'll be happy. And this isn't an Orange commercial, this is a band in a van or a studio trying to create something honest and beautiful.
Could you give us a bit of background about the band? You originally started as a three piece in Leeds yes, and Michael was a late arrival?
Leeds was the most exciting place to be in England in 2003 when we met there. The New Yorkshire scene was just finding its feet and everyone was in a band. We didn’t form OSA for a long time though. We were all playing in other bands and getting drunk at Blackwire gigs (and studying.) Sometimes people in music look down on us for having completed our degrees, as if we'd be far more interesting people if we hadn't read so much Shakespeare but had smoked more crack. Fuck that.
Anyway we formed a three piece and moved to London only to discover various forms of anger, disappointment, and disillusionment about what all our glorious education had been for. We knew that religion, politics and philosophy were fucked so we thought we might as well risk it all on popular culture.
We found a derelict flat above a bar in Manchester, quit our mind numbing jobs, rang Mike and asked if he wanted to join us and changed our lives. We played music 10 hours a day, cooked on a camp stove, slept on the floor, bought 7" singles from Piccadilly Records, drank free beer in the bar downstairs, watched Clash documentaries, went to parties at the Islington Mill and generally worked and played very hard.
Since then we've been a restless band. We don't like staying still. For all its brilliance London can be insular and self-satisfied with its scenes and cliques. We have broader horizons. We've just started touring in Europe and the wider our world gets the more our music makes sense.
The post punk reference has been brought up in relation to your music, acts such as Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads. Does it annoy you that you are tagged with this term and would you prefer if people focused on the more disparate sounds of your album?
I think people will when they hear it. It’s a shame if people only want to listen to the singles, because we've made an album full of depth and variation. I think if people see us live they'll understand what we are doing and be inspired to invest a little time in it.
Another influence I gleaned from listening to you was perhaps the synth music of the 1980‘s. Are you influenced by the new romantic era in terms of music and indeed style? I think I saw a picture of Thomas on the internet looking very similar to Adam Ant with face paint.
Yes we love the ambition of the 80s synth bands. This decade started with bands like the Libertines and White Stripes making gloriously ragged recordings and that has been the dominant indie aesthetic ever since. But it’s been copied by bands in enormous studio’s with enormous budgets who lack the spirit to pull it off. We are on an indie label, we tour in an old transit, but we decided it would be far more imaginative and independent to put our efforts into making something that sounds full and beautiful.
One thing I love about the new album is the track Momentary Sanctuary where there are two lead singers. I love when a band has more than one singer as I feel listening to one voice for a whole album, no matter how good he or she is,(and Thomas has a very fine voice)can become slightly repetitive. Will there be more of a chance for Alexander or Lawrence or Michael to sing on future releases?
Lawrence will assume all lead and backing vocal responsibilities as of 16:34, 7/6/2009.
How is Alexander coping after his accident? Has your faith in cycling being knocked(for want of a better word) by the incident or are you still as committed to it as ever?
Have forwarded this question to Al... He’ll let you know!
Alexander’s response: No, I still want to cycle. In London there's just no alternative for someone like me, for whom even getting around by bus is a bit too expensive. And it means I don't feel like I have to go to the gym. I fucking hate gyms.
So I may be recovered fully some time before the end of the summer. Who knows?? I certainly don't.
What is your plan for the rest of the year and your hopes for the album?

We’re about to finish our own UK tour (very excited about Irish dates!) and then we are going on tour with the Rakes in the UK. After that we are doing a European tour with Art Brut and some headline dates of our own in Germany and Holland.
And of course there are the festivals: Great Escape, Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Belladrum (and plenty more)
Our hopes for the album are simply that people will enjoy it and come to our shows. Music is a celebration. Dance, cry, shout, scream, whatever. Official Secrets Act is a world of its own and everyone is invited.

Mark Townshend

Official Secrets act play Roisin Dubh in Galway on April 16 and Academy 2 in Dublin on Saturday April 18

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