Secret Monkey Weekend | Sat., August 6, 8 p.m. | Berkeley Cafe, Raleigh
“Fascist Blood Baby” walks the fine line between good-natured silliness and bitter satire.
The song comes about halfway All time of the world, the debut album by Durham pop-rock band Secret Monkey Weekend. It’s sung with sweet sibling harmonies by drummer Lila Brown Hart and bassist Ella Brown Hart, leaning into the swaying girl group lilt they say was inspired by guest keyboardist Will Rigby, drummer for indie rock institution The dB’s from the eighties.
The song makes a giddy reference to the TV show’s iconography Buffy the vampire slayer (“You’re not the master you think you are”), and begged the titular vampire for mercy before impaling him with populist logic: “When we’re all dead, who will he eat?”
It works equally well as a pleasant, light bop or as a way to process fears prompted by the recent Starbucks riots and union busting.
“All of this makes Fascist Blood Baby impressive – even more so when you consider that it was written by a 10th grader (Lila) and a sophomore (Ella).”
Secret Monkey Weekend brings the sisters together with their stepfather, Jefferson Hart, a longtime local songwriter who was recently endorsed by The Ghosts of the Old North State (and previously The Ruins).
The band they forged together is remarkable not only for having honed and grown strong given the youth of two of its members, but also for helping the trio grow as a family.
Ten years ago, the girls lost their father, Matt Brown, to a heart attack at the age of 42. Brown, a musician, had drummed for the Chapel Hill country groups Two Dollar Pistols and John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.
Jeff, who played with Brown while he played drums for his Kinks cover band, became close to the family, teaching Ella to play bass and Lila to play drums, and eventually marrying the girls’ mother, Laura, three years after Matt’s death. The classes evolved into informal jams and the spark for a proper band.
“We played in the living room, just for our own fun, playing Queen and White Stripes and Rolling Stones,” says Jeff. “That’s how it started.”
They were invited to play at a Labor Day party and a birthday party attended by about 75 people, Jeff recalls, which then embarked on a string of local gigs culminating in an invitation to play in England a year later in 2018 .
The band had some influential help along the way. Alongside Rigby, Peter Holsapple, a member of dB, was also in their corner. The girls’ father played with Holsapple in the children’s band Baron von Rumblebuss, with Ella calling him a family friend as the girls were ‘fussy’; He also played some keys on the new album.
Don Dixon (co-producer of the seminal REM album mumble and a major architect of the jangle-pop sound that Secret Monkey Weekend occupies) noticed this after seeing the group play at a book launch in Chapel Hill, and became a fan and advocate as well.
In the end he produced All time of the world at Fidelitorium (the acclaimed Kernersville studio run by mumble‘s other co-producer, Mitch Easter).
Ella says Secret Monkey Weekend has felt like a real band to her since that early birthday party, but she was still surprised at how smoothly things went during recording.
“It’s a beautiful and professional studio,” she says. “I was kind of scared it would be stressful. I worried that we would have to play the same songs about 5,000 times and I would get fed up with it. But we got almost everything done in a take or two – the basic tracks like drums, bass, guitar – and it was just fun. It wasn’t stressful at all.”
Jeff credits the couple for doing it this way.
“They showed a lot of composure and confidence, which probably surprised Don,” he says. “I don’t think he expected us to be that efficient.”
Jeff wrote many of the songs that ended up on the album within two weeks. Its warm and shrill sound suits the music of the band’s famous fans very well and benefits greatly from the contrast between the two main singers, Jeff and Lila. The former conveys a winning, nasal bleat, while the latter’s softly sung contributions are poised but winningly disillusioned (as cool, in
The group is gaining more and more attention. This week’s performance at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh is a celebration of the vinyl release of the new album, which was released in March. The family traveled to South Carolina earlier this year to open for The Connells. In September they play festivals in Durham (CenterFest) and Sanford (Carolina Indie Fest).
But while they’ve accomplished a lot for a family bond with members in middle and high school, they say their ambition is best summed up by a quote Lila gave the Herald Sun at the age of 10, shortly after their first performance at the Carrboro Music Festival.
“My mom told me that the most important thing about making music is to have fun,” Jeff and Ella recite together while soft-spoken Lila looks on shyly.
“I like to play for people,” says Ella. “I like to see people enjoying our music. And the best thing in the world for me would be if we got shows easily and people just showed up.”
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