The members of the Asheville band Secret Shame never really address the roots of their name. But when guitarist Nikki Gish talks about the music on the band’s new album, “Dark Synthetics,” Gish reveals a personal secret that could have broken up the band.
“I have a major mental illness and I think that played a part in a lot of what shaped that album,” Gish said, citing a bipolar disorder that causes simultaneous mania and depression.
“During that time being untreated and then having this mental illness play out in the practice space, (the band) were very much a part of my paranoia and psychosis and delusion I was experiencing at the time,” Gish said. “I think that shapes the music—that’s literally what they were feeling—and chicken wire and duct tape were the only things that held it together.”
Secret Shame’s album-release show for “Dark Synthetics” is Sept. 16 at the Mothlight in West Asheville.
Secret Shame formed three years ago when mutual friends recommended Lena Burgdorf as the band’s singer. To that point, she had only sung to her own acoustic songs and never fronted a rock band.
“I didn’t sing for about the first seven practices we had, or at least I didn’t sing into the mic,” she said. “I would just hum loud noises to myself in the background and everybody was like ‘Do you even sing? Do you even want to do this?’”
“But then once we heard her actually sing on a P.A., we knew we’d found the person for us,” Gish said. “She’s got highs and lows and soft parts and loud parts. It’s really dynamic. It adds depth to the songs and the band wouldn’t be as good without Lena on the vocals.”
Burgdorf’s stage name is Lena Machina. The band’s bassist bestowed the entire band with last names referencing songs and albums from the band Smashing Pumpkins. But rather than playing grunge music, Secret Shame swims in what the band calls dark post punk.
Machina’s lyrics complemented the mania of Gish’s music. They’re rich in metaphor and active, at-times violent imagery, tracing interpersonal torments. On tape, the voice resides almost in the background. Machina sees it as a way to hide during songs of intimate experience and emotion.
“When we were writing ‘Dark Synthetics,’ I had a lot going on in my personal life as well,” she said. “To me it felt kinda like this call and response between Nikki and I. The guitar and vocals were communicating, but not necessarily kindly. Now it feels like one big intellectual conversation we’re all having with each other.”
Out of nowhere, an editor at the New York Times recommended a Secret Shame song in an August rundown of new music, and the band’s Spotify followers grew from 25 to over 2,700 in the next three weeks.
Gish is now on medication to combat the bipolar symptoms, and the band said its internal and creative lives are sunnier than ever, even if that’s not obvious in their newer music.
“There’s always things to write about, but it’s no longer writing from a place of tension or escape,” Machina said. “I despise happy music. I cannot stand listening to it and we’re never going to be writing it, at least lyrically.”
“The music is like a playground the lyrics are like a graveyard,” Gish said.