Deleted Hill: inside the wyrd world of new Blackest Ever Black recruit Secret Boyfriend

Despite (relatively) high profile releases from acts like Tropic of Cancer, the most spellbinding album Blackest Ever Black housed in 2013 came from a name that will be new to most, Secret Boyfriend.

The recording alias of North Carolina musician Ryan Martin, Secret Boyfriend was started as a project in 2005, mostly existing through live shows, split vinyl releases and cassettes. Despite Martin’s noise background, This Is Always Where You’ve Lived is an album of remarkably tender moments, and the record’s first 10 seconds – a blast of white noise cancelled out by the wilting lead melody of ‘Summer Wheels’, is a microcosm for its unpredictable but rarely jarring nature.

“I started recording songs in 1995, using a tape recorder, found percussion and voice”, Martin explains to me when I ask about his background. “After a year or so I started acquiring more conventional instruments like an acoustic guitar my older brother begged for but never learned to play, and a four track, and began teaching myself how to use them. I was fairly prolific – I think I recorded a few hundred songs by the time I was out of high school. I was inspired by bands like Sonic Youth, who were the weirdest band I could find out about in the small town I grew up in. I went to see them play when I was 15, and a Japanese harsh noise artist named Solmania opened up for them.”

“It my first exposure to stuff like that”, Martin continues, “and I loved it so much. I remember a moment of extreme high frequencies causing my jaw to drop. In 2003 I got bored of trying to make songs and had access to the music of more ‘out-there’ artists through a college radio station with a deep library, and began learning about all kinds of music. I started making friends for the first time through musical interests, and going to underground-type shows, which encouraged me to drop out of school and try to have a life. I began performing noise sets with friends, very exploratory and questioning and half-baked, but very fun at the time and good learning experiences, with the occasional successes and humiliations.”

“I began doing solo shows as Secret Boyfriend in 2005 – it started as a joke, an exploration of jarring awkwardness. Sets were widely inconsistent, depending on my mood that day. Some would be harsh noise. Others might be acapella with occasional keyboard stabs. I forget what most of them were like. In 2009 I began practicing for shows, inspired by seeing Russian Tsarlag and Irene Moon, who are both very focused performers who are impressively good at transforming rooms to suit their specific reality, and around that same time I made my first album of not-just-noise songs, a 30 minute long cassette called Savage Weekend.”

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“Songs can be so boring.”

I ask Martin how he’d describe his current music. “It’s intuitively conceived, inward-looking, crude sounds home-recorded by someone who still struggles to tune a guitar”, he replies. “As for what it sounds like, I can’t really say, I’m in too deep … it’s just what naturally occurs whenever I’m hovering over the 8 track.”

“I love noise, as well as things that might be more ‘abstract’, and also enjoy trying to make songs. They’re different processes, but one feeds my interest in the other. Songs can be so boring. I can’t help but make them sometimes, but I tend to end up subverting them. I can’t help but include darkness in the periphery. Doing things straight is not something I’m capable of. I’m limited by my lack of musical skill, and also fickle, so even if I wanted to I wouldn’t be able to work within a particular genre.”

“I record whatever I’m feeling at the moment. When I sequence something, I want to keep myself interested – I try to make things flow intuitively, but also love playing with the possibilities of juxtaposition. Some pieces that might be lacklustre on their own can become something more depending on where they’re laid within a certain context, and vice versa. Despite whatever sonic differences there are between them, I try to make the tracks make sense together – and they do, for me. I think I would be bored trying to make a uniform album of songs. Or even one of noise, maybe!”

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“Maybe visions exist in a sort of longing void, a landscape consisting of constant daylight puncuated by dark clouds, inhuman forms, sexual nostalgia.”

Focusing on This Is Always Where You’ve Lived, originally released as a very limited (“I think there were 15 copies initially. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be an ephemeral tape that I would cannibalize for a more ‘official’ release or not”) cassette made for a pair of live shows in Summer 2012, Martin reveals that “The material was recorded in a span of two years. I tend to record a lot, then make sense of it later. Some things linger in the vault for years because I haven’t found the right place [ for them]. I think I’m articulating the imagery of my own internal reality, trying to understand it. I will use images and lyrical content drawn from nightmares, paranormal experiences, sublimations of problems – maybe visions exist in a sort of longing void, a landscape consisting of constant daylight puncuated by dark clouds, inhuman forms, sexual nostalgia. There seems to be a romantic element I don’t quite understand yet. I don’t write love songs though.”

The sense of romance on This Is Always Where You’ve Lived comes more from its melodies – and even its samples – than its lyrics. “Maybe some of the imagery gets lost when the lyrics are buried”, Martin wonders. “The lyrics are also intuitive, based around whatever sounds I find my mouth making while listening back to the music, fleshed out from there.” “Does everyone do this?”, he asks, before describing his lyrics as “not very central, just complimentary.”

If the album’s power comes from its mood rather than its words, then in what circumstances was it recorded, I ask? “A couple of the songs were recorded late at night in Tampa Florida, alone, beside a TV playing one of my favorite movies, Mag Wheels. [It was] during a storm, during a surreal visit, in the night-time humidity of early April”, Martin claims. “Being alone helps me tap into whatever’s going on beneath the surface.”

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