Youth crew kid and physical therapist Shaun Weeden spent the ’90s and early 2000s thrashing through the New Jersey and New York scenes, staving off categorization with his various bands as long as possible. Then came Secret Photos, a neo-pop, one-man-basement-band project featuring Weeden alone with a drum machine, guitar and various percussion instruments in hand. Soon the roster expanded, and Secret Photos is now a full-fledged band with three EPs and two full-lengths under their belt. The most recent LP, Layers, was released earlier this month with the help of I Love To Hate Records. Between shows and a full work schedule, Weeden found time to chat about about his old stomping grounds, and the excitement and freedom that comes from doing your own thing.
So your new album that just came out, and I want to get to that, but first I want to know what you did musically before you were Secret Photos.
Right before I got into Secret Photos I was in a band called Trash Talk And The Kingdom. We were a four-piece, I was guitar and vocals and we had another guitar and vocalist, a drummer, bass player and we had our own thing going on. It was a little more aggressive than Secret Photos, all originals, and people were calling it math rock, which I don’t know. I hate putting labels on everything. Anyway that’s what I was doing before Secret Photos.
Where were you guys playing? I know you’re from New Jersey and you played a little in New Brunswick, is that where you started?
We played basically all over Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn, some Philly… around 2004-2006.
What was the scene around some of those places like then?
Before that I was in a band called Purpose. And we were more in the hardcore punk rock kind of scene, but we were kinda progressing out of that. We started drifting out of that hardcore punk rock scene, but we still have those ethics and mentality. It was the scene that we knew, but we didn’t know where we fit in, it was hard for us to find a niche. There was a “scene,” but not like the scene that we [originally] came up in, which was late ’90s early 2000s, which is where me and most of my friends were into fast-paced, youth crew D.C. kind of stuff. There’s always a New Brunswick scene, basement shows are a huge thing, do it yourself kind of thing.
Was it exciting, if not a little scary to just have a a new blank slate?
It was way more exciting just to do my own thing. I had a great band relationship with the other dudes, but to just have complete control and total freedom and just say fuck it, that is the scene I came from, but there’re different avenues I can go down. Just the total and utter freedom was the most exciting part.
And you did all the original recordings yourself?
I [recorded at] MF Studios, or should I say Chumbuckets, which is my friend Brian [Buccellato, who has also record the Screaming Females]. That’s where I recorded our first full-length which was was called Love To Give. It was two separate recordings that I put together into a 10-song CD. I was kind of like a one man band, which kind of backfired verbally because whenever I told somebody that, they’d think I had cymbals underneath my elbows and a drum in between my legs.
When did a live band come into play?
My two current bandmates, Mark [Weinberg] and Ernie [Intorrella], were in a band at the time called Beautiful Bear. We had shared the same bill for a few shows, and I had known Mark just because he had been in other bands in that New Jersey scene. He just called me up one day and said, “Hey, I like what you’re doing, I was wondering if you had any interest in me and Ernie replicating what you do on the drum machine and just turning it into live instruments.” And I was like absolutely, ’cause I’ve had people say, “Love your set, but I’m just wondering what you would sound like with a full band.” I would say, “Yeah, me too.”
Does your band have the same kind of work/music schedule that you do?
Well Mark actually has another band called Risk Relay and he also has his solo project called Trinitron which is like atmospheric guitars, adding vocals recently. He also DJs, and on top of that works in real estate, so he’s pretty jammed up. Our drummer Ernie has four kids and a wife, and he’s got his own business putting in stairs and railings and all that good stuff. So all of us are pretty jammed up. But somehow, we find time to make it work. We make ourselves available to each other.
So about the new album, what was different about recording this over your previous ones?
We recorded this one totally by ourselves which was awesome because we had total control and no time limit, we didn’t have to pay for studio time. So we got to nitpick and make sure all the levels were correct. The only thing we needed help with was mastering, and that was a huge difference because we’re so busy. We recorded at Ernie’s house, and so I would just say, “Ernie, I’m going to come by in two weeks and lay down the guitars.” Then Mark could come two weeks from then and do the bass parts, and it was piece by piece for the most part. It lasted a lot longer as far as the time to get it done, but I think it was worth it in the end.
What’s the next step for the band?
Like I said before, I can’t stop writing, I always have to write. I took a break to put on the finishing touches for this album, but I think we’re going to try to push this, see what happens, try to play Brooklyn a lot more than we have been. We’d love to go back to Philly. We have a show coming June 6 at Milkboy. We’re probably going to start recording maybe when all the madness dies down in our Secret Photos bubble.