License to thrill

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By Andrew Mayer

Secret Agent has a problem with people who think there’s no room for innovation within the classic power-trio format.

“Nowadays, there’s too much emphasis on the novelty of things,” says Jonathan Bunce, the band’s bass player, taking aim at music critics with attention deficits.

“Stuff is only considered worthy of your time if it is something new, something you’ve never heard before. Just because [we’re] guitar, bass and drums it’s considered not new, it’s not innovative. That’s why many bands are dismissed.”

That’ll learn ya not to pre-judge this band based on their simplistic instrumentation.

Bunce, guitarist James Sullivan and new drummer Dean Wales craft post-punk of a most explosive variety, approximating the robust guitar squall of Mission of Burma and the relentless energy and token melodicism of Jawbox to forge a sound that vaults and careens with tenacity.

The band has been together since September ’94 (back then with a different drummer), and put out a four-song cassette in June of 1995. This past summer, the band got closer to airing a full-length album, releasing the eight-song ep From Conception to Execution , a most excellent cross-section of their talents.

The album is out on Mum and Dad Records, the label founded by Bunce and David Rogers, who plays in another Toronto band, Neck; in addition to Secret Agent, Mom and Dad’s roster includes Neck, Magic Lamp and Mean Red Spiders.

Bunce says that starting their own label bought them a little freedom. “It’s really just a means to put out whatever we want, side projects and stuff.”

Opening for Milwaukee’s The Promise Ring tomorrow night at Club Shangai, the boys in Secret Agent implicitly understand that their music will probably not buy them mass appeal—they’re cognizant of the fact that the indie-rock landscape is littered with the corpses of major-label contracts.

“Could a major label really profit from a band like us?” Sullivan wonders aloud.

“We’ve seen it happen so many times, that indie bands have been signed to a major label and then dumped later on, because they weren’t commercially viable.”

But, as Bunce adds, that may actually be a liberating thought. “We don’t want to have anyone to answer to, someone coming into the studie saying, ‘Why don’t you write a three minute pop song so you can get some radio play?”” And don’t think that Bunce and Sullivan have any romantic notions about Captain CanCon coming to save the day.

“I find the Canadian music industry pretty bleak,” says Bunce. “It’s just a branch-plant economy, copying second-hand what’s going on in the States and England, usually five years behind the times. There’s really no support for artists who attempt to innovate. We exist pretty much outside of [the industry].”

And in light of the industry’s attitude, it seems that Secret Agent would do best to ignore the tripe that the major record companies deem worthy of their attention.

“I don’t even know what people are listening to these days,” says Bunce. “I don’t really know what’s going on, but I’m sure it’s pretty removed from what we’re doing. I guess in that sense, I really don’t mind us being outsiders.”


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