Secret Crush Society is Gonna Have a Real Good Time Tonight
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Lisa Harbin always wanted to be a band’s frontwoman but never actually thought she would. “I wanted to be a singer when I was young but I was really shy,” she says. It wasn’t until three years ago, when a friend, Vestal Vermin’s Kate Tallent, approached her about starting a side project, Secret Crush Society, that Harbin got the chance to live out the childhood fantasy. “Kate decided I would be a good lead singer, even though I had never sang or been in a band before,” Harbin says. “I don’t think I had the guts to do it before, [but] we’re all old now. When I get onstage now I am nervous, but it’s just funny.”
Having fun is what Secret Crush Society is all about: Harbin often performs in a cheerleader getup and sometimes with the pompoms to match. And after talking to her for only a few minutes it’s easy to understand why Tallent recruited the high-energy, excited fast talker. When Harbin gets going on a topic, especially SCS, it’s hard to get a word in. By day this thirtysomething woman works for a software company, and onstage she has enough energy stored up to pick up her pompoms and lead SCS’s audience in a cheer to get the party started.
That carefree attitude has been with the band since it started at the 2002 Hampden Fall Festival, a setting that encouraged the band’s onstage antics. “I feel like we are something that couldn’t have happened somewhere else,” Harbin says. “Baltimore is just so small and supportive. The [onstage] energy is just a ‘thank you’ for letting us do this.”
Though Tallent and original member Colleen Pelser eventually left the band in 2002, Harbin and drummer Holly Morgan found guitarist Joey Grey and bassist Tanya Taylor to round out the Secret Crush Society that recorded its Baltimore Chapter debut, recently released on City Paper contributor Benn Ray’s Atomic Twang imprint.
The band isn’t just a blast to watch, either. Baltimore Chapter is a roller-coaster ride, recalling the fast girl-rock of Le Tigre one minute and rockabilly swing the next. “Our influences are legions, [but] it’s definitely punk with pop,” Harbin says. “We like something you can sing along to and theoretically dance to. That just seems to be what comes out.”
You can hear those elemental punk roots while listening to the progression from the older to newer material on the Chapter. An early song such as “Frank’s New Ladyfriend” is a fairly simple guitar and vocal part, while newer numbers like “Edie” are more intricate and unique, indicative of what Secret Crush Society can do.
The group packs lively, romping tales into Chapter’s 11 tracks, from the Belly-ish “(Don’t Need You to) Protect Me” to the lullaby-like melody of “Secret Crush.” Chapter starts off with the “go team” cheer that SCS often starts its shows with and segues right into the speedy “Pretty Boy.” Harbin sings about beach boys’ abilities to pick up girls over a surf riff and handclaps in “Boardwalk Arts”: “If you are skilled in them/ I will be your girlfriend.” And the kiss-off “Packin’ and Drivin’” runs through a list of things you might grab when moving out and leaving someone: “I packed my cups my plates my bowls,” “my collection of Love and Rockets,” “a tin of cinnamon Altoids.”
For the rockabilly-tinged “Cowsalingo, the Big Hero,” Harbin mourns the death of a friend’s dog. “The name came to my friend in a dream,” she says of “Cowsalingo.” The dog “had a real serious look about him. My friend used to make up stories about him going on adventures.”
Obviously, Secret Crush Society is a band that doesn’t take the whole music thing too seriously. And for Friday night’s CD-release party at the Ottobar the members of Secret Crush Society don’t feel everything needs to be all about them, using the night as a benefit for the Hampden Family Center. “We appreciate what they do for kids in the neighborhood,” says Harbin, a Hampden resident. “We are having fun and playing with bands we love [but] taking the occasion to say, ‘Let’s raise a little money for this great place.’”
And, after Baltimore Chapter comes out and the release show is over, Secret Crush Society isn’t exactly feeling overly ambitious about the future. “We all have fairly serious day jobs,” Harbin says. “The idea of playing in other cities and getting in a van and touring is appealing, but we’d just love to play more in Baltimore. We just want to keep doing what we are doing and keep having fun with it.”