Durham Pop-Rock Band Secret Monkey Weekend is a happy family affair
“Fascist Blood Baby” perfectly distinguishes between good-natured silliness and bitter satire.
The song comes halfway through all the time in the world, the debut album by Durham pop-rock band Secret Monkey Weekend. It’s sung with sweet sibling harmonies by drummer Lila Brown Hart and bassist Ella Brown Hart, who lean into the girl group cadence they say was imparted by guest keyboardist Will Rigby, drummer from 80s indie rock institution The dB’s.
The song references the iconography of the TV show buffy the vampire slayer (“You’re not the Master you think you are”), begging for mercy from the titular vampire before staking him with populist logic: “If we’re all dead, who’s he going to eat?”
It works just as well as a nice, light bop as well as a way to deal with the anxieties engendered by the recent Starbucks insurgencies and union busting attacks.
All of this makes “Fascist Blood Baby” impressive, especially since it was written by a 10th grader (Lila) and a sophomore (Ella).
Secret Monkey Weekend pairs the sisters with their stepfather, Jefferson Hart, a longtime local songwriter recently backed by The Ghosts of the Old North State (and previously The Ruins).
The group they forged together is notable not only for how polished and powerful it has become given the youthfulness of two of its members, but also for how it has helped the trio grow as a family. .
Ten years ago, the girls lost their father, Matt Brown, to a heart attack at the age of 42. A musician, Brown had played drums for Chapel Hill country bands Two Dollar Pistols and John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.
Jeff, who played with Brown when he filled in on drums for his cover band Kinks, became close to the family, teaching Ella to play bass and Lila to play drums and eventually married the parents’ mother. daughters, Laura, three years after Matt’s death. The lessons evolved into informal jams and the spark for a real band.
“We were just, you know, playing in the living room just for our own enjoyment, playing Queen and White Stripes and Rolling Stones,” Jeff says. “That’s how it started.”
They were invited to play at a Labor Day party and birthday party attended by about 75 people, recalls Jeff, who then began a series of local performances, which culminated in an invitation to play in England a year later in 2018.
The group has had influential help along the way. In addition to Rigby, dB member Peter Holsapple has also been in their corner. The girls’ father played with Holsapple in the children’s band Baron Von Rumblebuss, with Ella calling him a friend of the family since the girls were “itty bitty”; he too ended up playing some keys on the new album.
Don Dixon (co-producer of the historic album REM Murmur and a key jangle-pop sound architect busy with Secret Monkey Weekend) took notice after seeing the band perform at a Chapel Hill book launch, becoming fans and advocates as well.
He ended up producing all the time in the world at the Fidelitorium (the famous Kernersville studio operated by Murmurother co-producer, Mitch Easter).
Ella says Secret Monkey Weekend has felt like a real band to her since that first birthday party performance, but she was still surprised by how smoothly things went during the recording.
“It’s a beautiful, professional studio,” she says. “I was a little worried that it would be stressful. I was worried that we’d have to play the same songs like 5,000 times, and I’d be fed up. But we did almost everything in one or two takes – the songs from basics like drums, bass, guitar – and it was just fun. It wasn’t stressful at all.”
Jeff praises the pair for doing it that way.
“They showed a lot of composure and confidence, which I think probably surprised Don,” he says. “I don’t think he expected us to be so effective.”
Jeff wrote many songs that ended up on the album in two weeks. Its warm, jangly sound puts it right in line with the music of the band’s famous fans, and it greatly benefits from the contrast between its two lead singers, Jeff and Lila. The former gives seductive, nasal bleats, while the latter’s softly sung contributions sound confident but winningly disaffected (also cool, in
The group continues to gain more attention. This week’s concert at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh is a celebration of the vinyl release of the new album, released in March. The family traveled to South Carolina earlier this year to open for The Connells. In September they will play festivals in Durham (CenterFest) and Sanford (Carolina Indie Fest).
But while they’ve accomplished a lot for a family group with members in middle and high school, they say their ambition is best summed up by a quote Lila gave to the Herald-Sun at age 10, just after their first performance at the Carrboro Music Festival.
“My mom told me the most important thing in music is having fun,” Jeff and Ella recite together under the shy gaze of soft-spoken Lila.
“I like playing for people,” says Ella. “I like to see people appreciate our music. And the best thing in the world for me would be if we got shows easily and people showed up easily.
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