Josh Garza’s Influence on Modern Drumming

Josh Garza is an American musician best known as the drummer for The Secret Machines, an alternative rock band based in New York City. He won Esquire Magazine’s Esky Award for Best Drummer in 2005 and was also a featured artist in Modern Drummer Magazine in 2009 and 2011. Josh is an exceptionally powerful drummer, which is the basis for his contribution to modern alternative rock.

Background

Josh was an original member of the Dallas-based noise pop band COMET from 1994 to 1997, before joining Captain Audio until 2000. He formed Secret Machines in 2000, along with brothers Benjamin and Brandon Curtis. Benjamin was the guitarist for the group, while Brandon played bass and keyboards. Benjamin left the group in 2007 to start the synth-rock band School of Seven Bells and was replaced on guitar by Phil Karnats. The Secret Machines went on an extended hiatus in 2010, when Josh moved to New York City (NYC) with his girlfriend.

He also played a few live shows during that year with Diego Garcia, former front man for Elefant. Venues included The Living Room and Mercury Lounge in NYC, and The Standard Hotel in Miami Beach. In addition, Josh recorded some drum tracks for guitarist John McBain, formerly of Monster Magnet, Hater and Wellwater Conspiracy. Garza formed EFG in 2011 with guitarist Imaad Wasif, which was later joined by bassist Tom Biller. EFG disbanded in 2016, when Josh laid down several tracks for psych rock band The Warlocks in support of their studio album Songs from the Pale Eclipse.

Josh and Brandon began recording tracks in earnest during 2018, leading to speculation that The Secret Machines would be returning to activity. Those rumors were confirmed in 2020, when the band announced the release of Awake in the Brain Chamber. In addition to the core members of Josh and Brandon, the new lineup included Brian Bisordi, Benjamin Curtis, Chris Kyle and Sarah Pedinotti. The Secret Machines also released The Moth, The Lizard and the Secret Machines, which had been shelved in 2010. In 2022, The Secret Machines announced that it would accompany Metric on the US leg of its Doomscroller tour, with Phil Karnats rejoining the band on guitar.

Style

Josh often cites John Bonham as his primary inspiration, although he stresses that he has developed his own style. He explained in a 2009 interview that his drumming is from the same school as Bonham’s, but it doesn’t sound the same. Josh has spent the past 20 years studying Bonham’s signature style to channel its principal characteristics. He compares Bonham’s playing to Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar work.

Josh adds that a cannon sound is one of his secret weapons, which has paid off for him. As a result, his drumming is a staple of The Secret Machines’ sound, especially the hard rock side of their music. It also complements the spacy sounds of the keyboards and Krautrock guitar. Josh is an unusually forceful drummer and describes his own style as simple bashing, which he would use to fill the air during experimental sets with The Secret Machines. This trait required some adjustments when he wanted to transform songs from other groups into Secret Machines songs.

Setup

The large size of Josh’s drums is one of the key elements of his playing style. One of his standard setups includes a Tama kit that includes two 16-inch floor toms with slightly different tuning. He also uses a 28-inch bass drum as a kick, which is the same size Bonham favored. The batter head of this drum is tuned very high, as is common in big bands. The resonant head is tuned lower for greater power.

Influence

Josh is often cited as an influence on modern and alternative rock bands like Silver Sun Pickups and Kings Of Leon. In 2004, music blogger David Bowie raved about a new band called Arcade Fire, saying that he hadn’t heard anything like it since Now Here Is Nowhere. The NYC music scene was dominated by eccentric, hip bands at the time, but The Secret Machines stood out from them with its combination of driving percussion, winding arrangements and droning textures. The group would often begin a set by settling into a groove before exploding into the stratosphere, which was an unforgettable experience in concert. Paul Banks of Interpol described The Secret Machine’s live performances as a spiritual experience, adding that it was worth many tickets to hear something so visceral.

However, a great sound rarely determines a band’s success by itself. The Secret Machine’s best songs were melodic, but they lacked mainstream appeal. Moreover, the band was unwilling to make the compromises in attitude and style needed to make the move towards commercial success. The Secret Machine’s self-titled album in 2008 seemed as if it would be the band’s last, although the original members continued to work on new material off and on for the next decade.

The popularity of NYC’s hip rock bands as a cultural force would decline over this period. Benjamin and Brandon were collaborating in 2013, when Benjamin died from a particularly aggressive form of lymphoma at the age of 35. Upon learning of Benjamin’s death, Josh said that he always thought he would do something with the Curtis brothers again. He added that magic happened with The Secret Machine when its members gave themselves space.

Revival

In 2016, Josh performed Alone, Jealous, and Stoned onstage with Cosmicide, a psych-rock band Brandon played in for a few years. This experience opened up a dialogue about reviving Secret Machines, resulting in Josh recording tracks with Brandon’s existing material beginning in 2017. Josh and Brandon continued to work on the material for Awake in the Brain Chamber, which would become The Secret Machines’ fourth studio album. They completed the album in 2019, but hadn’t yet made plans for a tour when the global pandemic hit in 2020. With live performances on hold during that year, Brandon seemed relieved at the prospect of just making music.

In addition to Josh and Brandon, Awake in the Brain Chamber contains tracks by various other musicians that were recorded over nearly a decade. This album lacks the tendency to jam that was common in The Secret Machines’ early works but doesn’t give up any of its sonic density. The vocal harmonies have a dreamy quality that lasts without ever resolving themselves in a conventional manner, and the guitar lines thrum with hair-raising energy. In addition, the synthesizers have a crystalline sound that cuts through the other instruments, and Josh’s powerful drumming is a physical force. The latest incarnation of The Secret Machines still doesn’t seem like a fit for radio, but this characteristic is increasingly less important for a band’s commercial success.

Discography

Josh’s discography includes his work with COMET, Captain Audio, The Secret Machines and EFG.

COMET

Portrait/Rocket Flare (1994)

Comet EP (1995)

Chandelier Musings (1997)

Captain Audio

My Ears Are Ringing but My Heart’s OK (1999)

Luxury or Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared (2000)

The Secret Machines

September 000 (2002)

Now Here Is Nowhere (May 18, 2004)

The Road Leads Where It’s Led (2005)

Morning Becomes Eclectic (Live At KCRW) (2006)

Live At Austin City Limits Music Festival 2006 (2006)

Ten Silver Drops (2006)

Secret Machines (2008)

Awake in the Brain Chamber (2020)

EFG

EP l (2011)

EP lI (2012)

Untitled 7″ single (2016)

Soundtracks

Josh has also contributed to soundtracks, including three songs for the 2007 film Across the Universe. This film shows a small group of characters living out the songs of the Beatles. The Secret Machines performed I Am the Walrus, with Bono on lead vocal. The other two songs are the instrumentals Blue Jay Way and Flying. The music of the Secret Machines is also featured in the 2007 film Marfa Mystery Lights – The Secret Machines – A Concert for the UFOs.

RJ Frometa
Author: RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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