With debut CD, Ithaca’s Secret Service Men find ‘Unity Through Circle Pit’
Ithaca punk favorites Secret Service Men are celebrating the long-awaited release of their debut CD with a Thursday night show at Pete’s Cayuga Bar. It’s the latest in the “Practice at Pete’s” series, which the band has co-hosted since 2019.
Titled “Unity Through Circle Pit,” the album was released last June via online platforms, but the band members – bassist Aaron Robbins, drummer Todd K, guitarist Robert Ford, and singer Scott Carlton – are stoked to finally have actual CDs for their fans, as they discussed during a recent interview at Ithaca Piercing & Tattoo, the shop at which they work and own together.
“It has lyrics and bios about our weird personalities,” said Todd K. “It's awesome!”
Indeed, the liner notes contain not only all of the lyrics but brief bios of each member under his Secret Service code name: Bravo Loud (Robbins), Agent K (Todd K), Victor Angry (Carlton) and Destroyer Midnight (Ford).
The band concept came together a few years ago when Ford, Robbins, and Todd K were playing together in the instrumental trio Cobra Cadaver.
“For some reason, we were talking about the song ‘Secret Agent Man,’ and we just started brainstorming about what else could we do, and we ended up at Secret Service Men,” remembered Todd K. “And then we're like, ‘Well, if we did that, then we could BE the Secret Service Men, with the costumes, and then we could make a show. So right from the get-go, we knew it was gonna be a show.”
“It was about not only just about the music and lyrics, but also presenting this format that was like, literally, ‘We're the Secret Service Men,’” added Carlton. “We're wearing suits and ties and sunglasses, and we used to actually wear earbuds, just to make it so much more fun. It’s not like people don’t know us outside the band. But when they see us in as the Secret Service Men, it's like this whole different story, and that's, I think that's really cool, too.”
The band formed during the Trump administration, with the seemingly never-ending stream of breaking news inspiring many of the album’s songs. “I Like Beer” was sparked by Brett Kavanaugh’s memorable outbursts during his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings; “Rocket Man (I Love You)” drew from Trump’s infatuation with North Korea ruler Kim Jong-un; and “I Didn’t Do It” quoted from Trump’s relentless denials of any wrongdoing whenever he was accused of something.
“I think it could have worked regardless of the President, but I think because of how ridiculous and dumb Trump was, for us to make fun of it in that way just made so much more sense,” said Ford.
“The door was wide open,” added Todd K.
“I remember here was a point during the writing process where I realized I can’t keep up with everything that was happening,” said Carlton. “There was just too much, so we had to narrow it down.”
And more than a year after the former president left office, the songs remain timely given Trump’s propensity for continuing to make news. But the band has new material in the works.
“It’s not like Biden will be exempt from our anger and consternation,” said Carlton. “Because every politician, every president, they’re just fodder for being made fun of. We didn't focus on Trump because it's just about Trump. It was because he was a target of opportunity. He was there, and it was easy.”
He added: “Don’t worry – no politician is safe from the Secret Service Men!”
The band recorded the album in June 2021at Ithaca’s Pyramid Sound Studio, where it was engineered and mixed by Mike Parker and mastered by Alex Perialas.
“We started that project on a Monday and Alex mastered it on Thursday,” said Todd K.
“We ran through every song twice, and I played every song a third time, and then we did the backups,” Ford said. “Mike made it really easy for us. We wanted that live, kind of untouched sound.”
The album indeed captures the band’s fiery onstage energy while meeting the challenge of having Carlton’s vocals stand out from the instrumentation.
“Originally we were thinking about putting Todd and his drums in a little booth,” Carlton said. “But then Mike was like, ‘You know what, we're gonna put them to the other end of the room and we're just gonna set up a bunch of boxes and things in front of Scott to block the sound,’ Because Todd and I now were facing each other, the sound came out absolutely amazing. And I can't be happier with that.
“I hate that weird disconnect – with certain kinds of music, it works,” he added. “But with punk rock, it doesn't work. The whole live feeling has to be there. And it really worked for that.”
If You Go
Who: Secret Service Men, with opener Mill Bastards
What: CD release show
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 24
Where: Pete’s Cayuga Bar, 116 S. Cayuga St., Ithaca
Cost: $5 cover