Featured Music: Wednesday, February 08, 2006
After recording licks from about 40 local musos individually, Pablo and the Hemphill 7 bass player Marcus Lawyer put everything together with this old-school equipment to form a full-length c.d. of 10 extremely danceable instrumentals.
Fort Worth Confidential

A groovy Top Secret project contains the handiwork of dozens of local musicians.


Local musician Marcus Lawyer’s top-secret project started two years ago on a random night at the Wreck Room. The Pablo and the Hemphill 7 bassist had dropped by the rock club in a funky, old-school-ish mood — he had just bought some break-beat records (essentially entire vinyl recordings of funky-ass beats) and was thoroughly enjoying the hell outta them on his new turntables. He had also recently come into possession of a small analog recorder. The reel-to-reel machine (circa 1983) had been purchased a few months earlier from a C&W recording studio on the North Side for $1,000 by Lawyer and some other members of his band at the time, the party outfit Root 420, including Pablo and the Hemphill 7 frontman Joe Vano and Damien Stewart, drummer for Pablo and rockers Goodwin. They all took turns babysitting the system, and the machine landed on Lawyer’s lap around the time his old-school mood had taken hold. Then he ran into a friend of his, a local guitarist, at the Wreck. Lawyer lived only a few blocks from the club on West Seventh Street, so when he invited his friend over to lay down some tracks to the funky beats, the bass player immediately felt he was on to something: “It spawned the idea,” Lawyer said. “I realized I knew all these great players from all over the Metroplex. I started bringing more back night after night.”

Lawyer eventually recorded licks from nearly 40 area musicians individually. None of the players knew whose tracks that he or she was adding to. “I didn’t tell them who they were recording with because I didn’t want guys who had played together falling into familiar patterns,” he said. “I also only let them hear drums and bass grooves. I didn’t want [the invited musicians] harmonizing with lead lines or playing the same part.”

Lawyer has spent the past couple of years organizing the chaos the old-fashioned way, without any help from digital mixing programs. The result is Shhh ..., a collection of 10 solid, groovy, extremely danceable, mostly instrumental songs under the moniker Top Secret. The list of players — and songwriters — is staggering in its star power and diversity: Lucas White (Solomonic, Confusatron), Dave Karnes (Dave and Daver, Dave Karnes Trio), Quincy Holloway (Gospel Swingers, Sub Oslo), Brandon Jerome (a.k.a. Jerome 57 from Spoonfed Tribe), Cooper Heffley (Jeff Price, Maren Morris, Greater Good), Chris Hardee (Alan), Daniel Katsuk (A-Hummin’ Acoustical Acupuncture, Spoonfed Tribe), Caroline Collier (Weekly scribe, Science of Titan), Rick Nelson (Polyphonic Spree, Vietnam), Frank Cervantes (Sub Oslo), jazzbo Joey Carter, Justin Pate (Pablo), Kyle Aka (a.k.a. Monkey Brainz), Matt Hembree (Goodwin, Underground Railroad), bluesman Ken Shimamoto, and about a dozen more. No two players on any song are from the same band.

Other than for experimentation’s sake, Lawyer’s main reason for undertaking the project was to help celebrate the scene. “I’m definitely interested in helping bring the music community together,” Lawyer said. “There are some amazing bands and so much talent all over this city. It’s not that we all don’t get along. I think we do for the most part. But there are cliques — the Aardvark [on West Berry Street, near TCU] has its style, and the Wreck Room has its style, and I think the record is a good way to connect everybody and hopefully make a friendlier scene.”

Though about 70 local musicians had expressed interest in contributing, scheduling conflicts got in the way. The 36 who made the cut, Lawyer said, were extremely cool about donating time. Lawyer is getting 100 copies of the recording pressed on vinyl with a polycarbonate c.d. inserted into the sleeve. They should be ready by the end of next month. He plans on giving each contributor a free copy and selling the rest, even though he hasn’t discussed payment terms with the artists. His hope is that what little change he makes can help him recoup some production costs and partially fund another similar project — he has enough material already committed to tape for about a dozen more songs.

Lawyer also is in preliminary talks with an investor about starting a record label, with Shhh ... serving as the imprint’s inaugural offering.

Lawyer’s decision to release the record old-school-style is twofold: Since most of the contributing artists have never heard themselves on vinyl, Lawyer thinks they’ll get a kick out of it, and, he said, some of his friends in the DJ world have said they believe they can get Shhh ... spun on dance shows across the country, including programs in New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, and possibly Sydney, Australia. (DJ’s prefer vinyl to any other format.)

Lawyer will toast the release of Shhh ... next month with a listening party-slash-jam at either a popular local rock club or an Eastside speakeasy (we’re not tellin’), where since late last year Lawyer has been throwing after-parties.

Once the record is released, the contributors will finally be able to identify their accidental bandmates. “They all get equal songwriting credit,” Lawyer said. “I hope it introduces different guys to each other.”

Visit www.myspace.com/topsecretshhh.

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