The plan might seem lofty, scary, and maybe even impossible on paper (Especially when read aloud)…
However, if anybody could pull it off, it would be Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends—the North American trio of singer and guitarist Neutron, drummer Dale Crover [The Melvins], and bassist Tony Ash [Trophy Wives, Dead Halos, & Coliseum] joined by producer Toshi Kasai [Tool, Foo Fighters].
A ringmaster of all things wildly heavy, startlingly poppy, undeniably rocking, and delightfully weird, the frontman (and namesake) devised an ambitious, bold, and inventive release schedule for the band’s third offering, Protons and Electrons. On a monthly basis, the group began releasing one limited-edition seven-inch in February. (Don’t worry these songs will be available digitally too; he knows it’s 2018.) The hand screen-printed vinyl by Plastic Flame Press boasts not only a new original single, but also a B-side courtesy of various musical comrades a la Trophy Wives, Dale Crover, Quivers, Thoughts Detecting Machines, and more or musicians who play in live incarnations of The Secret Friends. (Protons, Electrons, and the Neutron make the atom!)
At the end of this run, the twelve singles comprise a new Secret Friends full-length entitled Protons, while the twelve contributions amass into the compilation Electrons. (If you’re overwhelmed, imagine how he felt!)
He explains the idea, “Everything we’ve done has been wildly unpredictable so far. We just translated that element into the larger strategy this time. I want to build enough trust with our audience that they’re willing to get the ticket and take the ride. As gatekeepers become more and more involved in art, it’s interesting to subvert that with a combination of meticulous over-planning and our inherent freewheeling nature. Every Secret Friends album has been different than anything I’ve ever done. This is no exception!”
A glance at his discography illuminates that Neutron is certainly no stranger to “different.” He logged nearly two decades recording and performing in underground stalwarts Replicator, Victory and Associates, and Mount Vicious. In 2015, The Secret Friends made their debut on Enemy of Everyone followed by the Art of Murder—a gleeful concept album about Hannibal Lecter. Along the way, the group earned acclaim from the likes of MXDWN, The Bay Bridged, Big Takeover, The Stranger, Ghetto Blaster, and others. When he’s not playing music, this multi-talented Renaissance Man also hosts Conan Neutron’s Protonic Reversal Rock Radio Show/Podcast every Thursday and runs the international station network Radio NOPE.
On Protons, he once again musically stepped up his game, breaking down all boundaries and adhering to only one rule…
“The sky was the limit with the caveat that all of the songs had to work as ‘singles’,” he elaborates. “They need to do what they do, get in, and get the hell out. It was an interesting approach. Having that one conceit allows me to avoid indulgence or overthinking.”
One day after Election Day 2016, Neutron entered Kasai’s Sound of Sirens Studios in Los Angeles alongside Crover and Ash to commence recording. During a fittingly “weird time,” as he calls it, the three-piece locked into an unbreakable groove as evidenced on the first release Atom 1, featuring “Litany of Grievances.” On the single, a hulking bass line and booming drums slip into a buzz-saw riff and soaring chant punctuated by witty lyricism.
“It’s a call-and-response to a series of complaints—real or imagined—between two parties,” he goes on. “Just as much as it is a conversation amongst two people, it’s a conversation between the instruments. As an excuse for repulsive or irresponsible behavior, you often hear someone go, ‘That’s just how I am. Deal with it.’ The chorus is sort of an epiphany saying, ‘If I could change it, maybe I would.’ However, we always have the power to change!”
Atom 2 touts the cheekily catchy “Hate Secretary,” which breaks into a lyrical guitar line that’s as hummable as the hook.
“These days, it’s like you almost have to keep track of what people like and don’t like in order to get along with social norms,” sighs the singer. “None of it matters though. I don’t need a secretary for all of the things I hate. It’s a big world! You can enjoy different things than others do.”
Elsewhere, the Atom 3 anthem “RECANT!” hinges on a personal favorite concept. He goes on, “I love the combination of the elegant and the vulgar in the same place. ‘RECANT!’ definitely encapsulates this idea. At the same time, it’s about how even heretic philosophers of old were not averse to intentional controversy to garner attention to their work. That’s how heresy became common knowledge.”
In the end, Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends swung for the fences twelve times and emerged with the same number of homeruns.
“I just want to make solid rock music,” he leaves off. “For me, that means changing things up and challenging the listener to come along on the trip. By doing things differently, I think we accomplished that.”