A not-so-secret go-go force. Photos by Aleksandra Apostolova.
“It’s Friday, ya’ll. Let's have a good time.” That’s how lead saxophonist Bryan Mills started off the show, and that is exactly what everyone at the Half Note Lounge in Bowie, Maryland did. From the opening note to the last toot of his horn, the night had a feel good vibe that would’ve made even Larry David tap his feet.
Ask Bryan Mills about his band, and he’ll quickly to tell you that Secret Society is more than just a cover band. “We’re a conglomerate of raw talent.” No argument here. The band’s keyboardist, Patrick Cooper, underscored Bryan’s declaration with his uncanny ability of making the keyboard seem as if it were talking. With his recently released CD The Way It Used To Be, Patrick has become the first Patrick you see on Google. And why not? His is a sound like no other - smooth with a soulful funk that can’t be ignored.
What also couldn’t be ignored was the energy-infused funk Bryan brought to the stage as he became one with his sax - eyes closed, hunched over, losing himself in the moment. He’s everything a true jazz enthusiast is looking for. I’d be doing a great injustice if I didn’t speak on the melodic voice of lead vocalist Mike Madison. His rendition of Anthony Hamilton’s “Quit Your Worrying’” was the stuff legends are made of. Not just because of his sound - which was amazing - but because of the effect it had on the audience. I saw snobby women let their guards down; I saw guys in wheelchairs cutting a rug; even my photographer was swinging her ponytail a little (which is saying a lot!).
Then came the intermission, which was anything but. A smooth instrumental airing over the speakers served as a de facto “call to the dancefloor” for all of the lovely ladies to groove to. It was an awe-striking performance as the women eloquently danced in unison, hypnotically swaying to the beat and enchanting the onlookers. This was my time to sit down with the man whose music and swagger made the magical night possible.
33: How did you come up with the name Secret Society?
Bryan Mills: I wanted a name that was intriguing and made you want to think about it, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s something that makes you think, makes you ponder. I like the mysteriousness of it, I like the mystic.
33: What genre do you consider your work?
BM: That’s a hard question because we’re so diverse. I call it "feel good" music, because hopefully when you come, you’re gonna feel better when you leave than when you first came in. I try to take away your pain and your worries for the few hours you’re here. If I had to assign a genre, I would probably call it classic R&B.
33: What separates you from other bands out there?
BM: There are a lot of bands out here that play the same thing over and over in the same way; it’s like a circuit. I wanted to do something different. When we play a song, I want the audience to be like, "Oh, that’s my joint; I can’t believe they’re playing that."
33: What direction is Secret Society headed?
BM: We’re doing another CD. We have a live CD that we recorded here, but this one is gonna be all originals. Now that I’ve got this audience who are interested in what we’re doing, it makes more sense to come out with an original CD because they’re kind’ve into us and expecting something. So I’d like to do a CD and go where I can.
33: Where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
33: What’s the best advice you can give people who are trying to come up and be in the music scene?
BM: You’ve gotta invest and put time into whatever it is that you’re doing. You gotta spend a little money if you wanna make a little money. You gotta have a package man. That’s just in life in general. If you wanna be a plumber, get yourself some business cards, don’t write your number down on a napkin. You could be the worst plumber in the world, but with a business card you’re gonna get more business. Same thing here. You gotta have a CD, you gotta have a website, a press kit, you gotta do those things. And you gotta push.
33: How did you guys meet?
BM: The drummer (Duane Thomas) and I have been playing together for many years man just free lancing, ya know? He and I came up with the whole concept of Secret Society. He’s my right-hand man in this. We took our time in selecting musicians ‘cause we know you can’t just put anybody together. It's almost like being married; it’s a family.
33: Yeah, I noticed how you guys just got on stage and went in. You have a lot of chemistry.
BM: Chemistry is there. Everyone is different. I was looking for cats that were good but were not committed with a whole lot of other things. You meet a lot of musicians who play with ten different bands. I didn’t want that; I wanted someone who was free and willing to invest in a good product.
33: How long have you been playing sax?
BM: [laughs] Thirty years. I started when I was eight, so thirty years.
33: Who is your favorite sax player?
BM: Wow, on the R&B tip, Kirk Whalum hands down. He is my man fifty grand. If I could play like him I’d cut my left leg off.
33: Is there anything you want the fans to know about Secret Society?
BM: When they come to see us, I’m attempting to give them something they’re not used to. Not necessarily something they haven’t had before, but something they’re not used to. Something where all races, all ethnicities can come and have a good time. It’s not a race thing; it’s not black or white. It’s about the music that makes you feel good. I want you to come see us and leave saying, "Wow, I loved the songs you guys did." The songs and the whole vibe is what I’m trying to reach people with. I’m not out to say we’re better than others or worse than othe rs … It’s not a competition. To me, it's all about what we can add to this wonderful music pot that already existed. People that have never heard us are going to enjoy us. The music brings you back. Look at the crowd.
After I stopped recording, it came to my attention that Brian toured Europe with Go-go legend Chuck Brown many years ago. I knew he played with Chuck from time to time, but I didn’t know about his touring, and for that little omission I apologize. To anyone who has heard Brian play, it’s crystal clear that he is a well-rounded artist with many layers to his sound. Just another good example of why he named the band Secret Society.