5 Questions: Secret Wilderness

The name Secret Wilderness conjures images of spacious landscapes and solitude — a place that nourishes the soul simply by its surroundings.

It’s a fitting moniker for the music and art project from DC-based multi-instrumentalist Jake Reid. Secret Wilderness offers listeners its own sonic landscape in the form of vast ambient atmospherics, electronic beats and random psychedelic space music. Secret Wilderness’ new tape, “The Endless,” is a gorgeous collection of tracks that are easy to lose yourself in.

The plaintive abstract delights that Reid creates with Secret Wilderness are a far cry from the piercing, wall-of-sound shoegaze that informed his previous projects, Alcian Blue and Screen Vinyl Image, the latter of which combined Reid’s love of Jesus & Mary Chain with his appreciation for John Carpenter soundtracks. “The Endless” has more in common with German electronic pioneers Cluster and Tangerine Dream than the influential Scottish brothers Jim and William who share Jake’s last name.

At the same time, it’s evident that the psychedelic sounds that helped define the U.K. underground in the late 80s/early 90s remain a key touchstone. The dreamy synths on “Holistic Glove” are pure Cocteau Twins, but with a Manuel Gottsching-inspired groove and more abstract electronic weirdness.

Just as impressive as the music itself is the featured art by Jake’s brother-in-law Justin Dodd. “The Endless” continues a tradition that started with the debut Secret Wilderness release where sounds from Jake and images from Justin combine together to form a whole aesthetic for the listener.

With Secret Wilderness set to perform the 17th Anniversary WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE Livestream via Zoom (click here to register), I got in touch with Jake to learn more about what’s been happening in his world since COVID-19 became a new unfortunate reality. As you can see below, our interview covers everything from finding creativity during a pandemic to love of genre and ruminations on the cassette tape resurgence. Read on!

1) How has the pandemic affected your creative process? Would it be fair to say that Secret Wilderness has become even more of an escape for you during COVID?

Jake: I wasn’t able to focus on much music last year, there were so many bigger things happening to pay attention and engage with. Terence (Anathemata Editions) messaged me later in the summer about getting the Alcian Blue tapes going and that’s how I got back into working on some new material. I recorded a lot of this tape, the MISTER JACKPOTS EP, and the W33DW01F EP in a short burst. I haven’t done much this winter, but I have mastered some cool records too, there’s always something creative happening.

2) Your love of German electronic music really shines through on this new release. I can hear bits of Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Manuel Gottsching in the way you use layers of electronic sounds, textures and hums to create something beguiling and hypnotic. What is it about the German-flavored electronic “komische” genre that speaks to you?

Jake: Lately it’s been out of a feeling of relational I guess. If you look at Germany during the time they were making those records, there was still this ghost of the not so distant past haunting the country on top of the Cold War. The music these artists were making is full of new ideas and possibilities. They pioneered a new sound that looked forward in a collaborative hopeful kind of way. I thought a lot about that and how it parallels with how things are now when I was working on the new tape.

3) While we are talking about genres, I want to ask you about shoegaze and dream pop. It was exciting to see the recent Alcian Blue cassette tape releases come out. Even though you have come a long way as an artist since you made those recordings, I still hear traces – and dare I say echoes – of the genre in Secret Wilderness’ music. Do you still see shoegaze and dream pop as part of your musical DNA?

Jake: I’m always exploring something new or trying something different but you’ll always hear traces of shoegaze in it. For the live set this Friday I’ve got about as many stomp boxes set up as I did on my guitar pedalboard. I always aim for Cocteau Twins sounding synths haha. It’s in my DNA, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I go back and do another guitar record.

4) Cassettes have come back into fashion, at least for underground music collectors. What’s your take on why audio tapes are coming back? Is it all about nostalgia?

Jake: Tapes for me personally are how I got into music. It was the cheap format when I was growing up where you could get used tapes (Record & Tape Exchange College Park shout out!) for like $2.99. So instead of going and buying a new tape for $11.99 you could get a few tapes and be able to expand your music palette more. I know the format really well and personally it’s always been a favorite format to listen to music. Kim has a dub of Pretty Hate Machine on a TDK tape from the 90’s and that tape will destroy your speakers, it sounds bananas.

5) You’ve been making music for many years now, both as part of collaborative projects like Alcian Blue and Screen Vinyl Image and also as a solo artist, as well as a sound engineer. Over the course of your musical journey, what have you learned about yourself along the way?

Jake: All the different aspects of music are processes. Writing a song, practicing for a show, recording an album etc. And there’s highs and lows, accidents, mistakes, brilliant moments, and plenty of times where you have to work really hard for the desired result. Life is an even broader example of this. My new album explores a lot of these themes, the various loops in our lives that we either work on improving or work on getting out of and all of the ups and downs that go with it. I hadn’t really thought about it much before doing the Alcian Blue re-masters, but working on that project last summer got me thinking about how the music I’ve been a part of is a document of the journey and that’s pretty cool.

Catch Secret Wilderness’ performance at 10pm EST on the Friday, April 2nd 17th Anniversary Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE! Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/BigOne_SW

Listen to and purchase Secret Wilderness releases on Bandcamp and check out the Secret Wilderness website. You can also “Like” Jake’s Machine Drift page on Facebook, and follow Secret Wilderness on Instagram.