By Anthony J. Machcinski
While Donegal Saloon in Kearny has featured several bands with musical influences tied to southern rock and country, not many of these country bands have hailed from North Jersey. On Nov. 23, Secret Country, featuring several Kearny residents, will play Donegal Saloon and bring a country twang from north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Started by vocalist/guitarists Eric Mason and Jay Monaco, Secret Country originally formed after Mason and Monaco’s reggae band had broken up.
“We would just have our acoustic guitars, showing how simple and catchy country songs could be,” said Mason. “We just started playing and it was a natural progression.”
As random as the band’s roots and transition may have been, their success surely hasn’t been as random. With two CD’s since their inception in 2008, as well as several successful shows, the band has started to gain popularity.
“Very favorably,” answered Mason after he was asked how the band has been received. “It’s something new for people around here. A North Jersey country band isn’t something that you see. We have a very entertaining live show and it gets a little rowdy.”
The rowdiness of the shows has been a constant since the band played its first gig at Donegal Saloon a few years ago.
“Our first show we had was at Donegal and it was about two weeks after the band was formed,” Monaco remembered. “We just all could remember everything. We were flying by the seat of our pants. People started dancing right away and we had that great response.”
While initial response to the band has been favorable, the members realize that attracting future fans might not always be as easy.
“At first, people are hesitant to be there listening to a country band but when they listen to it they love it,” explained Monaco. “We just got to think to ourselves that we have to be ourselves.”
If this band follows Monaco’s dictum and maintains their integrity, they can be a largely successful country band.
The band has an undeniable chemistry that shines through in their music. Country music is a simple yet complex art form. If even one member of the band is off slightly, the music will sound like a train wreck.
Secret Country is able to use their unique chemistry to perfect the timing it takes to be successful. This timing is exceedingly evident in the songs, “Temptations” and “Women and Whiskey and Nightlife.” These two songs, both with vastly different tempos, still sound great, despite all the synchronization needed to give their songs the proper melody.
Another song where the band shows off their talent is on their version of the Charlie Daniels’ song, “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” As in the original version, the mandolin is still the featured instrument. Staying in line with the original version, Secret Country mandolin player Yan Izquierdo never overshadows the band’s performance with his solos.
While it takes many years for most bands to find this rhythm and chemistry, Secret Country has done this in only two, which can be attributed to the bands varying musical interests and appreciations.
“We were all in different bands (before Secret Country),” explained Monaco, who pointed out that these included musical forms like reggae, punk, and progressive-rock. “Little by little we all just started bringing our influences into the band,” Monaco added.
With the show at Donegal just around the corner, Secret Country grows more and more excited at the prospect of playing in front of their hometown crowd.
“It’s great to be there for when people come home and to see the same people all the time who notice our progression,” explained Mason.
“This is like home base,” Monaco said. “We’re playing the show next week. We always have a great reception and everyone is home for the holidays. It’s great to play a show in Kearny!”