“Fascist Blood Baby” neatly toes the line between good-natured silliness and bitter satire.
The song arrives about halfway through All the Time in the World, the debut full-length from Durham pop-rock band Secret Monkey Weekend. It is sung with sweet sibling harmonies by drummer Lila Brown Hart and bassist Ella Brown Hart, who lean into the swaying girl-group lilt they say was imparted by guest keyboardist Will Rigby, drummer for eighties indie rock institution The dB’s.
The song giddily references the iconography of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“You’re not the Master you think you are”), begging mercy from the titular vampire before staking him with populist logic: “If we’re all dead, who’s he gonna eat?”
It works equally well as an enjoyable, lightweight bop or as a means to process anxieties bred by recent insurrections and Starbucks union-busting.
All of this makes “Fascist Blood Baby” impressive—even more so given that it was written by a 10th grader (Lila) and a second-year college student (Ella).
Secret Monkey Weekend pairs the sisters with their stepdad, Jefferson Hart, a longtime local songwriter recently backed by The Ghosts of the Old North State (and previously by The Ruins).
The band they’ve forged together is remarkable not just for how polished and potent it has become given the youth of two of its members, but also for the way it helped the trio grow as a family.
Ten years ago, the girls lost their father, Matt Brown, to a heart attack at the age of 42. A musician, Brown had drummed for Chapel Hill country groups Two Dollar Pistols, and John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.
Jeff, who played with Brown when he filled in on drums for his Kinks cover band, became close with the family, teaching Ella to play bass and Lila to play drums and eventually marrying the girls’ mother, Laura, three years after Matt’s death. The lessons evolved into informal jams and the spark for a proper band.
“We were just, you know, playing in the living room just for our own fun, playing Queen and White Stripes and Rolling Stones,” Jeff says. “That’s how it started.”
They were invited to play at a Labor Day party and a birthday party attended by about 75 people, Jeff recalls, which then started a string of local performances, which culminated in an invitation to play in England a year later in 2018.
The band has had some influential help along the way. In addition to Rigby, fellow dB’s member Peter Holsapple has also been in their corner. The girls’ father played with Holsapple in the children’s band Baron Von Rumblebuss, with Ella calling him a family friend since the girls were “itty bitty”; he, too, ended up playing some keys on the new album.
Don Dixon (co-producer of the landmark R.E.M. album Murmur and an essential architect of the jangle-pop sound that Secret Monkey Weekend occupies) took note after seeing the group play at a Chapel Hill book launch, likewise becoming a fan and advocate.
He ended up producing All the Time in the World at the Fidelitorium (the lauded Kernersville studio operated by Murmur’s other co-producer, Mitch Easter).
Ella says Secret Monkey Weekend has felt like a real band to her since that early birthday party performance, but she was still surprised by how smoothly things went while recording.
“It’s a beautiful and professional studio,” she recounts. “I was kind of worried it was going to be stressful. I was worried we were gonna have to play the same songs like 5,000 times, and I would get sick of it. But we got almost everything done in one or two takes—the basic tracks like drums, bass, guitar—and it was just fun. It wasn’t stressful at all.”
Jeff praises the pair for making it that way.
“They showed a lot of poise and confidence, which I think probably surprised Don,” he says. “I don’t think he was expecting us to be that efficient.”
Jeff wrote many of the songs that ended up on the album within two weeks. Its warm and jangly sound puts it very much in line with the music of the band’s famous fans, and it benefits greatly from the contrast between its two main vocalists, Jeff and Lila. The former imparts winsome, nasally bleats, while the latter’s softly sung contributions come across as confident but winningly disaffected (as cool, in
The group continues to win more attention. This week’s Berkeley Cafe gig in Raleigh is a celebration for the vinyl release of the new album, which came out in March. The family traveled to South Carolina earlier this year to open for The Connells. In September, they’ll play festivals in Durham (CenterFest) and Sanford (Carolina Indie Fest).
But while they’ve accomplished a lot for a family band with members in middle and high school, they say their ambition is best summed up by a quote Lila gave to the Herald-Sun at age 10, just after their first performance at the Carrboro Music Festival.
“My mommy told me that the most important thing about playing music is having fun,” Jeff and Ella recite together as the soft-spoken Lila looks on bashfully.
“I like playing for people,” Ella says. “I like seeing people enjoying our music. And the best thing in the world for me would be if we easily get shows and people easily turn up.”
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