Keep Your Secrets are one of music's best kept secrets.
High-energy pop-punk hailing from DC. A female fronted, all POC band, they are Malerie Gamblin, Matt Nguyen-Ngo, Ken Tilar and Jasiu Mich.
Initially a cover band, they gained momentum after attracting the attention of TikTok star EmoJoesph. Expanding, they started releasing their own original music, including the superb EP Let's Face It, We're Lost (2021). This summer past saw them embark on their first tour and they've just released 'Concussed', their new track.
I was fortunate to have some time to chat to them about their early days, their tour experiences and more!
Keep Your Secrets started as a covers band and, back then, it was just Malerie and Matt. Was this original formation and idea just a way to scratch an itch to perform? Or was it a means of testing the waters as to creating original music?
Malerie: For me, yeah, I think it was to scratch an itch to do some music and honestly not go crazy in my house during the pandemic. I remember texting Matt a long time ago before starting the band, pre-pandemic, like ‘dude, do you wanna do pop-punk?’. He was like ‘oh, I’m in so many other bands, I’ll have to think about it’ *laughs*. Matt is in so many bands, he kills it. Then, later during the pandemic, he texts me saying ‘you still wanna do pop-punk?’.
Matt: I had just moved back to the DC area from Richmond. I had left some of the bands Malerie was talking about so I didn’t have anything to do. I was living in Virginia near DC and had started a new job and all that. Right when the pandemic happened, I was cooped up in my house and doing nothing. I was like ‘oh Malerie lives here!’. If I recall correctly, right before the pandemic hit, originally Malerie wanted to make not just a covers YouTube channel but a covers band and play in bars. She already had a drummer from Craigslist. I also play bass so I was like ‘I’ll do bass’. For some reason that cover band imploded so we decided to do stuff online.
Malerie: It was wack, honestly. We tried to do one cover to test the waters, it was an easier Paramore song--.
Matt: It was ‘crushcrushcrush’ or something?
Malerie: Yeah, and the drummer was like ‘nah, I can’t do this’. Then nobody messaged or talked to each other, [and] there weren't even any guitarists. Like, alright this wasn’t even a band anyway so we just stopped doing anything. We never did anything, really, but we had a name! We were called Home Alone.
Matt: Oh really? I forgot about that.
Malerie: I thought it was a good name!
When, and why, did you decide to make that jump from a covers duo to expanding and putting out your own stuff?
Matt: I think…was that around the shoutout?
I already had, just because stuff is always popping into my head, some chord progressions and random hooks here and there for original stuff that was not really intended for anything. Originally, yeah, we were having fun making covers but I had some original stuff in the ether. Then the shoutout happened and we were like ‘oh, we should make a real band!’ so I dusted off all the old files.
Malerie: Yeah because when the shoutout happened, did we have two songs out? I think we had two covers out.
Matt: It depends on what you count as ‘being out’. We had more than two videos but we had two on Spotify.
How did you guys first meet?
Matt: I was in a pop-punk band back in 2016, that’s how I met Malerie. We had her come sing a set with us. There was this place that did house shows and, every week or every other week, they had these cover nights and they were themed. One of the themes was movies. Me and my old band wanted to do New Found Glory’s cover of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ but it was too high for any of us. We had just met Malerie.
Malerie: I had tanked a cover night.
Matt: Oh, that’s right.
Malerie: I don’t know why you guys reached out to me *laughs*
Matt: *laughs But that turned out really well, obviously.
It was probably quite a weird time to launch a band, right? What with all the uncertainty around Covid.
Matt: I remember conversations at the beginning of the band, before Ken and Jaisu joined, right after EmoJoesph posted his shoutout and it was me, Malerie, Kyle and a friend, McKenzie, who left really early on. We were like ‘this will blow over by summertime and we’ll be playing shows!’...no *laughs*. It was definitely a weird time to start a band but we could still put out music - and we did.
As an independent band who are also holding down regular jobs, how do you find the balance between music and real life?
Jasiu: I kinda live a double life in that sense. I work for a music retailer website. The way I find balance is, I guess, using my employee discount…it’s the little things.
Ken: I’m lucky enough to have a workplace that supports my band. I work a corporate office job and they come out to the shows. They’re like ‘when’s your next show, we’ll try and come out’ which is really cool. It’s really convenient and I lucked out on that. It’s still hard, as I’ll play a show one night and have to be in the office by 6:30 the next day. It’s hard but it’s doable.
Malerie: People are talking about that whole ‘quiet quitting’ which is just doing what your job is and not working over - which doesn’t sound like quitting to me, it sounds like doing your job. I do my job and then, at 5, [I'm] done. I encourage the rest of my staff to do the same thing too so it’s not just me, [and] that it’s a healthy work environment where people know you should have a work-life balance - whether you’re in a band or a dance team, or you have a family. You shouldn’t be working the hours that you’re not paid to work.
Matt: For me, for the actual work hours, it’s a little bit easier as I’m a substitute teacher - I literally choose my hours. If we’re playing far away or something and I’m going to get home really late then I’ll take a half day the next day or just choose not to take a sub job. But there’s limitations to that, as I do need to make money! *laughs* I often find myself subbing five days a week and, on show days, once I get out [I’ll] be like ‘time to pack the drums!’
Jasiu: And not to be cheesy or anything but, this is a new thing for a lot of us…oh damn, I’m sounding like the old head now.
Matt: Here we go…
Jasiu: I think for me, being in bands in general has been like…I could be shovelling all day and it almost doesn’t matter. Everything I do working or any of that stuff, it’s all for the sake of the band. It’s all for the sake of being an artist. Everyone has to work, right? We’re working but we put our free time and our resources towards doing this really cool thing. It’s so worth it. It’s a lot cooler than doing nothing.
Matt: Especially for me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been like ‘what do I actually want to do?’ Not my major, no. I want to play music. I’m in the same mindset as Jasiu.
You mentioned shows and, of course, you just wrapped your first tour this summer. What was that experience like for you? Was this your first touring experience as individuals, too?
Ken: Overall, it was really stressful but the results were better than anything I could have asked for. Each night we were in this different city that I’d never really been to, and we’re playing our music to people. It was really cool, and it’s still unreal to me saying that we’ve just got off tour. This is the first band I’ve ever been in so it was my first experience of touring. It was stressful and crazy but definitely worth it.
Malerie: As somebody else that’s never toured, I feel the same way. Super stressful. But I feel like once we started getting into the travel and once we oiled up the machine, I felt a little less stressed. We figured out a rhythm. What was really stressful was the pre-tour. We don’t have any kind of manager or tour manager, we don’t have anyone creating contracts. Also, on the tour, we didn’t have a set bill so we were also reaching out to bands in each city and seeing if they were available to play the shows with us.
Oh yeah, and this was crazy. When we got to Boston, there was a guy there who was like ‘oh my god, are you in Keep Your Secrets? I’ve been listening to you guys since you came out’. He was singing along to the words, he was fingerpointing, he was really into it. I was just shook by that. There was also somebody like that when we were in Brooklyn, too.
Ken: He drove two hours to see us. That’s insane.
Malerie: That’s what made it so much easier for me after we had that experience in Boston. There is a reason that we are out there doing this. We’ll make new fans and, we never know, there could be fans already out there who are waiting for us to come around.
Matt: It’s September and I’m still wrapping my head around that.
Jasiu: We’re itching to go back on the road. I’ve had a couple of tours myself but I think this one was the most fun. It was a great time.
As well as a tour, you released an EP, 2021’s Let’s Face It, We’re Lost - an EP that I absolutely adore. What was the recording process for that like?
Jasiu: So easy for me.
Ken: It was too easy for me and Jasiu.
Jasiu: I’m not even on it!
Matt: *laughs* Ken and Jasiu joined the band during the release cycle but the actual recording was done before they joined the band.
This was during the pandemic and I was living with my parents in Virginia. I was literally in my bedroom, plugged into my recording setup and tracking there, the guitars and the programming. Kyle, our old bassist, mostly remotely recorded bass. For the first two singles, I’m sure Malerie…were you in your bedroom or your closet? It was something, remotely tracking vocals.
Malerie: Yeah, I had a basement setup but once I no longer lived there, I was like ‘shoot, what do I do?’ Then I started recording in my friend’s closet. It was weird but it worked, I guess! That’s why you’ll hear the vocal quality change once I started recording at Jasiu’s house, which is also our practice space/vocal recording set-up.
Matt: Which was after that EP. Yeah, very extremely low budget DIY.
Your new single, ‘Concussed’ is out September 30th. How would you describe it?
Ken: It’s best described as: if you don’t get a concussion to this song then you’re not listening to it right.
Malerie: Or at least whiplash.
Matt: It’s definitely our most moshable song so far.
Ken: It’s angry but it sounds happy
Malerie: It’s a super punchy fingerpoint-y song. We’ve had people [during] songs fingerpoint at us which makes me really happy. There’s a lot of gang vocals so people can get involved and sing along.
Jasiu: To me, as far as this band’s catalog, it’s the most post-hardcore leaning thing I feel that we’ve written, with our signature on it.
Malerie: Super post-hardcore vibes with lyrical melodies and punchy vocals. I feel the whole floaty lyrical lines are interesting in that style of music, so I think that makes it unique in that way.
Looking forward, especially as we approach 2023, what’s in the future for Keep Your Secrets?
Jasiu: Touring more, writing more, recording more…tuning my guitar more.
Ken: The main focus, at least for the coming months, is promoting our new EP and the new single, and actually work on advertising and promoting it. We definitely plan on hopefully touring next year with a full line-up.
Malerie: We’re working with friends, who have done our other music videos and photography in the past, to do music videos - at least one! We’ll see what else we can finesse. That’ll be really fun.
Matt: Definitely for this EP cycle, a major theme is a level up. I guess we’re trying to do it more, I don’t know what the right word is…right? Do it right? I don’t know.
Matt: Put out content, music videos and stuff that are like, you know, ‘these guys are a real band’. I don’t know the word but to just level up in our presentation.
Malerie: And networking and working with people in the industry. Before, like literally in the very, very beginning, it was just me and Matt. Then it turned into me, Matt, Ken and Jasiu trying to figure it all out on our own. Now it’s us. We do now have connections from playing and meeting people who do have expertise so it’s really nice. You can hear it evolve, and that’s why I’m so excited for this one to come out.
'Concussed' is out today.