Psyche, one of Canada’s very first electronic bands, began in Edmonton, Alberta in 1982. With Darrin Huss on vocals, his brother Stephen and Dwayne Goettel [who left the band shortly after and joined Skinny Puppy in 1986] on synths, the band was named after the Killing Joke song “Pssyche”. Throughout the 1980s, Psyche released a trove of dark synth dance-floor favorites but none more memorable than the hits from Unveiling the Secret, now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
In December of 1986, Psyche released Unveiling the Secret on the French label New Rose Records. It was, commercially, a more palatable album than their previous experimental and industrial-tinged record Insomnia Theatre from 1985. With songs like “The Saint Became a Lush” and the song the album was named after, “Unveiling the Secret”, Psyche cemented their place within the electronic post-punk movement.
Post-punk talked to Darrin about Unveiling the Secret in which he reveals the album’s inspirations (including Videodrome and HP Lovecraft), what gear was used and why it made the album special, opening up for Suicide and other secrets that have been hidden for decades – up til now.
North American tour dates listed below.
How would you describe Psyche’s transition from the first album Insomnia Theatre to Unveiling the Secret? Was it a conscious decision to make it more accessible?
I used to blame Skinny Puppy because at the time we both had released our debut albums which were somehow simultaneously the start of a new electronic goth movement. Considering that our third band member later moved to Vancouver and joined the “competition” we were ready to redefine what made Psyche unique in the first place.
Another thing was the fact that I continued to develop my singing and didn’t want to end up doing the same style for the next decades of my life. The transition began slowly with “Caught In The Act”, “Black Panther”, and “The Saint Became A Lush” still representing a more industrial dark side while becoming more sleek and structured in the dance grooves. The song “Unveiling The Secret” was written with our new Korg Poly 800II which had a slightly more digital sound, and you could switch through the settings while the sequence played. All the songs that we recorded for the album had been previously tested at our shows in Canada before we moved to Paris to record directly with our New Rose Records deal.
Only “Unveiling The Secret” was a new one that we started practicing while recording the album, and the vocals were done at the last minute as the producer said, “Tomorrow we start mixing, so you have 1 hour to do a take, otherwise it’s an instrumental!” I had just finished the lyrics, more of a poem actually, and that’s why there are such long spaces between the lines on the album version as I kind of had to guess where I would make my next singing part.
“Taking Chances” was the most conscious change to try and make a ballad style song along the lines of Yazoo with more relatable lyrics. That was the only other song we came up with that no one had heard in concert before. Another change that was on purpose was the choice to have a picture of ourselves on the cover which was what Pop artists do, and considered a scandal at the time because indie artists are supposed be invisible in the artwork apparently. We consider ourselves more like film stars and the music was the soundtrack to the film we were acting in. In the end we had 3 singles off the album, first “Unveiling The Secret” which did well enough to afford a video, a 7” and our first CD single. Then “Prisoner To Desire”, and somewhat unofficially a license deal to a Spanish label called Kong Records that put “The Saint Became A Lush” on the A-Side about 2 years later when we were working on [our next album] Mystery Hotel.
Do you have any particular memories from the time spent recording of the album?
Lots of memories. Paris was a major part of our life from 1986 to 1988. The studio called Garage Studios was next to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery with the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison as well as many classical composers, and writers, so we of course thought that was pretty inspiring.
The fact that New Rose Records had managed to get us on as opening act for Suicide to promote our album playing as virtual unknowns for an audience of 2,000 Alan Vega and Martin Rev fans remains unforgettable. We did our best to make an impression, with a girl lying like a zombie on a table, myself covered in fake blood and monster makeup, and my brother doing an Andy Warhol impression filming the audience with a camera during an instrumental section of one of our songs. There’s a picture on the back of our 12” single of “Unveiling The Secret” to document the event. Otherwise just the whole feeling of youthful discovery traveling in a foreign country, and living like artisans while occasionally only being able to afford cockroach hotels is truly a life experience that one never forgets, and in fact takes lessons from.
What were your main inspirations for Unveiling the Secret? Is it true HP Lovecraft was the inspiration behind “The Saint Became a Lush”?
I think after 30 years I can finally unveil some secrets about the album for everyone to enjoy, so starting with “The Saint Became A Lush” – yes, I was reading a lot of Lovecraft and later even wrote “The Outsider” based on his short story of the same title. “The Saint Became A Lush” was inspired by The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. The line “grim purpose, left no stone unturned” is an extrapolation from a paragraph in the story. The title itself actually comes from the novel Funhouse which was written by Dean R Koontz from a screenplay for a movie:
“.. quiet, earnest, industrious, devout Ellen Harper was a different person at night, in her own home; after sunset, behind closed doors, the saint became a lush.”
Someone had to turn that phrase into a song!! “Black Panther” wasn’t actually inspired by the militant movement of the same name, but rather a commercial we saw in France that ripped of the Cat People movie at the time to sell perfume, I believe. I wasn’t all that political at the time.
“Lord Unleashed” is certainly questioning religion in a more philosophical fashion. We also dedicated the album to our fave Canadian director David Cronenberg because of “Long Live The New Flesh” in Videodrome becoming “The Words made Flesh” in “Unveiling The Secret”. I am eternally proud of having two big dance floor hits that don’t follow the pop song standard of verse, chorus, repeat. Despite also having some great songs with the traditional structure, our poetry over atmospheric electronic dance tracks are often more Psyche’s ultimate forte.
What about the music video for “Unveiling the Secret”? Where was it filmed?
The video was shot in Rouen, France for the castle Indiana Jones style scenes, as well as in a TV Channel studio. We’re a little embarrassed by it now because it was hard to find a way to represent the lyrics in the song, and I think it all looked like a mystery adventure show on TV. We enjoyed having all these props, and even a real lizard at the beginning. My favourite part is at the castle, and actually the fact that they build that stage set of industrial tubing, and ski-fi 80’s stuff for the performance part of the song. That was really cool.
They wanted us to do some humour because they thought the ideas were too dark with those deformed animal babies in jars and so on. That’s why we had to do that silly smiling scene with the little camera object at the end. We were young and thrilled that we had a “hit single”, and were getting a music video financed by our label. Later on we did our own stuff with “Uncivilized” and the “Eternal” video. I can proudly say that – at least in the 80s – our sales of the albums recouped all the advance royalties that New Rose paid out at the time.
Why do you think this album still sounds so relevant 30 years later?
Personally I think the first three Psyche albums, which I now call the “Holy Trinity of Dark Synthpop” are majorly influential and stand the test of time, even if Mystery Hotel was a little more Pop, it has some great unique synth sounds and song styles as well. However, with Unveiling The Secret being kind of the key turning point between the two, it contains the best of the darker industrial moments of Insomnia Theatre with songs like “Caught In The Act” and the B-sides “Screamin’ Machine” and “The Crawler (1986 Version)”.
Also the song “Unveiling The Secret” [is still relevant] because of it’s long instrumental passages, and being nearly 7 minutes of one synth riff certainly fits well in the future techno, minimal house, and even trance scenes. Joris Voorn re-arranged it into his release called “The Secret”, and that single has been played all over the world in places we’ve never been such as Japan or Ibiza. Miss Kittin played it a lot in her step, and there’s a video of people dancing to it at the famous Sonar festival in Spain that are euphoric about it. She even sings over top!
“The Saint Became A Lush” remains a big one in Spain, and ended up on many compilation including Trevor Jackson’s Metal Dance series.
I think the sounds we chose, and the fact that we didn’t use overly familiar synths for our composing were a boon to our originality. When 808s were the rage, we used the less popular 707. When Jupiters and Junos were they synths to have, we chose to stay with our Korg Momo/Poly, and our Sequential Circuits Pro One, with some noises and crashed from the Roland SH101, and finally those elusive sounds on “Unveiling The Secret” coming from the Korg Poly 800II. Also Psyche had funky little trumpet like sequences on songs like “Caught In The Act”, “Black Panther”, and “Lord Unleashed” that i think were quite unique to the genre, and well as my vocal varying between my heroes Marc Almond, Alison Moyet, and Peter Murphy at the time, and even inspiration by the sinister whisper of Alain Jourgenson [of Ministry] on “Over The Shoulder” thrown into “Unveiling The Secret” for good measure. Oops, there goes another secret.