The sound and story of The Secretaries The decade-old Edmonton band is playing at SkirtsAfire

The Secretaries are having brunch in Amy van Keeken’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, before rehearsal. Happy dogs lie at their feet. It’s a cozy domestic scene, but don’t be mistaken—this band isn’t made up of shrinking violets.

Colleen Brown, Natasha Fryzuk and Amy van Keeken work hard for the money (so hard for it, honey).

“We just wanted to jam,” said guitarist van Keeken. Six people showed up at their first session, but by the second, the band was distilled to its core members.

“Colleen and I just started playing, and it was Hey Girl. Our very first song. We just kept playing and I just sang the words. And after that, well, that’s a song. Now let’s write another one,” van Keeken said. Drummer Fryzuk agrees.

“It was pretty alchemical.”

At the time, they were relatively new to their instruments, though all three had been involved in the music scene for many years—van Keeken and Brown as singer-songwriters and Fryzuk as a music journalist and DJ. Despite their experience, playing in a band was new to them. Ten years later, they’ve developed musically from three-chord rock with a punk attitude to a full band with Miss Mannered on synth, and the Brassholes, a horn section. They mash up the harmonies of the Wilson sisters of Heart with a rriot grrl sensibility.

“I think the whole point is we’ve been a band for 10 years now and there has been a number of times when we’ve had to talk ourselves into our own worth,” said Fryzuk. Brown, whose ascending solo career is taking her to Toronto this month, notes they built their confidence and discovered new dimensions within themselves.

“I felt powerful in this band. Compared to Amy and I playing together at the Sidetrack in 2005—I remember that and everyone was like, “How quaint. Two lovely women and their pretty songs and pretty voices. What lovely young ladies.”

Leaving her ladylike demeanour behind was a welcome change.

“Suddenly, we’re onstage playing rock ‘n’ roll and swearing and drinking tequila and it’s just those rules, those labels no longer apply. Now we have our own rules.”

The Secretaries are unabashedly feminist. They have had to be in order to stand up for themselves in an industry that has often tried to dismiss them as a “girl band.” van Keeken describes one show where their opener performed songs with misogynist lyrics. She said although it was a horrible situation, they approached it as an opportunity to have the best show of their lives.

They are looking forward to playing at SkirtsAfire, where they are unlikely to encounter such shenanigans, but Fryzuk notes that they have built a community that reflects their values. “We have a pretty good audience of all genders who have been really supportive and stuff, which is great because making music our way is attracting the right crowd.”

Brown leaving doesn’t mean the end of the band. They will be heading into the studio this spring, and Brown will be travelling enough to manage rehearsals when they need to prepare for a show.

“It’s just the way it goes. But I miss the songs like an old friend when we don’t play for a while. I start get an itch. I feel like I need to do something with those songs. Those songs are beloved.”

Mari is a writer and civil servant.

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