Ask Secret Mezzanine who they want to sound like, and they’ll tell you: like no one else.
If they had to, they’d call themselves an alternative rock band, but that doesn’t quite cut it: they sound haunted without being depressed, funky without being blindly optimistic. The sound isn’t an entirely original one — because what is truly original these days? — but it’s been developed over the course of two EPs, a new single, a music video and plenty of practice. The members come from musical backgrounds, ranging from jazz to electronic music to classic rock.
Secret Mezzanine, with two current IU students as members, is a rising band in the Bloomington local music scene that plays at established venues such as the Bishop or the Blockhouse Bar and crowded high-energy house shows in basements-turned-concerts around town.
“It’s kind of wacky to watch all that meld together,” lead singer Cai Caudill said. “When we start trying to record a song, I could never tell you what it's going to sound like because I genuinely do not know. I could not describe to you Secret Mezzanine’s sound.”
Original band members Cai Caudill and Rob Greene, both 19, started playing together in middle school when Caudill’s father made a ukulele out of a cigar box. The two, originally armed with ukes but later graduating to guitars and basses, started playing at coffeehouses and farmers’ markets around their native Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The story behind the band name is less than glamorous. There are only two floors in the high school Greene and Caudill attended, Canterbury School, but the library on the second floor has a room with a plaque pointing up and reading “entrance to mezzanine stairs.” The so-called secret mezzanine became a conspiracy theory among the student body. While the members of the band did eventually get to see it, they’ve sworn themselves to secrecy about its contents.
Caudill and Greene competed in a battle of the bands at the University of Saint Francis while they were still in high school, playing up against full bands armed only with acoustic guitars and a little drum. They didn’t take it seriously, given that the chances of winning were slim against more experienced musicians from the Fort Wayne music scene.
They won. They were 15.
The prize was to record an EP at the university’s studio, and then-student Jacob Sherfield, now 25, joined the band as their drummer after being assigned to help them record.
Garrett Spoelhof, the band's producer-slash-keyboard player, messaged the band’s Instagram page the summer before last asking to work on a song; that track, “Looking Out,” led to Spoelhof playing shows with them and eventually joining the band. Spoelhof, 18, and Greene are currently IU students, while Caudill is taking a gap year.
Their most recent single, “Ripped Away,” is the first with not only all four members of the band present but a special guest: ‘The Voice’ runner-up and Fort Wayne singer Addison Agen. Agen joined them in recording vocals. It started out as a joke with Caudill saying that since they knew her, they should invite her to help with the song. Spoelhof, however, pushed the idea for real.
“I was terrified,” Greene said. “Like, what are we doing?”
“Yeah, she was on ‘The Voice,’ and now she’s an asshole,” Spoelhof said sarcastically. “I’m sure that that’s exactly what happened.”
That ended up being false. After multiple mixes from Spoelhof and a mastered version courtesy of University of Saint Francis audio professor Miles Fulwider, who has worked with artists like Norah Jones and Willie Nelson, the song was done.
For a while, their songs were individual projects. Members would write what songs they wanted, and that was that. It wasn’t until they wrote the song “Ash to Ash” that the process turned collaborative. Greene had some riffs, Caudill helped him with some chord progressions, and then they retreated to opposite sides of the room to write lyrics. They chose which ones they liked best and it worked; “Ash to Ash” is their most popular song by far, with the most streams on Spotify of any of their music and a complete music video.
They say they want to bring a sense of unity as a band to their third EP, which they’re working on now as they play shows around Bloomington, including a house show on Aug. 25 at 712 E Hunter Ave. Ask Secret Mezzanine what they want to sound like in the months to come, and they’ll tell you, but vaguely.
“I want to sound like where we’re going next,” Spoelhof said.
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