Photos by Daniel Topete
Twin Peaks aren’t ones to overanalyze their craft. The five Chicago-based garage rockers write songs, bounce them off one another and then lay them down in the studio. Simple enough. “There’s nothing really conceptual about it,” bassist Jack Dolan says with a laugh on a recent afternoon. And sure, the carefree musicians, each in their early-twenties, are still drumming up their brand of raucous rock much as they did when still teenagers playing basement shows and recording their 2013 debut album, Sunken. But listening to their latest effort, Down In Heaven, it’s impossible not to hear a unit coming into their own. Don’t tell them that. “A lot of times with interviews they want to frame it like ‘How did you plan this out?’ We’re just winging it,” Twin Peaks’ co-singer and songwriter Caiden Lake James says minutes before the band performs a short-but-rowdy in-store set at Reckless Records in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. “We don’t talk about it. It’s like ‘Do you like this song I wrote? Cool. Let’s play it.’”
Down In Heaven, which the band recorded in just over a month’s time at their friend’s northern Massachusetts studio-house, is also a clear indication that the band -- which includes singer-guitarist Clay Frankel, keyboardist Colin Croom, and drummer Connor Brodner -- has polished away some of its more sloppy musical tendencies seen on 2014’s Wild Onion. Furthermore, they’re embracing a newfound love of country-blues on sweet-sing-along cuts like “Wanted You” and “Holding Roses.” “We’re still being influenced by a lot of things,” says Frankel. “Music we’d never listen to when we were in high school. So of course that will influence how you will write songs.”
It’s easy to forget these dudes are only a few years removed from roaming the hallways of their respective Windy City high schools before heading off to college and dropping out a semester later to concentrate on their music career. It’s paid off: the evening before Noisey sat down with the band for a career-spanning interview Twin Peaks played a sold out release show at local venue Lincoln Hall. Even the oft-self-deprecating James admits they’ve come a long way. “I had a thought at some point while we were performing last night, ‘Damn man. Here we are,’” he says. “‘We’re doing the damn thing!’”
Last night’s Lincoln Hall record-release show was a rowdy one.
Caiden Lake James: Pretty good show. I wish we had done a bigger room. It was intimate. Like 500 people. It’s a good size. There were just a lot of issues with people not being able to get tickets. For the release show you just want people to be able to see it.
Is Chicago still a meaningful gig?
Clay Frankel: It’s like a celebration. It’s different.
CLJ: It definitely feels awesome. It’s a lot of fun. You know you’re going to go out with people you know after the show.
More or less pressure?
CF: It’s both. You want to play well but if you play like shit you know no one’s gonna care.
Let’s talk about Down In Heaven. How long ago did you start putting it together? There seems to be an emphasis on bands nowadays to always have new material.
CLJ: If we wrote differently that might have been a thing. But when you have four people writing songs like we do by the time the last record had come out we already had a bunch of new songs.
CF: We always have songs so I don’t feel a pressure to get it done. But you always want to get the right batch.
How have the new tracks been feeling live?
CLJ: We’ve been playing the new ones for a month or so. They feel good, man. I love having more songs to choose from. It’s nice.
You mentioned in an interview the recording this go-round felt similar to that of Exile on Main Street. I couldn’t help but hear some sonic similarities between the two albums as well, particularly with “Wanted You” which sounds not unlike “Loving Cup.”
CF: It’s that drum fill! The Stones were great at that.
Yup. It’s that country-blues vibe.
CLJ: Yah, that country blues thing is definitely something we’ve been dabbling a lot more in. It’s just riding and touring the States so much, driving every day, you end up listening to a lot of that shit because it’s great road music. So we’ve been digesting it. It’s definitely taken ahold.
You guys have been lumped into genres from punk to garage rock. But on this album it feels like you’ve fought back against classification.
CLJ: I just call what we do rock n’ roll because it encompasses a lot of shit.
I doubt these are even discussions you guys have.
Jack Dolan: It’s just us working together. Whatever comes of it turns out the way it is.
How does the songwriting process work with nearly all of you contributing on that front?
Connor Brodner: It seems like when any of us bring a song forth we’ll just try it and if it works and sticks then so be it and if not it just kind of fades away.
JD: It seems to be pretty agreeable on all fronts. We can feel it. Even if you’re the one that brought the song in you might be like “OK, this just isn’t working.’
CF: Also a lot of us usually record a version of it on our own.
CLJ: No matter who writes a song we all still feel an ownership over it. We all still put our everything into every song. Even though you have all these different songwriters it’s still all of our music every time. You’re proud of every song you work on.
It’s clearly a democratic band and yet Caiden or, say, Clay is often given that frontman designation.
CLJ: It’s whatever. Even right now I just noticed and thought about it. I don’t think about it much.
CF: For a while a lot of people didn’t know that we all sang.
CLJ: Still in reviews for this album people are thinking I sing the entire record.
CF: It’s not so common for bands to have multiple singers. And also singers that can sing leads. I can’t think of too many bands around like that.
CLJ: That happens with Parquet Courts too.
Like you guys they lean heavy on harmonies.
Colin Croom: When you have time like we did to record this record, where you’re not rushing around doing other shit while you’re recording or you just have a specific amount of time, you can be more expansive.
CLJ: Any idea that came up we’d be like ‘Let’s try it out!’
CF: Something pops in your head at like 3 in the morning, you could go downstairs and wake up somebody and just try it out.
How much had you written this time before going to Massachusetts to record?
CF: Like ninety percent.
CLJ: I think there were only two songs we wrote out there.
You could really take the full time out there to get the songs sounding perfect.
CLJ: Yah. And picking the songs. We recorded songs that didn’t make the record. There are 13 songs on the record and I think we recorded 17.
JD: And we were just doing other shit too [laughs]
CLJ: We were just smoking pot and getting drunk and playing cards. CF: It’s weird to say but in a lot of ways it feels like Wild Onion was the first record we made. The first one that we did, Sunken, it wasn’t a conscious effort. It was just having fun in a basement. So Wild Onion was the first one where it was like ‘OK, we have to make a product.” We have to do something.
Around 2013 buzz started around Twin Peaks. When did you guys feel this band was a career and not just a hobby?
CF: When someone told us they were going to put out a vinyl of Sunken. That was a big incentive of why we dropped out of school.
Was Wild Onion then the first album where it felt like this was a legit band?
CLJ: It was little things leading up to that too. When Sunken came out on vinyl it was like ‘OK, we’re doing this.’ But then I remember just starting to hire a booking agent, hire a lawyer, me and Clay meeting up with dudes from labels to get advice. It was like “OK, we’re getting involved in this industry. We’re having people work for us. This is a business.” But it’s also just fucking art and it’s tight.
Was it weird to have to embrace the business side of the music industry?
CC: I think that’s been lately more than ever.
CF: I also hate when people try to use your band to market their product. Or they’ll put a giant sign behind the stage. Or make you wear a certain type of shoes. It’s like ‘Fuck you. I’ve been wearing these fucking shoes. These are my stage shoes. How are you going to tell me what to wear?’
I guess it’s a double-edged sword. Sponsorships allow you to continue making albums.
CLJ: I think we do a pretty good job of avoiding it. Part of it is just taking ownership of every part you can. As much as you can take care of shit yourself and be directly involved then the less stuff some other shitty chef is going to be in the kitchen cooking.
CF: But that’s just some side bullshit.
CLJ: It’s still mainly just us out playing shows to people, which we love to do and make records and we’re lucky we get to do that on our own.
CF: As we go on we’re trying to do less of that commercial shit.
Your shows have this reputation as being extremely wild.
CB: Sometimes we just want to freak people out. If it’s some squares or whatever.
CF: We’ll even do wilder shit if people seem more placid.
CLJ: I’d just feel weird up there if I was just standing there. I’d feel really uncomfortable. I enjoy myself way more when I just let myself go and I’m loving playing the songs. I feel less conscious of it if I’m going buck wild. Which I guess is weird: some people would be having to force themselves but for me that’s just what happens. I just lose myself in it.
CF: We started by doing a lot of basement shows where there’s not even a stage. You get a lot of stagecraft from that.
What makes for a good live show?
CF: My favorite kinds of shows are where something crazy doesn’t necessarily have to happen but it feels like it could. CLJ: That keeps it fun.