Connor Brodner, Clay Frankel, Cadien Lake James, and Jack Dolan of Chicago band Twin Peaks.
Bringing It All Back Home
Aug 05, 2013
Chicago four-piece Twin Peaks plays garage-y, lo-fi rock that channels both punk energy and dream-pop haziness. All of the band members are 19 years old, but already their history is complicated. Singer/guitarist Cadien Lake James describes the origin of the band as "a funny little winding connection." Bassist Jack Dolan and drummer Connor Brodner grew up across the street from each other, while James and Dolan were schoolmates from elementary school through high school. Brodner, however, attended a different high school, where he met guitarist Clay Frankel. After playing in separate bands on the same circuit, the four got together and cut their teeth playing basement shows as a part of Chicago's DIY scene. Last summer, they recorded their first album, Sunken, and booked their own three-week tour.
In an effort to keep a semblance of the band alive, James, Dolan, and Brodner decided to attend the same college, Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington. Frankel also would head to the West Coast to study film at USC. But last December, after one semester, all four musicians decided to drop out of school and return to Chicago to reboot the band. They played SXSW this year for the first time, and Autumn Tone released Sunken last month.
Twin Peaks has a penchant for brevity. Sunken comprises eight tracks, with only one clocking in at over three minutes. While all the tracks are marked by heavy reverb and a lo-fi sound, each one feels distinct, thanks to the band's knack for melody and its instinct for switching up pace, tone, and guitar attack. James' voice alone can shift from a postpunk baritone to the nasally sound of '60s jangle rock vocalists. He sings lead on all but two tracks. Frankel and Dolan take lead duties on the others.
Under the Radar spoke with Cadien James by phone last month. The band currently is on tour. See dates below.
Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): How many guys are in the band? Sometimes I see four, sometimes five.
Cadien James: At this point it's four. When we recorded our album last summer, and we did our first tour, and we did SXSW, we played with five people. Our original keyboardist, he's still doing film in school, so we replaced him with someone we knew at Evergreen. He did SXSW with us, but then we decided to just keep it core with four dudes who all are really close to each other, and keep it a little more raw sounding.
You previously were in another band with your brother?
Yeah, back in the day, we played in a band called Teenage Dream when I was like in eighth grade and a freshman in high school, and he's three years older than I. There's a couple songs that we use now that kind of had their bare bones version when we were playing as a two-piece. I played guitar and sang, and my brother played drums. And then he ended up playing with Smith Westerns, and he was their touring drummer for a few years. So that's how I know all those guys. He did that for a couple of years, and I played a few shows with him and got a taste for it, and so I set up my own band with kids my age so I could keep playing. That's how Twin Peaks came to be, really. I don't know if that's how we get the Smith Westerns comparisons or if there really is a similar sound or a lazy critic's Chicago comparison or what, but I watched them do their rise from the first album to the second one. Watching them do it, as people I knew and saw regularly, was definitely an influence on me wanting to drop out of school and really throw down for the music.
What kind of records were you into when you started playing in bands?
It's embarrassing, but when I first picked up guitar, or bass I think first, in like fourth grade, I was listening to American Idiot by Green Day. That was one of the first records I got real into, like new music. I had always listened to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, all this black soul music—Sam Cooke, Otis Redding—'cause my dad had all that vinyl around. That's what I grew up with and what I returned to. But when I first picked up my instrument, I got into Green Day. Got out of that phase as quick as I could, and then I was really into the Nashville scene. At the time, I was in later elementary school, like Be Your Own Pet, Turbo Fruits, JEFF the Brotherhood, all that stuff was coming out, and I remember going to New York to visit colleges with my sister—I was in eighth grade—and me and my brother ended up at a Turbo Fruits/Black Lips DIY show in some random part of Brooklyn. We had our parents drive us over there, just some scuzzy warehouse, and it was awesome. I was a big Black Lips dude. I loved all that garage rock stuff. Then my brother toured with Jay Reatard. I got into him and Nobunny.
Were you always drawn to rock music? Did you have any interest in exploring electronic music or hip-hop?
Totally. There's quite a few demos that I have where—you know, I got into recording, so I would use a bunch of MIDI instruments and make these synthpop songs. I was into Beach House. I was always into beats. I was never super into lyrics, so my appreciation of hip-hop for a long time was just because I thought beats were so cool. So I would listen to an artist 'cause of the beats. I would make little hip-hop beats in Ableton when I was in sophomore year. I was kind of into that stuff but I returned to the roots. I still dig that stuff, and I think it all has its place, but there's something undeniable in the soul about just fucking rocking out and playing a guitar and slammin' on some drums and beltin' your heart out. I think it's really important for the soul, if you're going to play music, to play it loud and proud.
You guys went to school with Chance The Rapper?
Yeah, that was a close friend of me and Jack's. We were at high school with him and actually his first mixtape, 10 Day, I got the same 10-day suspension from school as him. We both got arrested together. Jack had just tobacco on him, so he had a three-day suspension, but Chance and I both had some weed, so we got arrested and got a 10-day suspension. And, not really taking any credit, 'cause he would be famous either way, but that's what sparked him to do 10 Day, and look at where it's got him now, you know? You can thank Cadien James! Nah, just kidding. We got to see him in New York. It was great. He's doing so well, it's really awesome. It's kinda surreal being friends with someone at the same time as they're blowing up.
How did you get caught?
We were around the corner from school, in the alley, and I was smoking a spliff. I was a good kid but at a certain point when I got really into pot I was, "I get good grades. I don't need to go to school." So it was some week where I was smoking a spliff and I was like, "I'm not going to school." And Chance had already been in to school, and he was kind of a troublemaker, so they see him walk in and leave the courtyard, so the school cop kinda trails him out of school, and he came around the corner, and we see Chance and like, "Hey, take this spliff man! What's up?" So the cop comes around the corner right as Chance is hitting the spliff. He had that, I had the rest of the weed, Jack had tobacco. So, we all got in trouble somehow.
Chance saw it as three-week vacation because it happened before spring break.
Yup! No, it's sick, same thing. That's like the largest recording output I have, from those three weeks. I had bronchitis, so I wasn't smoking weed or tobacco at that point. I took a break from all of it, except four days in I started smoking weed again. I was just sittin' in my room the whole time. I wasn't really allowed to leave the house. I'd sneak out to get with my friends, but for the most part I was just holed up in my room, writin' tunes and recording. I think I recorded like 16 songs or something. I haven't recorded that much since. I've gotten way more into just writing and remembering. I used to record a shit-ton during that break. It was awesome, three weeks off.
Had you and Chance ever talked about collaborating?
Chance, he's way into collaboration. He talks about collaborating with so many people. He's talked about it before. But, at the same time, I do feel like we have pretty different styles. I'm not saying that rock and hip-hop can't mix, but our aspirations with it are so different. Like, I'm lo-fi. I love really scuzzy, hard-to-hear shit and really get the retro low-frequency range. If we were to ever collaborate, I don't think it would be like Twin Peaks and Chance the Rapper. It would probably be under some other name, just so we could alter the style and not have it be a Twin Peaks representation. 'Cause I think we have totally different aspirations even though we're close buddies.
I saw a video for "Baby Blue" that was extremely lo-fi.
See, that recording is from me and Hal. I think that's my brother singing, actually. That's actually the Teenage Dream recording of that song. We played that ever since kinda the same way, it didn't have a lead lick on it. It was way slower and super lo-fi. And then Clay joined the band and he added the lead lick to it that goes throughout the whole song and kinda took on a way more Girls kinda tone, vibe to it. So that's what we use now. But yeah, that old one's just me and my brother, actually.
"Baby Blue" was written about your sister?
Yeah, my sister's named Casey Blue. Her first name is just Casey Blue. I used to think it was a middle name but I've been corrected a couple times. Yeah, that song was just about when she went to college the first year. Me and my brother and her—I have seven siblings, I'm the youngest of all of them, I grew up with my older brother Hal—so, when she went to college, I was a freshman in high school, and that's when me and my half-brother were playing. And so it was just about waiting for when she was just about to come home for summer break, and we were missing her a lot.
Given that the band is named Twin Peaks, did that play into the fascination with the Northwest and your decisions to go to Evergreen?
Probably. When we chose the name Twin Peaks, none of us had seen the show. It's a double-edged sword. It gets a lot of people who are like, "Damn, they named themselves Twin Peaks, that's cool," and then people dig it, and there's a lot of people who are like, "Damn, they named themselves Twin Peaks? That's fucked up." I don't think we really realized that it was such a cult classic. My brother was watching it, and we were called Friend, and we were all like, "Oh, Twin Peaks sounds cool," and that's cooler than Friend for a bunch of 16-year-old dudes. You know, let's be Twin Peaks. So we went with it, and it's been good press to one extent, and it's also been a pain in the ass, how much people will [try to] see how you relate to a show with so much character and attitude and such a vibe, that's such a legend. I love the show now. I watched it, and it's one of my favorite shows because I love surrealist shit like that, David Lynch is my dude, but it didn't have much connection to the band. I think the Northwest was kind of coincidental, but maybe it was seeing trees like that in the show and then going out there and being like, "Oh, this is wonderful." But yeah, it was really pretty random.
Do you all have liberal parents? There's a lot of smoking and drinking in the Stand in the Sand video. Were all of your parents cool with that?
Every parent's different. My parents are certainly straight-up progressive. They're pretty accepting of whatever. They'll give me their opinion but they're not really going to tell me too much what to do. I don't know how everybody's parents felt, but at this point, they've seen enough good comin' out of it, that they're distracted from that old video. I think that they're all pretty understanding. The times are a changin'. People have a pretty different view of pot at this point. I don't think any of them are like, "That's awesome that you put weed smoking in the video!" But they're probably like, "Alright, whatever guys. Cool video."
I'm always intrigued by songs that have names for titles. How did you choose Irene?
I don't know. Just a stoner thing, I think. You know what it was? That melody there [sings] Irene. It's kind of a knockoff of that Roy Orbison song, [sings] crying. And I think it sounded similar to "Crying," and I kinda was just knocking it. I listened to a lot of Nobunny, and I noticed how many of his songs straight take stuff. He just rips off a song entirely. And while I'm not into doing that, I think careful quoting is all right. So I think that's probably where it comes from, now that you ask. I never thought about that. I improvise a lot of lyrics and then kind of mold some random words I've been saying into something kind of Brian Eno style. That's what I'm working on now, trying to improve my lyric writing craft, since we're doing this full time and I have so much time on my hands.
Listeners would expect a bunch of young guys to play fast and loud, but I was curious where the dreaminess in your music come from. Now I'm kinda wondering if that's the stoner influence.
It may be, I don't know. We used to play with these high school bands, and Clay's old band, they would cover The Brian Jonestown Massacre and do kind of blues rock, and that was cool. I was always into grabbing a delay pedal and putting it on real trippy and making all our songs into a medley, like to be way slower. We used to play a lot of slow songs, kinda Grizzly Bear-esque inspiration. And you know, I've always been into Dark Side of the Moon and shit, and I think that there's something so nice about hitting the right spot with dreaminess. I think that energy goes a long way, but also, I love Sam Cooke, and just his voice alone carries that dreamy vibe. We're trying to tap into that with new ways to do it, whether it's just a chorused guitar or whatever. It's also probably trying to keep it relevant. Certainly a lot of new music has that ethereal, dreamy, airy vibe, whatever you want to call it. So, it's connecting The Rolling Stones to Beach House. I don't think it's really conscious, but we all listen to so much different music that, we try to play straight-up rock 'n' roll, but we also try to tap into that feeling.
Was that really a post from you in the comments section of Stereogum?
Yeah, it was. Not proud to admit it. I was kinda just like, "Dude, this guy's a dick." Especially because he started talking about the Chicago stuff. That's why I got pissed off. [Paraphrasing the comment] "I know every band in Chicago, and I don't know these guys." I was like, "Motherfucker, we play every weekend. You can fuck off." But I was also super stoned, and you know, it's the first time we're getting press, and I'm behind the computer and I'm like, "Do I do it or not?" And I saw our PR agent had already given a snarky little comment, so I was like, "Fuck it." I threw down, but I'm not doing it anymore. I don't want to be Bradford Cox. Yeah, I'm not proud to admit it, but I thought I had a good point to make, and I thought that guy was a dick. And then he responded later, and he's like, "Look, you gotta ignore fucktards like me." And I was just like, "Well, at least you know you're a fucktard, man." [Laughs] That guy pissed me off, man. And he was a Chicago guy. I saw that he had mutual friends with me. I'm like, "Dude, this guy should know better." But yeah, I shouldn't have done it. And, first lesson in PR: don't read the comments.
Tue. Aug. 6 - Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex w/ Palma Violets
Wed. Aug. 7 - Fullerton, CA @ Burger Records
Fri. Aug. 9 - Stockton, CA @ Bus Stop w/ Satan Wriders
Sat. Aug. 10 - San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall w/ King Tuff, The Men
Sun. Sept. 15 - Chicago, IL @ Riot Fest & Carnival (Humboldt Park)
Wed. Sept. 18 - Dallas, TX @ Three Links w/ Bleeding Rainbow
Thu. Sept. 19 - Austin, TX @ Mohawk w/ Bleeding Rainbow
Fri. Sept. 20 - Houston, TX @ Fitzgeralds w/ Bleeding Rainbow
Sat. Sept. 21 - Baton Rouge, LA @ Mud and Water w/ Bleeding Rainbow
Sun. Sept. 22 - New Orleans, LA @ Triple 6 Klubhouse
Mon. Sept. 23 - Oxford, MS @ Lamar Lounge
Tue. Sept. 24 - Tallahassee, FL @ Club Downunder
Wed. Sept. 25 - Atlanta, FL @ The Masquerade [Purgatory]
Thu. Sept. 26 - Nashville, TN @ The Stone Fox
Sat. Sept. 28 - Cincinnati @ MidPoint Music Fest
Tue. Oct. 1 - Brooklyn, NY @ Shea Stadium
Wed. Oct. 2 - New York, NY @ The Mercury Lounge
Thu. Oct. 3 - Boston, MA @ Great Scott
Fri. Oct. 4 - Annandale-on-Hudson, NY @ Smog at Bard College