The members of Twin Peaks have known each other most of their lives. Twin Peaks was founded in 2009 by Cadien Lake James, then fifteen. James grew up in a musical background, originally in a duo with his brother, Hal. When Hal James left to join the Chicago indie band Smith Westerns, Cadien was left to his own devices. He decided to recruit his musical high school buds, keyboardist Colin Croom and drummer Connor Brodner.
Twin Peaks is summer slacker rock music. They’re a soundtrack for antsy high schoolers skipping school in late April to go smoke and drink in a public park. I got to speak with Clay Frankel, guitarist and vocalist. Frankel knows that sound, and he definitely knows that sentiment.
Smile Politely: Your sound has been described as garage rock and power punk. How do you feel about these descriptions and genres in general?
Clay Frankel: Well, I guess I could take it or leave it, you know? I don’t think about genres too much. It’s just simple rock and roll to me. But, if you’ve gotta label it something, garage rock doesn’t hurt me any. I mean really, what’s the difference?
SP: Listening to you guys helps with the cold. I think you’ve got a good summer sound, and that’s really important to hold on to year round. You almost sound kind of beachy. Not surfer rock, but just, a kind of warmth.
Frankel: Oh man, now that’s a genre that I definitely would not want to be called - surfer rock. (Laughs.) But I definitely know what you mean, though. Like, every time I listen to the Rolling Stones, I can almost hear the sweat. Know what I mean? It sounds “hot.”
Twin Peaks’ debut EP, 2013’s Sunken, sounds almost as if it were recorded underwater. With guitar shimmering in and out like waves coupled with an almost shoegaze-like distortion of humming vocals, it feels like one very immersive twenty-minute track. It introduces us to their carefree philosophy in the best way. The single “Stand in the Sand” brings us to a party, hands us a beer, and shows us, to put it bluntly, how few fucks are truly given. After all, there are a few beaches in Illinois.
2014 saw the release of their first official album, Wild Onion. It is a raucous, uninhibited homage to adolescence. These are distinguishable, unique tracks that smash into each other, one after the next. “I Found a New Way” opens up the album as a proper introduction to Twin Peaks: Noisy, excitable, and not sorry. Each track that follows builds the theme: “Sloop Jay D,” “Making Breakfast,” and “Fade Away” all invoke memories of being a wild kid in good weather. Ballads peppered here and there take a step back and bring some contemplation and vulnerability to the album, adding to its authenticity. Wild Onion is authentic because Twin Peaks don’t put on airs. They don’t pretend to be what they’re not. They’re fun-loving guys, and that’s all they need to be.
Here are some boys playing baseball.
"I Found A New Way," from Wild Onion.
SP: The band’s latest album and most recent release is the fun and rowdy Wild Onion. Can you tell me where that album title came from?
Frankel: Sure! Well, when we were going to school in Chicago, in Social Studies class we learned that “Chicago” is a Native American word for smelly onion or wild onion. So, we decided to call it that.
SP: That’s awesome. You guys boast a lot of Chicago pride. Do you think you’re still pretty close to the Chicago scene, even though you’re starting to make it? Do you still hold on to your roots?
Frankel: Yeah, Chicago’s home. We’re friends with all the bands here. And I mean, I still live with my mom and dad when I’m not on the road, so, yeah. (Laughs.) We’re not pulling out any time soon.
SP: That’s good. Can you tell us about some of those bands? What have you been listening to lately?
Frankel: Well, as a group, I’d say we’re definitely listening to a lot of good Chicago bands. There’s Whitney, there’s NE-HI, and there’s Strange Faces, who are gonna be with us at the Champaign show. I’m also listening to Juan Wauters, big fan of him. Big fan of Fat White Family. I’ve actually been listening to a lot of country music lately. I’m super hooked on this guy named Blaze Foley from Texas, that’s some good stuff. And then Townes Van Zandt. He’s my favorite right now.
Twin Peaks is known for putting on wild, out-of-control shows that bring the audience along for the ride. They’re huge partiers, and they are not the least bit apologetic about it. The guys are frequenters of Chicago’s music festivals, both as audience members and as performers. They are slated to play Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival this summer, following a killer show in 2014 that featured Cadien James in a wheelchair after getting a bit too excited as an audience member himself. (He also wore a cast in the aforementioned “I Found A New Way” video.) When asked about the show, Frankel just says, “Well, [Cadien’s] leg was broken last time, so hopefully this time we’ll do a little better.”
Few bands can kick this much ass with only one leg.
SP: So I’m sure you’re pretty tired of hearing it, but you guys are a young band. Ever have issues with getting into your own shows?
Frankel: (Laughs) Yeah, we’re all 22 now. But it was a problem for a while. There were times when we’d have to wait outside the venue, and they would have to escort us inside and then back outside after the show.
SP: Wow, that sucks.
Frankel: Yeah. Often they wouldn’t let us sell any merch because we were barely allowed in the building. We’ve even been turned away from venues before. Like, we’d show up, and they’d realize how young we were, and then just turn us away at the door. [Laughs.] So yeah, I’m really glad that’s over with.
SP: It must be good to finally do all those things legally.
Frankel: Yeah, we used to have to drink in the van. We’d roll up at a venue and get out for a while, and then get right back in the van that we just drove six hours in to drink in there. You know, that van got pretty damn stinky.
Twin Peaks, at the end of the day, are buddies. They are guys that have been friends forever and are good at getting along. They have a cooperative, harmonious take on their musicianship and songwriting, and they are willing to share credit amongst themselves.
SP: How do you guys manage creative crediting? Cadien is often called the band’s “songwriter,” but it really seems to be more of a cooperative effort.
Frankel: Oh yeah, I mean we all make different songs. Whoever writes the song sings it, and that’s kind of how we do it. I mean right now, we pretty much have four songwriters in the band. Really everyone writes except for our drummer. On the upcoming record, we each have at least one song. With songwriting, we kind of split tasks between everyone.
SP: Twin Peaks’ new album is called Down In Heaven, out May 13th. What can you tell us about it?
Frankel: Well, we recorded it in Massachusetts at a friend’s house. It wasn’t in a studio or anything, just some guy’s place that we did it at. And we kind of just took all the furniture out of the living room, bought some studio equipment, and kind of just built it ourselves. We’d spend like two weeks there and then go on tour for two weeks, then come back for two weeks. For sound, it’s got a lot of piano, a lot of organ. I think there’s a little country twang to it. It doesn’t sound like any of the records we’ve made before, but it’s definitely my favorite one. It’s also a very hot record.
SP: Nice — hot, like warm?
Frankel: [Laughs] Yeah, like temperature.
As youth will do, Twin Peaks are growing like weeds. Down In Heaven promises to show a little more maturity (in a positive way). The album’s first single, “Walk to the One You Love,” opens with the same classic rock swagger, but the guys hold back just a bit. Their actions are more measured, and their musicianship clearly tighter. This time, the video for the song has real artistic intention. It’s a continuous shot, with a beginning, middle, and end. Of course, it still features the guys messing around in their typical carefree way. Why should they ever change?
SP: Would you say that possibly the most important thing about making music is to have fun?
Frankel: Yeah I mean, yeah, you know? At the end of the week, it should bring you joy. You’ll have shitty days, I guess, but I mean of all of the reasons to get into music, that’s the one you can count on. Because you can’t get into it for anything else like money or recognition, since that’s all hard to get to. But if you’re just in it for a good time, then hey, that’s pretty easy to achieve.
SP: And then everything else is just kind of a bonus?
Twin Peaks are playing at The Accord on Wednesday, March 9th, with special guests Strange Faces and Tomblands. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show time is at 8 pm. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.