Twin Peaks is peaking at the right time
The four North Side Chicagoans in Twin Peaks still aren’t of legal drinking age, but they’ve got their act together: a do-it-yourself approach that has led to two albums, an international tour, a well-received appearance at the Pitchfork Music Festival over the summer and a sense of right guys-right place-right time serendipity.
"We feel fortunate," singer-guitarist Cadien Lake James says. "We have other friends who got the juice (individually) but can’t get together with other friends who got the juice."
Twin Peaks has “juice,” to borrow James colorful description, because he and guitarist Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan and drummer Connor Brodner have a shared sense of purpose. Their latest album, “Wild Onion” (Grand Jury), takes the group from the charming basement dinginess of its 2012 debut into a more adventurous garage-rock sound that touches on everything from fuzz-soaked psychedelia and punk to ballads and baroque pop.
James grew up around music as the youngest of seven children. His father, Michael, owned the Heartland Café restaurant and music venue in Rogers Park for decades, one of his brothers gave him his first guitar, his sister was in a ’90s rock band, and another brother had a stint in the breakout Chicago band Smith Westerns. Little wonder James was making crude demos in his bedroom since he was in gradeschool. “I always had tunes,” he says matter-of-factly.
But besides gaining motivation, James was also learning about the music business from his brother’s experience in the band. “I took a lot away from watching them, and it helped me get my foot in the door. I hate to admit it, but the early reviews of our band in places like Pitchfork, they would bring up Smith Westerns. I realized a lot of this is connection based.”
After self-releasing the album, the four went to colleges on the West Coast. Then the Los Angeles-based indie label Autumn Tone offered a deal.
"After the first two weeks of school we knew we were going to drop out after the semester and do the band full-time," James says.
"Wild Onion" is several steps beyond the debut, with James, Dolan and Frankel all contributing songs and lead vocals, and the music ranging across an array of styles. The band self-produced again with help from friends, but this time the sound is cleaner and more expansive. Even with a few woodwinds and keyboards in the mix, the quartet doesn’t dilute its rough, raw appeal.
"When you have so many people out there saying (after the first album), ‘They suck, they just have a bunch of reverb on it,’ I’m going to show you," James says. He acknowledges that the dreamier feel of songs such as "Strange World" and "Ordinary People" was a risky move – "I thought people would be angry at us if we put on some soft stuff" – but eventually he and the band decided to present their multi-faceted sound from all angles.
"We put all these different songs on there to flow together, like you were making a mix tape for a girl you like," he says.
Though speculation is growing that the foursome will soon be joining their friends the Orwells in signing with a major label, James says they’re in no hurry. “Our goal is to retain what we’re doing, our enthusiasm, our style, and remember our roots, not get untouchable,” James says. “You see bands playing places like the Middle East or Africa, and I’d give anything for those opportunities – anything but compromise the music we’re making. I don’t think you’ll see us on a major label or anything – we’re too scuzzy for that.”
Though that’s debatable, James says he’s learned much by watching Chicago peers such as Alex and Francis White of White Mystery go about their business. “In our country, it’s structurally built in for kids to go to college. But there are other opportunities, other ways to make a living. Alex White is a great example – they (White Mystery) put out their own records, go to Europe, you can do it for yourself. You don’t need college and you don’t need a music industry to prop you up.”
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