The Good Life
Dec 18, 2014 Issue #51 - September/October 2014 - alt-J
Cadien Lake James is a lucky guy, and he knows it. Just 20 years old, he is the frontman of Twin Peaks, the Chicago quartet whose 2013 breakthrough, Sunken, established them as the vanguard of the city's guitar-rock resurgence. It was a concise album-less than 20 minutes long-but it said everything necessary. With James joined by guitarist Clay Frankel and bassist Jack Dolan as a three-headed team of songwriters and vocalists, the trio plowed through a set of swooning power-pop hooks and greasy garage rock power chords that suggested someone's father had a fantastic vinyl collection. (In fact, James still lives with his parents, staying in his old bedroom, just above the basement where the band recorded their debut.)
When it came time to record their follow-up, Wild Onion, a calculating band would have focused on crafting a coherent and distinct image, one that would allow them to be more easily promoted and marketed. Twin Peaks have done the exact opposite. "I think it's easy to feel like you have to define yourself a bunch [on your second album], and that's something that a lot of people in the industry have tried to give us advice on," James says, then adopts the tone of a stereotypical record exec. "'You have to figure out how to brand yourself!' Well, fuck that. We're just some dudes, and we're going to make some music that we'd like to listen to and play."
That attitude seems to have become something of a rallying cry, and what Twin Peaks liked to play on Wild Onion isn't all that different from what they played on Sunken, only done with a bit more polish and refinement. Recorded over 15 days at Chicago's Observatory studio, they experimented more broadly, pulling in bits of psychedelia and mid-tempo heartland rock that added stylistic layers to unpeel over a comparably generous 16 tracks. Since their city was named after a French rendering of the Native American word for "wild onion," the title seemed to fit.
"We had already wanted to knock off the title from this Beach Boys album Wild Honey," James admits. "I was almost expecting it to be a fucking shamble of a bunch of songs that didn't really work together. Within a song, there can be a lot of different influences, but each song can have a totally different vibe than the one after it. We had all these songs that felt a little ambitious."
The way James says "ambitious" has an odd inflection, as if increasing their expectations could pull the band away from the unpretentious aesthetic that has served them so well, from the basement show scene that spawned them, from their beloved Chicago itself. The Byrds, The Stones, The Kinks—these are the bands he sees as his contemporaries these days, and he doesn't seem too terribly interested in branding Twin Peaks as anything more than a band that can get a crowd moving by pulling apart and reassembling the sounds of songs written when their parents were toddlers.
"My dad loves our music," James says with a certain satisfaction, cutting the interview short so his mom can drive him to band practice. "As does pretty much everyone's dad."
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's September/October print issue (Issue 51).]
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