Twin Peaks interview: Chicago's scene is hot

Dan Wray spoke to Chicago's Twin Peaks ahead of them playing the All Years Leaving Party in Birmingham with Gengahr, The Big Moon and more.

Ben Smith

Date published: 31st Aug 2016

Image: Twin Peaks 

It’s surprising it took until 2010 for a band to name themselves Twin Peaks, although this Chicago-based outfit, led by Cadien Lake James (aka Big Tuna), contained none of the ghostly ambience that floated through Angelo Badalamenti’s score for the seminal David Lynch TV show. Instead, they captured the spunk and vigour of youth, of high school kids getting together and thrashing it out. 

They’ve now been thrashing it out for several years and have released three albums in the last three years. A trajectory that has seen them go from scrappy garage rock to dense, pop-tinged songcraft on their latest album, Down In Heaven.

James discusses the band’s on-going evolution,  ahead of a date at Hare and Hounds for All Years Leaving with GengahrThe Big Moon and more on Friday 21st October

You’ve now been a band since you were high school kids. That presumably is a big learning process in and of itself – what are the biggest life lessons that being in a band during your formative years has been? 

It certainly has; it’s been our education, our career, and the building of our personal relationships. A couple of big lessons for me have been, one, confronting things as they come up, rather than putting off things you’ll have to handle at some point, whether that be for ourselves, for someone else we’re working with, or even just simple tasks like handling merchandise, posters, etc.

And, two, making an effort to take into account your knowledge or lack thereof of anyone’s background when you interact with people all over your city, state, country, continent, the world — people are different all over and everyone has a story, so I try to do my best to be tolerant and understanding of everyone I meet and put good out in the world. Not that I always succeed…. but that’s the goal.

You’re coming back to the UK for live shows soon. Now that you’ve got a good few touring circuits under your belt, have you found you’ve formed a relationship with certain cities and countries? Anywhere you just immediately feel at home in? 

We have an experience everywhere we go, but it doesn’t necessarily define the experience we’ll have there when we return. I really love so many places because we’ve been blessed to have great shows all over.

I’ve always been particularly fond of the Pacific Northwest in our good ‘ol USA (maybe because I lived there for two months while I was “in college”, and our first visit to Madrid was pretty spectacular. Shout out to Hinds, Los Nastys and The Parrots for making us feel at home there. I love playing in Mexico as well.

I end up loving most cities that we get to spend more than half a day in; when we play somewhere but don’t arrive ‘til mid-afternoon and either leave after the gig or early the next day, it can be hard to get a vibe for the place or build a relationship with it, but when you get free time somewhere you’ve got a greater chance of having a lasting memory.

There’s a video of you recently playing the Pitchfork Festival, accompanied by a brass section. Was that a one-off for a special hometown show or are you taking that set-up with you on the road? 

That was a hometown treat; maybe if we start taking buses and getting richer we’ll consider it on the road but that seems far off for now.

You list on your Facebook page under influences as ‘Bowie, Bolan, Reatard’ – I’m sure that’s only a small section of the music you love but in particular, what is it about those three artists you find so inspiring? 

Well that description has been up there since 2009 or 2010, and I believe it was just my favourite bands at the moment, but they were all three artists who were the best at being them, incomparable to anyone else, and that’s a trait I respect greatly.

I learned a lot about playing guitar from T.Rex, I learned a lot about reckless abandon and song writing from listening to Jay, and Bowie is just hands down the coolest motherfucker to have ever done it.

How is life on the road for you guys? You’re in the middle of a massive tour and I presume (my apologies if I’m wrong!) that you have to keep things really tight budget and expense-wise to make these tours work. How would you describe the realities of touring for a band your size? 

We’re lucky to be able to grab some motel rooms and avoid crashing on floors in the States nowadays, but across the sea it can be more crunched. I think it’s only a consequence of our proximity — in the States, we’ve been playing for four years and we’ve established strong crowds in many cities and been able to hit both coasts 10 times or so.

This upcoming tour in Europe will be only our second or third time in most of the stops if not our first, so it’s just a slower build, it needs time. And it’s dang expensive to get five dudes and our guitars across the sea in the first place.

But when we were struggling more financially in the states starting off, I don’t think we minded much because being able to be on the road and play every night to at least one person who’s loving it and make art as a career is so rewarding for people like us because that’s all we’ve ever set out to do.

What would you say have been the fundamental changes in the output of Twin Peaks from Sunken through to Down in Heaven? How would you describe your evolution?

I’m not too self-aware or cognizant of the big picture things like this, but a huge one for us is that we’ve added Colin Croom to the band and he writes his own tunes and adds another element to the rest of our tunes. Another big shift is being able to afford more and more equipment with which to translate our ideas as the project grows.

We’re grateful to have a lot of freedom in making our art, we just wing-it and I don’t think we’ll ever have a too big of a handle on our approach and direction or ever wrangle it in too much. But we’ll see….

It seemed the natural response to Down in Heaven was to refer to it as a “mature” album but I’ve always found that to be a slightly condescending attribute. How do you feel about the album in that context? 

I sort of find it condescending as well, as if our past output weren’t serious efforts or that the only appropriate narrative is that now we’re of the drinking age. Not that I think that it’s meant as a knock, but what’s the point of bringing that in the picture?

Is there no way to describe the content of the album without focusing on us ageing? But perhaps that’s naïve, I’m aware that with the quantity of artists that we can digest in the modern age, the story of a band and their context around their contemporaries is important to fans, they latch on to the story.

Whatever works for writers, that’s their job and it ain’t mine, and I can’t say I utilize reviews of other artists very much in making my assessment of the music I like. No knock to journalists, I just struggle with the idea of assessing art being like writing a school-paper, with a thesis and a narrative that has to fit with publication and its fan base.

Of course there are exceptions to that, there are plenty of great writers and important pieces written about albums. I hate giving albums scores in numbers or grades, I wish that publications just worked on an “A) I think it’s worth checking out”, or “B) I don’t think it’s worth checking out” basis, with a disclaimer that you should always make your own opinion. Good question to get me ranting.

How was your experience working with John Angelo and what was the decision process behind working with him? 

Working with John was the best. He’s incredibly kind and funny, and we got along very well. Deciding to work with John really came down to him meeting me and explaining “well, I just want you guys to be happy with it, so come in to the studio, be there with me (I’d enjoy the company anyway!) and we’ll talk through it all and make it the best we can together.”

Not everyone is open to having the artists there with them while mixing an album. We had a blast of a week working together and we talk often now. Total sweetheart, he brings his family to our shows and they’re also the best. I love you John.

You played a fundraiser concert for the David Lynch foundation last year, alongside some of his long-time collaborators and other fans. What can you tell us about that whole process? Why you picked that song, working with tennis, meeting David (if you did), the whole evening etc.

We picked the song during talks with Tennis, as the project was proposed to us with us and Tennis playing together as a package being the deal. We had never collaborated with an artist like that before so to be honest I was a bit nervous, but Alaina and Patrick were such kind people and really easy to work with.

Patrick came out to see us in Denver and we chatted about our vision of performing the song, and everything fell in line pretty easily. We all loved the choice of In Dreams. Never met David, although we did meet some other famous folks and I gotta say personally it was an embarrassing night; this was all before I knew how to pace myself at an open bar…. But me and Donovan got along really well and you can find a picture of us looking twisted together deep on my Instagram. 

Any new Chicago bands we should all be keeping an ear out for the moment? 

Cutworms, Wülfpac, Shah Jahan, The Hecks, Deeper, Ne-Hi, Dehd, Earring, Melkbelly, Lovejoy, Today’s Hits, Strange Faces, Drool, Jimmy Whispers, Whitney, Uh Bones…. Start digging there and you’ll find more through ‘em. Chicago’s scene is hot.

Twin Peaks play All Years Leaving at Hare and Hounds on Friday 21st October - tickets via the box below

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