Twin Peaks: Rock 'n' Roll and Be Excellent
We talked about moshing in middle school, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and new Stones-inspired album 'Wild Onion' with the Chicago band.
Photos by Tyler Brooks
In the great summer music festival boom of recent years, the afternoon set has become a relatively conservative thing—bands can knock it out of the park, sure, but there's a need to keep everything running smoothly. Given that benchmark, it was revitalizing to see some local favorites going for broke on the second day of Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival last month. Twin Peaks, a Chicago band made up of four dudes not yet of legal drinking age, one of whom, Cadien James, was playing seated a wheelchair with a cast on his foot, tore through a couple of their garage rock bangers with equal parts youthful intensity and slacker abandon. Guitarist Clay Frankel abruptly smashed his instrument and began throwing the pieces into the crowd. Security had to intervene, and one of the band members made a comment about how they would no longer be throwing pieces of guitar into the crowd but also how it was important to make a big impression during what was the biggest moment of their career. In my case, at least, it worked.
That blend of earnestness, energy, and sly humor is all over the band's music, and it's also immediate when I call up Cadien. Twin Peaks (yes, it's the same as the TV show; no, that was not the intention behind the name) are a young band. They formed in high school, and their debut album Sunken, along with a tour the summer after their senior year, gathered enough hype that they decided to drop out of college after a semester and pursue the band full time. They're close friends with equally hyped garage rock youngsters The Orwells (the broken foot came during onstage antics during that band's set), and, in an odd confluence of Chicago music, Cadien was suspended for smoking weed along with Chance the Rapper in high school. His older brother and former bandmate Hal was in the Smith Westerns, a similarly precocious indie favorite from the city. The band are major proponents of DIY music and the Chicago DIY scene in particular.
Yet while Twin Peaks have a lot going for them in terms of attracting hype, the simple fact is that their sophomore album, Wild Onion, out today, is just really fun, classic-feeling garage rock that transcends news cycles. The songs are loose, off-the-cuff, and shot through with humor, but also often tinged with a dark edge. On “Sloop Jay D” lyrical riffs on a girl saying not to be a “fucking pussy” and bratty delivery hide feelings of heartbreak, while the fist-pumping lead single “Flavor” turns grief into a triumphant follow-your-own-path anthem. Twin Peaks don't expect you to take them too seriously, but, if you decide to, you'll find plenty of angst to go along with the thrills. In that spirit, Cadien offers up insight and tongue-in-cheek wit in equal doses over the phone, telling me about moshing as a sixth grader, the influence of the Rolling Stones, and the limitless merits of Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
You guys usually play house shows wherever you tour, right?
On tour, we've been playing venues since we dropped out of school and put out our record and started being a little more legit. But our first tour was straight out of high school, summer after our senior and we just totally played basements and houses and shit like that, the whole tour to the West Coast and back. We did like 20 house shows in 21 days or something. And we love that shit. When we're in Chicago we'll play house shows.
What were your go-to venues?
The spot in Chicago was Animal Kingdom for the last like two years. There used to be a place called Field Trip that everybody loved, and that place was a huge loft space. It had like a huge cat head with a cigarette in its mouth that billowed out smoke onto the bands. It was behind the bands. It was pretty badass. They closed down. Then this place Animal Kingdom was the spot. Clay used to live there. But they just got a cease and desist like a week ago. So that sucks. This place called Wally's World. That place is still going strong. I won't blow it up too much so it can keep going strong. But that place is rad, in Wicker Park. There's a couple more. They all stay pretty low key, though, and you find out about them and then you know when the shows happen there. But if you don't know they exist you're out of the loop kind of. Which sucks a little bit, but that's how it has to be, I guess.
Talk to me a little bit about your guys' album. What's new? What's the focus?
The idea was almost—me and Clay were getting real obsessed with the [Rolling] Stones, and we were like 'let's make a double album like Exile on Main Street,' even though we were never going to make a double album. No one was going to press two records or anything, but we were into that idea. So we ended up recording 16 tracks and using all of them. We fit it on one record. We jump all over the place. We do a lot of different styles. It's all rock and roll in the end, and it has similar enough production that it all works together. But we did experiment with a lot of different styles, I think, and I think our idea behind it was not really tying ourselves to anything but saying 'look, we can do all this shit, and we think we do it well.' So we could go anywhere from here. We could make a funk album next, for all we care. Gotta have an open template.
We all fuck with each other's stuff, so it works out. We like working on each other's songs and playing each other's styles. Each of the three of us has our own thing going on. Like Jack's got a little more angst and little more punk to his tunes. Clay's definitely got the Lou Reed, Mick Jagger shit going on with his songs. Mine, I can't talk about myself, but maybe I have a little more pop in it.
In the video you guys released on Noisey, you did this thing with an underwater beer bong with a plastic flamingo. Had you guys ever done that before?
Well originally we were trying to make into—we were going to put tin foil on the top and have it be a big flamingo bowl that he was smoking underwater, but it turned into too much trouble, and we were like 'we can pour a beer into there.' So we just came up with that on the spot, tried it out. Connor did it. It was difficult, but he did it. We hadn't done that before, is the answer to that question.
Now that you guys have this reputation as a stoner kind of band, do people just offer you weed all the time?
Yeah, it's actually pretty funny because me and Jack smoke almost all the time. We very rarely turn down tokes. But Clay jokes sometimes about how he feels like people are always like 'yo, hit this bowl with me,' and he's like 'I don't even really smoke that much.' He feels pressure to smoke and be a stoner sometimes, when he's not. Really it's just me and Jack who are pushing that shit more so than Connor and Clay. But we all can get down here and there.
Is there anything you really want to make sure people get out of your shows or your music?
We don't like to think about all that kind of stuff. We don't overthink stuff, like I was saying. We like the music we make musically, and that's the main part of it. But I'd just say like 'rock 'n' roll, and be excellent with each other.' Like Bill and Ted, man. They've got the right ideas, and I'm on board with that. My dad's an old radical dude, so he's always like 'why don't you drop more politics in the band?' And I'm like, that's not what I'm trying to get into with people. That can be uncomfortable. I know that's important and all, but that's not what I want to focus on with my music. I just want to make people shake their butts and shake their heads and have a good time.
I guess one thing I would say is that maybe sometimes in our videos we're always pounding drinks and stuff. And that's something that I think a lot of people take out of us that I wish they didn't. Maybe that's our own fault for having that in a lot of videos, but I feel like sometimes people get the misconception that we're just like total party rats or something, which isn't true. I'm more of a stoner than a drinker. I'd say smoke weed before you do anything else.
If there's one lesson that you kids can take away from this interview...
Smoke weed, and don't do anything else with your life. Smoke pot and sit around. Watch Cosmos. I've been at home watching Cosmos for a week. Dude, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is my dude. If you read this interview, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I would love to meet you. I wish I had like a Make a Wish foundation thing so I could wish to meet him, but I understand that's for people with cancer.
If only you'd broken your leg more severely, then you'd be set—
—hanging with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
You guys got really hyped really fast. Have you felt pressure from that? Has that changed what you've been doing over the past year?
I mean, I'd be lying if I said there was never that one day I freaked out about life for some reason, but I feel like that'll happen to anyone, in any path of life. Sometimes you get fearful or you get worried about shit. But for the most part, we really don't feel much pressure because we've just been making the music we want to and having a good time getting to play for people and meet people and spread the good vibes and feel the good vibes. So I really don't think the pressure is something that has happened much. I feel grateful that we got a lot of attention. I used to sometimes feel like people were just hyping us because my brother played for the Smith Westerns or we were from Chicago or stuff like that. But when it comes down to it, it's just rad that people are about it. That's cool. That's not a bad thing. That's definitely a good thing. Because I don't know what I would be doing in school— or I wouldn't have known at that point—if this wasn't what ended up happening. Now I know that I would have been studying to be an astrophysicist like Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
How did you guys start making the kind of music that you make? This classic rock, garage rock kind of thing, which maybe wasn't really in style when you guys were starting out.
I mean, honestly, that's just what we've always been into. I loved the Beatles and the Beach Boys growing up. Connor loved Led Zeppelin. Everybody loved Pink Floyd. We were all about rock 'n' roll growing up. And then I was digging into the Nuggets compilations. When I was in like seventh grade I would be getting all these compilations from Max from the Smith Westerns. He'd be throwing us these power pop compilations and stuff like that. I was listening to Jay Reatard. It's just the kind of stuff I was into. I remember me and Jack would go see the Black Lips like every year, starting in sixth or seventh grade. Every year they'd come to Logan Square Auditorium, and we would go each year. We just always were rock 'n' roll kids. Maybe that wasn't the cool thing to make when we started making it, but that's all we cared about. That's what I'm saying. We always have just done what we wanted to do. We make shit that we would want to buy in the store.
Was it scary being a sixth grader at a Black Lips show?
The Black Lips weren't too scary, but I was at an Adicts show—they were playing at the same place I would go see the Black Lips, actually—and I was in the mosh pit in like sixth grade. And some fucking huge dude with like brass knuckles on punched me in the face, and I have a scar on my nose from where he did it. I started crying and ran up to some dude who worked at my dad's restaurant, whose band was opening earlier in the night, like 'what the fuck, this dude just punched me in the face!' So that was kind of scary. But Black Lips shows were just exciting. They were cool.
When did you guys start playing?
I picked up bass in fourth grade and guitar in fifth or sixth grade. I don't know how long Clay has been playing. I think Connor's been playing drums since like sixth grade. Jack, I started teaching him bass in sixth grade. So mid to late elementary school, I'd say, we all started playing instruments. We should be better for how long we've been playing. We should be way better. Then again, we've been smoking a bunch of weed the whole time. Weed'll hold you back a little bit. That's something else you should take away. Smoke weed, and don't do anything else, but also recognize that weed will hold you back.
Anything else you want people to know?
We're better than all the other bands, and anybody who thinks otherwise is slipping. You said that! I didn't say that.
Kyle Kramer wishes more bands would want to talk to him about space. He's on Twitter - @KyleKramer
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