“Hahaha. It just says weed.” Jack Dolan volcanoes a laugh that shakes out from our corner. He’s pointing at my notebook, which lies open on the table at Shoreditch’s Strongroom Bar. We’re at the end of our interview having managed not to mention the subject once in near sixty minutes. And reading up on Twin Peaks, it’s certainly a subject they like to discuss, a lot.
The Chicago quartet has that slacker archetype down, goofing about in their video clips, crushing beers, and sparking up. But under the carefree veneer there’s a band with strong DIY morals and a very focused sense of what they want to be, and what they want to achieve. We so, very nearly made it to the full hour without mentioning either weed or their namesake TV show.
We’d met outside the bar an hour before when five young men piled out an industry standard white splitter van. Cadien James shook my hand first. Although Twin Peaks like to switch which member takes the vocals depending upon who wrote the song, Cadien certainly has the feel of a leader. He’s tall with an unfading smile and takes control of the interview, answering questions with a studied sincerity.
Then there’s bassist Jack, also quite vocal but seemingly distracted. The tangle of curls above his brow makes him look as though he could be related to drummer Connor Brodner. While the two have known each other since birth, they grew up as neighbours, not siblings. And finally there’s guitarist Clay Frankel who seems to nap through most of our chat only to perk up for the odd gag and to pretend to boil some sugar on a spoon. He’s more charming than I made that sound.
Joining these four friends is new keyboardist Colin Croom who produced the band’s last record, Wild Onion. It’s a record that with it’s warped guitars and hook-laden melodies, propelled Twin Peaks from a much loved fixture on Chicago’s DIY scene with a few West Coast basement shows under their belt to international attention with early support coming from NME.
“Yeah, Matt Wilkinson was helping out a lot.” Cadien grins when asked about the Radar editor who was soliciting shows for them at last years SXSW Festival.
Speaking to Matt later, I ask him just what it was about Twin Peaks that really caught his ear and heart. He said, “I heard ‘Stand In The Sand’ first, and instantly it blew me away. The chorus is just so huge - it’s still their best one, I think. What I loved about them was that they were so geeky about the music they loved - you can hear a real love for T-Rex, The Kinks, Thin Lizzy, Mac DeMarco, The Beatles and loads more in what they do - it’s a melting pot of the great and good of classic guitar bands really.
“They also seem to be unable to stop writing decent songs - most new bands struggle to write a single album, but Twin Peaks are the opposite. They’re everything new bands these days 'should’ be - amazing live, full of ideas and completely immersed in their own little world. They make you wanna join that world, I think.”
Sitting with the four of them, and Colin, for one hour it’s difficult not to find yourself wishing you could climb back in their splitter van, join their shared jokes and sheer thrill and excitement in doing what they do. At one point when talk turns to their show the night before Cadien enthuses, “We’re getting treated like we’re fucking saints. We had some beer last night, and some chips. But it was free beer. It was free. They’re spoiling me.”
Perhaps Twin Peaks really are what a band ‘should’ be; that storybook idea of school friends with a dream making it happen. “We wanted to play shows,” shrugs Jack.
“The dream was always that.” Cadien continues. “I mean, I remember riding the train to school in the morning when me and him would get on the same train going to school, to high school, coz my brother was out on the road in his band Smith Westerns and it would be like, we could do that. And of course, didn’t actually think we would. We were just like, that shit’s cool. And then it happened.”
In other interviews Cadien has traced the band back as far as elementary school. He and Jack were long time friends, Jack knew Connor from his road - it’s hard not to notice when your neighbour plays drums – and they both knew Clay. It all came together with a few emails.
And then came the gigs, as Cadien explains, “The first shows we did were kind of like house parties. My dad has a restaurant in Chicago, and down the block there was this small, tiny theatre that would do these small theatre productions and I remember asking the guy over there if I could do a show.
“I remember practicing over there and we would just be stealing the booze from the venue. It definitely had the vibes from early on and I did a couple of shows at one venue in Chicago for like, six months in high school and then finally other DIY places with older guys started being like, alright, you guys can play.”
Twin Peaks like to stay close to their roots, about to embark around the rest of the UK on a series of house shows they booked themselves. “Since we didn’t know anybody who does house shows, or didn’t know anybody here, we just went on Facebook and said, ‘Yo, we’re trying to play these cities on these dates,’” Cadien explains as if it were the most obvious thing to do, which I guess it is.
“It was kind of crazy the response and how overwhelming it was, everybody was like here! Here! Here! It’s cool to be at a point where you’re actually speaking to a large group of people. We have a pretty substantial voice over here too. Like, when we ask for something, we usually get a response.
“It’s just kind of people who are fans of the band and know about us. That’s something that we’ve vocalized that we do in the States because it is part of our identity and what we love, to connect with fans. To be able to hang out with fans and have a good time and party – it’s a lot more personal.”
But their route into house shows wasn’t pure hedonism. It was a way to reach a larger audience in Chicago, as Jack explains, “Well, when we were playing before we did the house party stuff, it was just in this one venue and it was all kids from our high school. And at the time I thought that was really cool.
“But the dude who was playing with us at that time, our first keyboard guy, he kind of had the idea that that wasn’t really where it was at. And he was totally right. We should be playing these house shows where people are into it and not just our friends from high school who are just coming because it’s us, and shit like that. And that’s totally what did it.”
In fact, Twin Peaks’ first keyboardist Lucas wasn’t just instrumental in breaking them into the Chicago scene, but also taking them further afield and out to the West Coast where they played their first tour; 19 shows in 21 days and only one was in a club.
“This guy Lucas, he was friends with all these other bands because he was really, really into that scene and so he’d be talking to them and finding out how all these other bands were booking tours and saying, do you know anyone in this city or this city? Or he’d find bands in that city that put DIY gigs on and say, hey where do you guys play? Can you help us get a gig on this day? It was just very homegrown. We really would not have had the opportunity to do what we’re doing if he hadn’t booked our first tour.”
Three members of Twin Peaks, Cadien, Jack, and Connor then briefly moved to Olympia, a town steeped in guitar history that aside from the likes of Naomi Punk, hasn’t offered many breakthrough bands in the last few years.
“Yeah, dudes would come and then just make bands immediately,” nods Cadien. “There were a bunch of bands that just got made there, but there were very few that were serious. Which is something that unfortunately in a lot of the house scenes around the country, that’s something that’s characteristic of it.”
Having dropped out of college they returned to Chicago to put everything into the band. They’d released first album Sunken on the Manic Static label, run by local band The Funs. “They opened up for The Breeders on a whole tour, but in general they’ve never tried to have a booking agent or have anyone else come on,” muses Cadien.
“It’s an aesthetic for a lot of bands. And then there’s other bands who don’t believe they can make it so never have the aspirations to try to do it. They’re just like, ah I’m cool with this. It’s not worth risking my job to push it.”
But for Twin Peaks and Cadien, having seen what his brother had achieved with Smith Westerns, they set their sights on breaking out of Illinois, recruiting manager Kate Landau.
“We met with her in New York earlier in March and then we talked to her again at SXSW, and then after leaving SXSW kind of got on the phone with her and were like, hey, let’s do this,” Cadien grins as the rest of the band whoop her name.
“We’d met a lot of managers and nothing felt right, coz we’d done it ourselves and no one seemed like there was reason to add them, but we talked to her and she was just very clear cut, like I think I can help you in all these ways. And we were like, that sounds great. We just went for it like, all right fuck it, let’s do it.
“And then I think not even a week after that, we got Pitchfork in Chicago. That is something that we had been trying to get to for a very long time and for them to just lock it down like that, we were like, oh this is going to be really cool.”
Jack continues, “She kind of was just like there’s all these festivals that you could be playing, FYF, Fun Fun Fun, and then we ended up playing those off the bat. And for me that was like, oh damn. You can do that?”
The band recorded their new record Wild Onion at The Observatory in Chicago, a DIY space that used to belong to nu-metalers Disturbed. “We recorded Wild Onion literally during a polar vortex and it was technically too cold to even be outside,” laughs Cadien. “But y’know, you hunker down for however long and you get Stockholm Syndrome almost. It forces you to really work on it.”
And who made the decision to work with Colin? “I guess me,” Cadien volunteers. “Me and Colin have been shooting the shit for a while and he was in a band called Sister Crystals who put out a record in 2013 that I frickin loved. Basically it had always been good vibes and I loved his record and I knew he went to school for production and I was like, do you want to help us do this?
“I think for us we didn’t want to go with some producer, someone we didn’t know or make too big of a step. But we also knew we wanted to have a hand to lead us because we didn’t want him to feel like we could do what we wanted, to do it by ourselves again.”
“I fucking loved this band for a really long time up until this point,” jumps in Colin from across the table. “And I felt we were really on the same page, like we don’t want anything to sound shimmery and high-fidelity. It’s got to have grit and some rawness to it. So then we just recorded.”
Cadien continues, “Like, not to be too upfront but I loved the Smith Western’s records and I even bought into Dye It Blonde when they brought on full production. But for us, like seeing them stop playing any house shows, and go and do this huge thing and knowing that we were in Chicago and didn’t want to forget, like how do we make the next step but not take it as far as they did and what’s more us and what’s more just the homegrown element?
“That’s something that they kind of lacked. I mean, not to talk shit but it kind of seemed like they just gave up on Chicago a little bit, and we kinda took the opposite approach. We embraced it and tried to bring it up with us.”
With their second album’s title indebted to the city’s nickname, plans to go back and record their third album there later this year, and an unshakeable loyalty to the scene they call home, it doesn’t seem like Twin Peaks will be cutting their roots any time soon. And staying grounded is important in this game, even if half your songs are about getting high.