Since the beginning of the decade, Chicago’s Twin Peaks have been at the forefront of garage rock’s resurgence and sustainability. Their raucous and energetic live shows have garnered fans all across the country and their albums back the buzz. It’s an electrifying approach that pays tribute to rock’s rebellious roots while catering to the current generation.
With the quintet of guitarists Cadien Lake James and Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan, multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom, and drummer Connor Brodner pulling double duty at the Sinclair on Dec 5—an all-ages show starts at 5 pm with fellow Chicagoans OHMME opening, while an 18-plus show happens at 9 pm with Chicago singer-songwriter Lala Lala—James and I spoke about the band’s latest release, literally being surrounded by sheep, making a record with a certain teenage actor, and next year marking a decade of existence.
In September, Twin Peaks released their fourth studio album, Lookout Low. You all went to Wales to record it with Ethan Johns, so how was it working with him along with being in a different country?
Recording with Ethan was really great; he was super laid back. We had never worked with a legit producer before so there was kind of a leap of faith about it. We each have strong opinions, which can affect certain things, but he was very easy to work with. Ethan isn’t really a controlling type; he’s more about reading the vibe and setting up the live sound in the room well to let us do our thing. The biggest thing that changed with us was that he tracked everything live, including vocals.
That was very different for us, but we had a really good time; everything flowed nicely. Being in Wales was cool because it’s super beautiful out there, but also due to the situation, we just stayed in the studio at Ethan’s house most of the time. In a three-week span, I must have left the house only once, so we were really hunkered down working on stuff.
Where were you in Wales?
The town is called Monmouth, which is in the rural part of the country. We were basically in the middle of nowhere in sheep territory. There were a lot of them roaming around.
The band got its start playing DIY shows all over Chicago when you were in high school.
How would you describe that experience from the band’s early years?
It feels like ages ago, but we were a lot worse musicians; we were playing in these dirty joints where we couldn’t hear ourselves and we played a lot faster. They were good times and I think it infused a lot of energy and confidence into what we were doing. We were lucky to be in a scene of people who really supported us and they were very active at our shows. It made us feel good about what we were doing; not everyone has the opportunity to have a community of DIY venues with shows they can play with bands from around the country who were stopping into town. It definitely gave us a stepping stone.
After cutting your teeth in that circuit and atmosphere rather than going the traditional route with venues, what do you think sets playing in a basement or in a living room apart from playing a festival or a club?
You’re level with the audience, you’re right there with them and there’s no barricade, stage monitors or anything. We’re in a room with people while being in each other’s faces and it eliminates that typical concert feel. There’s this feeling that we’re all experiencing this together, which is very cool. It’s something that I still love but it’s hard for us to pull off; say we’re playing a house show in Chicago, then the cops will be there before we even get our gear out of the van.
That would be nuts.
We did get to do something in England a couple years ago, because we’re still relatively unknown out there. It’s nice to find places where there are less people that are hip to the band; you can still have this visceral, raw experience and it’s a much more achievable thing.
You also produced Calperinia’s debut EP, Scout, last year. That band has Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things singing lead vocals and playing rhythm guitar. What was Finn like to work with in the studio, and did you notice anything about his musical skills as a teen that were impressed by?
He reminded me a lot of myself. I was chatting with him for about a year before we started talking about making the EP and we hit it off. He’s a fan of the band and I’m a fan of his acting, so we talked a lot about guitars and gear. He’s totally obsessed with that stuff like I was as a kid at 14. His interest kind of reminded me what I was up to at that point; he cares about music and he’s very into it.
From that connection, it made me want to help foster the making of the record. He didn’t reach out to me about doing it, I got a call from the band’s label at Royal Mountain. They were like, “Hey, this kid has a band called Calpernia and we’re thinking of having you produce it if you’re interested.” I said, “Hell yeah! Why didn’t Finn give me a call himself?” I hadn’t produced a band other than Twin Peaks, so it was fun to test that out in a low-pressure environment because they were just getting the hang of recording.
We all had a blast doing it and all four of the kids in that band are great, they’re wonderful folks.
2020 is going to mark 10 years of Twin Peaks being a band. To reflect, what are some of your favorite moments, and do you guys plan on doing something special to commemorate the anniversary?
Maybe we’ll do a reissue of our first album, Sunken. That’ll be a good start; it’s just flown by. It feels fucked up that it’s already been 10 years. So much has changed: When we were starting with that first tour it was our last hurrah before each of us went to college. To be here now where this band is 100% our lives and we’re career musicians on the road while trying to figure out how to pay rent and not living with mom and dad is just a totally different game. I don’t think any of us would have imagined that we’d be here; we’re playing sold-out shows everywhere and it’s a very cool thing that we get to do this for a living.
I feel very humbled by it. It’s crazy … starting when we did and now I’m 25 doing this. Life is good and I’m looking forward to what’s next; I’m sure next year is going to be a great one for the band.