Chicago garage-pop whiz kids Twin Peaks have been gigging seriously for only a little more than two years, and in that time their career arc has gone pretty much straight up. In July they played to an amped-up early-afternoon crowd at Pitchfork, just weeks after rocking one of the final shows at beloved DIY venue Animal Kingdom. In August they dropped their second album, Wild Onion (Grand Jury), and their biggest headlining date yet is a belated hometown release party this week at Lincoln Hall.
Singer-guitarist Cadien Lake James, singer-guitarist Clay Frankel, singer-bassist Jack Dolan, and drummer Connor Brodner aren't old enough to legally drink, but the sophisticated, catchy, and occasionally gorgeous songs on Wild Onion sound like the work of a seasoned band that's spent a good long time learning its roots. The dreamy "Mirror of Time," the sentimental "Mind Frame," and the bawdy "Sloop Jay D" could've been lifted out of a time capsule from 1968.
The vintage feel of Twin Peaks' rock notwithstanding, most of these guys were born in 1994, around three years after the TV show of the same name ended its original run. (Brodner is the senior member—born in 1993, he turns 21 the day of the Lincoln Hall show.) In the spirit of making myself feel unnecessarily old, I decided to conduct a pop-quiz listening session with the band (props to DownBeat's Blindfold Test and the Wire's Invisible Jukebox) using only songs from 1994. Of the ten mystery tracks I played, the Twin Peaks guys identified exactly zero, though they did get close a couple times. They also provided some new insights into well-loved music and went off on plenty of odd tangents—I had to edit down this transcript dramatically for space and clarity, but among the many things we talked about were sushi, Megadeth, and arcade sex.
Here's a Spotify playlist of all the songs included in Twin Peaks' pop-quiz listening session.
Teengenerate, "Let's Get Hurt," from Get Action
Clay: This is from 1994? Not 1894?
Cadien: I don't think I know this, but I like it.
This is Teengenerate, "Let's Get Hurt."
Cadien: That's a new one for me.
They're a Japanese garage-punk band.
Cadien: I've been getting into a lot of 70s Japanese stuff.
Cadien: Like Happy End. It's all really cool, 'cause I think they recorded a lot of it in living rooms and shit. Happy End was called "the Japanese Beatles" for a while.
Their music is so complex.
Caiden: They're super jazzy a lot of the time, but then they'll get super simple. I just got their album from '71, and the first song just sounds like they're trying to rip off Paul McCartney so hard. It's super tight.
Connor: I've been getting into a lot of the work that the Japanese have been doing with sushi.
Cadien: Clay's only had sushi one time, and he had one piece of sushi.
Connor: He's scared of it; he put it on his tongue like it was acid. [Laughter.]
How's it compare to acid?
Clay: Uh . . . [Laughter.] Good question. It was a lot shorter and not as scary.
Da Brat, "Funkdafied," from Funkdafied
Clay: Oh, fuck yeah.
Connor: Is this LL [Cool J]?
It is not.
Connor: Who is this?
This is Da Brat.
Jack: Da Brat. Fuck.
Are you a fan, Jack?
Jack: Well, the only reason I really heard of Da Brat—there was some show that she was on, it was either Celebrity Rehab or some shit. [Editor's note: The show was Celebrity Fit Club on VH1.] She was super rad; she was the raddest one in there. My dad's super into all that old 90s hip-hop and stuff. She's definitely cool as fuck.
Your parents raised you on hip-hop as well?
Cadien: Not my dad.
Clay: My dad has a Grandmaster Flash record. There's some song, it's just like the coolest thing, 'cause some guy's talking through a keyboard—he just sang one word over and over again. My dad thinks it's really cool.
Jack: My dad was like a huge Beastie Boys dude.
Connor: Oh, true, Licensed to Ill.
Jack: He was the first one who showed me "Gangsta Gangsta" by N.W.A.
Cadien: I was listening to The Chronic for the first time yesterday.
What did you think?
Cadien: It was really good. They talk a lot of shit on that album. Fuckin', "Eazy-E can suck a dick." And I'm like, "Damn, I fuck with N.W.A, man. That's pretty dirty."
Tortoise, "Ry Cooder," from Tortoise
Clay: Damn, people were getting weird in the 90s.
Connor: Who's this?
This is Tortoise.
Cadien: I was in a band for like three months and the drummer was from DeKalb. He fucking loves Tortoise. He tried really hard to get me into them. I never really understood it that much.
What doesn't appeal?
Connor: It's not catchy enough.
Cadien: I probably would really dig it if I listened to it at the right time. I would have to sit down and put on some headphones and listen to that album straight through. I'd probably be like, "Oh word, this is tight," but I haven't given it the time. I'm too busy just listening to Bob Dylan and being lazy with music.
This is cool—Tortoise redeemed themselves in my book.
Portishead, "Numb," from Dummy
Cadien: I like this already.
Have you listened to any Portishead before?
Cadien: I've heard a track before. Portishead is cool as hell. I'd love to hear the album—this is really dope.
Clay: What is a Portishead?
Connor: It's like a Tortoisehead.
Cadien: Portishead is rad. They had this surreal, dreamy vibe going on. I feel like someone told me to listen to Portishead 'cause our band was called Twin Peaks—he was like, "You like David Lynch? You should listen to Portishead, they're weird."
How often do people approach you saying, "Oh, you like David Lynch?"
Clay: Mostly just when people interview us they ask us about it. People don't really bring that up too much after shows or anything.
What do they bring up after shows?
Connor: "Me and my cousin are over there, we've got five shots of whiskey, we're hanging out. So come over, no problems."
Jack: People just want to chill.
Cadien: It's awesome, because we're down to chill.
Mayhem, "Funeral Fog," from De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Clay: Cool drumbeat. [Laughter.]
Are you guys black-metal fans?
Clay: I like the stories more than I like the music.
This is Mayhem—the first song off their first album.
Clay: Damn, what a way to start. It's like somebody getting shot.
Cadien: With metal my favorites are early thrash metal, like the first few Metallica albums, some Megadeth albums. I'm super into Rust in Peace from Megadeth. When I was learning how to play guitar, I would just try to learn solos off that. I don't write very metal-y music, but I definitely learned how to play by listening to metal.
Clay: I used to be really into System of a Down. They play the guitar in a really cool way—they always break it down and play something really intricate, almost classical sounding, like [makes guitar noises], and then it fuckin' drops.
Jack: Deafheaven is really dope. They're like the only band that I know right now. I don't really pay attention, though, I guess.
Aaliyah, "Back & Forth," from Age Ain't Nothing but a Number
Cadien: This is the stuff I should have more of on my computer from the 90s that I would super appreciate. I don't listen to enough R&B hip-hop.
What R&B do you listen to?
Cadien: Steely Dan. [Laughter.] I need places to start. I've gotten really bad at having a library of music. I used to have 50,000 songs and know a bunch of all sorts of shit, and now I have 2,000 songs maybe on my iTunes and don't listen to a lot of different new music.
So have you listened to much Aaliyah?
Jack: I was gonna say that—it was gonna be the one that I was gonna go with.
Jack: Typically she has some kind of Dr. Dre-style [makes "wee-oo wee-oo wee-oo" keyboard noises].
Cadien: The P-Funk synth.
Clay: It sounds like arcade sex. Sex in an arcade.
Jack: You can just tell, she's a very unique voice. And I also don't know that many women R&B singers from that time.
The Oblivians, "Sunday You Need Love," from the seven-inch
Clay: I like how the rap was really chill and all the rock 'n' roll is super heavy and dark.
Connor: Who's this?
Jack: I didn't know they were that old.
Cadien: Back when I did have music on my computer, I used to listen to the Oblivians, and they all had their last names as "Oblivian." They did a Ramones thing.
How did you get into the Oblivians?
Cadien: I think somehow from being into the Jay Reatard Memphis scene I'd heard about them. I don't know.
Jack: I think through the Gories, which I heard through Jay Reatard, which I heard through the Black Lips, which I heard through . . . I don't know.
Cadien: The don?
Cadien: That's my dad.
Liz Phair, "Supernova," from Whip-Smart
Cadien: This is super tight. Who is this?
This is Liz Phair.
Jack: Never listened to Liz Phair.
Cadien: Me neither.
Jack: I don't know. I heard a lot about her. I've heard she's actually good, but she's one of those people that you never really . . . I don't know.
Cadien: I've been hearing Liz Phair's name forever. It's probably just 'cause the name sounds like it wouldn't be rad to me, for some reason. I don't know why. It's a stupid bias, I just never checked it out . . . But now, this is dope. This song is catchy.
Jack: She kind of sounds like Wilco. Which is weird.
Jawbreaker, "Boxcar," from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
Cadien: That was super 90s.
Clay: I think the 90s were all—those bands were all about the intro riff, and then those big snare hits and then getting into it.
Cadien: The 90s certainly had that dynamic shift too, where it'd be like supersoft parts, then heavy distortion and the same chords in the chorus coming back—the Nirvana shit. I listened to so much Nirvana growing up. Then I burned out on it; I couldn't listen to the cheesy 90s production, that would have really shitty distortion sounds.
Clay: I like that In Utero stuff when they used a cello . . .
Cadien: In Utero's the dopest. Nevermind's cool and all, but . . . You know what's really dope, they released the Sub Pop mix of Nevermind, from before it was gonna be put out on Geffen. That is fuckin' rad, because all the solos—you'll hear like static and shit before it cuts in, and it's just a little more mid-fi in general.
Are you an Albini fan because of In Utero?
Cadien: I definitely dig his production style. Some people were trying to tell us we should maybe work with him, because he's around the hood, and people thought our sound would lend well to it. With him, it's like plug and play—you have to have everything ready to go, you're not doing many overdubs or postproduction. For me, growing up recording myself and overdubbing everything one at a time and playing with it a bunch afterwards, it seems like a daunting thing to jump into. I feel like I'd be nervous working with him. But he's dope—I love Surfer Rosa too.
Cadien: OK, so that's Jawbreaker?
This is Jawbreaker.
Have you listened to Jawbreaker before?
Clay: But the candy is cool.
Stereolab, "Wow and Flutter," from Mars Audiac Quintet
Clay: This is my stuff right here.
What do you like about it?
Clay: I like that organ or whatever that is. I like how the song started right away—it was immediate.
Cadien: Nice and simple. It's got a nice lady voice. If you had fuckin' Kinks playing it, it'd just be a 60s tune, you know what I'm saying?
Are you fans of Stereolab?
Cadien: No, but I've always really wanted to check them out because of the track she [Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier] did with Atlas Sound. Knowing she did that, that actually makes sense, 'cause I know they're a huge influence on Bradford Cox.
Jack: Yeah, this is a band my dad is really into.
Your dad sounds awesome.
Jack: Yeah. All of his stuff is from the 90s, pretty much. He wasn't a big classic-rock fan as much as he was hip to that shit.
Cadien: My parents just listen to 60s and 70s shit. Like jazzy soul and the Beach Boys. Pop shit.
Clay: My mom is super into John Mayer. And that's it.
Connor: My mom loves Twin Peaks.