Falling Fixtures and Moral Dilemmas: Twin Peaks’ U.K. Tour
In the basement of Sportsmans, a quaint and unassuming pub in the British city of Bristol, the ceiling shakes and bits of dust sprinkle to the floor like a cedar-y, ominous snowfall. That is, until, for the first time in the venue’s 100-plus-year history, a lighting fixture plummets to the ground. Curious musicians who had been congregating in the space crowd around the fallen appliance, posing for pictures with the rubble.
On the bar’s main floor, a frat house-type room, brightly lit and massively packed, bodies jostle together: young, middle-aged, older, some jollily swigging from pint glasses while standing on tables, others wrestling through the humidity, pining for a glance at the band on the venue’s tiny stage. Guitars pang and drive, keys warble, vocals whoop and wail. It’s an American sound, brimming with youthful exuberance and impossible to pin to one specific genre.
At nearly 40 minutes into their hourlong set, Twin Peaks are forced to cut their performance short. The falling light is deemed a safety hazard. Management is worried the floor would cave in.
“I’m watching Twin Peaks and the floor is really bouncing,” a bystander recalls. He’s outside of the venue now as dozens of rosy-cheeked and sweaty concertgoers make an exodus from the building. “It’s like a trampoline!”
Back inside Sportsmans, the band packs up their gear, incredulous at what just transpired. “We were playing and some guy’s fucking head would fly into my keyboard and knock it off, and I would have to catch it,” keyboardist Colin Croom recalls later. The security team ushers fans out of the bar so they can inspect the stability of the floor.
For a band nearly 4,000 miles away from their hometown of Chicago, the act of shutting down a foreign venue brimming with foreign fans (some of whom had seen the outfit on multiple occasions) goes hand-in-hand with the group’s character.
Over the course of the young act’s career — members range from ages 22 to 25 — they’ve evolved from childhood friends in a high school band to a scrappy garage-rock group that parties just as hard as they play. Comprised of Cadien Lake James (vocals, guitar), Clay Frankel (vocals, guitar), Jack Dolan (vocals, bass), Connor Brodner (drums) and Croom, the five-piece has, over three album cycles, traveled the world over, earning the respect of fans with their tight and impassioned live shows. Operating like a well-oiled machine, the otherwise rambunctious young men sober up behind their instruments and microphones to deliver slippery guitar licks and piercing yelps, frequently trading lead vocal duties between James, Frankel and Dolan.
On their 2013 debut, Sunken, Twin Peaks emerged with fuzzy and jangly DIY rock, frequently performing in basements, earning them the reputation of a party band with the dizzyingly scuzzy and speedy “Stand in the Sand.” But by 2014’s Wild Onion, the then-foursome had since dropped out of college to do the music thing full-time, and expanded their palette to include elements of psych-rock and shoegaze with the dreamy “Strange World” and “Ordinary People.” With this year’s Down in Heaven, nuance and vulnerability triumph as Twin Peaks dabble in country and blues — and introduce new member Croom, whose keys add depth and a classic rock vibe to their repertoire. The Frankel-penned “Stain” exhibits an emotionally tender narrative over a country twang, a departure from the walls of power chords on Sunken. “Stains on my polyester coat, stains on my mind / Stains on airplane lavatory doors / Shaking hands with sycophantic cunts mile after mile / And piling up all the money that never shows,” Frankel drawls.
“It came out of nowhere,” Frankel says of the song. He considers it the best he’s written as of yet. “I surprised myself with that one. It’s a good country song.” He kicks a soccer ball against the facade of Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. It’s not yet Guy Fawkes Night, but fireworks erupt in the adjacent parking lot while he, Brodner and Croom hoof the deflated sphere about.
They’re coming off of a rest day following the rowdy Bristol night, which resulted in James joyously dancing in a local club and Frankel and Dolan crashing on a nearby college student’s living room floor after their hotel gave them the boot for smoking in the room. It’d be apt to peg Twin Peaks as a group of ragtag vagabonds riding on the highs of sociability and each other’s company — after all, from the outside, from the audience, that’s what one sees. They close out a bar in Brighton bellowing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” as a DJ plays a remix; they get lost in Paris, meandering down zigzagging streets until the early morning.
However, the young men are coming of age in an non-traditional environment. There’s the inspiration to be more politically involved in Chicago, and on an even larger scale, the constant consciousness of the implications of being American overseas in 2016.
“It’s a ridiculous thing to feel, but there’s a definite American guilt within me that will forever be there because we’re an example to everyone else and everyone knows who we are,” the seemingly brooding 22-year-old Dolan says. Thoughtful and, at times giddy, the bassist is warmer than his exterior of a chipped front tooth paired with the shroud of a hoodie would imply. He and James attended the same Chicago high school as Chance the Rapper, and there’s a lot of pride that comes in recalling the hip-hop artist’s first mixtape, released when Dolan was still in attendance. There are also many misconceptions that come with being from Chicago.
“When you’re on tour and someone is like, ‘You’re from Chicago — murder capital!’ [it's] like, ‘Yeah, man, I’ve had friends who died,’” Dolan says. “It’s weird as hell.”
Thinking about home is relevatory at this point in the band’s career. When you’re 15 and jamming with your friends, you’d never expect — seven years down the line — to be reflecting on life in a bar in the U.K. And although he's grateful for the adventures and the international platform the band has given him, James still feels an unrequited urge to serve the public in a way he might never get to as long as he is a member of Twin Peaks.
“Whenever I’m home, I try to be a part of any of the protests and activist shit that’s happening,” he says. “But it’s a weird thing to be in the middle ground where we’re not a big enough group like Chance is to make a difference, truly.”
Listening to James speak is to bear witness to an enlightened sense of self. Until the age of five, James and his family — who encouraged open emotional discussions — attended Buddhist temple, where he was introduced to the act of meditation. That skill now allows him to maintain an accepting point of view when it comes to most aspects of life in a touring band, which includes the enhanced physical proximity to the other members of the group. Take his outlook on love, for example. During a bad acid trip at a recent show in Seattle, Brodner regurgitated a bit of life advice from Mister Rogers: “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Whether it’s someone who snores loudly in the van or something larger, this frame of mind has helped James sustain a positive attitude towards the ones dearest to him.
“Real love is when you can be like, ‘That’s part of you that I don’t like, but I fucking love you,’ and that’s very important being in a band,” he says.
Frankel rolls his eyes and pours himself another glass of wine.
It’s the checks and balances in personality that make Twin Peaks a multidimensional act, both musically and characteristically. For all of James’ tenderness — he is the self-proclaimed crier of the band — there’s Croom’s levelheadedness and Brodner’s penchant for scaling the side of hotels when intoxicated. For every wisecrack, there’s an introspective lyric about love: “I wanted you, but you didn’t want me,” Frankel sings on “Wanted You,” a mid-tempo '60s-style cut off Down in Heaven.
“You’ve got to have a good melody,” Frankel says. “The melody’s the form, the parameters.” He’s not one for sentimentality or reflection, but more dependent on deadpan humor as he describes his songwriting process: play guitar, write words, hone words, record. The gears in his head begin to turn when he remembers a trip to Alaska he took with his grandparents in seventh grade. The sole child on a fishing boat, Frankel, toting his guitar, bonded with a middle-aged chef “who was the next youngest guy there.”
“He was like, ‘I know you’re only 12, but all you need is a couple chords and some words,’” he recalls. “[My first song] was something about the boat and the sky. My lyrics sucked until two years ago.”
It’s a resounding notion amongst the band that they are not the prodigal sons. They have command of their instruments and the stage, but they weren’t blessed with freak talent. And that’s okay.
“We convince people through our live show, and then we sell them with our production and writing,” Dolan admits. “I think that’s our whole thing. The live show is the easiest way for everyone to make money, and it also happens to be our favorite thing to do.”
“I think we’re a really great, talented group of kids, and I’m really proud of us, but we’re still a punk band,” James says later. “We’re scrappy kids who can barely play their instruments. We’re good, but it’s part of the charm — 'these kids are your regular folks.' We’re not the genius kid at school doing genius shit.”
The space that’s between brilliance and pugnacity is where the room for growth exists. It’s where creativity thrives and artists mature. It’s where Twin Peaks currently reside.
“I’m 25 and I feel like I should've done a lot more by now,” Croom says. “You tour on a piece that you’ve created, and we haven’t had a lot of time to create this year. That’s what will bother you. People say we’re maturing, but that’s how life works. If we weren’t, there would be something very fucked around us. We’d be very sheltered, thinking that we don’t have to grow up. No one lives in that world, so stop fucking acting like we should.”