A Conversation with Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is a throwback band without trying to be. Beginning in the basements of Chicago by a group of high school friends, the band has built a steady following with their mix of garage, punk, blues, power pop, psych and country. Their second album, Wild Onion, was something of a cult hit, switching from one sound to the other in an abrupt way which somehow made the whole experience that much more enticing. It also showed Twin Peaks’ ability to write a killer hook, with songs like “Making Breakfast” and “I Found a New Way” being the kinds of tunes that you just can’t get out of your head. 2016’s Down in Heaven saw the band focus their songwriting: all of their influences were still present, but with a singular sound that Twin Peaks could call their own.

Jack Dolan, bassist and lead vocalist for Twin Peaks, took a moment to speak to Ottawa Life before the band plays Ottawa’s Babylon Nightclub on June 21st.

Ottawa Life: I know that you guys didn’t get your namesake from the David Lynch show of the same name, but has the revival series lent itself in any way to more popularity for the band?

Jack Dolan: I guess so. A lot more mentions on Twitter that aren’t necessarily meant for us [laugh]. I guess I would call myself a moderate fan of the show. I haven’t watched any of the new stuff. But I hear it’s good, which I guess only builds popularity for both? We never really expected the show to come back. But I guess if we can coexist it isn’t really a big deal.

A symbiotic relationship, if you will.

Yeah, totally. Cadien [guitarist and lead vocalist] has been watching the new stuff. Apparently he’s pretty stoked.

Twin Peaks pulls its sound from a lot of different genres, spanning a lot of decades. Is there a certain tradition in rock that you want to attribute your sound to?

We started out as garage in the beginning, and that was something we were trying to push a lot. Now it’s more of a classic rock vibe. A lot of people just refer to it as dad rock, which is cool. Rock that dads can get down to. But our music definitely spills into some other sounds.

I hear a lot of Stones in the new album.

Totally. We started off playing classic rock stuff, and old-school country rock and all that. If you’re going to name a band that we sound like, the Stones are gonna be one of the first.

Down in Heaven seems a lot more focused stylistically than Wild Onion. Has your songwriting approach changed at all between the two albums?

I think with Wild Onion, we just tried to get as many songs on a record as we could at the time. Which was a fun, interesting way to do it. But for Down in Heaven, I think I tried to change the style of music I was writing just so it would sound like the music that everyone else [in the band] was writing, which I had never really done before. We were trying to make it sound like a cohesive record, that you can listen to from start to end, and it sounds like one thing. Which Wild Onion was not. But people really like that record. I still like that record.

You guys formed while you were still in high school. How do you think that finding success with your high school band has shaped your experience in the music industry?

I guess it’s different for us because we got a really early start. We were playing basements in Chicago when we were sixteen. By the time we were eighteen, we had at least a little bit of experience playing live shows. So we were already kind of ready to do our first tour and stuff. Also, Chicago lent us a lot of opportunities. Especially when we were young that was important. We knew a lot of bands that were successful. We tried to take what we saw, and do it as early and as best as we could. At the time, we were one of the only young bands that we knew of who were doing that.

Cadien’s brother was in Smith Westerns as well.

Around that same time we were witness to [their success]. Once you can see what’s possible, it puts it there on their radar. When we were in high school, they were touring the world. Doing what we wanted to do at the time.

Were they able to give you any guidance as you were starting out?

We weren’t necessarily friends, but I guess the guidance was that they led by example. Chemistry-wise, decision-making, you learn from other people’s mistakes and success. But it was never like a mentorship. It was more that we were able to see what they did was possible, and seeing what they did to make it happen.

You just released your first live album, Urbs in Horto. What was the significance of the three shows that these recordings came out of?

Those were probably three of the most exciting shows we’ve ever played. We had just got off a really long tour. Hometown shows are usually really special because you get so much love when you come back. And we don’t usually get to do shows like that, because we are either on tour, or we have previous clauses from festivals that us out of Chicago six months out of the year. When we do play Chicago, we try to make it as big as possible. This was the first time we had done a multiple day stand in Chicago. One of the coolest things to do on tour, let alone in your own city.

What do you think makes for a really good live album?

You gotta have good crowd sound. You want to hear how rowdy it really is. We do a rowdy show, that’s our thing. We get up on stage, and we go crazy, everyone goes crazy. If you can’t hear that on the record, then what’s the point of making a live record? We wanted it to sound good, of course, but we also that gritty feel to it. We want to make it feel like you were there. There a lot of good moments like that on it. I’m pleased.

Rock was recently called “the new jazz” by a New York Times reporter, by which he meant that it’s fallen to the wayside in the current musical landscape. Twin Peaks seems to be a celebration of rock’s history. What do you think it would take to save rock and roll, at a time where it’s not being listened to as widely as it was even, say, ten years ago?

Maintaining the mindset that it means so much to so many people. You don’t go into a record or into a show thinking that, but you can see at it in hindsight, especially at a time when being in a traditional rock band is not necessarily a way to be successful or make money. We meet so many people every single night on the road, where this is kind of what they live for. They live to go to a rock show and mosh or just get lost in the music. It sounds so cliché, but it is true. It is special that this type of music means so much to so many people. And means a lot to all of us too. There’s not much more to it than that. We’re trying to keep rock relevant, but we’re not grasping at straws. It’s still alive; you just have to coax it out of people a bit.