It’s a balmy summer afternoon in Chicago, and Twin Peaks’ Cadien James and Clay Frankel are cozied up – where else? – inside a diner. It’s no greasy spoon or RR Diner. Instead of huckleberry pie and midnight-black coffee, they’re at the Heartland Cafe, owned by vocalist Cadien James’ father, which serves up vegan tamales and root beer-braised seitan sammies.
“Beautiful day, beautiful day!” James exclaims. His tone is pleasant over the phone; you can picture him stretching his limbs lazily as he mentions the wholesome cafe’s best dishes.
“The classic is the buffalo burger,” he advises, “but everything’s great.”
Behind him, you can faintly hear the rhythmic clatter of dishes and an extra side of customer chatter. While waiting for fellow bandmates Connor Brodnor and Jack Dolan to join them for lunch, the two guys riff back and forth about their least favorite characters of David Lynch’s cult hit TV show, Twin Peaks, the band’s inevitable namesake.
“I don’t like James, and his girlfriend Donna,” admits James.
“Pete is the coolest dude on that show!” interjects the enthusiastic Frankel.
“I like Leland, too. But it’s interesting– in some ways James and Donna are the most innocent characters on that show,” he muses. “But they suck.”
It’s curious that one character that drew the guys into Lynch’s world would be the most accidentally evil persona of the show – the possessed Leland Palmer — since a certain wry innocence itself has punctuated Twin Peaks’ monumental sonic ascent.
On their self-recorded debut, Sunken, the lads grapple with themes of young love and pained farewells, merging the melancholy (“I’ve been waiting for the longest time”) with lickety-split guitar solos, surf-scuffed riffs, and ripples of reverb. Although steeped in the amp-shattering sensibilities of a garage band, the triumphant Sunken listens like a sunny pop record. It’s lovably fuzzy, worn with the character of beloved jukebox hits.
Live, the boys transcend how your body sways when listening to the record – the songs are faster than on the record, so noise-addled fans will definitely mosh. But it’s equally as likely that you’ll see a girl or two spinning like lucid dreams, not unlike Audrey Horne in the seminal diner scene of Twin Peaks. Except this one will be completely cast away in the astral tides of album closer “Ocean Blue”.
Growing up on a steady diet of punk mainstays, including The Clash and Fugazi, eventually led the band directly into Chicago’s ever-shifting DIY scene. The boys dove right in, tearing down basements and scuzzing up lofts wherever they could. A solid fanbase in tow, they booked a tour, and then everything came to a stop: They had no songs to showcase to fans outside of Chicago.
“The sixth months before we were recording, we were getting our foot in the door, playing to older people and not just friends in high school,” James explains. “We noticed a week before we left [on our West Coast tour] that we didn’t have any recordings or anything to show people when we were going there.”
“A big part of it came from another Chicago band, The Funs, who have a tape label named Manic Static,” Frankel chimes in. “They heard us play a couple of shows, and they wanted to put out a cassette of ours. We were looking for catchy demos. It was good timing.”
Fittingly, James and Frankel describe the Sunken recording experience as “really fast…we banged it out and didn’t even think that much of it.” The pair speak of the album’s widely embraced critical and audience reception in awe, given the ramshackle circumstances of their debut recording.
Themselves barely legal, the band had barely attended one semester of college before dropping out to pursuing their burgeoning musical career. Yet, in their musical education, the boys have been getting straight A’s across the board. Twin Peaks is slated to perform alongside some of their rock n’ roll heroes at this weekend’s Riot Fest, Pixies and The Replacements included.
But today looks promising for Twin Peaks, too.
“We’re playing a show tonight at a friend’s loft,” James explains, musing about the day ahead. “Our friends [The Orwells] played last week, and they’re doing a sort of ‘end of days’ huge show. Should be a lot of fun, and we get to pick the bands that play with us. Their place is getting torn down because of some political bullshit, but we’re going out with a bang bang!”
“It’s cool because we got to handpick the lineup. And we have a banner there now! It’s like a championship banner,” adds Frankel.
What did the band win? Nothing in particular; after all, this is a band that describes itself as “five doods with gnarly ‘tudes, total hunks that play to drunks” on their Facebook page. These are the champions of sweetened punk ditties that swoon as much as they squeal through amplifiers.
Some might balk or roll their eyes at the band’s obvious homage of a name. Pop cultural attachment aside, the name is lofty, evoking the powder coating the top of a mountain, barely visible to the naked eye. Yet Twin Peaks is about as unpretentious as they come. The boys are ecstatic about an upcoming fall tour, and aim to start recording their second album in the winter.
“We’re gonna hit the road, and hit it hard!” exclaims Frankel. “We’ve never played in the southeast. We’ll have a great time.”
Eventually, Brodner and Dolan arrive, joining the pair at the table. When asked about future plans or a potential move somewhere down the line, the four begin to talk over each other about their allegiance to the Windy City.
“We’re a Chicago band, and we’ll always be in a Chicago band,” declares James.
“None of us have plans to move anytime soon,” adds Jack Dolan. “Maybe we’ll move here and there. We love the West Coast. But Chicago rules.”
“Great cotton candy is growing on the trees here! The music scene is great and the cotton candy scene is even better!” Frankel laughs.
For Twin Peaks, at least right now, everything is fairly sweet.