Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
A triumphant tour-de-force of devoted collaboration, the new Twin Peaks album offers ten extremely juicy reasons to jump onboard their hype train.
Words by Sarah Comey.
Much like the show they’re named after, Twin Peaks are an elusive force of incomparable artistry. Through four punchy and powerful albums of garage-rock that’s equally gristly and groovy, the Chicago natives have cemented themselves as one of the hottest commodities of the 2010s. And with this year’s Lookout Low LP, the fivesome – all of whom except drummer Connor Brodner identify as their frontman – have taken a mammoth leap in furthering their prowess.
Working with producer Ethan Johns, the band endeavoured to record LP4 entirely live, capturing their infamously raw and rowdy ardour in a way that they never before thought was possible. It was the product of months spent slaving away on song ideas in their rehearsal space, each member throwing their voice into what would quickly grow to be a hefty 27 demos. Of those, the ten tracks that made it onto Lookout Low present the sharpest and most searing incarnation of Twin Peaks to date – and as we learned chatting with guitarist Cadien Lake James, the process was as much a rollercoaster for the band as the final product is for us.
Where did the idea to record live come from?
We were trying to figure out how we wanted to do this record – if we wanted to do it ourselves, if we were going to record with a producer – and we thought about so many variables. We’d always talked about doing a couple of parts live, and we wanted to get a recording closer to all of these records we loved, which were records where the band were recording completely live in the studio.
And when we ended up figuring out that we wanted to work with Ethan Johns, it was perfect because he does everything live anyway, and he was really fond of being like, “We’re all going to work together, and we’re going to get it all out in one take.” We could do a little overdubbing if we needed to, but Ethan’s built his whole recording process around tracking a band playing in a room, so we just rolled with that. We were definitely nervous about it, but once we got there, we practised so much that we had the songs nailed down and it was just super fun and intuitive. We were surprised by how good it sounded, honestly! And I feel like we captured ourselves more honestly than we ever had before.
Did you find that that led to a more collaborative ethos between the five of you?
Absolutely. Because a lot of the time, with how the records would be written, someone would have, a demo of a guitar part or something on a drum machine, or a vocal idea or something, and we would work to flesh it out until we were in the studio saying, “Alright, this is the version that’s going on the record.” But doing it this way, we made full-band demos together from the start, and had everything under our thumbs before we decided how we were going to do the record.
So everyone would come up with their parts and we would play them together in the room, and we’d realise how those parts would interact with each other. That was always a big process that would happen on the road every year – figuring out how we would play a song live after working on the studio version – so we were able to kind of cut the middle man out of the equation there. It also gave everyone a lot of room to breathe with their parts, acquaint themselves with every song and get a good understanding of where everyone else was at.
I know you spent more time writing this record than you ever had before. Why did you want to hit it so hard?
I think we were just ready to change something. Y’know, it felt like the right time – we wanted to make a really good record, and be a lot more proud of a record than we have in the past. When we made the earlier records, everything always moved really quick and we were kind of just winging it. And we asked ourselves, “How can we make this better?”
The answer was that, well, it would be beneficial if we really knew the songs, and had a deeper understanding of them before we went into the studio. And a good way to do that was to demo everything and take our time with it all. There was no grand philosophical reason in the end – we just wanted to switch things up and see what would happen if we pushed ourselves a little more.
What guitars were you strumming away at on this record?
For pretty much the whole record, I was using a Fender Performer Stratocaster. I got a Deluxe Strat and a Performer Strat in the last year, and I already had the Performer Strat when I went out to the studio. For the longest time, I was really not into Strats – or popular guitars in general.
I was always playing those weird, off-brand guitars that you see in music shops, but never actually being used. I was using Gretsch Broadkasters and those freaky Silvertone hollowbody guitars. But last year, I finally played a Fender Stratocaster for the first time ever, and I was like, “Oh man... I get it.” It’s so f***ing great! It plays really well, it sounds great, and it’s super easy to get your hands around.
So I used the Strat on almost every song, I used my Silvertone hollowbody on one track, and then I had an Epiphone Cavalier that I used for all of the acoustic parts on the album – an old ’65 model, I think.
What was it that won you over?
I think I was just willing to embrace the rawness of it, and that more brittle tone. There’s something very intuitive and straightforward about the Strat that I’ve never had with my guitars in the past – or that I wasn’t looking for, perhaps.