Rock is not dead. Take it from the Chicago band which plays Holland’s Park Theatre on Friday and which took time out from touring Europe to share thoughts about its latest album, its fans and loathing Trump.
These are odd times for rock and roll. For at least the past decade, rock music has steadily receded as a force in society, with declining sales and a marginalized presence on the radio and in mainstream discourse to show for it.
But while rock purists may pine for the days when dudes with guitars were driving the cultural bus, rock ‘n’ roll continues to flourish in the margins.
Annoyed by a lot of recent rock-is-dead think-piecing — which, to be sure, has happened on and off since at least the late 1960s — the music critic Steven Hyden recently mounted a strong defense of a genre that should need no defending: “There have never been as many rock bands in as many different subgenres making as many good to great records as there are at this very moment.”
It’s true — scroll through any streaming service, and you’ll find excellent new records by Japandroids, Cloud Nothings, Jay Som, The Orwells, Ty Segall, Surfer Blood, the Menzingers and countless others. And if rock is really in trouble, Twin Peaks singer and guitarist Cadien Lake James will hear none of it.
“There’s no denying that rock isn’t top dog globally, but calling it a niche genre is ridiculous,” he told Local Spins recently via email. “I don’t care, I think there’s plenty of awesome stuff coming out, and maybe less money funneled in means more true art. Power to the people.”
He speaks with the authority of an artist whose Chicago band — a quintet of young dudes who formed Twin Peaks while still in high school — has now released three albums and played rollicking club shows and sweaty afternoon festival sets all on either side of the Atlantic. The band plays Holland’s Park Theatre on Friday night as part of the Hope College Concert Series. (Get tickets online tickets.hope.edu. The band also plays Lansing Thursday and Ann Arbor on Saturday.)
James took a few minutes during the band’s recent tour of western Europe, where they supported Cage the Elephant, to correspond with Local Spins about playing abroad in the age of Trump and how the band’s sound evolved on the new album “Down In Heaven,” a well-received collection of woozy rock tunes. A lightly edited version of the exchange follows:
Local Spins: Are there challenges in touring Europe that are unique there vs. here at home? Or things that are better?
Cadien Lake James of TP: I think we just feel more grounded touring the states. Out here we battle with jet lag, language barriers, renting gear, etc. but they are welcome challenges. It’s incredible to be able to travel out here and bring our art to foreign audiences that are altogether different but so similar as humans to the crowds we’re used to in the states.
Local Spins: What is it like to be an American traveling in Europe right now? Are people eager to talk politics and/or hostile because of President Donald Trump?
TP: There can certainly be some blame placed on any American out here, but truly most people seem to understand, presume and respect that we fought hard to avoid what’s happened in America. Most people who bring it up it’s as though it’s a test to make sure we’re not twisted, and once it’s confirmed we aren’t Trump supporters, they’ll share a “f— Trump” that’s more casual than ours given the distance. Most conversations I’ve had about politics here have been with our band/tour manager or Cage (the Elephant).
Local Spins: Since you spent more time making “Down in Heaven” than any of your previous records, how do you think the longer recording process ended up affecting the finished album?
TP: It allowed us to make a more cohesive record as far as song selection, and a little more time to learn and embrace both the songs we wrote and the gear we used. We spent a lot of the extended time enjoying ourselves sans recording though. The biggest difference was the lack of a clock. A carefree approach.
Local Spins: Was it a challenge to balance the spontaneous vibe of your songs with the desire to be a little more meticulous when making an album?
TP: I think it was a perfect combination. We certainly strive to make the best art we can, but we also try to be casual about the approach to keep it pure, honest, and spontaneous as you put it. We didn’t necessarily want to be more meticulous, we just wanted to have more fun and walk away satisfied rather than content.
Local Spins: What were some musical influences for the new record that were new to you? Or are you mostly inspired by older stuff?
TP: Contemporary influences, I’d say the largest was Natural Child, a Nashville band whose songwriting and production we love. The inspirations we talked about most were the Kinks, Rolling Stones, etc., though.
Local Spins: How structured is your process for songwriting? Is it pretty collaborative?
TP: This record had more leeway for people improving their contribution. It runs the gamut. Some songs have a very fleshed out and specific direction at birth, some are an image that becomes full with the help of the band.
Local Spins: You were great when I saw you at the Mo Pop Festival in Detroit over the summer, but it made me wish I was watching you guys in a sweaty bar. Is it harder to connect with an audience on a big festival stage?
TP: I prefer small rooms because I feel more connection to and control of the audience, but there’s nothing like the swagger/confidence you get from a big festival crowd that you can tell is in sync and feeling it.
Local Spins: There’s a mischievous vibe to your stage presence that’s really refreshing, I loved it when Colin (I believe) was doing backup vocals with a lit cigarette while playing keyboard. Not a question here, I just thought that was awesome.
TP: Thanks 🙂
Local Spins: Do you guys do side projects with other musicians? I’m curious about what the differences might be, creatively, between playing with guys you’ve grown up with vs. people you don’t know as well.
TP: We all play in a group at home called Twin Hits (us, Twin Peaks, plus Today’s Hits, which is the brainchild of James Swanberg) that is a lot of fun. It’s our friend James’ songs and we all play with a couple other buds, simple tunes we learn day-of. Colin and Connor both drum simultaneously, I solo the whole time, everyone sings, it rocks. It’s the epitome of carefree. A lot of room to play around. Beyond that, I try to bounce ideas around with other friends whenever I get the chance to expose myself to new ideas and keep things fresh. Recently me and Colin were in the studio with Chicago producer Knox Fortune. Don’t know if he’ll use any of what we worked on but it was a pleasure to bounce ideas and melodies around in a fresh scenario.
VIDEO: Twin Peaks (Live on KEXP)
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