Stay Cool out July 14, 2017 via Saddle Creek
No matter the craft—writing, painting, designing buildings, indie rocking—the route remains the same: with age comes experience, and with experience comes simplification. As artists hone their skill, the excess gives way to directness and a measured but no less structured form of expression. For Omaha’s Twinsmith, the occasion to make a third full-length album came with an opportunity to strip their process down to its essential parts, and to re-focus the band’s perspective in order to fully embrace their sound.
Longtime friends Jordan Smith and Matt Regner had written a pair of records as Twinsmith, starting with 2013’s self-titled debut and then 2015’s Alligator Years. While the lineup would grow to include bassist Bill Sharp and other hired guns to round out the stage, the songwriting core learned to vary their approach while relying on each other to push the plot forward. Starting as DIY tinkerers in a basement, Smith and Regner would evolve their sound from hazy surf rock to a fuller, more dynamic guitar-and-keys pop appeal, making good use of the perks like recording studios and engineers that often come with progress. But as it came time to begin again for a new album, they found themselves looking back to the beginning.
“When we first started the band, Matt and I used an 8-track recorder and made all our demos in the basement of my parents’ house,” Smith says. “The process of getting more serious as a band usually involves going into studios for longer periods, getting more producers involved, and spending more money on equipment. We’d done that on the past two albums, but for this new one we drew back a lot. We recorded it like when we first started—in the dining room at our house, with old synths and ’80s drum machines. We wanted to drop back and do what was comfortable for us, taking that kind of control.”
They invited their friend and Omaha neighbor Graham Ulicny (Reptar, The Faint) to produce alone, and this limitation on personnel would remain the only thing strict during the process. By removing distractions and relying on their own prowess, as well as stripping back the sound to create shorter, more direct songs, Twinsmith found that this laid back approach allowed them to focus on the same goals and to create something entirely for themselves.
“The main goal was to make something a bit more personal to us,” Smith says. “The last album was kind of in-your-face pop music and that’s why we made this so short and sweet; we wanted listeners to hear the small, distinct sounds we were working on. Because there were only a few people involved, we could make our decisions more directly. We wanted to make something we could use to relate to a bigger mass and bring people back.”
Without a drummer involved, the band’s demos were largely based around beats made on Logic. There were no official band rehearsals, so Regner and Smith would exchange ideas digitally and build up from there. Ulicny injected his own collaborative personality into the process as well. “Graham put his touch on all the songs and together our ideas were coming here and there,” Smith says. “If we wrote an album as a band we’d still be writing right now, it can be so taxing. But with this approach it was just us coming up with ideas and then building off of that. Slimming it down definitely helped the process. We learned pretty quickly where the album’s sound was going, especially by adding old-time drum machines; we did everything direct-in, with limited guitar amps. I think that’s what gives the album its character.”
As Stay Cool’s leadoff track “Hug Me” opens with its measured, synthesized strains and steady, elemental pound, the album’s tone is set. Smith’s modulated “oh-uh-oh” vocal refrain and gentle, falsetto verses add to the stripped back, intimate feel. The next song, “You & I,” takes that formula up a notch, adding a bit more sunshine to the vibe and a chiming, climbing chorus. Elsewhere, “Boji” stands as a smooth, confident love song, with sure-footed chord changes and Smith’s sweet, assured chorus of “Honey, I’m with you now/ All the way through.” And as the record ends with the fuzzy, light vocal distortion and bright, stargazing keyboards of the slow-burning final track, “Forever Old,” it’s clear that the band have achieved all that they set out to and more.
Stripping the words, the music, and the players down to their raw parts, Twinsmith have created a work of confident determination. Melodies soar and rhythms sway, the beats pulse with a laid back but urgent immediacy, and the simplicity of it all stitches the songs together in its mysterious way. From the simple three-color design of the cover to the process that created the sounds underneath, Stay Cool rewards with its ability to connect.
“More than anything, I’d like people to be able to access our music and make their own minds up about it,” Smith says. “That’s all I really want them to get. I think our goal is just to connect on that same level that we’ve put into the work.”