Summer Twins – Riverside, CA
The Summer Twins seems too perfect. Perfect to the point of being a manufactured band in the days of Phil Spector’s beloved girl groups. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this was the case. I bring this up because I know this is actually quite the contrary. Two sisters (Chelsea and Justine Brown) lie at the heart of the band, which is filled out by two men (Michael Rey Villavicencio on bass and Marcio Rivera on guitar). Despite an image that is a fairy tale for any music manager, the Summer Twins seems to not care a bit.
The band recently released a self-titled album on Burger Records, which happens to be just down the street from my apartment, and has opened for the Growlers in San Francisco. Their new full-length is indeed one of the most gorgeously rendered LPs of 2012. Its power lies in its simplicity. Initially, you wouldn’t think that a song like “Stars Aligned” would do much to you emotionally, but then it all hits you. The Summer Twins doesn’t need five guitar tracks to knock you out because what they have is an ear for pulling out the most important parts of the melody and focusing on those. The breeziness of these tracks (“I Don’t Care,” “I Could Never Break Your Heart”) allows you to let your guard down just enough to be swept off your feet into a lovestruck haze. If Audrey Hepburn were walking down a city street on her way to tell you she loved you, I imagine she’d be whistling these jams.
BANGSTYLE had the pleasure of getting to coax some answers out of the Summer Twins, discuss what makes them tick, and learn how in the hell they’re able to write songs as gorgeously upbeat as “Pickin’ Daisies.”
BANGSTYLE: How did the band come together? Would you say it was an organic process or something more planned?
Chelsea: We first started playing in our early teenage years. Back then it was more planned; we liked the idea of being in a band so we just decided to start one, and that’s how we learned to play our instruments. Once we started writing songs and playing shows, we realized that we had something sort of special, and it became a big part of our lives. After that first band broke up, we kept on playing because it felt natural to keep going. So Summer Twins formed pretty organically. We had a set of songs, and we got a few of our musician friends to come play with us. Since then, we’ve had lots of friends come and go within the band, but we’ll always keep going.
BANGSTYLE: What’s the creative process for the band?
Chelsea: I (Chelsea) write our songs. It’s sort of a personal thing for me, so I like to be alone when I’m writing. I’ll come up with the basic melodies, lyrics, and structure; then I’ll bring it to the band, and everyone kind of adds their own touch.
BANGSTYLE: What’s been your favorite venue to play? Why?
Chelsea: We love playing at The Independent in San Francisco. We opened up for Matthew Sweet there, and it was the first time we had our own dressing room with our name on it. And snacks! And beer! So we were pretty excited. It was also our favorite time playing on a big stage in front of a big crowd with a really awesome sound system. We played there again this summer with The Growlers, and it was another great experience, so we’d love to come back sometime.
BANGSTYLE: As things have gone on, what’s more fulfilling: writing/recording or playing live?
Chelsea: Playing live has always been the pay-off for us. But we worked really hard in the studio to record our first album (released in January of this year on Burger Records), and that was definitely fulfilling. We worked with two producers (Don Bolles of the Germs and John Dust) who really challenged us by breaking down all our arrangements and getting us to really think about what we wanted out of each song – what the songs needed and what they didn’t. Between that and money and time stresses, it was one of the toughest things we’ve been through; but we came out as a stronger band and stronger musicians, and we have an album that we’re really proud of!
BANGSTYLE: You’re exiled to a desert island but are allowed to take five albums with you. What are they and why?
Chelsea: This is tough! OK 1. The Best of Buffalo Springfield – We have listened to this album over and over and over for years, and we never get sick of it. We just love them.
2. Ok Computer – our favorite Radiohead album. We would need something good for rainy days.
3. Beach House, Devotion – We both love Beach House, but Justine is going through a pretty heavy Beach House phase right now, so she insists that we have to take this one.
4. The Kinks, Face to Face – It’s tough to pick just one Kinks album, but this one has a song that we both love, “Sunny Afternoon.”
5. I feel bad for not picking a Beatles album, but I think it might be fun to have a Beach Boys one since we are stuck on an island. Maybe Smiley Smile to keep things interesting.
BANGSTYLE: What’s your first musical memory? Did you know immediately you wanted to be a musician?
Chelsea: I don’t think we ever thought about being musicians; it just happened.
Our dad is a musician and rock ‘n roll fan, so he always had instruments and good records around. He was in a bluegrass band that we would sing with occasionally, and we took violin and piano lessons when we were young, so we grew up with music. It wasn’t until around middle school that we discovered it in our own way.
As far as musical memories go, we had cool babysitters who were into Weezer, so we remember dancing around and singing along to The Blue Album when we were probably 5 and 6. Haha! We loved that album! We recently found a cassette tape from back then, which we had recorded ourselves singing “My Name is Jonas.”
Also around the same time, we can recollect my dad playing a Beatles record – Sgt. Pepper I think – and we’d both sing along, reading the lyrics off the back of the record, sort of karaoke style.
BANGSTYLE: You’re able to have dinner with any person, dead or living. Who is it and why?
Chelsea: We would have dinner with our Grandpa, Robert Brown. He passed away soon after Justine was born but before I was born, so neither of us ever got to know him. But I hear he was really easy-going, fun, and optimistic. He was a talented artist and an architect.
BANGSTYLE: If you’d be able to choose what people associate your band and its image with, what would that be?
Chelsea: I think people tend to associate our band with images of cats, balloons, and sunny days – a sort of light-hearted carefreeness. Most of the photoshoots and music videos we’ve done do carry this sort of air to them. However, I do wish that more people who really listen to our music or who come see us live would recognize the rock ‘n roll aspect of it. We get sick of being passed off as just “cute” all the time, so I think we may change things up for our next release.
BANGSTYLE: What are some non-musical influences that inform the creative process?
Chelsea: We love old stuff! We like shopping at thrift stores, estate sales, and vintage stores; we collect vintage clothes, typewriters, post cards, photos, and old books. I think the reason we have such an affinity for old things is that they have a past. They’re sort of like artifacts that make us nostalgic for a time that we never knew. This nostalgia definitely seeps into our music and aesthetics.
BANGSTYLE: What’s next for the band? Any new recordings, shows, etc?
Chelsea: We’re about to leave for a Midwest tour with Matthew Sweet! We’re really excited about that. We’re also in the process of recording some new stuff for our next release and conceptualizing some new imagery to go along with it. Justine and I have also been talking about a potential side project, so we’ll see! There will be much more to come!