Progress Report: Twin Sister In Heaven
Progress Report: Long Island’s dreamiest pop band release their full-length debut, In Heaven (which is still streaming in full).
Twin Sister are a band that seemed to spring up out of nowhere last year, quickly finding themselves sitting pretty on various “best of” lists on the strength of their Color Your Life EP and the seemingly inescapable “All Around and Away We Go” single that, at least for a month or two, seemed to be playing on a loop in every cool bar and boutique across NYC. After spending the better part of a year on the road, Twin Sister are finally releasing a proper full-length album, the aptly-named In Heaven. (We still have it streaming in full.) According to band member Dev Gupta, the record it not only a healthy musical step forward for the band, but it also represents a period of professional and emotional growth as well. It’s the sound of five people still figuring out the hows, whats and whys of being in a band together. Also, check out the band’s new video for “Kimmi In The Ricefield” after the jump, which is co-directed by Twin Sister drummer Bryan Ujueta and Dan Devine.
STEREOGUM: Hey Dev. Where are you right now? Are you in New York?
DEV: I’m in Louisville, Kentucky. I had a family wedding in Chicago, and then we had some family in Louisville, so we drove down to see them for a day or so.
STEREOGUM: Is it hot as hell there right now?
DEV: No, actually, it’s beautiful outside.
STEREOGUM: It’s actually really nice in New York today for the first in forever. For the purposes of Progress Report, I just wanted to find out what was the story behind the In Heaven. Where did you guys make it and how was the experience for you?
DEV: Last December, starting December 1st, we came back from touring at the end of November of last year, and we rented a house out east on Long Island in this town called Waterville, New York, which is kind of part of the Hamptons. And we rented a house for four months. Houses are cheap in the offseason because nobody’s out there, and so we got a good deal on a pretty large house for all of us to stay at. And we basically spent time there writing, and rehearsing, and then we had to go to this studio in Philadelphia, called Miner Street, and then we’d basically write and rehearse for a couple weeks and then we go to the studio for a couple weeks, and then come back. And kind of play with what we’ve got, do a couple of overdubs at home, work on some parts and try and reconfigure things we didn’t like, and go back to the studio and work some more, and basically we just kept doing that. We were spending more and more time at the studio as the month progressed and by April we kind of had a record.
STEREOGUM: Well did it seem like an arduous process?
DEV: It wasn’t too bad. The EP before this record took a really, really long time to make and that was mostly because the five of us were really spread out and we all had work and school and other obligations. Last winter was the first time that basically it was our job to write and record music every day. So in that respect it was kind of amazingly liberating. But with it also came the stress of, “Oh wow, this will be our first full length record,” and that has all sorts of expectations and weight attached to it. So that was kind of a stretch from what we’re used to, which was just not having enough time to get together and do things that we’d like to. We had plenty of time together but it was just like “Oh right, we signed a record deal so I guess we’re a real band now. We’re gonna make real music.” So that was a … different thing.
STEREOGUM: I always think that stage is the most interesting time for bands. When you’re sort of in the in-between like “Oh we’re really gonna sign a record deal, like this is not just our hobby thing we’re doing together but the real deal … this is now our job.”
DEV: Yeah, I think it kills some bands sometimes.
STEREOGUM: At what point did you all have a sense that things with the band were really taking off?
DEV: I think it was at the beginning of last year. We got a ton of really positive press for our two EPs and off of that we basically got a booking agent and got to tour for a really long time. And I think that was the first inkling like, “Wow this could really be something kind of legitimate.” I mean, we’d always kind of had the ambition … all of us, for many years, whether it was with this band or another band. All of us had passed on a lot of other opportunities in life to make music. We’ve kind of given up on a bunch
of stuff and closed a lot of doors in order to do music. It’s pretty serious for all of us. But we never expected it to actually pan out. Last year, maybe like a quarter or a third of the way through the year, we were like, “This might be something where we can make a living off of it,” which is that we always dreamed of, but always seemed very much a remote possibility.
STEREOGUM: It’s a scary leap to make. Does everybody live in the same place now?
DEV: A couple of us live in Brooklyn, and the rest of us live on Long Island. Basically we tour and do band-related stuff to such an extent that it’s hard for us to hold down full time jobs. But we don’t make enough money off of the band to be able to really afford rent. Especially New York rent. There are a few of us living on Long Island living at their parents’ houses who are nice enough to put us up and deal with our crap while we figure this out. I’m lucky because I work actually as a web developer when we’re not touring and it’s fairly easy for me to get freelance work, so I can actually work a little bit when we’re not on the road or recording. So I can actually afford to have an apartment. But not everybody has that kind of job skill. Eric for example, as soon as he got out of high school was like, “I’m gonna do music really seriously. So I’m gonna not go to college.” So for him it’s really hard. He worked at Edible Arrangements for a year and it’s hard to get an entry-level job in the service industry when you’re not around for months at a time. We’re kind of in a bind. Either this band has to fail miserably or succeed a little more.
STEREOGUM: I’m familiar with that position. In terms of recording this record, did you guys all sort of have a sense of how you wanted it to be and what kinds of sounds you wanted it to have? Things you wanted to do differently than before?
DEV: I think it was really on a song-by-song basis. When we started in December we had this white board.
We had this pretty long backlog of material and we started with a list of like 20-30 songs. The initial plan was to make two records and that didn’t pan out. But we started with all these songs. It was always things we always wanted to try within one song, and it kind of comes off in the record. I don’t think the record is really a cohesive concept album kind of thing. It kind of, to me, sounds like 10 singles. Each kind of inhabits their own world and does their own thing. I mean, we’ve always been like that. We’re always kind of eager to try out new things, and for us it was just like, “With this song, we’re gonna try this,” and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. The ones that worked ended up on the record. With the next one, we would like to try and have something that’s a little more singular in its approach, but that’s tough with five people that all write songs and have pretty strong opinions on what they want the songs to sound like. So I think it’ll be tough to pull off … but we’ll try.
STEREOGUM: When you all have the time and the space and are making a record together, a full-length record, and you are dealing with a dynamic of five people with varying tastes and ideas and songs, how do you guys navigate that? Is it difficult?
DEV: It’s tough. When we first started, all five of us were kind of doing our own thing and the band kind of started as having a backing band for each person’s songs. So Gabe, our bassist, would have two or three songs and the rest of us would kind of basically try and play the way that we thought he would want us to, to make the song as good as possible. And then I would have a couple songs or Eric might or Andrea. And then more time, we kind of became this like rule-by-committee thing, which is tough, and I think in some ways the record suffers a little bit from too much of that. We’re all super nice, non-assertive people. Nobody really seizes the reins and seizes control and is like, “No, this is not the way it’s gonna go. The song needs to be this way!” Because of that, I think sometimes we end up stuck in the middle between five different opinions. That’s something we talked about as we approached the end of this record. We all just talked about how it would be better in the future to try and push one person’s vision. Even something like artwork; artwork was a really tough thing to figure out for this record. At the end of it, a couple of us just kind of bowed out. “You know what? We’re probably just weakening the end result by inserting our opinions all the time. It keeps watering it down.” There are definitely positives from that. It helps add variety and makes it pretty approachable, but it also tapers the ambitious parts of the song. Somebody will be like, “Oh I think it’s a little too crazy. We should back off a little bit.” And you will, because you want to keep everybody happy. We’re just slowly figuring out how it works to have five creative people who want to do something creative together. Even in the business affairs of the band. Approving photos for press has been a nightmare for us. It’s crazy because two of us will like three photos and the other three of us will like three completely different photos, and we’re left with nothing. Then we have our label being like, “Well, we can’t get any press if there’s no photographs. You just have to approve something.”
STEREOGUM: Often those issues of like how far to push this song or those kinds of things get settled by working with a producer. Did you guys work with a specific producer for the record?
DEV: You know, I think, looking back on what actually happened, the two guys we recorded with, Brian McTear and Jonathan Low, who work at Miner Street, probably should’ve gotten a producer credit. They asked us initially and we said no because we were kind of terrified. Just the fact of recording in a studio environment was something we’d never done. We kind of wanted to basically put our toes in the water and do it little by little. So we backed off from having a producer on the record, but in practice, it actually was the five of us getting a little carried away and then Brian or Jonathan either pulling us back or pushing us forward. They were really helpful. It’s just always really nice to have an outside opinion you trust and respect in the room. At the end of the day, I would have no problem saying that they helped us co-produce the record. But as it stands, nobody’s credited as a producer except for us. I think it was this thing of the unknown. We were just a little scared of what we didn’t know and what was gonna happen, so we kind of wanted to maintain a little bit more control than I think was probably necessary.
STEREOGUM: Those are the sort of things you figure out the longer you do it, I guess. I’m assuming the rest of the latter part of this year you guys will probably begin touring for what will be a pretty long time?
DEV: Yeah. In like a week and a half, we start a tour with Explosions In The Sky. We’re actually going to drive to Tucson, Arizona, which is like a 40-hour drive, which is gonna be kind of intense. So we do a tour with them, and then we come home like a week before our record comes out. We’re doing a couple shows in New York, a couple press things, and then we go out again with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart for like another three weeks. And then we come home for a little while, go to Europe for another three weeks, and that takes us to about Thanksgiving. December and January I think we’re gonna be off, and probably use that to write and record some stuff. End of January we’re gonna do our first headlining tour of the US promoting the record. I guess we’ll see what happens there. I think a lot of it depends on the perception of the record. If it does well, we can probably tour for a while. If it does OK, then we’ll probably do one or two tours and then pack it in and make another record. But we’ll see what happens.
STEREOGUM: Press-wise, you guys have had an interesting run. There are a few bands in the past year or so that were considered kind of sleeper success stories, and you guys are definitely one of them. Do you feel like a part of this community of NYC bands that you are often lumped together with?
DEV: There are definitely bands that we played with a fair amount and that we love. Toured with Bear in Heaven last year. They were amazing to tour with, and great people, and we became really close friends. There are other smaller bands that we are really close to and feel a sense of community and a strong relationship with, but I think in terms of that press stuff, it’s kind of weird because a lot of those bands we don’t know at all and we’ve never played with before, and we’ll run into for 10 minutes and it feels slightly artificial. When you tour with another band, you’ve spent every day with them going through the same towns and the same experiences bring you together. But when it’s, “Oh we got compared to these guys, and we got written up in the same blog as this other band, it’s kind of … I don’t know, I feel a little strange about it, like “Oh I guess we should be friends now. “ But in general, musically, more than anything, it’s just the fact that small bands can make something and put it out themselves and get a fair amount of attention and become self-sustaining bands, that definitely is … you feel some sort of kinship with bands like that. We toured with Cults for a while last year and I think they, even more so than us, were two friends who got a crazy amount of attention and turned into a full-time band. That wasn’t ever their plan. They recorded some songs and put them online and kind of blew up. I think something slightly similar, on a smaller scale, happened with us, and when we met them, you do kind of bond over that kind of thing. This is crazy, you know. Our heads are spinning from that.
STEREOGUM: When that was happening, and the EP really started to take off and gain a lot of traction and you’re playing bigger shows, were you guys taken aback by how things went? Or how quickly they started to go when they did take off?
DEV: Well yeah. I think once they did get moving, it was a little crazy. But all of us always wanted to take a step back from that stuff because in our experience, that stuff disappears as quickly as it appears. It was never something about capitalizing on all attention, it was like, “Ok, well … this is great and nice but we need to be a good band live so that we can make people like us for longer than a few weeks. We were lucky in that regard because … I’m gonna bring up Cults again. They got all this attention and they got this great booking agent and all this stuff and they had never played a show. So they were kind of thrust into the spotlight and I think it was kind of tough on them. They had to get their shit together while everyone was watching. We had the luxury of playing for a couple of years with nobody coming to our shows. To become a band you have to become a lot of people who play together and seem like a unit, like a singular entity. So we were really lucky I think in that respect that we got that time to figure things out. I remember we played a show with Cults and Dom at some college. I think it was Cults’ second show and it was Dom’s fifth or sixth show ever. For us it was like, you know, we’ve played a couple hundred shows. I think that we had it easier than them because of that. We were really lucky because we got to play to like five, ten people, to nobody in Brooklyn for a year or two just so we could figure our own shit out while nobody was watching. That really, really helped. I can’t stress that enough, how helpful that is in making your band a band that can have a little more than five minutes.