Multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom talks about embracing imperfection and seeking light in dark times in advance of the Chicago rock band's show at the Newport
Lookout Low, the new full-length from Chicago rock five-piece Twin Peaks, opens with a disconcerting thought: “What you have you will lose/The sun will set on you, too.”
Ultimately, though, the line serves more as a statement of fact than an admission of defeat, with the band focused on the importance of pushing onward and finding joy even when times are hard, and even though life is temporary.
“Whether it’s a song about having a good time with a friend because you don’t know the next time you’ll see him because of what is going on in the world, or if it’s just holding on to hope that things will get better and trying to work through the dark spots in life, those are all relevant in this day and age, and with our social climate,” said multi-instrumentalist Colin Croom, who joins his bandmates in concert at Newport Music Hall on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Even in addressing this larger picture, Lookout Low is dominated by smaller moments, with songs often centered on interactions between two people.
The title track addresses the end of a relationship (“Takes too long a time to get to know you/And it takes too short a time to say goodbye”) atop a lovingly warmed groove, while sun-setting ballad “Better Than Stoned” celebrates those who can locate the best in us regardless of the circumstances (“And she would say I was golden/When I was covered in grime”). This overriding sense of intimacy and comfort projected in the words often bleeds into the music itself, the group, which has never sounded so at home in its collective skin, gliding through piano-laced charmers (“Ferry Song,” which offers shades of the Band palling around at Big Pink) and seductive, funk-influenced cuts like “Dance Through It,” which builds around a thick, pliant bassline as hip-shaking as its narrator, who sweats away life’s stresses on the dance floor.
Twin Peaks tracked Lookout Low live in-studio in Wales, England, sequestered away on a sheep farm 90 minutes from Bristol with producer Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Kings of Leon), whose comparatively extravagant setup opened new possibilities in the quintet’s sound.
“When I got up there, there was a baby grand piano waiting for me, and I’d been playing on a Fender Rhodes,” Croom said. “Albeit, they’re both keyboards, but they sound so different, and what you can do with each instrument changes what you can play. When I got out to Wales, I rewrote most of the parts I had prepared because I could just do so much more, essentially. There was a lot of expansion that happened on the songs once we got out there.”
The recording facility, Monnow Valley Studio, was connected to the band’s housing, which also used to serve as the residence for musicians working at nearby Rockfield Studios, where a number of landmark albums have been recorded, including, perhaps most famously, Queen’s A Night at the Opera. Twin Peaks initially considered recording at Rockfield, as well, but had to find alternatives after learning the Cure was already squirreled away working in the studio. “And they take precedence, I suppose,” Croom said, laughing.
Entering into recording sessions, the band was well-rehearsed, which allowed the musicians to focus on the performances, some of which were even captured on the first take. Regardless, even the most intricate tunes feel effortless, as if they’d been committed to muscle memory long before the band members stepped into a room to record them live together.
“There are songs on there that were done on the first take, and [Johns] was like, ‘I don’t care if they’re loose. It’s telling the story appropriately and capturing the essence and vibe of the song.' If you hit a note you wouldn’t consider 'right,' it’s not the end of the world,” Croom said. “In today’s day and age, especially with the recording technology, almost any musician can make a perfect album, no matter how good they actually are at playing. You could put 60 guitar tracks down on a chorus if you want a giant wash of guitars. You can shift the beat of a drum track to make sure it’s completely in sync. You can use pitch control to change your vocal performance. … I think, if anything, imperfections and looseness at certain points in songs just shows that human characteristic, which is how a lot of our favorite records have been made.”