Twinsmith will release their third album, Stay Cool, on July 14. Full of gossamer pop jams, it’s an intricate, joyous record perfect for soundtracking a day at the lake or the late night house party afterward. It’s a record that feels quintessentially summer, even if the band didn’t plan for it to be like that. In the lead up to the record’s release, I got a chance to ask singer and guitarist Jordan Smith about the band’s streamlined approach to crafting the record, the vintage equipment that inspired them, and tapping another great Omaha artist to produce.
The Reader: More than any other time of year, people associate summer with having a certain sound. It usually involves a catchy bass line, jangly guitars, and synths that are really bright and bubbly. A lot of these elements appear on Stay Cool and I was wondering if, given the release date of the record, it was your intention to make a collection of great summer songs?
Jordan Smith: I wouldn’t say our main intention was to make a collection of great summer songs. But given the nature of our music, it definitely fits the “summer playlist” vibe.
I think, like Alligator Years, this record gives you flecks of a lot of the great artists, particularly from the 80s. Who was influencing you guys when making this record, past or present?
Fleetwood Mac, Prefab Sprouts, Paul Simon, The Boss. Those artists influence [us] just in general.
Going off that, you mentioned using a lot of old drum machines and synths to make this album, was there any piece of gear that you really gravitated toward?
A lot of the distinct drum sounds were coming from a Roland 707 drum machine. We kept a lot of the guitar work pretty minimum. Since we weren’t in the studio we didn’t have access to an unlimited amount of gear so we just limited ourselves to what we had personally which in the end works out best for your live setting.
You said that with this record the band wanted to make something where the listener could hear “the small, distinct sounds that we were working on.” When you boil it down, the songs don’t have a lot of elements but they still sound sonically rich. Was it kind of a self-imposed challenge for you guys to focus on working with only a few components, or were there any limitations you set out for yourself before making this record?
We had limitations from the get-go. First, one being is that we recorded the album in our dining room. We wanted to get out of the studio and just focus on these songs ourselves with little to no distractions. We hadn’t played any of these songs live or tested them out so it was fun to challenge ourselves to make these songs we had in our head a reality. It was a totally different approach from the last record since the last one and it’s always fun to try something new.
Going back to having “distinct sounds,” I think the album does have some really interesting sonic flourishes like the warped percussion section near the end of “Only You” or the vocal effects on “Forever Young,” was this stuff you guys knew you wanted to incorporate from the get-go, or was this something you just stumbled across by fooling around while recording?
[Using] the Rototoms percussion bridge was something we had talked about doing in a song before recording but didn’t know exactly where it would land. While working on “Only You” we tried about three different bridge parts to work in but kept finding ourselves flustered or overthinking the part in general. I think someone just said, “how about we smash some Rotos for about a minute and call it good.” So when it doubt, bring out the Rotos.
“Forever Old” is probably one of my favorites on the album. The vocals were scratch vocals (performed to give the sound engineer a timing reference) I did months before actually tracking the album. We used auto-tune as a stylistic character for the song, which I think fits in really well. I mean, I would say 90% percent of the recording process is a lot of fooling around. You start to go to some pretty crazy places and it’s hard to tell when to stop.
I saw that Graham Ulicny of Reptar produced the record as opposed to Envy Corps who worked on Alligator Years, was it important for you to have someone from the Omaha scene produce for you?
Graham is a close friend of ours and we have always been a big fan of the material he puts out. We brought up the idea of working together just a couple months after Alligator Years was released. We would just send demos back and forth to each other, and get together here and there to piece our ideas together. It was important to be working with someone who had the same idea in mind for these songs and Graham was that person for us.
Lyrically, the record talks about these wistful romances in a way that seems just personal enough. Was it important for you guys to find the sweet spot between being intimate and being accessible?
I always like to hear what people will piece together behind the meaning of my lyrics to a song. It’s open to interpretation. Being accessible is real easy when you are writing pop music. I will say that this record lyrically was some of the most personal content I have written, but I’ll have to leave it at that.
We live in the age where people are getting used to longer, more bloated records as a way to garner more listens in the age of streaming. You guys opted for a record that was only eight tracks which was really refreshing to see. Was it a conscious choice to put out a shorter or just a matter of quality control?
I think we definitely had the mindset of making a shorter record. To me, I would rather see artists put out a collection of music out every 5 to 6 months than this 2-year process of recording a long record. With streaming and just how music works in general, you have a very small window to capture an audience and keep yourself relevant. I like the idea of being able to release a song every 2 months and then move on. Maybe that’s what we will do from now on.
What are the plans for the rest of the year, more touring, more recording?
No plans of any upcoming tours right now, but that can always change. Right now we are enjoying the writing process again and looking forward to doing some collaborations in the future with other artists.