Twin Sister
It’s Oh So Quiet
by Kevin J. Elliott

Initially, the attraction to Long Island’s Twin Sister was found in oblique soft-rock excursions, the band hiding behind layers of colorful warmth in turn insulated by a siren cooing in codes which sounded like a sophisticated take on Björk’s once primordial melodies. Seeing them in their infancy last March at South By Southwest, one could sense they were still in a dynamic phase of conception, feeling their way around sensually textured organic jams. In those early days, the band reveled in improvisation and amorphous soundscapes without many boundaries, tinkering sometimes with electronic beats or pseudo-tropical motifs, but never truly gelling as an entity that had an identity. Seven months later, the crowds are now eating from lead singer Andrea Estella’s hand, while the band—Dev Gupta on keyboards, Eric Cardona on guitar, Gabe D’Amico on bass, and Bryan Ujueta on drums—orbits her moody shifts with nurtured and nuanced aplomb. In that short stint, Twin Sister has toured relentlessly, released two EPs (2008’s Vampires with Dreaming Kids and this year’s Color Your Life), and is quickly rising as indie rock’s hottest free agent. They’ve carved out a niche as progenitors of expansive dream-pop that blends spacey Radiohead-esque arrangements befitting the cocktail lounge on a colonized moon and a grounded, emotional tug-of-war between spritely rhythms and Estella’s dour, yet enchanting, indifference.

While Twin Sister remains mum on the details of their next move, it’s safe to assume that a song like the recent single “Meet the Frownies,” built with multiple parts both sinister and ecstatic, will serve as the blueprint for their anticipated debut in 2011. For now, I had to glean as much as I could from the clues given in their highly evolved stage-show and the conversation I had with drummer Ujueta. In talking with Ujueta, I learned that besides being avid Sade fans, Twin Sister’s sometimes small steps have had a greater impact and that sometimes it’s better to be quiet in order to be heard.

I first saw you at a very early afternoon show at South By Southwest, but was completely blown away by what you were doing on stage. Since that time, how do you think you’ve evolved as a band? Have you drifted in any certain direction?

Bryan Ujueta: When we played South By Southwest, it was the first show of our first tour—we hadn’t really toured yet. Since then, we’ve been on five tours, and playing every night really helps correct mistakes that you find early on. You can start to see a progression when you’re playing every day. At first, it was just getting to know how everyone performed onstage and learning to improvise with each other. Now I think we play as a band.

There are a lot of moments on Color Your Life where it sounds like your songs are formed from improvising, getting in a room and airing out all of your ideas. Meanwhile a song like “Meet the Frownies” sounds very structured. Is there a preference? How do you think the band works best?

BU: It depends on the song. There are a couple new ones that we do live, which we know we’ll have to record, so we put those on a grid. Some ideas are more aboiut supporting Andrea, where we imagine ourselves as her backing band. It’s just sort of nice to find something we can all agree on. We like to try a variety of angles and ways to approach the music.

What really draws me to the music is the dreamy quality of it, like there’s an indifference to it. It’s not exactly lazy or sleepy, but it’s constantly shifting in and out of mood. It’s amorphous and not forceful. I’m curious to know if you are conscious of making music that is so open to interpretation?

BU: I do think we try to make our music evolve and grow, shrink and grow, and move through a lot of different things as it goes along. We all listen to such different music, so pulling parts from each other’s preferences and making something cohesive, yet under the radar, is important. We like music from around the world, from different time periods, so making music we all like from these different preferences is the challenge.

I hear a lot of Fleetwood Mac in your music, and that’s not just a product of having Andrea on vocals. Would you admit to aiming for that soft-rock feel?

BU: We love Fleetwood Mac. I think Tusk is one of our favorite records. The more controlled, soft-rock thing is actually something we like to try and do. We used to call it “wall of small.” There’s more room in the mix if every sound is a little more careful and soft. When the sound isn’t as essential, you can make it louder and louder for more effect. When you listen to a Sade record, you can keep cranking the volume and it just fills the space more and more without being distracting.

As a band in their twenties, do you think the influence of Radiohead is somewhat ubiquitous at this point? And do you think that’s a good thing or bad thing?

BU: Radiohead to me falls into maybe the same category that Stereolab falls in, or artists that don’t really discriminate against any genre. When you apply that to someone’s songwriting style, and then texture the sounds and get everything in there, it works no matter how disparate the influence. Really, it actually is more of a Beatles thing, the sense of feeling free and that anything can happen, instead of putting up walls. To me, Radiohead is fearless. They can make a club song or an acoustic song and no one will blink an eye.

I read that one day you dreamed of scoring a Godard movie, and I also think your music lends itself to scoring films. Is that something you’ve pursued?

BU: I was pretty obsessed with film for awhile. Living in Texas for awhile, all I did was watch movies. I just reconnected with my aunt, who is in her forties and majoring in film. She made her thesis and she needed music, so I took our tracks and remixed things to score her film. That’s definitely something we’d like to do one day, but first I’d like for us to put out a few records before we do anything like that as a band.

So when should we expect an album? Can you describe how it’s different from what we’ve heard so far?

BU: We have four more dates of this tour, then we go to Europe for 12 days. We rented a house in Long Island for when we come back, and we’ll be recording the album from December 1 to April 1. It’s going to have a much larger variety, in part because there’s going to be more tracks, but also because I think we want to be much bolder and commit to decisions much more. We want to pull everything into extremes. If it’s danceable, make it really danceable. If it’s sad, make it really sad. We want to pull everything into a more dramatic pocket of the spectrum.