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Interview: Mr Twin Sister

The leaderless five-member band shares personal anecdotes and the three-year process of making their freshly dropped eponymous album

by Nara Shin in Culture on 23 September 2014

Albums, Electronic Music, Interviews, Band Tours, Dance Music, Indie Music, Music

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The five members of the band Mr Twin Sister, armed with a name change and their own recently established label (bidding adieu to Domino), are finally letting go of an album three years in the making. And upon listening through the eight tracks in their eponymous LP, which fittingly revolves around the themes of isolation and self-identity, the time invested shows up clearly in the intensively thought-out details. You've never been so seduced by a band making such strong advances. Take "In the House of Yes" for example: that subdued acid house beat, the tender piano flourishes, the processed repetitive whispers of "You're the one" just building you up to a slow orgasmic outburst. In this album, there's less pointing fingers at influences and genres, and more of just taking Mr Twin Sister for who they are.

The artists formerly known as Twin Sister squished into a booth at Baby's All Right, down the street from their $275-a-month Brooklyn practice space ("very very cheap but very very basement-y and moldy"), to talk over chicken sandwiches and $3 frozen vodka grapefruit lemonades after a long day working their relatively normal day jobs. Gabel D'Amico works at Illesteva eyewear, Eric Cardona is a waiter and Bryan Ujueta is a runner, Udbhav Gupta programs and you'll be able to see Andrea Estella in the upcoming film Veronica Mars. While Estella and Ujueta joined us later on, the harmonious group dynamic was clear from the start. There's no single spokesperson (they all share songwriting credits, too) and after six years of playing music together, the five band members are refreshingly uncynical and rather hilarious. From Cardona reminiscing about his and his mother's impressive Beanie Baby collection ("we had a Princess Diana bear") to D'Amico explaining the differences between ABBA, Ace of Base and Aqua, to learning about the legal threats by an older band from the '70s that caused their name change, we couldn't include it all, but below is an insightful snippet from our interview.

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What are the origins of this grouping—where did it all begin?

UG: We know each other from Long Island, from playing in other bands. Now we've known each other for a long time—I've known Gabe for, geez, like 10+ years at this point? We weren't friends in high school or something—it was through playing music. And you see the same faces over and over again when you play music on Long Island.

What are your guys' respective instruments?

UG: I play keyboard.

GD: I play bass live—everything is mixed up in recordings.

EC: Yeah, Recordings, we all have our hands in everything. I play guitar and saxophone and percussion.

UG: He sings too. Andrea sings, Bryan plays drums. On recordings, anyone does anything. Just whoever has the idea makes it on whatever instrument; it's not set. We do a lot of the stuff at my [apartment], I've accumulated a lot of stuff. And Eric has some old guitars that are pretty nice.

EC: I got this weird guitar that I used a lot on this record. It's a copy of a really old Gibson guitar, made by Univox. I bought it and then I went online and researched it after, and realized I paid way too much, it was heartbreaking. I got it at Main Drag; it was a little bit of an impulse buy. But I felt good about it; I still do—it's just one of those things. It's a great, big jazz guitar. That's the one I probably used the most on the album.

GD: Dev has a lot of modular stuff that we run things through. So even when we do regular, organic-sounding instruments, often we'll go home and signal process it through crazy stuff.

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So what was the timeline of the album like?

UG: We started recording before our last one came out and that came out in... 2011.

EC: To make it more confusing, there are songs that we recorded before our last album came out that aren't on this album, and will be out on the next one.

UG: It took us three years to make this one [laughs]. Six months was spent on artwork. There were definitely moments for me, personally, where, I don't know if we're going to finish this record—do we stop existing if we don't make this? If we didn't make this record, we would not be a band, there would nothing holding us together.

GD: We're really good at the music part, meaning we've developed a language—but when it comes to anything else, our disparate tastes really get in the way of decision-making.

Do you guys have a voting system?

UG: Most bands usually have one lead voice, and we've figured out a way to not do that, musically. But when it comes to stuff like artwork, we get stuck in these circles of emails being "I like this!" or "I don't like this!" We don't know who to turn to, and there's no one person being like "You're fucking this up—you're out!"

GD: We're getting better at it though. I think our collaborative processes are getting closer to what an ideal collaborative process should be. A big part of that is letting go and putting trust in other people. I think in the future, we're going to just hand things to each other and say "I trust you. You do this." What happened was, we took three years to make an album and then it came time to figure out the artwork and it felt too precious to everybody to be like "Oh fuck it, let's just let some guy do it," or "You do it!"

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Do you guys ever go to shows or concerts together?

UG: Some of us go out dancing together. And probably less now than we used to. It's just like, going to shows is a whole thing.

I agree, there's a lot of standing up and waiting around involved.

GD: The format of rock show is ultra-flawed. Well, think about it. Compare it to a night of seeing DJs or something like that—there are all these gaps between the performers where the next band is setting up. And usually the sound guy puts on his iPod and listening to whatever he feels like listening to. And then the next band sets up—and sometimes we're that band—where you're hustling to get ready and making scrunky noises on your instruments... It's not an experience; it's not geared towards a night of entertainment. It's a stop-start thing. It's constantly giving you opportunities to walk out and leave and be done with it.

Or get drunk before the next band comes on.

GD: Totally, or just show up for the band you want to see and leave immediately.

UG: When you go on tour and you're a headlining band, you don't necessarily get to pick who's playing with you, [it could be] a local band. And also maybe you're tired from your drive and you don't feel like telling the sound guy, "I want you to play these songs. Could you put this mix CD on?"

GD: There's a weird gray area... Being in a venue is like being in somebody's house. If you're the band who's headlining that night, you feel like you maybe have the right to control the vibe of the night. But that's sometimes met with resistance; it depends where you're playing, usually people are cool with it. There was a funny time when we were playing in Portland and we put on Harold Budd while we were setting up. It was this really mellow, spacious music playing—and it felt really good!

UG: And it was cold out...

GD: And there's always a moment where you do something like that—it's obviously intended, why would we have just done that by mistake? We were trying to offset the environment. And of course the sound guy is like, "Alright, let's pump it up!" and changes it. So it can be hard to go against the grain of what a rock show is...

I hope your concert at Baby's All Right turns into one big dance party.

GD: That's what we're hoping. It's kind of a big celebration for us... it's been a weird, tumultuous journey to get this thing out, so I feel pretty ready to have a good time [laughs].

So what is the composition process like with five people? Using the example of "Out of the Dark."

UG: That one.. it started with a sample that's not on the track anymore. We couldn't clear it; we tried to clear it and have it official, legit, and they wanted 100% of the songwriting credit. They were taking the position that, it's the foundation of the song. I think they didn't really pay attention; they were just like "We'll take this money, we want 100%."

What happened was, we made this demo with the sample and Andrea wrote lyrics and the melody over it. We got to this point where we don't know what to do because there's this huge hole in the song if you take the sample out.

How did you end up filling it in?

UG: It was just us in my room, playing around. We were kind of jamming for a while. The bassline that's there now wasn't in the song.

GD: I think we're pretty good about having similar pictures in our minds when something is done. We generally have a psychic connection with that stuff; when it's done we know it, and when it needs more work we know it, and when it's not even close we know it. I think we've gone as far as you can take it with the five-way democracy thing. We get stuck a lot.

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What was the inspiration behind the chorus lyrics: "I am a woman, but inside I'm a man / And I want to be as gay as I can"?

AE: At the time, I wanted to dress up as this drag character for my friend's variety show. I wanted to be a woman that is a man trying to be a woman. So I wanted to have padded hips, manly makeup and everything. I was playing with that when I was writing those lyrics—and also "Out of the Dark" is a movie I really liked from my childhood. It was like a LA slasher film; a guy in a clown mask going after call girls. It was just very trashy and I watched it as a kid and it really creeped me out. But now that I'm older, it brings me back and I really love it. It's those vibes... and I never got to do the show.

Besides the band, do you have any other creative outlets?

AE: I do a lot. I have many creative outlets [laughs]. I paint, I sculpt, I make jewelry. I mostly just make rings. These are my really teeny rings that I'm taking out on a test run. This one is palo santo, so it smells. Sometimes I make costumes, I do art direction. I directed some stuff this summer—they're going to be online for a children's network that hasn't launched yet, which is right up my alley because I love kid's stuff. In the future, I want to design some toys [laughs].

Bryan, since you joined us last—what are your final thoughts on the new album?

BU: It felt like a long time, because it was. There's a level of like, it's new to so many people, but it's not new to us at all. I'm excited that people like it, but it's hard to be excited about the material—I'm already thinking about the next stuff. It's like a three-year-old record to us. What excites me most is hearing our song being played in a club.

Mr Twin Sister's eponymous album is available in digital ($8) and vinyl ($17) form released by Twin Group and Infinite Best; they'll be celebrating their album release with two shows on 3-4 October 2014 at Baby's All Right in Brooklyn. Mr Twin Sister will also be opening for Julian Casablancas + The Voidz in Philadelphia, DC, Charlottesville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Atlanta during the remainder of October.

Lead image by Nara Shin, black and white image courtesy of Kimi Selfridge, performance image and music video screenshot courtesy of the artists

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Hamburg's Reeperbahn Music Festival

Over 70 venues across the German city unite for a raucous showcase of global talent

by David Graver in Culture on 23 September 2014

Germany, Hamburg, Music Festivals, Reeperbahn, St. Pauli, The Beatles

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The northern European port city of Hamburg, Germany has long been a hub for musicians. While it played host to The Beatles for two important developmental years in the early '60s, that was neither the beginning nor the end of the city's musical impact. To honor the history and the continued spirit of the St. Pauli neighborhood (and its chaotic main drag, the Reeperbahn) once a red light district and now a creative arts corridor, the Reeperbahn Festival was born nine years ago. The musical event features over 400 concerts across multiple venues and has continued to grow from something initially embraced by an industry and now draws over 40,000 attendees. It's wild, wonderful and although it bears some attributes of festival's we've come to know and love, it's truly differentiated itself from the bunch.

One of the festival's major draw-cards is the sheer diversity of unique venues. Two of these venues include Indra and The Kaiserkeller, both of which happen to be where The Beatles maintained longterm residencies for which they performed for more than four hours each night. However, locations like Mojo Club and Prinzenbar reflect the contemporary spirit of the district. The steps of the former emerge only at night, rising from the ground at an angle like massive sewer lids, to reveal a large venue beneath street level. The latter (a dual-level club) features intricate, mesmerizing design work and lighting surrounding a medium-sized corner stage. Both evoke the mystical and are programmed with music to match.

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St. Pauli-Kirche, an actual brick church from 1833, plays host to many ethereal performances. And Molotow (now in its third location) carries the air of NYC's former CBGBs—where the scent of beer wafts across the space and popular bands like The Drums and TV on The Radio have taken the stage. Perhaps most extraordinary of all is Uebel & Gefährlich, a mid-sized club with a sprawling outdoor balcony, but housed within a massive converted concrete World War II bunker. While the club takes up only a top corner, the magnitude of the venue itself, and the fact that every other floor houses a creative company, lends itself to a one-of-a-kind environment.

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The acts within each of these venues range from globally celebrated bands like Boys Noize and current pop-folk sensation Hozier to the smaller Hamburg-based Rhonda, a soulful five-piece just signed in Germany. Emergent acts from around the world also performed, including Canadian soul singer Cold Specks and Echo Park indie rockers Black English. The festival also featured a strong Nordic contingent, including electro-pop artist Jaako Eino Kalevi. Iceland-based, Australian-born composer Ben Frost took to the same stage—only hours later—as new music's Ensemble Resonanz, a group composed of 16 string instrumentalists.

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All genres are represented across all venues, which are in walking distance of the Reeperbahn. And, while the festival is a showcase of the types of talent an under-considered, yet highly active arts city like Hamburg can pull, it's also a demonstration of how music can be experienced. Whether it's a concert on a boat ride through the harbor, a historic venue that's survived for over 50 years, a magnificent church or a grimy dive bar, there's an atmosphere of mass excitement and celebration that lasts for 24 hours a day during the festival, as St. Pauli in Hamburg (much like Berlin) seems to never sleep.

Keep your eyes on the Reeperbahn Festival website for updates on next year's schedule and programming.

Images by David Graver

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Tretorn + Sid Mashburn Nylite Wool

A limited edition sneaker made in collaboration with Atlanta-based menswear retailer

by Graham Hiemstra in Style on 23 September 2014

Fashion, Menswear, Shoes, Style, Collaborations, Footwear, Limited Edition

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If the recent resurgence of the adidas Stan Smith has taught us nothing else, it's that there is more to the casual sneaker world than just a crisp pair of Vans Authentics. Just in time to hammer home that reminder is the newly released Nylite wool tennis shoe from Swedish footwear brand Tretorn. Designed in collaboration with Atlanta-based menswear retailer Sid Mashburn, the limited edition shoes are done with a dark grey wool upper with crisp suede Gullwing logo, drawing inspiration from the brand's much-admired custom suiting. As such, the classic sneakers are surely a welcomed addition to any fall wardrobe—be it his or hers.

The unisex MASHBURN Nylite Wool tennis shoes are available in limited quantities directly from Tretorn for $95. Be sure to act fast, as sizes are already selling out.

Images courtesy of Tretorn

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