By Simon Weedn
Maybe it’s the hot desert air that gives The Summer Twins their warm, enveloping melodies. Perhaps it’s the expansive, minimally light-polluted night sky that they sleep under, out in Riverside that helps imbue their songs with pleasant, dreamy qualities. Whatever the case may be, the one thing that is certain is that The Summer Twins unique blend of ’60s garage rock and pop combined with modern approaches to aural textures and stripped down songwriting, makes them one of the most interesting bands rocking and rolling around Southern California.
Sisters, Justine and Chelsea Brown, better known as The Summer Twins, have spent their lives in scenic Riverside, where, for the last several years they’ve been busy developing their own distinct take on rock and roll, and re-defining the little known genre of “Dream Pop” on their own terms. While the Summer Twins might not fit the genre label as it was originally coined—to delineate a set of texture-heavy new wave artists in the ’80s—those two words set against each other serve to describe their music perfectly. “Before I had even heard the term,” Chelsea remembers, “somebody came up to us at one of our shows and said ‘Oh that’s cool. You guys are doing that whole dream pop thing.’ I thought it sounded really cool.” She added, “Our songs are poppy and kind of dreamy. They have harmonies, and we even have a lot of songs that are literally inspired by dreams.”
Although the city’s music community could be a bit unpredictable at times, with some bands packing up to try their luck in LA, the Brown sisters agree that staying in Riverside was instrumental to the organic development of their sound. “I think if we moved to LA, we’d be tempted to go in the direction that everyone else is going,” says Justine. Chelsea agreed, adding, “Growing up here, we didn’t have much influence from a scene or anything—it was just more about what we were listening to. It gave us the freedom to come up with whatever.” Learning how to play their instruments by listening to Buzzcocks’ records over and over again, it’s no surprise that Chelsea’s and Justine’s first band The Scandells carried a more power-pop tone to it. Although The Scandells would eventually break up, it would be the seeds that they planted while playing their first shows outside of the Inland Empire that would lead to a relationship with one of their biggest supporters, Fullerton’s Burger Records.
“There’s a certain energy with Burger Records,” explains Chelsea. “They’re a really positive label and they’re down for anything; for them, the sky is the limit.” She adds, “They’re constantly encouraging us and pushing us, as much as they are pushing themselves, as they’ve been growing a lot, too. They’ve created their own fun community.” Burger Records has become an epicenter for creativity and community amongst Southern California’s growing garage rock, garage punk, and psychedelic rock scenes. While The Summer Twins may be one of the least aggressive acts on their label, the band gives a certain feminine balance to a predominantly masculine environment. Their softer, more calming music acts as a great counter weight to the blazing, fuzz-drenched psychedelia of Burger’s heavier bands. The Summer Twins have also helped Burger better reach out to their female community with in-store events like last year’s, Girls Night, which was a ladies only arts and crafts night, planned by Chelsea and Justine. This event took over the record shop for an evening and, while they hoped for a decent turn out, ended up packing the store and became a bigger success than originally expected. “It was an example of having an idea and approaching Burger with it and them saying ‘Oh yeah!’” says Chelsea. “We made a huge mess in their record store: crafts, cupcakes, and food, and they were all for it.” So far, The Summer Twins relationship with the label has lead to Burger putting out The Summer Twins first two professional releases: a self-titled cassette EP in 2011 and 2012’s self-titled full-length debut.
While The Summer Twins music has always been distinct in its style and sound, the Twins’ earlier releases could sometimes seem a little bit busy and unfocused. It wasn’t until entering the studio with producers John Dust and punk legend, Don Bolles that The Summer Twins vision for itself became clear and their song writing tightened up. Under the guidance of Bolles, whose band The Germs was considered one of the primary catalysts for Los Angeles’ late ’70s punk explosion, Chelsea and Justine worked to strip many of their pieces down and simplify their song writing approach. “Don encouraged us to re-work some of our songs and change some stuff which actually turned out for the better,” says Justine. “He made us break everything down and think about what we wanted out of each song, rather than just recording them,” Chelsea agrees. As a result of the hard work, and sometimes difficult analogue recording techniques employed during the sessions, The Summer Twins got a lush album filled with wonderful melodies and a production with the sonic warmth and fuzziness equivalent to the softening effect of Vaseline on a camera lens. The rich textures achieved gave the album a sound similar to the many ’60s girl groups whom the Brown sisters cite as influences, while still having qualities that make the album an obvious product of contemporary times. The record is saturated with a variety of different ideas and styles that will immediately grab the ear. Whether it’s the catchy guitar riffs in tunes like the openers, “Got Somebody to Dream About” and “I Don’t Care,” the sumptuous exotica-esque island sounds of “Stars Aligned,” the dusty, vibey tones of “Pickin’ Daisies,” or the gorgeous vocal duet in “I Could Never Break Your Heart,” each tune on the record has something pleasing to offer. Additionally, the attention to song order on the record, to achieve an ideal album arc gives The Summer Twins’ debut an exceptional flow that, appropriately, begins and ends with dreaming. Chelsea explains, “We tried a few different orders, but I knew I wanted, ‘Got Somebody to Dream About’ first and ‘Worryhead,’ last.” Justine adds, “We also considered the record, too.” Chelsea continues to elaborate, “Which song is the last song you’ll hear on the A-side and when you flip it, what do you want to come on next?” At the end of it, the amount of work The Summer Twins put into its LP is absolutely stunning and rewarded them with an impressive debut release.
With a full length record under their wings and an adventurous spirit in their hearts, The Summer Twins spent the better part of the last year on the road, including visits to South by Southwest in 2012 and 2013, and a tour of Japan at the beginning of this past April. “People always told us, ‘You need go to Japan! You’d do great there!’ and we’ve always been interested in their fashion and culture and so we were really excited,” says Chelsea. While this year’s South by South West proved to be a bit of an avante garde camping trip that had the band sleeping in tents most of the time, The Summer Twins’ trip to Japan has been quite the opposite, with the band being put up in deluxe accommodations while splitting time between playing shows at Carlife Clothing Stores and local house parties.
As the year presses on, The Summer Twins have no intention of slowing down. The band is preparing to release its third EP, and first release since its LP entitled Forget Me. The EP’s release will coincide with the band’s May 26 appearance at Riverside’s Saturation Fest at the Back to the Grind coffee house. While this time around Chelsea and Justine decided to produce these recordings themselves, they continue to apply the lessons about song crafting that they learned from Don Bolles to all of their material. Additionally, their choice to record the album digitally this time gave the girls a bit more control over the band’s sound while also giving the recordings a crisper, contemporary feel. “We still wanted that warmth and that edge, but we wanted it a little bit cleaner, to pop more, and standout,” says Chelsea. However, it should be noted that while their recording approach may have shifted, it absolutely did not come at the expense of the girls’ songs. With tunes like the titular opening rocker “Forget Me,” the re-imagined ’50s ballad “I’m No Good” or the seemingly Buddy Holly inspired closing tune “All I Have to Do is Dream,” Forget Me is a wonderful addition to an already exemplary catalogue of Summer Twins material. The EP shows the band continuing to evolve and refine its playing and songwriting.
Looking toward the future, Justine and Chelsea are just as ambitious as ever. The Summer Twins begin a month long residency at LA’s Bootleg Theater in June. Each Monday, the band plans to have different themes, as well as special zines and giveaways at every show. In addition, the band looks forward to loading each Monday night line up with friends’ bands to ensure an all around good time. More distant plans include recording a proper follow up to the group’s 2012 debut, as well as ideas for more national and international touring. Another idea that seems to hold some water for them is the prospect of a side project. “We’ve talked about doing a side project with a different style of music,” exclaims Chelsea, with Justine adding, “We might want to do some side thing, just for fun, maybe a punk band with our girlfriends.”
The girls also expressed their interest in taking their creative talents and applying them toward another passion of theirs, clothing design. With recent experiences modeling for Carlife, as well as their attention to detail in their own visual aesthetic, the Brown sisters absolutely beam at the idea of starting their own clothing line or design business. Chelsea explains, “We’re really interested in fashion and one day; hopefully, want to start our own clothing line and have that connected with the band. We like that connection between fashion, film, music and art.”
What seems most certain is that with their positive outlook and energy, DIY approach, and can-do attitude, Chelsea and Justine along with their band The Summer Twins have only just begun to leave their mark on the Southern California music community. However, even as the Summer Twins continue to find more success outside their small city, they don’t intend to forget about Riverside says Chelsea, “This is our home. We grew up here, we started out here, and we’ve been playing shows here since the beginning. So, I think we’ll always come back here. It’s always fun to play for friends and family and the crowd here lately has been very appreciative.”
Summer Twins Album Release Concert at Back to the Grind, 3575 University Ave., Riverside, at Saturation Fest; saturationfest.org. Sun, May 26. Admission is free.