By Nick Bynum of Rock Edition
In the ever-evolving musical genre that is garage rock, Twin Berlin is beginning to make a name for themselves. After winning Guitar Center’s “Your Next Record” competition, the Boston natives were invited to record with Blink-182’s Travis Barker at Red Bull Studios in Los Angeles, CA. Shortly thereafter, the quartet released their most recent three-song EP, ‘There Goes My Virtue.’ Sharing similar riffs and vocal stylings to well-known acts like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, Twin Berlin has garnered a reputation for performing “rabid, powerful live shows” and creating “in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll.”
Keep reading below for our interview with vocalist/guitarist Matt Lopez. He describes what it was like to work with Barker in the studio, details the origin of the band’s name, and relates some of the crazy things that have happened to the group in their four-year history together.
When you were recording ‘There Goes My Virtue,’ you got news that you won Guitar Center’s “Your Next Record” competition and you got an invite to record with Blink-182’s Travis Barker. How far along were you into the album before Travis stepped in as a producer?
Before we knew that we were going to record with Travis, we had actually been in the middle of doing a full-length album, so we were almost done with it actually. We were mixing it and everything was recorded. When we found out he was going to record it, we didn’t know which songs he was going to want to do, so we shelved our entire record and picked our favorite three and brought those to LA to record with Travis. Nothing really changed. If I showed people the mixes that we have, the only difference would be quality. He didn’t really change any of our stuff, which was cool.
What was the recording process like with Travis?
He actually focused mostly on the drums, probably because he’s a drummer. He would mostly give James some tips like doing a slightly different drum fill or things like that. As far as guitar and vocals and bass guitar, once the drums were done, we just went in there and recorded our part and that was it.
[laughs] He was pretty tough on James then.
He was there the whole time we were recording, so he was involved. He had ideas here and there that he would throw around, but it was nothing drastic.
Did that experience with Travis change the way you’ll approach future albums?
Not really. When we recorded with Travis, we got to record in a really nice studio, so it was definitely a whole different ball game. We just finished recording a full-length record and we had no budget, so we recorded it ourselves in our friend’s house in Vermont. It was completely low key. A lot of the things we did with Travis in the studio, we weren’t really able to do on our own because we just didn’t have the budget to do something like that.
What inspired you guys to create a high energy, in-your-face sound?
When I was in high school, I played in this other band and I started writing songs. Every time I wrote a song it — I don’t know what was going on — it ended up being a slower song. We used to play shows with this other band in the area and they were just a really fast, energetic rock band. I just remember that every show we played with them I’d be like, “Aw man, that was fun. I wish I could write stuff like that!” That’s the kind of stuff I listen to. I’m super into upbeat punk rock and stuff, and it took me a while to learn how to write songs that would have that same type of energy.
I get an Oasis and The Strokes-ish kind of vibe from listening to your songs. Going along with what you said in the last question about being excited about the high-tempo songs, is that something you consciously went for or did it just kind of happen when you guys got together?
I don’t think it was a conscious thing. I knew that when we started Twin Berlin I had the chance to do what I wanted to do and I wanted to play in a fast, upbeat, fun band. I didn’t want to be up there playing ballads every night. So that was definitely conscious, but I don’t think we set out to play only fast, in-your-face songs. And The Strokes and Oasis comparison: that’s pretty cool. I’m a huge Strokes fan even though I’m not that big into their latest record, and I used to listen to Oasis when I was younger, so that’s cool.
I was looking at your site and I noticed your ‘Ich bin eine Twin Berliner’ t-shirts. Is there any correlation between these shirts and what inspired the band’s name?
No, actually. That came after. I just thought that was funny and we could throw that in there for the shirts. The name was actually inspired by a Lou Reed song. I have this album called ‘American Poet’ and it’s a live Lou Reed album. It’s really good. He did a live version of his song “Berlin” on there and it was pretty much the inspiration.
It’s catchy. I kind of want a shirt now.
We got shirts, man! [laughs]
When Mikey Welsh stepped in to work on your EP’s cover art, did he give you guys something you feel your fans can relate to more than your previous albums’ artwork?
I definitely feel like it compared to previous stuff. We’ve always done our own cover art, but none of us are really artists. I think I saw some skateboard decks that he painted that looked really cool, but I didn’t know who painted them at the time. When I looked it up, I saw it was from Mikey Welsh from Weezer and I was really into a lot of his work, so I just sent him an email and he said he’d be happy to do it. I don’t think that there’s anything too personal in that painting that really relates to me, but it looks cool and all of those colors definitely give off some of the energy you would hear when you put the record on. So hopefully that translates over.
Back in 2009, MTV nominated you guys as Best Breakout Boston band. Since this was early on in your history together, did it give you a real confidence boost to keep doing what you were doing?
Actually, not really. When things like that happen, I’m going to do what I’m going to do either way, whether we see some sort of success or realize that people like us or they don’t. That was actually pretty stressful because I remember when we played the live set we didn’t really get a soundcheck. Something got messed up and we went out there and there were a lot of people. There were around a thousand people, and for us that was a big deal. I remember they couldn’t figure how to turn my microphone on and there was something wrong with the guitar player’s guitar unit. I just remember the guy that was spotting the sound said, “You have 15 seconds to start playing or get off my stage.” I was like, “Holy crap.” Once it was all said and done, it was good, but that was very stressful and it was our first taste of what people in the industry can kind of be like.
I can only imagine it must’ve been a lot of pressure at first.
With those sort of jobs, I would feel like that too. You know what I mean? You’re trying to freakin’ put this entire concert together and run the stage sound for the entire event. That’d be stressful.
Did you guys end up fixing it or did it just fall together at the right time?
It sounded like we were playing through a boombox that had two blown out speakers. We only played three songs, so they fixed it for the last two.
Back in January, you made your national TV debut on NBC’s Deception. How’d you like acting?
It was fun, but it’s not something I seek out to do. It was cool. The thing that was weird was parts of it that they were filming we played live — they used the recording, though, for the show — but there was a talking scene while we were supposedly playing. What they would do is they gave us earpieces so only we could hear ourselves and everyone that was dancing in front of us couldn’t hear what we were playing at all. Then what would happen is they would put us through the speakers, when all of a sudden everything would cut out in the earpieces for when we were supposed to be miming along. The problem was me and our guitar player, Tim, didn’t have working earpieces. So when the music cut out, we had nothing to go by. We were just trying to mime along at the same time as our drummer, James, so we don’t look stupid. It was definitely a cool experience, though. They gave us a free meal, we got to hang out with all of these cool people, and it was definitely cool to be around that kind of environment.
You guys deserve an award for making it through all of these technical crises!
Yeah, we’ve had a lot of technical crises. We played at this one outdoor festival called EarthFest and we opened for all of these ’90s bands like Third Eye Blind and bands like that. We did a soundcheck and when it was time for us to go on, we opened the show and out of the six songs we played, they couldn’t figure out how to turn my microphone on until halfway through the last song. Nobody could hear anything I was saying the entire time. There were about ten thousand people there and we were like, “Oh, this is sweet! If we sound good and people like us, we’ll pretty much sell some CDs.” But, of course, if you can’t hear the singer singing, it’s a whole different perception of the band.
That makes studio production a piece of cake then.
So, earlier this year, you played at the Outlaw Road Show at SXSW in Austin, TX. Was your experience in Austin very different from playing a show in Boston?
It was about the same. Well, I guess the vibe was a little different because we weren’t from anywhere near there, but it was cool. We made friends with a lot of people after the show and it’s not that different from playing anywhere else. It was cool. It was definitely fun to be a part of that.
I was just wondering because I’m from Texas.
Oh, are you?
Yeah, I was just really curious if there was a big difference from playing in the northeast.
The playing wasn’t much different, but the travel was definitely an experience that was really cool. Driving from Connecticut to Texas, you’re definitely going to see cities that are completely different. Austin had a completely different vibe than Boston or New York City or Nashville or anywhere else. In a good way. [laughs]
What’s the craziest thing that someone’s done at one of your shows?
There’s been a lot of crazy stuff that’s happened. When we played in Texas we all stripped down to our boxers halfway through the set. I guess that was kind of weird. Right before we went on that same show, our bass player, Sean, spilled beer all over my pants and it looked like I pissed myself. So we did the whole Billy Madison thing and went in the bathroom and he poured water all over his pants and it looked like he pissed himself too. Then we went up on stage and found out our guitar covered both of our crotches so it was pointless anyway.
That’s some brotherly love right there.
I saw that you guys covered Kings of Leon’s “California Waiting.” Are there any other songs you guys want to cover in the near future?
We do a couple of other ones. We do “Skulls” by The Misfits. I really like that one a lot. I was actually just listening to something earlier this week that I thought would be really cool to cover. “Fix Me” by Black Flag. I always thought that would be a cool song to cover.
I’d love to hear that.
[laughs] I don’t think I can sing like Keith Morris, but hey.
Give it your best shot.
Last question: what’s one thing Twin Berlin fans can look forward to from you guys this year?
We have a new record coming out. There’s no set release date. It’s going to be our first full-length album. We’ve recorded our full-length album probably three different times and for various reasons didn’t release it. So this one we’re going to release no matter what.
Any possible hints as to when it’s coming out?
I don’t know. I mean, we want to do it right, but we also want to get it out as quickly as possible. Personally, I’m just really anxious to get it out. There’s a lot of songs on there I really like and I want to hear the finished product. We’re not on a label or anything so we could release it at any time once we have the final master track. I would definitely like to see it in the summer. I think that’d be perfect.