The Lifespan of an Alligator

By
Photography Christopher Hench

Published May 13, 2015

TWINSMITH IN LOS ANGELES, MARCH 2015. PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER HENCH. STYLING: RITA ZEBDI/JED ROOT. GROOMING: CHRISTINA GUERRA/CELESTINE AGENCY. SPECIAL THANKS: SUPER DAYLIGHT STUDIO.

Although Twinsmith released its self-titled debut in 2013, it wasn’t until the completion of Alligator Years that the four-piece felt like a legitimate band. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Jordan Smith (vocals, guitar), Oliver Morgan (drums), and Matt Regner (guitar, synths) wrote and recorded Twinsmith largely without bassist Bill Sharp, who had been working “a more-than-full-time job.” This time around, however, Sharp was just as involved as his bandmates, and producer Luke Pettipoole pushed all four members outside of their comfort zones: Regner uses more synths; Smith sings in a higher pitch; Morgan plays a click track; and Sharp recorded stronger bass lines. Shifting away from the surfy haze of their debut, the new release gives way to a more varied aesthetic, including pop anthems as well as melodic rock and hints of new wave.

“My favorite song on the album—the one that captured the whole dynamic—is ‘Shut Me Out,'” Sharp says. “That song has its really pop-y parts and some pretty heavy rock parts, so it encapsulates the whole album in a way.”

Just before the release of the album last week, we spoke with Sharp about the band’s roots and growth.

NAMES: Jordan Smith, Matt Regner, Bill Sharp, and Oliver Morgan

BASED: Omaha, Nebraska

STARTING POINT: Me, Matt, and Jordan used to be in a band called Betsy Wells. It was more of a folk-rock kind of deal—almost My Morning Jacket, but a little wussier. I think the drums are what really changed the sound. Jordan wanted to write more pop-y songs with drumbeats that were a little more upbeat, a little more fun to play, so it all started with the rhythm section. Also, the amount of time we’ve been able to spend together [between the two albums]—touring, living with Matt and Jordan, and working the same [day] jobs—really solidified us as a band and made us sound the way we do.

SLUMBER PARTY: We’ve been playing some of these songs for over a year. I think what really solidified the album was the whole recording process, because we were all sleeping at the studio, this place called The Sonic Factory in Des Moines. We assumed there was going to be a bunkroom at this place but there wasn’t, so we were sleeping on the floors. Matt was sleeping in one of the editing rooms and I was sleeping between rows of amplifiers. It was like summer camp, only a little bit worse.

GROWING UP: My brother gave me a copy of The Blue Album by Weezer when I was in first grade, so that was my introduction to rock-‘n’-roll. My mom is a big Billy Joel fan and my dad is a big fan of The Beatles, so I’ve always listened to music, but I never really wanted to play music until I was a freshman in high school. I was at my grandma’s house and I found my dad’s old guitar and I asked him about it. He was like, “I used to try to play it, but my dad yelled at me one night about being too loud, so I never picked it up again.” [laughs] He had never told me that he played music, but he was really good at harmonica and guitar. It’s tough to talk about—my dad passed away when I was a senior in high school. I don’t like talking about it too much, but I definitely value all the time I got to spend with him.

THE WRITING PROCESS: It’s really collaborative. We all come up with basic structures for songs. Sometimes it’s Jordan or Matt who will come in with chords and then we’ll go from there, or we’ll just be practicing, change the song a little bit, and that will turn into a whole different thing. Lyrics are always the last thing because Jordan is the only songwriter as far as lyrics go.

ALLIGATOR YEARS: Truthfully, I made up that whole lifespan of an alligator answer. [laughs] The first time we got that question [about the title of the album], I was like, “Jordan do you mind if I mess around with this guy?” And he’s like, “Do whatever you want.” Really, the name was a spur of the moment thing. We were hanging out and knew we had to have a name for the album, so we were spitballing ideas. I think either Jordan or Matt was trying to think of “crocodile tears” and they couldn’t figure it out—like, “is it alligator something?” Then “alligator years” popped out of one of their mouths and we were like, “You know what? That’d be alright.”

COMEDIC GESTURES: In the band, comedy is definitely a factor. Obviously we take ourselves seriously, we work really hard and we want the band to be a success, but overall we don’t take a lot of things too seriously. You’re not going to find any super political songs on our album.

ON PHOTOGRAPHY: I got a degree in photography so I was really into that for a while, but then photography became so easy for everybody that it’s not really fun to do anymore. I feel like image and what you see is really important when it comes to music. We definitely try to create a vibe or image with our songs.

ALLIGATOR YEARS IS OUT NOW VIA SADDLE CREEK. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.