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On stage and in the studio, Oakland’s Twin Steps brew a stew of weirdness

on October 15, 2013

Twin Steps pride themselves on being impossible to label.

Since Drew Pearson and Jonathan Reddick formed the Oakland band over two years ago, they have been brewing a bizarre stew full of incongruous sounds and styles.  They are equally inspired by samples of old soul songs that their parents love, punk yelping, sunny pop music and dissonant noise bands like New York’s Black Dice and Wolf Eyes.

The band takes its name in part from an expectation that their music will get you dancing. However, unlike most songs designed to get people on their feet, Twin Steps often use playful hooks and exuberant horns to mask awfully bleak sentiments. “We found the prettiest way to tell a dark tale,” guitarist Jonathan Reddick says.

The current lineup of the band, which also includes drummer Nick Cowman and bassist Brian Hobson, released the two-song single Plague Songs in August. The record features lyrics that Pearson calls the “most angst-y of anything I’ve [written].”

Agonizing loneliness and helplessness come up again and again, as on “Century Home” when Pearson moans: “In the end you were my best friend and now I’m never gonna see you again.”

On the standout track “Son of Sam,” Pearson conjures the infamous killer of the same name, who claimed that a demon possessing his neighbor’s dog was telling him to murder people. “I have no control,” he croaks in a voice that manages to simultaneously evoke both James Brown and a wheezing old man on his deathbed.

At their First Friday show earlier this month at the Uptown, the band curated a lineup of local musicians as disparate as their own influences. “I wanted it to be a variety show,” Reddick says. “It’s gonna freak some people out and intrigue some people… and excite some people,” he adds.

The band first reached out to Mark Aubert, who also samples old soul records “from the 40s to the 80s.” Unlike Twin Steps, who mix samples into their material, Aubert’s songs are instrumentals comprised entirely of samples.

The bill also featured the Ugandan pop singer, Uncle Ricky. Even though his songs are often perceived to be jokes – in the video for “Offer True Love” he croons, “I want to marry you,” while behind him women in bikinis dance on a green screen – the band sees no irony in booking him.  As he takes the stage at the Uptown in his ship captain’s hat, Reddick is simply giddy.

Lastly, the band recruited the rock trio k^ren to round out the bill.   Pearson previously participated in a project called Heroin Stadium with k^ren’s drummer while living in Southern California.

It wasn’t until Twin Steps took the stage, however, that the room became packed. The crowd seethed like a zombie horde as Pearson loomed overhead like a demonic puppet-master. He jumped into the fray on a skateboard, climbed onto an amplifier and stuck the microphone in his mouth, screamed his vocals and brought one song to a screeching halt when he thought one of the guitar effects pedals shouldn’t be on.

No one seemed to mind, though.  The sweaty crowd was dancing from the first crash of the cymbals to the last guitar chord. “I don’t ever take anything personally,” drummer Nick Cowman said of Pearson’s erratic and aggressive performance. “It’s just whatever Drew is feeling.”

In a city that lacks a central musical figure or style to emulate, Twin Steps plays the chameleon, jumping on and booking shows with just about any style of musician under the sun. Twin Steps is above all a band that celebrates the mismatched and the discordant. That’s what pulls listeners in, makes them cock their ear and say, “Huh?” It’s what makes them an Oakland band.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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