By Carson Mlnarik
Your new favorite song is just a click away, thanks to an endless supply of playlists and recommendations. Perhaps that’s how alt-pop trio Twin XL have already amassed over 3 million streams and an Alternative Top 20 hit and found themselves championed on Spotify’s New Noise and It’s ALT Good! playlists after releasing their debut EP earlier this year.
But the three West Coasters were not intent on being a band “that sits on Spotify playlists and never leaves Los Angeles,” as guitarist John Gomez tells MTV News. To truly make a splash, they knew they’d have to pile in a van, drive around, and meet people, so that’s what they did. “Nothing can really replace the human connection,” lead vocalist Cameron Walker-Wright adds.
Walker-Wright, formerly of synthpop band Nekokat, and brothers John and Stephen Gomez (bass) from The Summer Set, had years of experience performing, writing, and producing for artists like All Time Low, Sabrina Carpenter, and Lindsey Stirling before joining forces. The three may be new to Twin XL, but they’re already music industry veterans.
“I think when you’re younger, there’s a little bit of fear in maybe trying things that are a little outside of your comfort zone,” Stephen says of their growth, and what they’ve learned from past bands. “I feel like we’re not afraid to try different things — I think that comes with age and experience.”
After running around in the same circles, a spontaneous encounter at an L.A. house party inspired the trio to try a day in the studio together. Their decision to name the band Twin XL was as L.A. as ever — a nod to the mattresses John and Stephen slept on in the master bedroom of their first city apartment. Taking inspiration from bands like MGMT and Foster the People, they write songs that double as both jubilant mood boosters and late-night anthems, with infectious beats under dark lyrics about going out, parties, and the drama of adulthood.
One of the first tracks they wrote together, “Good,” inspired them to try it out as a band. “I had driven around and listened to [the] song for almost a year, and I was like, ‘This song isn’t getting old to me,’” John says. “That has to be a good sign, maybe we should do this.”
Clocking in just under three minutes, “Good” is addictively catchy, mixing a throbbing bass riff with carefully placed handclaps, whistles, and party-friendly lyrics begging to be screamed out loud. They wrote the track in just a few hours and knew they were onto something special. However no one in the group anticipated the lead-in to the chorus — a very coolly stated “Nobody gonna kill my vibe” — would be the first lyric fans shouted back to them. “It was totally unexpected and now that happens at every show,” Stephen says.
The track’s music video — a car ride through the desert with a mustachioed burglar — was a way to showcase the trio’s penchant for juxtaposition and quirkiness à la Wes Anderson. Since then, each of their visuals lives within the “strange little world” they’ve created, mashing their sleek sound with retro imagery. “There’s just something really cool about just hearing this sort of borderline emo-y song in a retro setting,” John says. “It just feels like, ‘What time period is this?’”
The trend continues in the music video for their new single “Messy,” which the band worked on with Little Hurt, a.k.a. friend Colin Dieden, formerly of The Mowgli’s. “We all kind of got together and he threw out the idea of the word ‘messy,’ and then we kind of just dove into that,” John says.
The track details what it’s like “being in a cycle of disrepair and anxiety” at the hand of your own mistakes, and the visual, directed by Jade Ehlers, follows Cameron as he tries to get to the bottom of what’s bringing him down to no avail. “You can try to change your environment, you can try to change your clothes, you can try to change who you’re with but ultimately... you know, you can’t escape yourself,” John says.
“Messy” serves as the first taste of their forthcoming debut album, which follows this year’s How to Talk to Strangers. The three wrote and produced the EP entirely on their own, and have been hard at work on the LP in between tour dates with The Maine. They’ll buckle down on production at the end of the year, but have begun debuting new tracks at live shows — a tradition they’ve followed since hitting the road.
“We’ve got to always have a new song in the set, and keep it fresh and give people a reason to come and keep coming to the shows,” John says.
The trio jokes that tour mate John O’Callaghan, lead singer for The Maine, is the inspiration for their latest touring track “Melt.” With lyrics like “You could wreck my apartment / You could ruin my life,” the track is the band’s attempt at the age old “stalker love song.”
“I think the best love songs border somewhere between infatuation and stalker,” John says. “Like ‘Every breath you take / Every move you make.’” John O’Callaghan’s doorman, beware.
Beyond touring, the band’s music has found its way into commercials and trailers like Disney’s Christopher Robin, Hulu’s Light as a Feather, and even MTV’s Ex on the Beach and The Hills: New Beginnings. “I don’t think it will ever get old seeing your music behind television,” John says. “However someone discovers us, I’m cool with, if it’s from Ex on the Beach, or seeing us at a show, or on a playlist or going shopping.”
In fact, they recently met two girls at a show in Tampa who worked at Victoria’s Secret at the mall, and showed up because they had heard “Good” incessantly on the store’s playlist. “They were like, ‘We really didn’t expect it to be very good at all but you guys were amazing,’” John laughs. “I don’t know if that was a compliment or what it was, but it was funny.”
With their debut album on the horizon, the band kicks off 2020 on tour with Fitz and The Tantrums, and plans to drop new tracks sporadically. Judging by the number of jumping fans standing with phones aglow at their recent Webster Hall gig in New York, their “good” success is only going to get bigger.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have their superstitions, though. In Twin XL’s case, it’s making XLs with their arms, holding them together, and chanting before they go onstage. “I think there was like one show we didn’t do it, and it was bad, and we haven’t not done it since,” Cameron admits. “It’s the nerdiest thing ever.”