It’s been five years since I’ve written anything on Richmond music. A lot changes in five years, but there isn’t a soul I know who would argue that the last five haven’t been exceptionally turbulent. Some things remain in place: The Camel, RVA Mag, and my pre-interview jitters. Grateful for them all in some way and not knowing what to expect, I walked to the aforementioned Broad Street venue for a chat with a Richmond shoegaze trio who seems to have flown under the radar, despite their one-of-a-kind sound.
February 4, 2024; Twin Drugs, loners in their sonic lane in Richmond, are about to play their last live show for the foreseeable future, along with Mazarine, Sierra Lambert, and Hearts in Exile. Drummer Alex Wilson will soon step back from the band to begin a career as a power lineman.
“On the way here, when Alex picked me up,” guitarist and vocalist Blake Melton recalled, “I was like ‘whatever you do, please promise that you don’t stop playing drums.’”
On their 2022 debut LP, In Now Less Than Ever, Twin Drugs contribute to the shoegaze cannon with bombastic, mathy grooves, extra-terrestrial vocals, and ethereal guitar tones that cascade like melting walls.
“LP1 turned out really good considering everything was done in-house,” bassist and producer Christian Monroe explains. Recorded in Melton’s parents’ attic, In Now Less Than Ever was produced and mixed entirely by the band.
Inspired by Rhode Island studio Machines with Magnets (known for their work with Lingua Ignota and Liturgy), Melton wanted to occupy as much space in the mix as possible for LP1. “Their drum sound is fucking perfect, and I tried my best to emulate that,” Melton explained. “It sounds like it’s a big room and Alex is hitting a snare with a baseball bat.”
“Ash Candied Cough” opens the record with a piano sample that sounds paper-thin and brittle with age. Ritualistic drums and dripping guitars make way for vocals that sound simultaneously a million miles away yet somewhere inside your own head. Slow and contemplative, yet driving and abrasive, it does a lot with – well, a lot. Twin Drugs’ self-described maximalist sensibilities are immediately noticeable.
Melton tells of a smoky 2016 afternoon a few blocks south of The Camel at Aladdin Express hookah bar where he first pitched the idea to Wilson. “I was hitting the soy sauce vape,” Melton chuckles, “and I had the idea for a maximalist shoegaze noise band… Pretty early on we realized, even on the first EP, we weren’t filling up as much space as we wanted to.”
With rolling eyes and in between lamentations of being “one of those people,” Wilson admits that Boards of Canada serve as his and Melton’s biggest influence when it comes to production and sampling.
“Their ability to create sounds out of found audio… I don’t wanna speak for you Blake, but I feel like that comes into how you made the sounds for the most recent record,” Wilson says.
“Yeah, I think we’re a lot more influenced by electronic music than we are, like, My Bloody Valentine,” Melton agrees.
After some sporadic gigs and a short midwest tour in 2023, the boys end this chapter of Twin Drugs with a sense of pessimism about live performance but a renewed hunger for the studio as progress on LP2 continues. Covid’s effect on touring has jaded their feelings about the industry and they agreed they weren’t feeling sappy about this being their last live performance for now.
“Post-covid, the music scene has become very centralized in terms of who has the money and the power. There’s a lot of stratification,” Wilson explains, doubt in his voice. Monroe adds, “It’s like the middle class of the scene just disappeared.”
The three point out that, in order to recoup losses sustained during lockdown, local venues are relying more on tour packages: tours featuring, as Wilson puts it, one headlining band who brings a handful of smaller acts along while everything is turnkey and ready to go for just about any venue. “Not often is there a local opener… If I’m honest it’s kind of why I’m stepping away for a bit, because I’ve become more of a cynic than I want to be.”
These experiences, however, have only hardened their resolve to return to the studio. As LP2, reportedly 90% written, takes form as a “darker” and “more mathy” evolution of their sound, Melton and Monroe are eager to begin recording.
“I have more fun with the recording process than anything else,” Monroe says. “Being a two piece is a really fun challenge and I’m excited to see what happens in the studio.” Since the band is not feeling any pressure from a label to meet a deadline, Wilson has even left the door open for piecemeal contributions whenever recording begins.
True to their word about lacking any sentimentality for the end of their time as live performers together, they unceremoniously took the stage and opened their set with “We Want Our Heaven.” Melton and Monroe harmonized with both voices and strings heavily altered by the densely crowded pedalboards at their feet. While the two also abided by the genre’s namesake, eyes trained on their pedals for much of the set, concertgoers remained entranced by the performers before them.
I had only met Alex a few hours prior, but there were moments during the set when he looked like he was damming up emotion under the brim of his ball cap. As the set drew on, I think the bittersweet finality of the moment settled in on each of the three guys.
At the end of our conversation, we shared praise for The Camel and their increasingly rare and vital role as a venue where smaller bands can still find a home. After we all exchanged thanks, Alex gestured to all four of us in the booth by the window saying, “I hope this works out for us.” I hope so, too.
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Main photo by Tyler Eggleston