I first met Chelsea and Justine Brown, aka Summer Twins, when Chelsea and my son were in kindergarden together at Bryant Elementary School in Riverside. Of course the girls didn't go by Summer Twins back then, but being just a year and a half apart, they could easily be mistaken for twins, and they definitely had a glow about them, an aura of creativity and curiosity and fun. Seventeen years later, they still do.
When I listen to Summer Twins' dreamy, indie, 50s/60s-inspired pop, I can feel the influences of their childhood coalescing into bright, swirly bubbles of sound. It was always a treat to have playdates in their 1920s Spanish-style house, filled with music and vintage kitsch. Their dad, Dave, is a musician; at the time, he was with the bluegrass band, The Blade Runners, and sometimes the girls would join him on stage for a song. Dave and his wife Dee owned The Denim Shop, which sold vintage Levis in downtown Riverside; they later opened Dee-Lux, a buy/sell/trade new and vintage boutique by the Tyler Galleria.
"The whole vintage, nostalgia thing translates into the band," says Chelsea. "We love old stuff. That yearning for a different time, even a time you never knew."
The Riverside store closed a few years later, but Dee-Lux in Costa Mesa is thriving; Chelsea and Justine work there with their parents. "It's awesome to work with family," they tell me. "We get to do what we love, and our parents are great about giving us time off to tour."
Summer Twins recently played two national tours, practically back to back. First, they opened for Peter Case and Paul Collins, who had reunited as The Nerves. When drama ensued and Collins left the tour halfway through its six week run, Case decided to continue on, focusing on his Plimsouls music -- mainly to give the girls, who had never been past Texas before, the chance to see and play the rest of the country. Shortly after they returned, they were asked to open for Matthew Sweet. At The Independent in San Francisco, they played for their largest audience ever; it was the first time they had their own dressing room, with their band's name on the door.
"It was definitely a moment of 'Wow'," says Chelsea, eyes opening wide at the memory. Justine grins and nods. They'll be returning to The Independent on June 30, opening for The Growlers.
The girls are adorable -- they've always had their own quirky yet sophisticated sense of style, mixing and matching vintage and contemporary clothing with their own designs -- but make no mistake: they can rock. Chelsea can shred on guitar, and Justine, a willowy wisp, can wail on the drums. Their music, supplemented by guitar from Marcio Rivera and bass from Michael Rey, runs the gamut from soft and ethereal to saturated wall of sound. The girls have roots in punk; in middle school, they formed a band with their friend Mia (my son's first girlfriend) -- the name of which they made me promise not to disclose--and that band morphed into The Scandelles, a punk pop girl trio inspired by bands like The Donnas, Sahara Hot Nights, and the Ramones. The Scandelles started playing shows around Southern California, giving the girls their first taste of what it means to be a working band. Summer Twins are currently represented by Burger Records, a label started by members of Thee Makeout Party, who often shared the bill with The Scandelles. They are also represented by IRMA Records in Japan, and, to their immense delight, already have a Japanese girl group covering their music. IRMA frequently collaborates with the fashion line Car-Life, and the girls, who have long been drawn to Japanese fashion, were thrilled to receive a big box of clothes in the mail. They were asked to do a photo shoot mixing the Car-Life clothes with their own wardrobe, and had a blast with their band photographer, Joy Newell, who they consider a trusted collaborator. "We come up with all our ideas together," Chelsea says. "She helped us build our image."
That image is playful, romantic, slightly surreal. Whether they are crafting five foot boats out of paper for their Japanese album cover, or dragging Justine's bed into the middle of a field for a video shoot, the girls approach life and art through their own summery lens. They held their album release party at Roller City 2001, setting up a stage at one end of the rink (and they tell me the fact that they're wearing roller skates on their album cover is only a coincidence; they had been wanting to play the Riverside rink for years.) Both girls love collaborating with local artists and musicians on their music and videos and shows, surrounding themselves with people who can think outside the box together.
One musical collaboration led to a larger collaboration in life; the girls heard about the band Naive Thieves through their photographer Joy, and immediately appreciated the group's sense of style and music, which also takes its inspiration from the 50s and 60s. Lead singer Cameron Thorne suggested the two bands collaborate on some Christmas songs, and later they did a short West Coast tour together, the first for both groups. When they returned, Justine started dating bassist Levi Audette, and a month later, Chelsea started dating Cameron. Now together for over a year, the foursome are considering starting their own group as a side project.
The girls give a lot of credit to Riverside for their creative development. "There's not much going on here," they say. "We had to find our own thing to do." I've loved watching them find their own thing over the years, and am eager to see where the Summer Twins will go from here. They have many dreams--international tours, collaborations with film makers, their own jewelry and clothing lines--and I have no doubt they will see them through to their own dreamy reality.
In Summer Twins' video for "Crying in My Sleep", Chelsea and Justine wander through a field, gathering balloons, sewing their own wings, and this is how I see them and their work--reaching back into the magic of their childhood (and a time even before they were born), then floating into the future of their own making, harmonizing all along the way.
Top image: Photo by Joy Newell.
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