The Sound Of Twin Danger: Frank Sinatra Meets The Clash

The Sound Of Twin Danger: Frank Sinatra Meets The Clash

6:48pm Jun 28, 2015
Twin Danger's Vanessa Bley and Stuart Matthewman
Twin Danger's Vanessa Bley and Stuart Matthewman
Sunny Khalsa / Courtesy of the artist

Cocktail jazz isn't a sound you hear very much in pop music these days. But a duo known as Twin Danger is causing a scene with their self-titled debut album and live shows.

It's a familiar mood for saxophonist Stuart Matthewman; he co-wrote many of the biggest hits for Sade, like "No Ordinary Love" and "Your Love Is King."

Matthewman's latest singer is Vanessa Bley, the daughter of jazz piano great Paul Bley.

Behind their smooth exterior, there is a certain punk ethos to the way they handle themselves when they perform live. As Matthewman told NPR's Arun Rath: "We always said about how we wanted the band to look and be on stage: if Frank Sinatra was in The Clash."

Vanessa Bley came up with the name Twin Danger. She explains why: "In Manhattan, I'd go to this bar near 21st and Park . Around 6, all these businessmen would come in in suits. They'd go into the basement and about an hour later come up in total drag and have this epic party. It certainly displays this idea of having two sides to yourself."

Hear their conversation with Arun Rath at the audio link above.

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This isn't a sound you hear very much in pop music these days.


RATH: The band is called Twin Danger, and that mood is created by saxophonist Stewart Matthewman. If it feels familiar, it's because he co-wrote many of the biggest hits for Sade. Matthewman's latest singer is the daughter of jazz piano great Paul Bley. This is Vanessa Bley.


VANESSA BLEY: (Singing) So the story goes from the city walks as it has been told. Let me try to find a little time. And if you don't know you soon will see nothing comes for free.

RATH: Don't be fooled by the smoothness. On stage, there's a party going on. Vanessa Bley explains the name of the band Twin Danger.

BLEY: In Manhattan, I'd go to this bar near 21st and Park. And around 6 o'clock, all these businessmen would come in in suits. And they'd go into the basement and about an hour later come up in total drag and have like this epic party. And I thought, wow, that's a cool, you know, kind of alter ego, split personality that's a secret, you know, maybe to the outside world or maybe not. But it certainly displays this idea of having two sides to yourself. And they were celebrating it, which I applaud.

RATH: So I've noticed people seem to like coming up with clever ways of describing Twin Danger - of describing this music. What are some of your favorites?

STUART MATTHEWMAN: Oh, people have said that we sounded like - was it David Lynch in "Taxi Driver" - it was David Lynch who made "Taxi Driver" - just, you know, the soundtrack for that.

RATH: It evokes something kind of more and surreal, but people seem to turn to movies to describe this music.

MATTHEWMAN: Yeah, it's quite interesting, because one way we kind of first met up, we were more looking at - we were really interested in different photographers. We didn't really sit down and listen to any jazz records and go oh, we should do something like that. We were more watching things and looking at things and coming up with our own soundtrack for it.

BLEY: But we did have an understanding of similar loves of lot of different types of music and genres.


RATH: I think probably the best song maybe to get into this album with is "Just Because," because that was - it was the meeting moment for the two of you, right?

MATTHEWMAN: It's when we found that we could write a song together. I was obviously, you know, shy of the time doing an album. And I just had some quirky chords I was working on that I didn't think was suitable for a song necessarily. They were just interesting chords. And I sent them to Vanessa, and she came back with this amazing, beautiful song out of the top of it.


BLEY: (Singing) As a child, there's a mystery, a little sense of uncertainty just because.

RATH: Vanessa, did the chords seem bizarre to you when you saw them?

BLEY: I like a good challenge, I think. And the fact that Stuart said in the email something like, you know, I doubt you could do anything over this, but I was like, OK, here's my - here's my shot.

MATTHEWMAN: When we did "Just Because" - that first song, and, you know, it was the unusual chords. And it just - just sounds that I liked. I was kind of going through some sounds and I had like a jazz drum loop that was just brushes. And it just fitted really nicely in the background. And then I thought, oh, it would be nice with an upright bass sound. So I (unintelligible) kind of sample of that on the keyboard - and then in that same loop worked over the second song we were doing.


MATTHEWMAN: And we were just writing songs using the same loop. We thought, oh, we really should probably get players in. And so we found this guy...

BLEY: Great, great player.

MATTHEWMAN: Joe - Joe Bonadeo (ph), you know, this old - you know, these great jazz players to play it properly.


BLEY: (Singing) And I recall the thrill of the thrill of it all. I love, love reading you. Why is it such a shame? I love loving you.

RATH: And when you guys talk about sharing certain musical taste in common, it wasn't solely a taste in noir-ish jazz.


MATTHEWMAN: No, we love, you know - we realized we both love Black Sabbath...

BLEY: ...Or the Clash...

MATTHEWMAN: ...Or (unintelligible) and Al Green, you know? (Unintelligible) but we - I think we both realized that we both really like odd harmonies, so were listening to Lucky Elevens and Arvo Part.

RATH: Classical composers - modern classical composers.

MATTHEWMAN: Yeah. Kind of - we both realized that we like really close harmonies. So when we were doing the songs, like Vanessa would have, you know, the main melody. Then she'd do a harmony, then another one would build up. She'd build up these amazing kind of soundscapes of harmonies.


BLEY: (Singing) Love loving you. Why is it such a shame? I love loving you.

RATH: When you actually perform the songs, you know, when you're doing them for an audience, are you doing characters? Are you in character?

MATTHEWMAN: Yeah, I think on stage we're definitely performing. There's definitely character there. But I think you'd get that from Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra. They were like a character on stage. You know, Vanessa's definitely that style of you're not going to take your eyes off her.

RATH: Vanessa, tell me about your character. Who are you in Twin Danger?

BLEY: It's been evolving more and more into this state of total freedom. I think when it first started off, I was sort of over-thinking it a bit because, you know, this style is very different from what I've been working on. And yet it felt so natural. So when I started performing when we actually took it to the stage, you know, I was like pretending to be this specific vibe. And that ultimately was dishonest. And really quickly I sort of learned that I needed to just let go.

MATTHEWMAN: I think watching Vanessa on stage, right, she's become kind of more extreme, so she's more confrontational with the audience than she might be with a rock band.

BLEY: It's true.

MATTHEWMAN: She jumps totally in the audience and dances with people.

BLEY: Yeah, we played...

MATTHEWMAN: But then can be totally glamorous at the same time - she's two extremes.

BLEY: Yeah. I mean, we played a new blues 13th anniversary the other night and a lot of people said the same words afterwards - that it was such a punk rock show.


MATTHEWMAN: I mean, it's basically - very often, we play in these old clubs, and people won't come and stand right at the front. They're kind of a bit too cool. So they stand away from the stage a bit. So for Vanessa that just means my stage is a bit bigger.

BLEY: (Laughter).

MATTHEWMAN: So she just goes to them. And it's great.

RATH: So this is punk music that swings, huh?




BLEY: (Singing) Pleasantly caving in. Yeah, I've come undone.

RATH: That's Vanessa Bley. She and Stuart Matthewman lead the band Twin Danger. Their self-titled debut album comes out on Tuesday. Vanessa and Stuart, it was a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

BLEY: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWMAN: Thank you.


BLEY: (Singing) I really like... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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