Mere minutes after their project is released to the public, I hop onto Skype to talk to the Burns Twins (IZ and Eddie), Bedows, and Elton to learn more about their new EP, Sun Shower. Selfishly looking for a less convoluted way to refer to them, I ask the three of them (Eddie couldn’t make it) if they have a catchier banner under which the four of them are releasing music as a collective. Without missing a beat, they all start to shake their heads no simultaneously. Despite initially thinking that this is a branding misstep, I’m convinced otherwise once Bedows explains their rationale behind this decision: “One of the things that we’ve figured out is that there’s a difference between a band and a collaboration. With it being a collaboration, we understand that we’re each bringing something forward, and we’re not putting ourselves in one confined group. The whole point is that we all have individual careers and individual lives, and we’re trying to acknowledge that.”
Looking at it from this perspective, he has a point. The Roots have released 11 albums, yet most people can name only Questlove and Black Thought. Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet) & The Social Experiment put out Surf in 2015, yet most of the internet still misattributes the project to Chance The Rapper. Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals play every show in tandem, yet .Paak gets all of the credit for the quality of the performances. There is undoubtedly something about the dynamic of a band that sanitizes the contributions of each individual member.
IZ—who actually happens to be mentored by Nico Segal—expounds further on this point:
“One thing that’s really important to me is that live musicians and producers are understood as figures in the music scene as well, even though we don’t [always] write words […] We have this history of such prevalent musicians and songwriters, like James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, D'Angelo—I mean, D'Angelo is a multi-instrumentalist and a singer—but most of the time, these people are hailed as singers. It’s amazing that there’s so much more that they can do that they’re not given credit for.”
Burn Twins, Photo by Alina Tsvor
Both of these responses indicate a level of self-assuredness that is enviable. In spite of the fact that they’re just 19 years old, both Bedows and IZ are evidently more concerned with securing their long-term legacy than they are about short-term branding prospects. These same qualities translate over to the music, too. Sun Shower is an incredibly mature project, marked by a striking thematic consistency and sonic cohesion that is not always present in debut collaborations.
Compositionally, the EP has a lot going on. Layers of live instrumentation build upon each other to create a lush soundbed, trumpets are featured prominently on every song, and vocal harmonies are used to great effect to add richness. Needless to say, it takes a talented vocalist to avoid being overshadowed. Luckily, Elton is up to the task. With a new Chicago-influenced sound and a delivery that is mildly reminiscent of Saba, Elton’s strengths lie in his considered approach to songwriting. He possesses an uncanny ability to know when to force the lyrics front and center, and when it’s more appropriate to play the background and allow his voice serve as another instrument. When I ask him about this talent, he humbly shrugs it off, chalking it up to intuition: “I go off feeling, man. I try to embody the feeling of a song. When I hear chords, it takes me to something visual.”
This emphasis on achieving balance factors prominently into the success of the record more broadly. Whether through multi-instrumentalism, compositional talents, or vocal direction, each of the four collaborators contributed in some form to the production on the EP, and I ask them if this necessitated a conscious effort to keep the music from sounding overproduced. Once again, Bedows offers a thoughtful reply:
“This year in general, I’ve been learning to ask myself, ‘What is it about the music that spoke to me in the first place?’ Eddie and I were out in L.A. and we went to The Social Experiment’s studio […] and one of the things that they mentioned is that we’re kind of in an age of minimalism right now. And so I thought about that; about the songs that I really, really love, and how much is going on. What I found is that the idea of sheer minimalism is a good idea but it’s not quite ‘it.’ The idea is that you want to get the most value out of every single thing that you put down. So, for certain scenarios, that might mean putting only one or two things down to fill up the sonic space, or it might mean that you put down 30.”
The cerebral approach with which they discuss these topics—and really everything we talk about—seems to indicate that they’ve thought extensively about all these issues before.
When I observe that some of the lyricism on the record seems to conflict tonally with the current mood in America, Elton poignantly explains: “We thought about what concept truly embodied the feelings we had throughout the last year while we were making this project, and it was like—it’s like a sun shower! It looks happy, it looks nice, it looks sunny outside, but it’s still raining.”
On how growing up in Chicago influences their music, IZ explains: “Chicago is like a microcosm of the whole United States. You have all the amazing things happening in Chicago, you have all the fucked up things happening in Chicago, and you have everything in between.”
Elton, Photo by Alina Tsvor
When the topic turns to their responsibility as artists, Elton quotes Nina Simone’s classic sentiment about how the duty of artists is to reflect the times through their art, saying: “Ever since I heard that, it really resonated with me and I just want to make sure that I do that wholeheartedly. Because, […] in 50-60 years, our children and grandchildren are going to ask us what it was like [in 2017] and we want to be able to say that we played a part in something.”
If all of this sounds premeditated, it’s because it is—in the most literal sense of the word. After sharing a story about the unfocused nature of their early studio sessions, Elton casually mentions that Eddie and IZ’s dad—a well-known trumpet player and converted Buddhist—came to the studio one day to lead them all in a group meditation. I couldn’t help but jokingly comment on the stark contrast between this and some of their contemporaries, whose version of meditating in the studio might involve taking large quantities of Xanax.
It would appear that meditation has genuinely helped them to achieve clarity because, since then, they’ve been incredibly productive. In addition to Sun Shower, they tell me that they have two more EPs coming out in the next few months, each with their own distinct sound and character. As they explain their plan to strategically stagger the release of these EPs to maximize their impact, I’m no longer surprised by the methodical way in which they’ve thought this through.
Bedows, Photo by Alina Tsvor
I don’t mean to keep harping on their age (Elton is 24, just a few years younger than me), but there’s a youthful exuberance that comes across throughout the interview that is almost infectious. They enthusiastically dap each other up whenever I compliment one of their contributions, they share unprompted anecdotes about which one of them farts the most in the studio, IZ shouts out his grandmother. Yet, in spite of all of this, this innocent charm is most strongly evidenced by the fact that they don’t seem to realize how successful they’re going to be yet. They’ve clearly given a lot of thought to it, honed their craft appropriately, and surrounded themselves with the right people, but it still doesn’t seem like they’ve fully processed their ceiling.
At this stage in their career, they’re a bit like people who have made the decision to move to a new country. They’ve bought the tickets, packed all their belongings, and found a new job, yet for whatever reason, they won’t fully grasp what’s happening until they’re actually on the plane and they see it take off. Barring any significant turbulence, my guess is that we’ll all be there to greet them when they land.