New York retro-savants THE LEMON TWIGS are fronted by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario. After growing up as theatre and music fans, the pair first released recordings in 2015 aged in their mid/late teens and quickly grew into a fully-formed force. Combining every element of 60s and 70s pop you can think of, the brothers have crafted three masterful albums with 2016’s Do Hollywood, 2018’s concept album Go to School, and their latest and brilliant release from this year, Songs for the General Public. MATIJA ZIVKOVIC caught up with Brian D’Addario to find out how their sound was born out of musical influences spanning everything from prog-rock to 1920s pop, and their desire to maintain “a certain level of dignity in an unjust world.”
Where am I talking to you from today? And how’s the COVID situation over there at the moment?
I’m in New York. I think the Coronavirus situation is getting better but then you see a lot of people dining in and doing what they want. Some people think it’s gonna get worse again. I don’t think about it much. Only about 30 or 40 times a day (laughs).
I reviewed your guys’ new album Songs for the General Public and loved it. I’d describe it as 60s and 70s music in a blender. Going back – what were some of your earliest exposures to music, and how did that progress as you got older? And how did The Lemon Twigs themselves start as a project?
Michael and I are brothers and we always played together. We’d play songs by The Who and The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Our dad was obsessed with those bands and that was all the music we heard as very young kids.
Then we got into different kinda stuff – first some heavier stuff, then music more in the pop, punk, then emo vein when we were adolescents. We tried writing music the best way we could after that, which leaned heavily on the melodic side of things. We were introduced to Flaming Lips, MGMT and all these bands when we were in high school and that set us on the path that we’re currently on.
Your previous album, Go to School, was a concept album of sorts about a chimpanzee called Shane navigating adolescence. You guys have some theatre background, could you tell us a bit about that? What drew you to it?
That was another thing we did as kids, it was just in our blood to incorporate it into our music in some way. There was a newfound interest in Stephen Sondheim shows that led to that second record. And Rodgers and Hammerstein. They just make well-crafted songs. It’s so weird to think why we even went with this concept. To me it felt like a way to explore spiritual themes without having to put a heavy-handed spin on it. And then half the record is divorced from the concept, and is about maintaining a certain level of dignity in an unjust world. That’s what appealed to us about the concept – to put some overarching themes into the songs.
Did you aim for something different this time with Songs for The General Public? What were your inspirations for this album?
We focused smaller this time. The narrative is way more grounded in small, personal, intimate situations. It wasn’t conscious at all, we were just thinking about compiling the songs in a musical way. We wrote about sixty songs, some of which were totally synth-pop, some very Broadway, others very 1920s pop. Of those, these (on the album) are the most direct, in-your-face rock tunes. It just so happened that they all had to do with these intimate relationships as well.
Songs like Fight for instance, do these come from personal experience?
There are only a few that aren’t personal experience. Obviously they’re quite exaggerated versions of personal experience. A lot of it was about people’s relationships that we know. But you don’t have to use that much imagination to fill in the blanks.
Your songs are so catchy, melodic and with great harmonies. But they’re also quite complex, almost art or prog-rock to me, but condensed into three-minute songs. How do the songs come together for you guys – does it emerge spontaneously from jamming or do you write the songs separately and bring it together?
It very rarely comes from jamming. I’ll hear Michael banging out this song like two hundred times before he shows it to me, and by the time he shows it to me I’ve already heard it through the walls, I’m almost sick of it. We work in such close quarters that, by the time we get to working on it, we know how it’s supposed to go.
So it feels like we’re working on it together but really we’re in separate rooms. Arrangement-wise Only a Fool was the most proggy song on the album. The whole guitar part was thought out and demoed. I had to bring Darryl (who played bass with us on our tour) to play drums on that track. And we had to work out the drum part with me playing what I demoed. And then it’s just overdubs.
What are some of your favourite progressive rock bands? The guitar parts reminded me of Yes a lot.
I like Yes okay, especially their first album. Prog’s not a big genre for me but I did really like King Crimson, especially their first record that everybody loves. And I’m interested in things like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. But I’m not really obsessed with any of them like I’m obsessed with Todd Rundgren. I don’t listen to much (of Todd Rundgren’s side-project) Utopia but A Wizard, a True Star has a lot of proggy elements to it that have seeped into things that I’ve worked on.
Todd guested on your previous album as one of the characters. Did you have any cool guest spots this time?
Not too much, (Foxygen founder and producer Jonathan) Rado helped us produce it at various stages, and we had some really good singers on Hell on Wheels. I don’t know their names, but they’re all on the record sleeve (laughs). We also had a flautist and a saxophonist come in.
Was there a different approach to recording this time?
Yeah there was. The first record we recorded entirely in our home studio, with a limited amount of equipment. Just a spring reverb and compressors and mics, onto tape. But this one we started things either here or in Rado’s studio in LA. Then we brought it to Electric Lady Studios and used their reverb and their board to clean up the sound. Not even clean up – just added a lot of frequencies and refined the sound a whole lot.
You’re so influenced by older, classic rock, but what are some of your favourite modern rock bands?
Well I love Foxygen, and I really love Weyes Blood. We played on her last record a whole lot. I like Cut Worms a lot. I like Ariel Pink. I like Kanye, like everybody else (laughs).
Any Aussie rock bands? Do you know King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard?
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them. Last year I played in a lot of festivals with them. They’ve got a very cool live thing especially. The drummer of our last band, Andre, he really loves them. We heard a lot of them!
What was the last big tour you guys went on before all this went down?
Last year in August we were in Japan for Summer Sonic. That was one of the last shows we did, then we played in New York after that. It’s been about a year. It feels pretty normal at this point though, as we usually take some time between touring and recording.
Have you toured Australia? What did you think of it?
We went to Melbourne and Sydney, we only did two shows I think. We played an Australian festival – the big Australian festival, I don’t remember what it’s called (laughs). I really liked it, I found it comparable to American crowds, which puts it up there as one of the places I liked to play the most. We can’t wait to come back!