Wednesday, January 25, 2017

These Words: A Conversation with The Lemon Twigs

Only once or twice in our lifetime will we be introduced to new music that is innovative and unique. Not to say that it won't draw from influences, but it does not imitate them. It shapes them into a whole new beast.  It is clay in the hands of a sculptor. Artists have to be fearless. They need to be self-assured and exude a cool confidence. To know what it is they want and to have the guts to create the path to get there. That point in our lifetime has arrived, and the guides to take us on our journey are Brian and Michael D'Addario. These two teenage brothers from Long Island, NY have created an album well beyond their years with Do Hollywood. Their recorded work is is filled with intricate instrumentation, shifting melodies and beautiful harmonies, but when The Lemon Twigs hit the stage their music melds with their raw energy to create a power pop atmosphere with a sense of garage punk. We see trendsetting prodigies. They just want to play music. I had the opportunity to speak with them as they kicked off their tour at Underground Arts in Philadelphia. I couldn't have been more thrilled to have the chance.

Fran Chismar: How long have you guys been on the road, now?

Michael D'Addario: A day.

Fran: Just a day? So, this is almost a kick-off?

Michael: I'll consider this the kick-off. Yeah, yesterday was the warm-up, really.

Fran: Where did you play yesterday?

Michael: D.C.

Fran: Very nice. I hate making comparisons of bands to other bands, because I think it doesn't pay due respect, especially since you guys have created something unique. How would you describe your music to someone that hadn't listened to you before?
Michael: Well, it's kind of like Big Star. [laughs]

Brian D'Addario: I don't know, we try to put a lot of thought into it, or whatever.

Michael: Song based, like, rock music with, um 

Brian: Interesting melody and chords.

Michael: Or, uncommon melodies and chords.

Fran: Now, does that come, a little bit, from your upbringing with your father? Your father is a song-writer, correct?

Michael: Yeah.

During Brian's set of the performance they cover one of their father's songs, Ronnie D'Addario,  from 1976 titled "Love Stepped Out".  Ronnie's music has recently been released for the first time.

Fran: Or, is this something that you kind of developed and discovered on your own?

Michael: No, this is kind of an idea that's been, uh 

Brian:  ingrained in us.

Michael: Yeah, We just try to write songs that, maybe, nobody else 

Brian: Could. Can.

Michael: Like, not nobody else, but you know, people who maybe don't have the knowledge of, I mean, some people can write certain kinds of melodies, and some people can't. And some people who can't, make really, really great music, but we've kind of always been able to come up with and follow good melodies and stuff like that.

Throughout the interview the boys will complete each others thoughts and finish each others sentences.  They are so in tune to one another there are no pauses when this is happening. Michael, having the stronger personality, and Brian, being more laid back, form a single stream of consciousness as they communicate with me.

Fran: What really gets me with songs like, "Hi + Lo" and "Baby, Baby", is you don't know where they're going to go. The endings don't end where I think they are going to end, or they're in a completely different direction. I think that's what really draws me to it. It's that I just don't know what's behind every turn, and that's unique. You don't really see that too often, and that's what drew me in immediately.

Brian: Cool.

Fran: Is it true the two of you wrote separately for this album. You didn't collaborate?

Michael: Not really.

Brian: Any collaboration really happened when we were recording it.

Fran: Okay, but you've started writing together now?

Brian: Well, we get together quicker. The impulse is usually when we are by ourselves, but we have the piano in one room in our house. Now, if Michael comes in while I'm playing piano, I don't say, "Get out! I have to finish this by myself." You know? Now, I'll hear what he has to say, and he will hear what I have to say.

Fran: Does that take you in a different musical direction?

Brian: Definitely. For example, we just wrote a song where the bridge was entirely collaborative, you know, and the theme of the song changed when we spoke about it. Now, we can go through lyrical concepts with each other as well as, kind of, give it some 

Michael: Having ideas for melodies 

Brian: Yeah.

The Lemon Twigs played a few new songs on this night.  Some in Brian's set, "Why Didn't You Say That?" and some in Michael's, "Queen of my School".  The songs were immediately recognizable as Lemon Twigs songs yet their growth and direction were unmistakable between their new collaboration.  It is an exciting time in their young career.

Fran: Are you prolific, as writers?

Brian: Yeah, we write a lot of stuff.

Michael: I write a lot of music. I don't know if I write a ton of songs, because I have so many bits and pieces, and I sort of have them in my mind as songs but I can never seem to  it takes a lot for me to devote myself to writing a lyric.

Fran: Actually, what is your writing process? Is it more music-based and then lyrics?

Michael: Yeah, well, even though [Brian] has an easier time committing to a lyric or something, whereas I sort of do a lyric and then I hate it, so then I have to do it again. You know what I mean? Or I just leave a song with no lyrics for the longest time. When I'm forced to write them, I do, but most of them are music, first.

Fran: The songs for Do Hollywood, are they older songs for you, or are these songs you've had for a while?

Brian: They were all written in, like, 2014.

Michael: Yeah. At the time, they were new, but they're kind of older now.

Fran: Did they end up changing for you once you got to the studio?

Michael: Not much, just refined.

Fran: Since you both write separately, do you see either of you doing solo projects?

Brian: Yeah, we have them kind of in development. We do so much stuff that, sometimes I'll think it's right for more electronic productions, so I'll put it on my solo [list].

Fran: Do you have any musical limits? Is there anything you won't do? There is so much that you do, and there is so much talent.

Michael: Well, there are some things that the Lemon Twigs probably won't do, but there's not really many things that [Brian] or I won't do. We like everything, but I think the Lemon Twigs is sort of – well, there aren't real limits.

Brian: We just will probably continue recording, like, on tape. That seems like an essential part [of The Lemon Twigs]

Michael: Well there's only so much stuff, like the Lemon Twigs is our crossover, you know what I mean? So maybe if I'm not as into bands like Gorillaz or something, like Brian is, there's probably never going to be a Lemon Twigs record that sounds like that, but maybe Brian's solo stuff will sound like that.

At first listen, it seems The Lemon Twigs are creating music well beyond their years; but, on a closer look the audience on this particular evening was comprised of twenty-somethings.  This only demonstrates that good songwriting transcends generational stereotypes.  

Fran: If you had to pick a musical soulmate, not just influences  obviously, that is a big part of it – but, if you had to pick one person you relate to the most musically, who would it be?

Brian: I think Brian Wilson is the one I would have to do.

Michael: For me, it's definitely Alex Chilton.

Fran: Definitely, both of those come through in what you do, without, sounding like them. Do you listen to critical response? Are you aware of it?

Brian: I read a lot of it, but certain things don't really impact the work, I don't think.  When I am home I don't associate what I do when I'm home with what I do professionally. If I saw a review of one of our shows, it might pass my mind, because when I'm doing the shows, that's the "job" part of it for me. But, the writing part of it is just something that I have to do.

Michael: Yeah, I don't really read the album reviews. I've read YouTube comments and shit like that. Which is even more negative, usually.

Fran: That's a lot of trolls, I think.

Michael: Yeah, I know, but I kind of get a kick out of that. I don't really get a kick out of  somebody talking about what I was "trying" to do, and how I "failed." That to me makes no sense, because you didn't know what I was trying to do.

Fran: What you were trying to do you accomplished.

Michael: If I put it out, chances are I am happy with it.

Fran: Do you think people are getting [The Lemon Twigs]? I think, in reading about you guys, you can tell when someone gets you.

Brian: Yes, I've read stuff where I felt like people got it.

Michael: I've read more people getting it than people missing the point.

Brian: Yeah, so, that's a positive. For sure.

Fran: Yeah. That's why I didn't know if you guys were aware that the buzz is huge! You have to somewhat know.

Michael: I guess we notice now. Right now, we are on this tour, our first headline tour of America, and we're noticing right now. Like, our tour manager is coming back and saying, "Well, this show is sold out, and this show is sold out. And this show is sold out." Really, the only thing that immediately sinks in is what the crowd says right then. Last night, I really didn't feel as strong of a response as I have felt at a lot of other shows. Maybe, we were just rusty, or something.

Brian: Yeah, I think it takes a little bit for us to warm up. We haven't played for, like, a month, so...

Fran: It's going to vary from city to city, too.

Brian: For sure. That's just something you learn as you go.

Fran: Given what you've created, is it a difficult transition for you to take the stage? The two of you, when you're doing this music [in the studio], you do it yourselves. You're playing everything, correct?

Michael: Yeah.

Fran: So taking it on stage, bringing in a band, helping you build around it, is that difficult for you?
Brian: Well, we were really fortunate because we had Danny [keyboards] and Megan [bass]. We had them. We were starting to rehearse with them leading up to recording the album, so these songs are almost as old for them as they are for us. It was really gradual, you know?

Fran: Do you have the freedom that you want, onstage?

Michael: No. I don't think so. I'm kind of  I'm not sure what to do about  I don't really want to play drums live, anymore. I don't really like when Brian plays drums live, either.

Fran: Do you feel you're too restricted?

Michael: For me, I just really enjoy playing guitar, and I'm just into it, and I think I would like to have him playing guitar on my songs. You know, that would be really nice. Looking at him playing the drums ... I wish I had a stronger drummer. I mean, I play most of the drums on the record, and he is a good drummer, but I  I don't know. There's something missing, I feel like, now. I don't know.

Both Michael and Brian are excellent drummers.  I found myself drawn to each of them as they were behind the kit.  Where Michael is explosive, Brian is more technical.

Fran: Is it the energy you pull from each other? If neither of you were behind the drum kit?

Michael: That would give me a lot more energy, I know.

Brian: That would be nice. Right now, because it's four people, you have to really focus on what you're doing all of the time. You know? That doesn't really give anybody much freedom, but I think that that doesn't make the show worse. It just makes it less enjoyable, but that doesn't make it not enjoyable.

Michael: Well, at least, it's less enjoyable just for us. I hope it's not for the crowd.

Fran: To me, your music is so layered. Every time I listen, I hear something, I didn't pick out before. With four people onstage, I would imagine it's sometimes hard to recreate that.

Michael: Yeah, but that, to me, is what a live band is. If we were trying to recreate exactly what was on the record, I think that would be kind of lame.

Fran: I've been to shows like that. Live, it was spot-on and perfect, but there was no connection between the audience and the band. It was great to listen to, but I kind of left feeling a little empty. I was just like, "Ehhh."

Brian: I have good feeling about the show, tonight.

Fran: Is it high energy?

Michael: Yeah. I mean, it's supposed to be.

Brian: [To Michael] Because you had, like, a not great show last night. All of the shows before that, we kind of left feeling like, "Yeah! We got it," because we had been doing it for a month. I think it will take a couple of days for us to get back into it.

Fran: Do the songs take on a different form, sometimes when you perform them live? Like, sometimes the song may go in a completely different direction?

Brian: Yeah, for sure. That's definitely happened with a lot of songs that we've played. Especially in Michael's set. He kind of got into a different style that's more of a defined style. When we were recording the record, it was kind of like we were sort of gravitating towards the same thing, but Mike kind of got really into the idea of doing a rock show. A lot of the songs from the record take on more of a rock feel, and they're awesome.

Their live performance is broken into two sets.  Brian sings lead vocals and plays guitar on the songs he has written with Michael behind the drums.  The second set has Michael singing lead and playing guitar with Brian on drums.  The songs all take on a different feel and energy live.  Brian's set has the feel and vibe of a 70's rock show.  Michael's set has the raw power and explosiveness of an early 80's punk show.

Fran: Was your upbringing different than, say, the average kid coming from a little bit of a musical family?

Brian: I would say it was a little different because we did a lot of shows when we were younger; like theater shows. So, we would be going into the city every day for like three years. Basically, where we were going into the city every day to do shows.

Michael: Yeah, that was weird.

Brian: Broadway shows. Acting.

Michael: Yeah, that was weird. Then I did a few acting movies in middle school. Me and Brian, the whole time, were playing shows with our band. Our dad's band would play at, like, the public pool, and we would go up and play a song, or our friend's dad's band would play at a bar and we would go and play a song at a bar. All of the people would be like, "You guys play The Who so good. You play The Who so well."

Brian: We were always busy, I think.

Brian was in the Original Broadway Cast of The Little Mermaid as Flounder and also played Gavroche in Les Miserables. Michael played Troy in the TV Series Are We There Yet?

Fran: I've talked to other bands from Long Island that have said there's really not much of a scene on Long Island at all.  Like you have to kind of break it in going to the city, or there's really nothing.

Michael: Yeah, or you don't have to do that, either. You can just  well, what we found is that we just made a friend in [Jonathan] Rado. And Rado was kind enough  well, you know, he liked our music enough  to introduce us to a lot of people, and those people introduced us to people. We didn't have to be associated with a sort of scene, which was good because I wasn't. I mean, maybe there was a time that I wanted to be a part of that scene, but now I know that I didn't want to be in that scene. I know what that's about.

Fran: Did you ever think that this is where it would lead you  where you're at right now? Is this something you aspired to, or is it kind of like, you're looking at it now and it's kind of surreal?

Brian: I think it's a little bit of both. I think we knew what we were kind of in for, like, the last two years. Before that, we had no idea how you would even become a rock band.

Michael: Yeah, because we talked to Rado, who has been in Foxygen four years? Yeah. That's when they started doing real touring. So, he kind of told us what we were in for. We're pretty much like I didn't think 

Brian:  It would catch on as much as it did, as early as it did. That was a really pleasant

Fran: I'm going to wrap this up, for you. Any other talents that we don't know about?

Brian: Oh, I don't know. [Michael] could be a very good producer, I think. But that's something that he hasn't done yet.

Michael: I can do, like, a back-flip.

Fran: Really? Do you do them on stage?

Michael: No, I can't land it.

Brian: He can only land on his stomach.

Michael: That would be like the Jonas Brothers, anyways. I can do that. Brian plays the trumpet.

Brian: But not that well.

Michael: Pretty decent.

Fran: Alright. I'm going to let you guys go. Thank you very much.

Michael: Thank you!

Brian: No problem.

Fran: I appreciate you taking the time.

Buy Do Hollywood on iTunes and catch The Lemon Twigs on their first headlining US Tour in a city near you.

Jan 19 Underground Arts Philadelphia, PA       
Jan 20  Great Scott Allston, MA              
Jan 21  Casa Del Popolo Montreal, Canada     
Jan 23  Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, Canada       
Jan 25  The Pike Room Pontiac, MI   
Jan 26  The Empty Bottle Chicago, IL   
Jan 27  U of W Madison: The Sett Madison, WI 
Jan 28  First Avenue Minneapolis, MN      
Jan 31  Barboza Seattle, WA
Feb 01 The Cobalt Vancouver, Canada
Feb 02 Doug Fir Portland, OR
Feb 04 Brick & Mortar San Francisco, CA
Feb 05 The Catalyst Atrium Santa Cruz, CA         
Feb 06 Constellation Room Santa Ana, CA          
Feb 09 Casbah San Diego, CA          
Feb 10 Valley Bar Phoenix, AZ 
Feb 11 Lowbrow Palace El Paso, TX
Feb 14 Stubb's Indoor Austin, TX    
Feb 15 White Oak's Music Hall Houston, TX 
Feb 17 Saturn Birmingham, AL      
Feb 18 Aisle 5 Atlanta, GA  
Feb 21 Bowery Ballroom  New York, NY

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