Interview: A Conversation with The Lemon Twigs

“We’re very capable of making a lot more music, and not necessarily of the same kind. We’re not catering to anyone” – Michael D’Addario

There’s no doubt it – The Lemon Twigs are something special. Splayed out on a sofa belonging to one of Bilbao BBK Live’s many interview rooms, brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, adorned in feather cuts and flared jeans, are every bit the flamboyant Long Island duo I’d expected to meet. Creators of a 60’s baroque-pop inspired sound that got them snapped up to 4AD two years previous, debut album Do Hollywood is often regarded as one of the seminal releases of 2016. But there’s only one thing the duo are currently concerned about – and that’s Brian Wilson, who just wrapped up his Pet Sounds dominated set over on the main stage. Michael is clearly still buzzing. “We watched it all from the side of the stage, and we saw him at Jones Beach [Theatre, New York] pretty recently, too. He’s just amazing.”

Classic rock is certainly the pair’s favourite genre, who check off a host of influences in a discussion of their favourite live acts. “Black Sabbath were incredible!” Michael exclaims. “Brian at time didn’t know a ton apart from the essentials, but I own all the Sabbath and Ozzy records. We had such a great time. Leonard Cohen and John Prine were amazing, too. We were raised on classic material.”

Foxygen was also a shocking live show for me. I was fifteen, at an age where I didn’t get to see many modern bands on my own as teenagers do. When I saw Foxygen, so many chilled groups out there were doing the whole ‘cool’ act of not moving – so it was very eye opening to see Sam France all up in the crowd. It was like, ‘oh, that’s what I used to do’, back when I was all flashy in cover bands! And then once we got in our band, for some reason, I stopped moving. I thought it was the thing to do. When I saw France, it sort of changed how I wanted to act. Now, I’m all about letting go onstage.”

Brian smiles. “We work well at concerts because it’s just us two. We get everything we’re saying to each other about the music. Nobody’s bugging us.”

Between the constant glances and frequent shared giggles, there’s no doubting the closeness of the D’Addario brothers. “I can’t imagine if I was on the road and Michael was at home, cooking or something” Brian admits. “That would really suck.”

The pair have been working together since infancy, where a streak of childhood acting roles thrust them into the spotlight at such a young age. Do they draw lyrical inspiration from those early years? Brian nods. “I think so, yeah. For our second album, I’ve been returning to the musicals I used to listen to when I was a kid, like Assassins and Les Misérables. They really get across a story so well that I’ve been going back to that stuff and incorporating it into my songs.”

You’d be hard pressed to attend a Lemon Twigs gig and not hear a cover track or two – another nod of appreciation to their younger days. “We used to be in a cover band when we were kids, all throughout our childhood, so we knew a billion classic rock covers” Michael explains. “Our favourite songs to play live are those covers. We usually do ‘You Can’t Talk to the Dude’ by Jonathan Richman and Roky Erickson’s ‘I Walked With a Zombie’. We did a John Prine song at Glastonbury, too – ‘Fish & Whistle’”.

Speaking of Glastonbury, how was the duo’s first ever set at the acclaimed site?  “It was just amazing” Brian grins, “it’s so big!”. “Glastonbury was the best festival I’ve ever been to” declares Michael. “It’s got such a free vibe, and it’s just humongous. The coolest thing is that they have no scanners!”

To say the pair have had a busy year would be slightly undermining their schedule; they’ve landed spots on what seems like every important festival on the 2017 circuit. But constant touring isn’t all fun and games. Is life on the road stressful? “It’s a pretty deadening creatively, and trying physically” Michael discloses. “It’s like working in the mines!” Brian interrupts. “I don’t like to complain about it though, because the shows are great”.

Michael smirks. “You just do it privately instead!” he quips. “But we do just want to make our records. It would be different if we didn’t have that much written, but we’ve got a lot of stuff – and it’s such a shame to record it so much later when we’re gonna be less inspired. That seems stupid and against the musical code.”

How do they spend their downtime? Michael laughs. “Drink! Brian bought his computer on the last American tour and did some shitty beats. All of the stuff he did on the road was utter garbage. The Rolling Stones can maybe do it – but we can’t”.

By the time they’d reached England, it seemed like the world and his dog were at their shows. Nights were in high demand, with venues the size of Gorilla and beyond a sell-out. But this seems to strike the pair as a surprise. “You know, that’s really cool that in England it’s that way – because it doesn’t feel like that” Michael admits, shifting forward on his seat. “When we do a show in New York, we always seem to have a huge mix in the crowd with a lot of older people. But in England, it seemed like only a lot of the hipper people got it. It felt, honestly, that we had some sort of small impact in England when we were there.”

Brian shrugs. “But whatever it was, it was more than I had initially expected. I thought it would be longer before we were able to play bigger places. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Moving away from touring and back to the studio, Do Hollywood’s successor has previously been coined by the pair to be concept album.  Is this still the plan? “Yes!” Brian smiles. “We’ll see how the concept goes, and how heavy we’re going to be on it.”

“We’re definitely going to make everything go along with the concept in terms of the cover, the notes – but never anything that’ll make it a worse album.” Michael agrees. “If we’re ever like, ‘we have to tell this story so bad that we have to use this really obvious lyric’, then we’ll never do that. We’ll just make whatever sounds the best”.

Noted for their flamboyant style and vintage aesthetic, people are quick to pigeonhole The Lemon Twigs as Wings fanboys or The Zombies obsessives. How would they label themselves? Brian answers simply: “Unlabelled”.

Michael elaborates. “We don’t like to put limitations on ourselves – but for now, the live show’s like a rock show. I think the easiest thing would be ‘a rock band’”.

“Someone who considers themselves a jazz player would be working in the confines of jazz, you know?” Brian explains. “Now, it seems like if you want to be in a rock band, you have to be half a hip hop band, have some electronic thing going on, or have some twist to make it modern. But that’s not rock, really. It’s music, and that’s fine if that’s what people wanna do. There’s lots of examples that I think is really good music – but I don’t think its super archaic to work in the confines of rock”.

As the interviews winds to a close, there’s one final thought that the brothers wish for everyone to take away – and that’s their versatility. What would be the one thing that they’d like people to know about The Lemon Twigs? “That there’s a lot that we feel like we have to do” Michael expresses. “I’m not catering to anyone. We feel very capable of making a lot more music, and not necessarily of the same kind. If you heard the first record and you didn’t really like it, that doesn’t mean you’re not gonna like the second”.

“But then again” he laughs, “I don’t give a shit about those people either.”

‘Brothers of Destruction’, the upcoming Lemon Twigs EP, is available to pre-order now