COSMIC DANCERS – An interview with the Lemon Twigs
Snarling theatrically, Michael D’Addario slashes at his guitar, looking cooler than any 17-year-old in flares, faded Pink Panther t-shirt, dyed mullet and plastic baseball helmet has any right to. He kicks a generously draped leg high in the air, and the quiet, keening verse explodes into that instantly memorable, life-affirming fuck-it-let’s-do-it chorus — a wide-eyed anthem for cynical times.
“As long as we’re together, I don’t see what’s wrong with thaaa-aa-at.”
The last chords of the evening ring out, and as 19-year-old brother Brian crashes to a halt on the drums, Michael executes an ill-advised but beautifully timed leap off the front of the stage, collapsing somewhere out of sight. The Lemon Twigs have landed, it seems, even if they don’t yet seem to know exactly where that is.
“We’re just a couple of bozos from Long Island,” says Brian, the following week — Hicksville, to be specific, a suburb 45 minutes east of New York by train, a journey they take every Sunday for guitar lessons. Apart from that, they say they have pretty much zero interest in the city, even though they cheerfully explain that there’s “nothing to do” where they live, other than play music, goof about and get their hair done by their friend’s mom.
“Every time I go to California, there are a lot of fun people that show me around, so I think it’s a lot better there,” ponders Michael, peering through his hexagonal shades. “But I think I just never really experience what it’s like around me. We just record or go to school.” He shrugs. “Though I just finished that, so now I’m done.”
Raised on a diet of Beatles and “the greats”, the brothers D’Addario have been recording their own music on their dad’s 8-track since an early age, recently travelling to California to record their upcoming album, Do Hollywood, with Jonathan Rado of fellow 60s fanatics Foxygen. “We’ve been doing a lot of writing,” adds Brian, assuring me they’re already “at least” two albums ahead. Not bad for a couple of bozos from Long Island.
So, is this album really your first, didn’t you have one before this?
Michael: Well, we were trying to do a psychedelic thing with that. It’s not what we were good at, so we decided that wasn’t a good debut.
Brian: Like, we never did any drugs or anything. We weren’t very good at the psychedelic bit.
You’ve obviously been playing together a while, did you grow up with music?
B: That’s right. Our parents have all these home movies, and you can see that all we watched as kids was the Beatles Anthology. In one, I’m even holding a vacuum cleaner and playing it like a guitar.
M: There’s a little video of Brian doing a quote like John Lennon…
B: Someone asks John to sing and he says ‘Ooh, you’ll have to pay money first!’ And in our video, my dad says — I must have been like 5 — he asks us to sing a song, and I go ‘Ooh, you’ll have to pay money first!’
In that Liverpudlian accent? That’s not bad.
B: Yeah. My dad was so happy, he’s like ‘Oh did you HEAR what he said?! THAT’S WHAT JOHN SAID!’
Was your dad a successful musician?
B: He was and still is a really great songwriter. He did a lot of home recording — he didn’t have a lot of money but spent it all on equipment, like an 8-track. We used that for our EP. The closest he got was the Carpenters recorded one of his songs, but then Karen died so he never got to hear it. There was a guide vocal but it wasn’t finished… It’s insane. He got that close.
When did you pick up instruments?
B: I was seven when I started guitar, maybe 5 when I started playing drums. I was always writing stuff and it just kept developing. Michael concentrated on drums for a long time, until 13 when he got into Nirvana and took up guitar. But his first songs were as good as mine.
M: Our core influences are 60s and 70s… Beatles and Beach Boys.
B: It all goes back to that for us. But when we write, we’re not trying to emulate those things — it’s just our idea of what a song should be is based on the principles set in those decades.
M: Then, everything else follows. I like the way they dress. We just think it’s cool.
Was that a plastic baseball helmet you were wearing on stage?
M: Yeah, I just found it at our keyboard player’s house and liked it.
B: We’re pretty sporting people, you can probably tell.
You’re definitely active on stage. Where do you get your moves from?
B: Videos of Pete Townshend. My musical heroes are Harry Nilsson, Joe Walsh. Procul Harum, But for stage stuff, it’s Pete.
Do you practice, or just go for it on stage and hope for the best?
M: At the last one, our bass player was getting angry because I kept kicking so close to her.
I’m pretty sure you fell over at one point.
M: My glasses kept falling off, so I took them off but then I couldn’t see anything.
B: You were kicking SO CLOSE to Megan’s face, and you couldn’t see?
M: She was really mad. The next night, I came really close again and she made a face, then I kicked her right in the face.
Yikes. Would you say you have tolerant band members?
B: They’re great. Danny is a great songwriter in his own right, he was in the band we started a long time ago. Like in fourth grade. Almost a decade ago.
Wow. When were your first performances?
M: Talent shows, like in third grade. And a lot of playing around to nobody.
B: We played a street fair every year.
Are you celebrated locally?
M: No. They have a DJ now.
B: We played so much, never getting any traction at all. All our getting better as musicians, we did at those shows.
M: Someone told us no one would take us seriously until we were older. But I’m happy about that. Because if people had known us when we were going through our Nirvana phase, or psychedelic phase…
B: Our My Chemical Romance phase…
M: …we’d just be really embarrassed.
Do you feel confident in your music now?
B: I just feel like I’m ready to play these songs every night, and put in the work.
M: I think we’re going to the UK soon… [pause] Do I keep saying things we’re not meant to say? You know what, we have no idea.
I like how you’re worried about what you’ve been briefed to say.
B: Have I even got my briefs on?
M: Brian, if they’re not saying anything to us about what we can’t say, then there’s probably nothing we could say.
B: This is like our second interview.
Is there anything you will have to put aside that you regret?
M: Acting. We were always going on auditions. But we learned once you get older, you really have to give your full self if you want to be successful. When you’re younger, a lot of the time they like a kid who comes in and doesn’t give a shit.
B: I did Broadway. From 9 to 12, I did Les Mis, I played Gavroche. And I played the blue and yellow flounder in The Little Mermaid.
M: I did a couple of movies. I was in Sinister. That’s the stuff people want to talk about at school. People would be like, ‘Were you FLOUNDER, dude?’ I would say, ‘No, that was my brother. I came out of a box.’ They don’t care you’re dressed in flares.
What are your tourism tips for Long Island?
M: Go to Taco Joe’s. Go to the beach. We don’t surf. My friend’s mom gives us haircuts… We just record! We go to wrestling pay-per-views at our friend’s house.
What is this MRW Wrestling? I saw something in your record notes.
M: We’re in it. We’re the wrestlers!
B: You weren’t supposed to say that, Mike.
B: We wanted it to be this fun thing where no one knew that we were in it.
M: But the jig is up!
That didn’t take long. So, it feels like you’ve spent a lot of time planning this all out.
B: Do you know how many interviews I’ve conducted with myself in my shower?
So, how close is reality lining up to your imagination?
M: We’ve not had anything to be unhappy about yet. Maybe the 50th time I tell the vacuum cleaner story, I will need something new.
What does your dad think about all this?
B: He likes it. I hope people listen to us and find his music through us.
Do you see it as a continuation of his music?
B: Yeah, he was influenced by the same things as us, but in real time.
Would you play live with him?
B: In Brooklyn, we played as his backing band. Megan and Danny love his stuff, too.
M: My dad just never got the opportunity to show his stuff to people, it’s really catchy. Power-pop.
B: Also, he was doing his thing when punk was rising, so people didn’t really care about his stuff. We’re lucky there aren’t a ton of bands right now doing what we’re doing. If we had been doing this in the 70s, it could have gotten lost.
M: But then, we probably would have been trying to do, like… 30s stuff.
Do you think you’d always be attracted to a past era?
B: Probably. It seems that popular music has become simpler over time.
M: It’s like the standard is a lot lower. You can hear in music from the 60s and 70s, it’s more complex. And the more people I meet who say they are musicians, I don’t feel like they really are, you know?
B: But modern masterpieces like To Pimp A Butterfly, it gives them more weight because they stand out in such a stagnant environment. Or pretty much anything Kanye West does. It’s not just complexity, though — it’s the ideas. The weight of it.
M: Right, it’s not just ability. I mean, how much could Bob Dylan solo, you know? Who gives a shit? As long as you have something to offer.
B: Most indie bands, they put most effort into the style and presentation of their ideas. Making sure it coincides with something that feels cool. But when you break it down, I feel there’s nothing of substance there. There has to be compelling stuff within what you’re presenting.
And this is what you aim to bring with Lemon Twigs?
B: That’s for others to judge, but we’re trying to and that’s what I wish people did more, I guess.
M: But in the past, people didn’t even have to try!
Why do you think people didn’t have to try?
M: Because things were just cool! Hah.
A lot of terrible stuff has just been forgotten, though.
M: No, of course. But if, like, you cast off the record design to a label, it would probably have come out cooler than today. Like if you do that today, they’re trying to do what’s cool today. And to me, what’s cool isn’t what’s cool.
What’s on your cover?
M: A picture of us.
B: The label want our band name on it.
M: It’s a good logo, but it doesn’t really fit. So, we’re having some trouble.
B: We don’t have conflicts with the label ever.
M: Well, we haven’t been with them long.
Why Lemon Twigs? Maybe you’ll never have to answer this again if you address it well here.
M: It wasn’t supposed to be real. We hadn’t needed a name, and he just came up with it for a gig.
B: The two of us are the Lemon Twigs, but I think when we all play, we’re all Lemon Twigs.
M: And we play to all our Twiglets.
There you go, you’ve got a name for your fanbase, already. Like Gaga and Rihanna. You’re all set.
M: What are their names?
Little Monsters! The Navy! I don’t know why. And the monsters have a sort of salute. They put their paws up.
M: Oh, that’s not cool, Lady Gaga. I’m going on record. Twiglets is a lot cooler. The Navy, that’s cool! But little scary monsters or whatever… that’s not cool.
B: Oh, and here’s what I have to say about FKA Twigs…
M: Ya know, if we end up on a bill together, it will be so confusing. We’ll end up with little puppies from someone else’s rider… Mix-ups. Do you know what I mean?
B: I don’t know what you mean.
The Lemon Twigs Do Hollywood is out on 4AD later this year
(Originally published in BEAT Magazine)