Going to Rock Church with The Lemon Twigs: An Exclusive Interview, by Eleanor Prytherch, Nya Hodge
The RedHawk Radio introduction to The Lemon Twigs began in a renovated church in Newport, Kentucky. The bar smelled slightly of cigarettes, and its patrons looked just old enough to smoke them. There was a sense that something momentous was about to happen, and it was – the second night of The Lemon Twigs’ second headline tour was only an hour away.
Before their performance, we sat down with brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs to find out everything there was to know about their style, their process, and of course, their upcoming album, Everything Harmony, releasing May 5.
Photo by Henri Robbins
The brothers grew up in a musical household, founding The Lemon Twigs as teenagers and releasing four (soon to be five) albums all before the ages of 26 and 24. They’ve toured with iconic bands of the indie-rock scene such as Arctic Monkeys and, currently, The Killers. But when we talked to them on a chilly night at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, they were gearing up for their own headline show.
With experience on both kinds of tours, they can appreciate what each has to offer.
“It’s less pressure to be the supporting act, and whether or not it's well-attended or something is not on you. But then also people aren't as forgiving,” Michael said. “I enjoy [being a supporting act] a lot because it makes you feel like you've got to work harder for people to like it.”
Brian and Michael don’t mind a challenge. Their favorite song to play on tour is one of their new singles, the mellow and croony “Any Time of Day.”
“It's very difficult for me,” Brian said. “I haven't played bass live before. And now I'm doing that.”
Michael confirmed how challenging the song is to perform live.
“He's singing the lead and he's playing the bass, and it's a real hard bass part,” Michael said. “And then we do a certain kind of key change in the song. Because of the harmonies in the song and the key changes in the song, people kind of get this lift in the middle of it.”
The Lemon Twigs are known for their energetic live performances, so it’s fitting that their favorite song to play would be the one that elicits the most palpable response from their audience.
Across their discography, what seems to define The Lemon Twigs’ sound is a melodic nostalgia for the glam and goofiness of the classic rock era with a distinctly modern voice. Think the playful suaveness of Queen or The Kinks with a freshness all their own.
Photo by Henri Robbins
Off the stage and in the studio, the brothers have a unique creative process. They write songs separately, sometimes coming together to help each other finalize them. When they head to the studio, they’ve developed a routine.
“Usually it's both of us playing at once, recording everything,” Brian said. “It'll be whoever wrote it, the instrument that they wrote it on usually, and then the other person playing drums, and then that helps us get a start.”
The duo usually carries out most steps of production without an outside producer, bringing both of their strengths to their projects.
“We kind of build the track from there,” Michael said. “Brian plays all kinds [of instruments]: a little bit of cello, trumpet and stuff like that. Between the two of us, we can kind of build the whole track, and I do a lot of the engineering stuff.”
Because they do most of their own production, they have a fair amount of agency over the final product.
“It probably makes us feel a little bit more secure in our writing,” Brian said, “because we don't have to audition the songs to anybody, or have somebody say ‘Oh, it’s not great.’ That seems really stressful.”
On top of that, they said it helps them create a more cohesive piece of music. They explained that there’s often a dissonance between the processes of the artist writing and the producer in the studio.
“How much of it is the song? How much of it is the production?” Michael said.
Keeping control of both sides of the creative process allows them to make their songs the most authentic they can be.
How would Michael and Brian describe their brand? We gave them three words to do so.
“Harmony would be mine,” Brian offered first.
“That’s what I was gonna say!” Michael said in agreement.
Working as a team, “harmony,” “sixties,” and “retro” were what they came up with. “Wait,” Brian said and paused skeptically, “harmony, sixties and then retro?”
“It’s only three words, and I’m managing to be redundant,” Michael said with a laugh.
Outside of the classic glam rock category, they look to acts like Moon Dog and The Flying Burrito Brothers for their musical inspiration.
“For me, writing with finger picking stuff, there's a lot of classical guitar that I just took when I was a kid, that I don't even really listen to, that ends up being an influence” Brian said.
Photo by Henri Robbins
Despite drawing heavily from the ’60s and ’70s, they’re still well-versed in the evolution of the modern indie scene. We asked them what up-and-coming acts they think we should be on the lookout for in the next few years, and they gave us an impressive list.
“This band Tchotchke, and this band Uni Boys that Rez, our drummer, is in,” Michael said. “There’s a lot. Dagger, Polyester, this band Josephine Network that we’re touring with. Pretty much anybody that we bring on the road we’re endorsing. Slug Bug who we’re playing with tonight.”
At the show we attended, the other opening act was Willie and the Cigs, a Cincinnati-based DIY act with cowboy rock influences, continuing to prove The Lemon Twigs’ interest in boosting bands in genres of all sorts.
Looking ahead to their upcoming album, the brothers emphasized the importance of analog recording techniques and of drawing even more from the authentic sounds of the ’70s.
“It was all recorded, you know, analog tape, and very meticulously,” Michael said. “And it was just me and Brian and another guy in a super empty studio in San Francisco. If you hear it with that in mind, it's kind of strange, because it sounds like a lot of people. I mean, it’s only analog. We didn't do any digital manipulation.”
The duo alluded to what fans can expect of songs on the new album.
“A lot of them are kind of downtempo and ballady,” Michael said. “It's kind of folksy, like Simon and Garfunkel. But then there's also a few kind of jangly rockers. It’s not necessarily our direction or anything like that. But this is what we're doing for this album.”
After our chat, The Lemon Twigs headed back to prep for their set. We joined a growing crowd in the hall of the old church to await their performance, and we were not disappointed. The Lemon Twigs are not only comfortable on stage – they thrive on it.
Photo by Henri Robbins
Brian and Michael look straight from the ’70s slow rock era that inspires them. Their onstage style feels like a homage to vintage outfits past, complete with shag haircuts, flared jeans and sleeveless band tees. They’re joined by their touring bassist, Danny Ayala, dressed like he’s ready to take the stage with the Beatles or Queen.
They opened with “The One” from their junior album, Songs For the General Public, which throws you right into the chorus of the song and hooks you into their performance. They don’t wait to jump around with their guitars. It’s electrifying and upbeat from the second they step on stage. Brian takes the lead on vocals while Michael and Dany sing back-up harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys. The Twigs’ energy translates perfectly to the crowd, which bops around as fans sing each word
Next up, the Twigs take on “In My Head,” a song from their upcoming album, Everything Harmony. Despite the song being new to the audience, they groove like they’ve heard it a million times. It’s a slower, sadder song that marks a new sound for The Twigs.
Their third song was “Live in Favor of Tomorrow,” another track from Songs For the General Public. This one is a complete turn around from “In My Head” — it’s dancey, fast-paced and hopeful. Michael’s guitar solo wows the crowd into cheers and whistles.
The Twigs seem to cultivate a natural symbiosis between the crowd and their music. They feed off each other in the most entertaining and rejuvenating way possible. The Lemon Twigs are breaking their way into the forefront of the indie stream, and it seems they’re rightfully there to stay.
DISCLOSURE: This article was written in collaboration with a ticket giveaway between The Lemon Twigs and RedHawk Radio.