The Lemon Twigs sidestep sibling rivalry
by Eamon McGrath
February 9, 2017
Call them the anti-Gallaghers, the Lemon Twigs are blowing up because of their brotherhood rather than in spite of it.
Photo: Autumn de Wilde
Brotherly love does not always run smooth, and sibling rivalry has fuelled some of rock and roll’s most pivotal bands: the Davies’ bent-out-of-shape bickering in the Kinks; the Gallaghers’ griping and sniping in Oasis were legendary as Noel and Liam fought for their place in the spotlight; the Black Crowes’ Chris and Rich Robinson had their own separate tour buses; and the abrasive and volatile attitudes Jim and William Reid had towards each other resulted in some of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s most chaotic interviews and concerts.
However, in the case of Lemon Twigs, the Long Island duo of brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, the constantly-at-odds dynamic of other musical siblings is conspicuously absent: this is a brotherly relationship of intense collaboration and creation. “I think we figured we were always going to be in a band,” recalls Brian. “We knew that we were going to do something together, and we both wrote songs, so it was only natural that we did it that way. I guess it was a conscious decision.”
Lemon Twigs shed the lavish rock star status for a lifestyle of artistic expression and creative focus. “We live in our parents’ house,” Brian D’Addario confesses over the phone from Montreal during a day off on their current US and Canadian tour. “My dad has been collecting instruments and different recording equipment for years. There’s a lot of stuff of his that we use. We just wanted to use the record advance that the label gave us to buy recording equipment and instruments.”
That might sound admittedly un-rock and roll, eschewing the scotch and wine-fuelled hotel debauchery of other fraternal musical partnerships, but upon closer examination it’s characteristic of a different kind of revelry. In videos and photographs, the Lemon Twigs’ image is reminiscent of the cherry juice-and-blood courtyard frolicking of Marc Bolan, the cocaine-induced anorexia of Thin White Duke era Bowie, the pale and ghostly face of Lou Reed on the cover of Transformer; but make no mistake: the Lemon Twigs’ orbit a different world, one inhabited by sonic textures, unique sounds, and artistic exploration. On Do Hollywood, the Twigs relocated from their Long Island home to the party mecca of Los Angeles, shocked by the dystopian wasteland that waited for them on the other side of their cross-country trip: on Sunset Blvd., junkies and addicts dressed as Jack Sparrow or Spider-Man pose with tourists in photographs for change, eager vacationers unaware of the dismal reality of the situation being posted to Facebook and Twitter. For Brian, the expected lavish mythological temptations of California were far from the truth. The brothers instead dove head first into their recording sessions, as the dark reality of Hollywood lurked menacingly outside producer Jonathon Rado’s studio walls.
“Jonathon would just ask Michael to play the song a bunch of times, and he would fiddle around with mic placement, and add different compressors,” recalls Brian, escaping to the studio to avoid the grim reality of Hollywood outside. Inside, Rado channeled the sounds and atmospheres of the Lemon Twigs’ heroes: that punchy, sharp snare sound of Ringo Starr beneath the otherworldly vocal harmonies of Lennon and McCartney, the piano-driven barroom stomp of Small Faces and Dr. Feelgood. “Each track was completely different. It was tackled a different way. That’s something that’s a little less common nowadays.”
Referencing the sold-out US club dates leading up to, and following, the release, and their multitude of Spotify streams, “At the time it felt like ‘now we’re makin’ it,’” Brian recalls. “But the album cover is kind of this really shitty looking part of California. The back cover is this dumpster. It was like we thought it was going to be all this glitz and glamour but in the indie world, it’s very casual. Really, we were pleasantly surprised that when we got to California it ended up just hanging out at Jonathon’s house. It made it really comfortable for us to record.”
The D’Addario’s positive familial and creative relationship made its way into the studio, their brotherly bond directly affecting the songwriting and arranging process. They switch back and forth from the drum kit and vocal mic, depending on who wrote the song, making way for the opposite brother to add his own arrangements and colour to the finished product. “We both have different goals when we’re making a song,” Brian explains. “The obvious one that I always think of is with our lyrics, and music. I like to dress my songs up in a lot of subtleties and whatnot, maybe even unnecessarily sometimes. Sometimes my lyrics can be a little bit hard to work out, and [Michael’s] songs are very direct and to the point. If it’s a little too simple I’ll say: ‘you should make that part a little more unique.’ And if I’m just doing too much complicated stuff he’ll tell me.”
Lemon Twigs are two halves of one whole, filling in each other’s respective empty spaces: in a sense, the anti-rock star brotherly pair. But when seen onstage or in the studio, their relationship is one of unhinged artistic expression at its most innocent and unaffected. They’re whole-heartedly in this together, taking each other in tow across the world for the sake of expression and songwriting. With the D’Addario brothers this committed to their artistic process, cultivated from a lifetime of shared experiences, family feuds seem best left to the sibling rivalries of rock and roll’s lavish and debaucherous past.