Note: “A previous edit of this article referred to The Lemon Twigs’ as ‘The Twigs’ on two occasions, but has since been edited to avoid any confusion with The Twigs.”
Upon hearing The Lemon Twigs‘ spectacular debut album, Do Hollywood, the band — brothers and creative wunderkinds, Brian and Michael D’Addario, bassist Megan Zeankowski and keyboardist Danny Ayala — have captivated music listeners around the globe with their rich tapestry of exquisite baroque pop.
Think the Beatles meets ’68 era the Who with a hefty dose of Nilsson, Big Star, Badfinger and Frank Zappa added to the musical stew, and you’re on the right track.
Winning over audiences around the globe, from The Hollywood Bowl to the Fuji Rock Festival Japan, the Lemon Twigs have stirred up a tsunami of interest from press and music fans alike, based on their deep well of immaculate songcraft and a powerful and incendiary live presentation. With a new EP, Brothers of Destruction having been released on September 22, we spoke with Brian D’Addario for a look inside the Lemon Twigs’ world.
Rock Cellar: What are your earliest musical memories?
Brian D’Addario: Well, I can remember being in the back of the car with all of these Beatles CDs. My dad burned up every Beatles album with all the song titles and stuff. I just can remember looking at all the song titles and listening to them in the car. That’s the kind of stuff that I remember. I’ve seen a lot of videos of us pretending to play when we were very very young, like 5 and 3. We’re standing in front of The Beatles Anthology while it’s playing and miming.
That immediately connected the story of the people we were listening to with the music. So we were always interested in finding out about the people whose music we liked from the very beginning.
When did you both begin learning how to play instruments?
Brian D’Addario: Well, it was early on and for both of us we stated with drums. We were 5, and it was easy to show us how to do a beat without the bass drum first. So that’s what my dad did. We got used to playing in time pretty early because we didn’t have to keep up with that much, just doing hi-hat and snare. Michael stayed on drums for a long time and I moved on to guitar two years later. Then I took up the bass following that and then keyboards. Keyboards were a little bit later. For a couple of months I took piano lessons. That was how I started playing piano.
When did you begin to get serious and have thought of this being what you wanted to do with your life?
Brian D’Addario: Well, it didn’t really hit me ever; it was always what I wanted to do. As soon as I could develop memories, I’d already wanted to do it for a couple of years. It was the first entertainment we were exposed to, and we immediately kind of connected it to a career ‘cause we took to it more than we took to anything else. It was really just The Beatles at first so I would have just probably said, “I wanted to be the Beatles” and then that translated pretty soon into being a musician.
What’s the first song you played for your dad that he was really impressed with?
Brian D’Addario: Each step up the ladder you could always tell when you had made a jump. It wasn’t until maybe a couple of years ago with the song for our album, Do Hollywood, that he made a point to say, “This isn’t just good for you being my kids, I think it’s really good. I would listen to this.” Our dad doesn’t get into new things very much nowadays.
For the past 30 years he hasn’t gotten into much new music, even though we have played him stuff and he’s enjoyed it. But for him to have a CD in his car that isn’t one of the things he discovered when he was in his 20’s is kind of rare.
As songwriters, run us through your evolution in sound and styles leading up to The Lemon Twigs.
Brian D’Addario: Well, initially it was exclusively ‘60s stuff and it kind of ended with the breakup of The Beatles. The Beach Boys stuff that we listened to all came from the ‘60s. And then we got into The Who and that kind of opened us up to stuff into the ‘70s. So that’s what we wrote songs like for a while.
And then when I was about 10 or 11 I got a compilation of a bunch of different music that was pretty common. I got it from a guy that was in a show with us, Les Miz on Broadway. He was one of the leads in Les Miz when I was doing it.
He gave me a compilation that had My Chemical Romance on it, his favorite band. The Ramones were also on it and I liked them because my Dad made us a 9, 10 song compilation of things that he liked that The Ramones did. I remember there was also a Cure song on it. I think it was mostly ‘80s stuff and My Chemical Romance. So that started a My Chemical Romance phase for me that brought me into middle school.
Michael got really into Nirvana and Radiohead. Then I got into those after him and then there was a long phase of us trying to Radiohead kind of stuff and Nirvana-styled stuff.
You knew your future band mates Megan Zeankowski and Danny Ayala in high school?
Brian D’Addario: Yeah. Megan didn’t play bass and then I started teaching her. Not for her to be in the band, just to teach her because she wanted to learn. Me and Michael were recording a lot of stuff by ourselves and Danny was recording a lot of stuff by himself. Megan got really good really quickly and I kind of wanted to start playing the songs that we were doing by ourselves. So then we got them both in the band to just play at that time all three of our songs. Then we went to L.A. to record with (Jonathan) Rado and it was kind of becoming more of a professional thing so we thought it would simpler if it just focused on me and Michael’s songs.
Take us into the studio for the band’s debut album, Do Hollywood.
Brian D’Addario: A lot of the tracks were done really quickly. We were on a break from school and had 12 days in California and we did a track a day. We did “I Wanna Prove To You” the first day.
The only thing that was overdubbed or changed on “I Wanna Prove To You” was some cellos that were added. Other than that, it was all recorded that first day. Then we just continued doing a track a day from that point and then we did some overdubs afterwards.
How important was producer Jonathan Rado in the making of Do Hollywood?
Brian D’Addario: Very important. I was just thinking the other day, the synth part in ”These Words” was one of his ideas, to do this synth part that’s in between the vocal in the second verse.
Brian, it sounds like he offered some astute advice: “I remember saying, ‘I don’t really know what we want to make this record be.’ And he said, ‘Just make 10 really great pop songs.'”
Brian D’Addario: Yeah, he did say that. When we did a show with Foxygen at Webster Hall, there were a bunch of ways we could have approached it. We had done a lot of songs after What We Know and some of them were darker with a classical kind of vibe. There were other things that I was working on at the time that seemed very different from some of the other stuff that I had. So I kind of asked Rado, “What do you think we should do, should we have some sort of concept?” and he said, “No, just write 10 great pop songs.”
Having access at a young age to portable tape recording equipment, did that put you a step ahead in terms of thinking of arrangements and an overall sonic vision for your music?
Brian D’Addario: I think it helped us a whole lot. Our initial stuff was done on Garage Band. But we had an interface, so we could plug our guitars in and stuff. Figuring out how to work that equipment really early on was really helpful. We weren’t really taught that part of it; we just kind of figured it out ‘cause our dad worked on a different program. So kind of being able to figure things like that was important. But also on the arrangement side, I had gotten into the habit of writing songs on the guitar and laying down the guitar part the way I wrote it and then kind of picking it apart from there.
Yeah, it was really helpful for arranging and learning how to improvise on bass and get a drum part down. Also, just having all your songs recorded the same way; you kind of start to feel you have to change the way you’re arranging it, which gives you more harmonic possibilities.
From kicking out the jams at huge festivals to performing at the Hollywood Bowl to doing shows around the globe, what are the concerts that stand out thus far in your career?
Brian D’Addario: It really depends. The one that we played at Fuji Rock felt really special because it was a very long tour and I felt like we were kind of wavering between good and bad shows. There was one in Bilbao, Spain that was a very packed room. It was so loud because the acoustics in the room were crazy. It felt like a cathedral but even though it wasn’t one, the acoustics made it feel like that. That was also following us seeing Brian Wilson at that festival and being able to watch from the side of the stage and being very close. That was incredible and we felt high off of that and it kind of helped us with our show.
You just released a new EP, Brothers of Destruction. What’s origin of these six tracks?
Brian D’Addario: We recorded them all at home and it was recorded very soon after we did the album. So we had all this energy from recording the album. Recording Do Hollywood was the best experience we had in our lives up to that point and actually working with someone who really understood what you were doing and was able to elevate what you were doing. It just never happened to us before and we were so inspired by that that we went home and recorded all this other stuff.
It’s recorded on an eight-track and there’s a lot of stuff on it. There were one or two songs on the EP that we‘d presented to Rado — “So Fine” and “Light And Love”– and then we didn’t think they were ready. Instead of “Light And Love” we did “How Lucky Am I?” We’ve been playing “Night Song” I our show and it’s changed a lot from playing it live and we don’t have the orchestra.