“This is us at our best”, says The Lemon Twigs’ Brian D’Addario when breaking down their new album Songs for the General Public. “Everything we did for this record felt very in the domain of possibility and it just felt very natural following the last one.”
Today Brian, along with brother Michael D’Addario, bear the fruits of their creative streak with the release of their third full-length record; a sprawling, grandiose effort full of 70s rock ’n’ roll hooks, dizzying guitar melodies, and a thrilling dose of psychedelic pop.
It sees them jump back into the formula of classic, theatrical, show-stopping riffs and glam rock sensibilities following 2018’s record Go To School; an ambitious, 15-track musical concept album about a monkey raised by humans.
Their debut album, 2016’s Do Hollywood, earned them a host of A-list fans – from Elton John to Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner – thanks to stompers like These Words and As Long As We’re Together, while their live shows helped them build up a reputation as one of the tightest, must-see acts around.
Now Songs for the General Public sets the bar even higher thanks to huge, anthemic tracks like The One, Moon, Live In Favour of Tomorrow, and Hell on Wheels, which they debuted with an intimate set on Late Night with Set Meyers in New York.
The talented duo wrote, recorded and produced the record to tape at their home studio in Long Island before recording tracks at Sonora Studios in Los Angeles and New York’s famous Electric Lady.
“Some of the songs have been lying around for quite a while”, Michael told Daily Star Online. “There was a certain criteria from the last album. A lot of them didn’t fit onto that one so went onto this one.”
He added: “Songs for the General Public, as far as we are concerned, this is our interpretation of pop music.”
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Michael and Brian in May via a Transatlantic call to talk about how Songs for the General Public was recorded, life during a pandemic, their creative streak, and why their new album is the quintessential Lemon Twigs sound.
Hi guys, how are you? How is lockdown treating you? Has it given you time to work on material? Where have you spent it?
Michael: “It’s fine, you know. I’m just watching TV. We’re at our folks house, both Brian and I in Long Island. We have a lot of recording equipment over here. We’re recording a lot here. We have a lot of post album work to do so we’re not totally focused on new stuff.”
Brian: “It’s alright. Everybody’s healthy. Counting my blessings. It’s a lot of time.
“I’m always the most inspired by other people’s work and there’s tonnes of that. As far as inspiration goes it doesn’t feel like there’s a total lack. I think I’m listening in more to things.
“Spending more time enjoying other people’s art than I think I have allowed myself in the past, which is making me feel a bit foolish about having not made that more of a priority. You don’t want to make it a priority, you want it to be natural but it does feel like there are some fringe, good things that can come for the world. It’s not going to equal out, my getting into certain things, but personally.”
Anything in particular you’ve discovered?
Brian: “Michael has been watching a lot of movies and I’ve been there watching them. Casavettes’ movies, all the great filmmakers, y’know. That’s been fun.”
Your new album Songs for the General Public is out in August. What was the writing process like and what can we expect from it?
Michael: “It was pretty typical. Some of the songs have been lying around for quite a while, most of them go pretty far back. A lot of the songs were piled up. There was a certain criteria from the last album. A lot of them didn’t fit onto that one so went onto this one.
“Songs for the General Public, as far as we are concerned, this is what interpretation of pop music. This is pop music in the sense that it’s popular, not popular music now, but popular music. We always think of it as a genre that’s so broad. It gets to the chorus real quick and gets back to the verse. These are pretty conventional pop songs.
“There are a few on there that are pretty wild.”
Brian: “This is us at our best. I think it really was not a conscious choice but I do think it’s easier to get into than the last album. Even when I say it wasn’t a conscious choice, in a way it was a conscious choice but it was just down to selecting songs, songs that we were always going to write and some written during the last record.
“They were very easy to record, at least to get the ideas down, refining them took a lot of work sonically. Everything we did for this record felt very in the domain of possibility and it just felt very natural following the last one.”
The single The One was released earlier this year. Is it a snapshot of what we can expect from the album?
Brian: “I always thought of the album of having an energy throughout the whole thing. As a song, there is maybe one other song like that, in terms of the feel and genre. There are a lot of synth-based tracks on the album. There are really hard rockers and a ballad on the album.
“I think there’s one other song on the album that feels like a sort of uptempo jangly guitar track. Even that one I think has a pretty different energy, maybe a more 60s energy. In general it’s pretty varied but all the songs you pretty much know what they’re about on the first time you hear them and the communicate to an audience something that can be understood pretty quickly.”
The album was recorded and produced at your home in Long Island, Sonora Studios in Los Angeles and New York’s famous Electric Lady. What were the sessions like and did each location bring something different?
Michael: “Sure. It feels like a goal or something. Electric Lady it’s probably the most pro sonic thing.
“First of all it sounds really great sonically. A lot of things don’t sound great sonically to my ears now. It’s also got some power. It holds up against other modern things in succession. It comes on, it doesn’t bring down the energy. It’s sonically hits the way other things do.”
Brian: “I think what that allowed us to do was reevaluate the sound of each song. Most of the songs ended up being worked on at every place, as opposed to songs having more of an Electric Lady thing or songs having more of a Sonora thing. There were three songs where the drums and the basic tracks were recorded at Sonora.
“I think they will just hear a similarity of, like, the drum sound. That’s the most obvious thing that links the songs together. What it allowed us do to do was keep evaluating each song. ‘Can we get it to sound fuller, richer, smoother?’ We didn’t just record the track and say ’that’s the way it is’, which sometimes you end up doing.”
How long did it take this time?
Brian : “It was a year process, which is a bit misleading because we recorded two more albums in that time. The basis of two more albums. We didn’t really get to ironing them out. It did end up to a year of knowing what songs were on the album.”
Do you think it’s a snapshot of where you are as a band? Is it the quintessential Lemon Twigs that you are now?
Brian: “Yeah I think so. The interesting thing was having a lot of other things written. Any song at one point was on the album. A lot of songs got thrown out that really felt like a momentary thing. Those things didn’t make it on the album because of the longer process.
“Now if we write something and record it, there’s a certain level it has to get at before we decide to put it on an album. Before we recorded what we had and assumed we were going to put it on an album. Now there are too many songs to do that. It does feel like the bar gets raised a bit. The songs that made it then, we still feel very proud of.”
How do you think you’ve evolved since Do Hollywood and your last album Go To School? Are you more confident as artists?
Michael: “More world class things are available to us and we’ve matured as songwriters. A direct correlation of that is how good the songs are. If we’re lucky it won’t drop off but I think it’s going up and up.”
Brian: “There’s more in a certain sense, and less in another sense.
“Sometimes it helps to really have a lot of faith in your songwriting but not too much on how it’s going to translate, that it’s just going to be communicated no matter what. If you’re going to do something that’s, in essence, pop you have to really feel that you’re communicating it to the audience, and really contextualise it in a way that really brings out the song.
“I think there were certain aspects of like the arrangements are good and the song’s good, so we don’t have to worry about the recording so much and the performance, and the execution, because there are so many albums that we love that have messed up recordings and messed up performances so we can keep all of that stuff in. I don’t think our first couple of records sound like messy albums but there’s a certain tightness that we really aim for all the time.”
Songs for the General Public…what was the decision to call it that? Is it because they’re songs for everybody?
Brian: “Yeah. At first it’s a bit tongue in cheek because it’s not really that. It’s way more songs that wethink everybody should like but there is that attitude.
“It’s like if you’re going to like a song like this, there’s no road block in your enjoying it, I think. But what does that not apply to? It did have the energy of that we have to make sure the people can hear this aspect of it that we like a lot. We have to make sure people can hear this and that. It’s just putting that extra work in, I guess.”
The video for The One looked like a lot of fun to record but on an especially cold day. What was the filming like? Where was it filmed?
Michael: “We’ll do anything for what we think will be a good shot. You do something that’s going to be horrible for one day and you’re going to have to watch it for the rest of your life. It’s part of the gig, y’know? It was snowing and it was going to look fantastic, so get in the car and we’ll do it until we get it.
“It was filmed in Cincinnati. It’s quite aways away. I’ve got some family out there, we were visiting them. The director of the video tours around the country with his wife and they happened to be in the same place at the same time. It’s a very beautiful city. And it was very empty before the coronavirus. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in general.”
Brian: “Once we saw the van it looked so good. We knew anywhere we’d shot it would look nice. Driving through Cincinnati was really beautiful and there were not a lot of people walking around. It was good for filming.”
Due to the pandemic you were forced to postpone the album’s release until August 21. Were you disappointed or was it the right thing to do? Is it very much a case of “good things happen to those who wait”?
Michael: “We ended up making quite a few sonic changes in that short time period. We thought ‘maybe we could change this or that’. It did allow us that luxury and it really helped the record. These are things that you don’t realise how important they are. You don’t want to listen to something 600 times that doesn’t sound incredible. If it’s too harsh or something, that was the problem we were having. We were still mixing the masters.”
Brian: “I think it’s ended up helping us a bit because we got to re-evaluate it one more time. We ended up re-recording one more song and remastering the record.
“The way we had it initially, we felt better about it than we had with other albums but there’s always this, when you’re at the end of albums, you feel like you need to put a deadline on it to get it through and finished. Usually when that happens, by the time we’re hitting the deadline, there are one or two things that fly by when we think could that have been better.
“But at this point with the change of the deadline there aren’t those things, which is nice.”
You also dropped The Lemon Twigs Live album via Bandcamp at the end of April with 100% of the proceeds going to the Benefit Coalition for Homeless. How important is the charity to you and did you think it was important to pledge support during these difficult times?
Michael : “We were disappointed by the album postponement and disappointed we weren’t going to come out with anything for a long time.
“We had this thing we wanted to put out anyway and we hadn’t got a chance to. It was very obvious and we decided to get it together.”
Brian: “I think there was a degree of social responsibility that everybody has. Musically, I always wanted that record out. We finished more or less a year ago. I felt that side of what we did was not represented in any real documented sort of way. There’s a lot of things on the record that are being captured for the first time in this newest studio album in a way, but it’s never exactly the same as when you do it live.”
You’re renowned for your huge live shows – are you itching to get back onto the road?
Michael: “I’m just looking at this as a time to do a lot of recording. All I do is watch the TV and watch movies.
“I was a little nervous about going out. I get panicked. It’s not like this is helping in terms of panic. I’m always scared to go and then it’s fabulous when you’re out. Of course it would be terrific to be out but it’s five months and you’re like ‘where did all that time go?’.
“It’s great but I always just thought of it as a part of life because I’ve been doing it since I was 15. It’s strange and I wonder what’s going to happen with it. We’ll see what happens. It’s pretty wild.”
Brian: “We really were but at this point it’s going into a new creative thing. If it had to happen right now, I do think that there would be something missed just because of how uncertain everything is.”
Did you have any plans to tour the UK?
Michael: “Of course. That was going to be still on for a while. Then it was off. That’s one of those things where they cancelled all the US stuff. We had UK and Europe booked. Instead we were going to go straight to that.
“But the whole time I thought none of this was going to happen. Frankly I would hear tidbits about what people would say. I thought think ‘jesus even if people are going forward with these shows, I don’t want to do them’.
What’s it like in the US? Is it going back to normal?
Michael: “They say that. People are a little too relaxed. I have family all over the US. It’s very different in different places. Most people are very responsible because it’s such a hotbed, New York. We’re only 40 minutes from the city. I’d moved out and moved back to my parents. We were planning on moving out again and looking at places to rent. We thought ‘oh Christ we better not do that’ and then it got way more serious. A couple of days later it was impossible.”
What are you hopeful for the year ahead?
Michael : “Our fans will pay attention when we put out the record and I hope it will be more than our fans. We’re going to make a record and I’m focused on that now.
“All I can say is I think it’s really fantastic to my ears. I’m already focused on what’s going on next because I’ve got no other choice. I was in a place when I was very close to it for a long time. Now I can take a step back and say we’re doing a good job on it.
“We thought this is going to be such a fun record for people in the summer, so we’ll see. Maybe if they want a party in their room, it’s fabulous if you want there. There are some slower songs. But now we’re working on a peaceful album because it seems appropriate.”
Brian: “I’m hoping that in how ever long it takes for everything to get back that we can find a way to record three or four albums in this time. I would love to do something that next time we go on the road we can just release things every couple of months. That would be ideally what happens but it’s not going to be at the expense of the record.”
Are you enjoying a creative streak right now?
Brian: “Definitely writing-wise. The whole recording process, doing it at home and seeing the same things every day, it’s not as nice. I’ve had occasions where you’re going to a real studio and I don’t think anything really beats that, unless you can cultivate a really nice place for yourself that feels like yours.
“That’s what we’re going to try and do in the immediate future, to really find our own place. Even though we have this place we’re just where we’ve always lived. It’s time to move the studio.”
Do you have anywhere in mind?
Brian: “Somewhere in the east coast but it’s pretty open at the moment. It’s going to be wherever we can afford in the east coast.”
Are you looking forward to getting over to these shores? Do you have a good time in the UK?
Michael: “I do. Growing up with this it’s been a love/hate thing but now I’m pretty much used to things I don’t like about it. Not about the UK but going around. Now I think that was so fun. I’ve been watching movies I see Germany and I think ‘that’s amazing, I’ve been there!’
“I never put this together when I was there. Only considering it so much because I’m not able to go anywhere. It’s always been innate to the lifestyle.
“The more you get used to the process of it, the more you can explore and the more you know yourself. This is stuff that’s so arbitrary now because of this disease! We can reminisce (laughs).”
Brian: “I do have a good time there. For some reason the travelling is always a bit laboured but I don’t understand why! Definitely you feel a little bit more tired but the audiences typically make up for that. It feels like there’s a bit more of an energy for our band there.”
The Lemon Twigs’ Songs for the General Public is out now via 4AD