Nov 1, 2016
Meet The Lemon Twigs, “The Next Billy Joel of Hicksville”
Sitting in a booth at a Long Island diner with Brian and Michael D’Addario, it’s easy to forget that they’re on the cusp of a likely and glorious rock-and-roll adventure.
The week prior, the brothers and their band, The Lemon Twigs, played The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and a couple days before that they headlined a gig at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza. Do Hollywood, their debut album for UK-based 4AD, one of the most storied tastemaker labels of the past 40 years, would be out in weeks, and they were about to embark on a month-long North American tour in support of Brooklyn’s own Sunflower Bean.
But at that diner, they were kids from Long Island as much as budding rock stars being interviewed for a cover article. Michael demolished a cup of chicken and noodle soup with the intensity that only a very hungry 17-year-old could muster for a cup of Long Island diner chicken and noodle soup that came free with his gigantic chopped steak. Later, after our waitress caught on that Michael and his elder brother by two years, Brian, might be something of a big deal, the younger D’Addario told her that he’d been in the diner recently with his girlfriend, and she had waited on them too. She, however, didn’t recognize him from the visit.
“I only like real rock-and-roll,” the waitress told us. “What kind of music do you guys play?”
It was a great question, and a perfectly apt one for the D’Addario brothers, because it just so happens that they do play “real rock-and-roll,” in more ways than one. If you were to listen to Do Hollywood without knowing anything about the band that created the album, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was from the late 60s, production quality aside. It abounds with catchy Beatles-esque melodies, twangy Kinks-esque guitar riffs, and flawless Beach Boys-esque harmonies. And there’s nothing affected about their 60s pop sound, though you might be tempted to think so when you see Michael’s Ziggy Stardust mullet or Brian’s shaggy haircut and the vintage clothes they favor, which first went out of style three decades before they were born.
The brothers come by their influences honestly enough, though, having grown up in a musical household. “Music was important to both my parents, I’d say,” Brian says. “My dad’s a musician and he writes great songs. He’s got a record Falling For Love, which is a great record. My mom did musical theater. So that was a big influence on us when we were young.”
We can’t learn anything about The Beatles. We already know everything.
The two listened to a lot of musicals growing up, too, but Brian says they were “super obsessed” with The Beatles. “That was like our whole lives,” he says. “And that was the result of [our parents] being into it.” They poured over every Beatles album and watched every installment of The Beatles Anthology TV documentary from the 90s. Brian says that he listened to The Beatles almost exclusively for years: “Other things, here and there, but no one topped it for, like, nine years,” he says. He proves just how long that is by adding, “Until I was like nine years old I didn’t get into anything else.”
That’s right: the nine years Brian D’Addario spent exclusively obsessed with The Beatles were his first nine years on Earth. That may sound naïve or quaint, in a way—how much could he really have absorbed or understood in his first nine years of life? But that stretch is almost half of Brian’s life, and he spent those years dedicated to obsessing over everything The Beatles ever did. That tells you all you need to know about where the D’Addario brothers are coming from.
“We just saw the new Beatles movie,” Michael says, referring to The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s documentary about the Fab Four’s early years. “[But] we’re not going to learn anything new about The Beatles. We can’t learn anything about The Beatles. We already know everything.”
When he was 12, Brian started taking classical guitar lessons, which he credits with not just helping round out his songwriting skills but also giving him his life’s mission. Michael and Brian both take lessons with the same teacher whenever they’re in town.
“[Our guitar teacher] just has a very specific kind of view of how to kind of advance as a guitarist and as a person, and it’s like, to just make it your whole life to just progress and evolve and to be really diligent about that and to really make that your life’s purpose,” Brian says. “And that affects the fact that I don’t really care if I’m only doing music, and only advancing in music.”
Both brothers are songwriters and multi-instrumentalists capable of handling duties on guitar, drums, keyboards, and more. The pair trade songwriting credits on the album, literally. The first track, “I Wanna Prove To You,” was penned by Brian, the second track, “Those Days Is Comin Soon,” by Michael, and so on.
Michael says that his songwriting chops are still something he’s working on. “I wasn’t focused on honing [songwriting] skills” when writing Do Hollywood, he says. Instead, he practiced a style of songwriting “where you’re just doing whatever comes to you and adding a bunch of parts and kind of having a bunch of parts in the song and the structure doesn’t entirely make that much sense.” But now he says that he’s thinking about the craft of songwriting on a much deeper level, inspired by the early Beatles and Big Star.
The brothers recorded Do Hollywood in Los Angeles with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, an early supporter of theirs, whom they met after sending him demos on Facebook all the way back in February of 2015, and their second album is already planned out.
Michael makes a distinction between the songwriters who inspired his previous, accretive songwriting method and someone like Tom Petty, who writes songs “Where it doesn’t sound like something that [he] cut down, it’s just he naturally comes out with these songs that are kind of just pop songs. Whereas somebody like Paul McCartney or Alex Chilton, they have to whittle down and make these great pop songs. Or they just go off on tangents, you know what I mean?”
Not only do these teenage brothers come by their rock-and-roll influences honestly enough, they have clearly spent a lot of time delving as deeply into them as possible. Their breadth of knowledge about rock history is impressive—but that didn’t stop Michael from randomly spouting “cosines” out loud after he mentioned going off on tangents. Nothing like a good old math joke, eh? But perhaps that’s to be expected from two brothers who spend so much time together and have formed such a close creative partnership.
After being asked whether or not they each specialize in any particular instrument, they delivered this exchange, in which the fact that they are steeped in rock-and-roll lore is just as evident as the fact that they are teenaged brothers:
Brian: “I think the instrument he’s most fluent with is…”
“Proficient,” Michael corrects.
“Proficient in,” Brian laughs, “is drums. And then mine would probably be guitar.”
“Fluent with. I speak the drums,” Michael says, not letting it go.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”
“Yeah and his is guitar,” Michael says, back on track. “But actually he might be a better bass player than a guitar player. Because you know some guitar players can do stuff that you can’t do, but there’s not many bass players who can do anything that you can’t do. Except for like Jaco [Pastorius, legendary jazz bassist]…”
“Well that’s because I got really into the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” Brian says.
“I know but you never got into Van Halen or anything, so you never learned how to tap or anything like that.”
“Yeah, but I got into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I learned a lot of the John Frusciante likes.”
“I know what you can do, Brian,” Michael says, feigning exasperation. “I’m just saying, like, I think there’s less of a range of what you can do on bass and you encompass all of it, almost all of it.”
“That’s the nicest thing he’s ever said to me,” says Brian. “We’re into making bold statements about each other,” he finishes, with a flawless deadpan.
The Lemon Twigs’ retro sound is not all that makes them “real rock-and-roll,” though. Onstage at the Irving Plaza—a 4AD Revue show that they played with two other bands new to the label’s roster, Pixx and Methyl Ethel—their energy was undeniable and infectious. Brian executed numerous rock star moves, like the leaping kick and the Angus Young duck walk. But Michael was even wilder, high-kicking at least a dozen times per song and finishing the set by climbing on top of a speaker and leaping off. Their keyboardist Danny Ayala, whom the D’Addario brothers have known for a decade, basically ran in circles in between songs, as if he had so much energy even The Lemon Twigs’ manic stage show couldn’t channel it.
In other words, The Lemon Twigs do not appear to be faking it. Even if you think some of their stage moves are cliched at this point, the energy of their live show is so genuine it proves that the true spirit of rock-and-roll is what really moves them. Rock music has always been about youthful exuberance and reckless abandon, anyway, and these guys are living it.
They have the kind of stage presence that can’t be taught; you have it or you don’t. This is undoubtedly the product of childhoods spent— where else?—on the stage. Brian debuted on Broadway in the role of Gavroche in the 2006 revival of Les Miserables and originated the role of Flounder in the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid. Michael, meanwhile, has also appeared on Broadway, in All My Sons and The Coast of Utopia, as well as acting in the horror film Sinister and the drama People Like Us, both released in 2012.
If it doesn’t work out, nobody’s going to want me any more than they wanted me before.
Acting and musical theater were not what the D’Addario brothers really wanted to do with their lives, however. “It kind of dried up, and we never really had interest,” Michael says. “But now I have more interest than ever.”
Does that mean he would think about going back to acting if the whole rock-and-roll thing doesn’t work out?
“No, if it does work out,” Michael says. “If it doesn’t work out, nobody’s going to want me any more than they wanted me before.”
It’s pointed out that “they” wanted him even before the rock-and-roll thing. “Well that’s true,” he says. “But then when I went through puberty they didn’t want me anymore.”
Yes, Brian and Michael had already started their first band by elementary school. “We had a band called MOTP,” which stood for “Members of the Press,” Brian says. “We started it for like talent shows, and that went on for like 10 years.” That’s when the brothers first played with Danny Ayala, their live keyboardist in The Lemon Twigs. They met touring bassist Megan Zeankowski in high school.
Michael graduated high school a year early, which is why he’s able to set out on the road for a month with The Lemon Twigs at the age of 17. But otherwise, both brothers had fairly normal high school experiences in their hometown of Hicksville, NY. They weren’t even really known for their nascent musical careers in high school so much as their bygone acting careers.
But that seems like it’s changing. While walking around a suburban Hicksville neighborhood (not that there’s likely any other kind of neighborhood in Hicksville), a car full of teenage boys started screaming at the D’Addarios and pulled to a stop right in the middle of the street so that all four of the passengers could pour out of the car. It turns out they all went to high school with Brian and Michael.
“Lemon Twiiiiigs!” one of them shouted.
Brian says that’s a fairly new development—ever since The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Michael agrees: “Yeah, it’s hot on the school news.”
“People have been looking for the next Billy Joel of Hicksville High School for years, and finally we’re filling his shoes,” Brian jokes.
But it might not be a joke for long. Billy Joel, the Piano Man himself, really did grow up in Hicksville, and it’s clear that the D’Addario brothers’s ambitions include some day selling out venues like Madison Square Garden. Not that they’re getting that ahead of themselves.
Ahead of their appearance on The Tonight Show, none other than house bandleader and drummer for The Roots, Questlove, tweeted that he’d “been waiting FOREVER for the world to see” The Lemon Twigs. The world is about to get its chance, and the immensity of what their immediate future holds is not lost on the D’Addario brothers, even if it has been a bit overwhelming—in a good way—for these two kids from Long Island.
“Things have been happening so quickly that we haven’t really had time to process that,” says Brian, “Kind of, being really amazing and stuff.”
Photos by Brian W. Ferry
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