The Lemon Twigs go ape on sophomore album
|Toronto Star 21 Jan 2019 at 10:06|
You’ve heard of the “difficult second album,” right? Well, do the Lemon Twigs have a difficult second album for you.
Young Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario decided to take arguably the least obvious route imaginable to following up their precocious 2016 debut, Go Hollywood, late last year: they made an album-length musical about a teenage chimpanzee raised by human parents named Bill and Carol who — surprise, surprise — doesn’t fit in with the other kids at his new school.
Brothers Brian D Addario, left, and Michael D Addario bring the music of the Lemon Twigs’ sophomore album, Go To School, to Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 22. (Olivia Bee photo)
Spoiler alert: he eventually burns it down and kills 100 of his fellow students, returning to a tree in the wild in a literal blaze of glory. Oh yeah, and the Twigs somehow convinced Todd Rundgren to play the chimp’s father. Their mom, Susan Hall, gamely serves as Carol.
Yep, Go to School is a work of utterly daft genius and definitely, even defiantly, not for everybody. If you thought the teenage D’Addarios were pretty spectacular songwriters for their age on Go Hollywood, however, you should hear them in full glam-rock musical-theatre mode. The word “ambitious” doesn’t even begin to describe this thing. And did I mention they made it in their parents’ basement? With musician dad Ronnie D’Addario helping out behind the boards, of course.
“It wasn’t the kind of thing where we decided, ‘Oh, you know what would be really great? A concept album,’” says Brian, down the line from his home in Garden City. “We went through our phase of really being obsessed with concept albums years ago (but) we didn’t really have any of that sort of thing going on. We just kinda realized that we were writing songs that had to do with each other in a way that we couldn’t really trace at first.”
Younger brother Michael — now 19 years old to Brian’s 21, meaning the Lemon Twigs will finally be able to enjoy a legal alcoholic beverage together during their show at the Danforth Music Hall — was writing “all these songs that had imagery from the times when he was in school,” recalls Brian. His own songwriting, meanwhile, was exploring how he felt “more connected with my soul and more connected to intuition” as a child, before school and social conditioning imposed ideas of “right and wrong” upon him.
Although the two were working completely separately on their own material, they realized they’d subconsciously hit upon common themes. After that, it was a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together into a workable (if altogether bonkers) narrative.
“We needed each other’s songs to make the ones that we were writing make sense. That’s how the chimp came into the whole thing,” he says casually, as if it were the logical next step.
“We thought, ‘What if there was this character who was so connected with his spirit and what he’s meant to be doing because he’s not a human being and that’s sort of what separates him from everybody else?’ And it works because it was about isolation and trying to break away from being lonely but then also how that sort of comes at a cost because you’re sometimes influenced by the people who you’re trying to connect to and you become more like them. And in the main character’s case, it’s to his detriment.”
As jokey as Go to School can be at times, the D’Addario brothers approached making it with utmost seriousness.
They swore off the synths that peppered Go Hollywood, for instance, and decreed that all of the musical’s lavishly orchestrated arrangements be done organically. That meant Brian had to teach himself how to orchestrate those arrangements using notation so that the string players shuttling in and out of their basement would be able to fulfil the Twigs’ vision. Which, it turns out, was “so much easier than what I did on the first record, which was play all of it without really knowing how to play those instruments, so I would have to do takes of, like, three seconds of a song over and over and over again, and then I would have to overdub it eight times.”
The sincerity with which the D’Addarios — both child actors who grew up a little too weird for the “in” crowd — approach Go to School’s subject matter is palpable despite the general absurdity of the scenario. There’s not a throwaway moment to be found within the dense lyric sheet. They meant this thing to be studied at length.
“To me, this album felt much more like a summation of what we’ve experienced, at least in our lives, up to this point than the first record,” says Brian. “The first record’s very simple aim was to write, like, 10 good pop songs that we could record with (producer and Foxygen member Jonathan) Rado in 12 days in L.A., so it’s a picture of a very particular moment in time.
“This one was us really looking at our lives and knowing that the album was going to be released and knowing that we wanted it to be understood. There are lines that I wrote on the first record that I kind of now look at and go, ‘Well, it sounds good in the context of the song, but what was I really trying to say?’ And there are none of those moments on this record. It’s really nice to know what you mean, all the way.”