The Lemon Twigs graduate to second album with eye on stage musical
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The Lemon Twigs have been building a reputation as modern-day rock provocateurs since they pulled a hat trick with their savvy debut, “Do Hollywood” in late 2016. At a mere 17 and 19 years old, respectively, Long Island brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario (no relation to the instrument strings company) were regaled with a procession of compliments for the mixed bag of nostalgic baroque pop, prog and glam rock and psychedelia that pays respect to their rock elders.
THE LEMON TWIGS
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 25
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark
Tickets: $18 (in advance)
Coupled with mop tops, Rod Stewart mullets and a flamboyant wardrobe that could have been pilfered from Grand Funk Railroad, “Do Hollywood” was the ultimate throwback for a new generation. It was called “stylistically complex” (Paste) and “just plain odd” (AllMusic) and drew comparisons to the Beach Boys and Big Star. Following its success, The Lemon Twigs were every festival bookers’ draft pick in 2017, playing Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and Glastonbury and making dedicated fans opening for Sunflower Bean and Phoenix.
So when they had the chance to create their much-anticipated followup in 2018, they went with the most bizarre thing they could: A dark rock musical that tells the story of a chimpanzee adopted by humans and raised as a boy named Shane that comes of age through the pitfalls of high school and finds his redemption in a very dramatic way. Released in August, “Go To School” is not shocking as it is right on cue for a duo (now 19 and 21 years of age) who had also just graduated.
“Michael was going to school like the year before we were touring so all that was very fresh in our minds,” says Brian in a phone conversation while walking the family dogs. The brothers still live at home with their parents in Long Island, recording “Go To School” to tape in the studio in their basement with some help from their dad Ronnie, a session musician and producer in demand in the ’70s and ’80s.
“It kind of felt like what we experienced in school in a way but through this character that could bring the story into a heightened reality,” Brian adds. “With everything that happens to the main character Shane you’re supposed to get a sense as to why the characters that are bullies to him are that way and why he reacts the way he does. It’s really about empathy.”
The D’Addarios have admitted in previous interviews that they were seen as the nerdy theater kids in school — not such a bad thing since their alma mater, New York’s Hicksville High School, produced talents like Billy Joel and Lorraine Bracco. Even from an early age, the brothers felt most comfortable on stage, with Brian appearing in productions of “The Little Mermaid” and “Les Miserables” on Broadway and Michael cutting his teeth in movies such as “Sinister” and “People Like Us.”
Says Brian, “As kids, we were obsessed with [Stephen Sondheim’s] ‘Assassins’ and recently we got into his ‘A Little Night Music.’ That was constantly playing when we were making this record. The Richard Rodgers classics like ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘The King And I’ were also big ones that our parents played all the time when we were growing up.”
In true fashion, the matriarch of the family, Susan, appears on “Go To School” in the character of Shane’s mom, while Shane’s dad is none other than The Lemon Twigs’ personal hero, Todd Rundgren. Hear them duet perfectly on “Rock Dreams.”
“We originally saw him at a City Winery show and met him briefly, you know because there’s a lot of Todd fans that are aware of us because our name is thrown around with his all the time in comparisons,” says Brian. After Rundgren joined The Lemon Twigs during their set at Coachella, the relationship continued to grow and the brothers asked him to appear on the new album. “[Todd] played a show about 15 minutes from our house, and we drove him from his hotel to our house and got the songs done in a night, in just like three hours. It was amazing.”
Though The Lemon Twigs is still in its infancy, Brian has already noticed the transformation between albums. “It really changes when you realize that you have an audience, and you feel much more of a yearning to communicate with them in a way that they will understand,” says Brian. “Plus, traveling around a lot makes you more impatient with living at home,” he adds laughing. “We really have to record a lot when we are here to keep ourselves busy. I’m sure that affected the intensity at which we attacked the project.”
As to what the future holds, the D’Addario brothers would love to put the experience of “Go To School” into a new, original stage musical, saying they are “in the very beginning stages of that sort of thing.” But regardless of what route they go, The Lemon Twigs has carved out a comfortable niche in the thralls of revivalist bands that rock fans continue to cling to.
“I think people will always like rock and roll essentially; but good rock and roll [gets] further away the more modern you try to make it,” says Brian. “I think we try to be true to the things we like and don’t just add synths and drum machines, for example, for the sake of it being 2019. I hope people recognize that we aren’t putting anything else on but playing a style of music that has been around through the decades that we still love.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.