While “indie” has become a nebulous term used to umbrella-describe all sorts of loosely related sounds and styles, there are still certain artists that can be pinpointed as definitive members of the indie roster. Among those artists are The Lemon Twigs, a New York-based duo consisting of Brian and Michael D’Addario. On Thursday, July 9, the band released their newest single “Live in Favor of Tomorrow” off their forthcoming album Songs for the General Public, which will be dropping on August 21 via 4AD.
“Live in Favor of Tomorrow” serves as an excellent demonstration of the D’Addario brothers’ inimitable sound and writing style. With sonic aesthetics from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s mixed together with harmony that feels as if it was pulled from late Baroque-era classical music, the song is like a sensational fantasyland unto itself. This is actually the case for the entirety of Songs for the General Public — the record itself has such a palpable atmosphere to it that it truly feels transportive when you listen to it. Sometimes it sends you back to a childhood memory in the schoolyard, sometimes it sends you to a Jim Steinman-esque night of romance, sometimes it sends you to an alien planet inhabited by rock ‘n’ roll demigods. Either way, the record’s eclectic and energetic nature is utterly infectious.
Originally, Songs for the General Public was slated to be released in early 2020, but was delayed due to pandemic-related complications. In that meantime, however, the band stayed busy at work. They not only went back and entirely revised the album, but also released a live record. Last month, American Songwriter caught up with the D’Addario via a phone call to talk about the making of this record, the evolution of their artistry and how Michael D’Addario likes the idea of feuding with Father John Misty.
When did y’all start working on Songs for the General Public? What inspired it?
MICHAEL: When we started working on it we already had the title, we already knew what the general idea behind it was. Songs for the General Public, songs for everybody. I feel like it’s my first record again. I’m sure everybody says that, but when we started making this record I had just turned 19. It’s just weird. I feel like I wasn’t really aware of my age before. The reality set in when we did the concept record that I was going to have to answer every question about the concept. There was the question of “did it reflect what you were going for?” I think it became so difficult to try to fit into the saying and it became so much less “me and Brian” and so much more “the concept” on the last record, that this one really screams “me and Brian.” I feel very strongly about it. We’ve been working on it for about two years and I like the songs so much that I still play some of them on the piano.
BRIAN: Some of the songs, like “The One,” I know I had either during the recording of the last record or sometime right after we had released it. There were some hurdles working on the last record — points where I’d have to write in plot points that we had sorta pre-determined. That didn’t really happen a lot, but it happened enough times that I had to learn how to have a conscious idea of what you want to get across and then go into a sorta dream-like space to get anything singable down. That was really helpful for getting down whatever feelings you have. If you have any opinions beforehand, it’s not simply up to luck to get them down in a way where people understand them. I actually felt like I learned how to do that.
So, there were certain songs like “The One” where there’s no mystery over what I’m talking about. It’s very clear, it had come out all at once. There wasn’t much editing that had to do with it because I had done it all in my mind before we started. So, that was the case with some of the songs on the record. It felt very natural, they were all kinda written from that emotional, “get it down” kind of place.
So, would you say that the arrangements on this record feel more intuitive and natural than your previous work?
BRIAN: Well, “The One” is the song that I have the strongest memory of getting everything down all in one place. I demoed it, it was all first or second takes on the parts and those parts ended up being pretty close to the finished product. There’s this song “Is Your Love In Vain?” by Bob Dylan — “The One” sounds nothing like it, but I remember listening to that song a lot and being inspired to use more open, folky chords. Originally when I wrote it, it was this very strict, almost classical thing on the piano. Just having some different song in my head really impacted the arrangement.
So, a lot of the arrangements come down to happenstance when it comes to their execution. If you’re like a grunge band or whatever, there’s only so many ways that you can produce a track unless you completely rewrite what it is that you do. But, when you make all sorts of songs, every song can be produced in a different way. So, a lot of it is just how it turned out that particular day. “Fight” we recorded about three times — when we decided to change the release date, we reevaluated the album and decided that “Fight” didn’t make it. So, we changed it and it’s a completely different version now.
MICHAEL: We write so many songs. The only reason that it wouldn’t flow naturally is if you were trying to write about a specific idea or concept or something like that. That’d be trying to force something out. So, it goes without saying that this would be a lot less forced than the last record. Somehow, maybe, it feels less forced than most albums. Brian and I have so many songs, and between the two of us we sometimes think ‘how are we going to put these all out without overwhelming everybody?’ Well, I guess I don’t really care about that… but still, how many opportunities do you get to put them out? Maybe once a year? I mean, it’s once every year if you’re really quick. We thought ‘oh, it’s going to be done like that’ because these songs were really simple, but we kept going back on the sonics. We had to go and print reverbs at Electric Lady and other places — we were never going to just slap a plugin on, we didn’t do that once.
Michael, you mention that y’all have a large catalog of songs that are unreleased — have y’all ever thought of starting a different project to get some of those out there?
MICHAEL: I think that gets a little too silly. I don’t like that indie thing of having 700 bands. I don’t like it. There’s an aesthetic that goes with that — it’s as if you have such a volume of work that you don’t really have standards. It’s like you think you can do every style very well, which is kinda presumptuous. I never wanted to have another band called… I don’t know, ‘whatever the fuck.’ Whatever. We both wanted to be like the classics, the great bands. It’s Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario, you know?
I think that model helps us, but it’s a hindrance as well. It seems like there’s a “quality control” element to it. I suppose it makes sense, but I’m not so sure about it. If you think about how many different types of songs you write a year — we really don’t write the same song over and over again. We try to think more about how the songs fit together and if they’re truly good. Those are the two areas that have to make sense. But, it’s too methodical. On this record, we tried to keep it generally even, but if somebody has songs that really fit into something, then we’re not going to ignore that aspect. This one turned out even though. That quality control logic is true to an extent, but it’s a little too logical for us. Logic screws a lot of things up.
Logic screws a lot of things up?
MICHAEL: Yes, I really try not to think about it. You end up thinking about all this shit, how to get the sonics right. I know a lot of people don’t, but I do because it’s important. You end up doing so much of that, you want to do as little of thinking as possible.
The practice of being an engineer or getting sounds or whatever is a logical process, and it’s a means to an end in that sense. But, logic for logic’s sake tends to creep in in every area of life. Maybe it’s not so destructive, but it’s typically there when you work on art. I always try to catch myself when logic for logic’s sake is approaching. I mean, it’s like if you’re recording something and you have a horn player there. They’re there and you’re paying them to put the horn on the track. Then, the parts there and you decide “well, it’s gotta be there now. I put it there.” You have to defy the logic, even if it’s really a tight track. You gotta get rid of it if it really doesn’t work. It’s weird. People do things just because they think they have to do it.
The Lemon Twigs’ aesthetic and sound is very distinctive — is that a calculated move, or are y’all just doing what comes naturally?
BRIAN: It’s all genuine, but there are definitely things I’ve worn on stage that are just theatrical wear. I don’t really wear wings and stuff around my everyday life. It’s all true to our taste. I, in particular, am more comfortable with a degree of fallacy in pursuit of serving the art in a better way. I used to really not be into that, but if you’re doing something that in some way elevates what you recorded, it’s all fair game.
I do think that we unconsciously try to fill a certain kind of void. With everything we do, there’s a certain degree of it that’s about the fact that nobody else is doing it. Like putting harmonies over everything. There’s a degree to that where we always give it the thought “should this have harmony?” even if it seems like it shouldn’t. We know that that’s something we can do that maybe other bands can’t do in the same way. So, I think that there are some considerations that contextualize the music in terms of pop culture. We’re thinking about it, you know?
MICHAEL: Yeah, these ideas carry over the aesthetics. My fashion certainly hasn’t always been good. Sometimes it’s fabulous, sometimes it’s been really poor. I’ll tell you that the times it was poor was because of logic. It’s the same thing with the music. Without the logic attached, things work better. You can look at it and be honest about it.
Do y’all do a lot of demoing during the writing process?
BRIAN: Well, it’s less and less now. At the time, there was a bit of that. We demoed “The One,” I know that Michael demoed “Moon.” But now, we generally try to underproduce intentionally, you never have to compete that way. It’s nice because you don’t have to think about the engineering side of things at all. The amount of time it takes to get a drum sound or to plug everything in after only doing one instrument can really bring you down if you’re recording yourself. Sometimes it ends up making you less creative because you’re not as free-flying. In that case, demos can be useful. At the same time, you don’t want to accidentally end up liking your demo more.
This record was originally intended to drop earlier this year, but y’all have used the meantime to go back and revise the record — in a way, does that all feel serendipitous?
BRIAN: Yeah, it does. It was so close to getting released and we had no problems with it. I think by the time you get to the mastering process, you start to think “I’ve been working on this for so long that I want the process to be over.” Sometimes you don’t listen as intently during that time. You try, you try to will yourself into having an opinion, but you’re so fucking sick of the thing that you just want it to be over. So, then you end up approving something that you’re not exactly sure about. At that point, you throw up your hands and say “well, I guess it’s not ours anymore.”
After all this fucking disaster happened, we kinda got instant perspective. Your life flashes before your eyes. We listened to the album and we actually knew what it sounded like. So, there were slight things that we knew could be better. Then we decided to give a few of the songs another go. Now, I’m really, really happy with it. This has really set the bar for how I should feel about a record once we’re done with it.
Considering that, would you say that your relationship with this record is different from relationship with any of your other work?
BRIAN: Yeah. Towards the end of the process, our perspective on the album didn’t matter as much. We decided that we had been at it for so long that we couldn’t possibly have been objective about the songs. Part of that is my fault. I would say to Michael “your songs are great, I love them, they couldn’t be any better.” In my own head, I’ve grown a lot since then. I can be more critical of my own stuff from a technical standpoint. Just because I like the song itself doesn’t mean that it can’t be made better technology-wise or arrangement-wise. This record had so many layers to it, so many times that we stepped away from it for a couple of weeks and then came back to it. That’s a much better process than what we did in the past, which was to go and go and go until it was done.
How much did y’all collaborate on this record?
BRIAN: It was pretty similar to the first two, which means we didn’t collaborate a lot. We wanted to have more collaboration, it felt like more collaboration, but it wasn’t actually more. It’s usually separate, but we’re around each other so much and talk about it so much that inevitably our influence rubs off on each other’s tunes without directly contributing to it. Maybe I’ll throw in a chord, Michael played a lot of drums on my stuff. So the mutual influence is there, even if it’s not direct.
We’re comfortable with the dynamic. Michael, in particular, brought me into his process more, and I think I brought Michael into the production process more. There were some songs in the past that I would try to engineer myself and get drum sounds and stuff. It was a little bit prideful, that stuff isn’t my strength, it’s Michael’s strength. At this point, I wouldn’t do that. It’s a gradual thing.
Near the onset of the pandemic, y’all put out your first live record — what made y’all want to release that? What can you tell me about the shows the record came from?
BRIAN: We wanted to donate something to a charity. I did some research and figured that the Coalition for the Homeless was a great organization that’ll help folks beyond this current situation. I think they’re great. They’re very selfless about their mission, their website’s really informative, the attention they take to the politics of homelessness — it just seems like a great organization. So, I’m really happy we made this work. It seemed like a good opportunity.
We had always talked about releasing a live album and we brought the tape machine on the road. We recorded about five shows with the intention of making a live record at some point. Right after the tour, I put a version of it together and sent it to our label, but it wasn’t something that they were very interested in at the time. All the focus was on Songs for the General Public. So, I’m really happy it finally came out.
MICHAEL: Nobody’s doing anything now and the main record got pushed back, so we asked if we could release it for charity and we got the “okay.” We recorded it on tour, it’s the live board mix. When we got home, we processed all the stuff onto the 24-track that we have. It was just a stereo board mix and two room mics, but we beefed it up a bit on the bigger console. I think it’s a triumph.
Michael, on the live version of “Hi+Lo” you tell a story about Father John Misty — is that a true story?
MICHAEL: Yeah. It’s absurd because why would I care about it? That’s where the absurdity of it comes in. That’s what’s funny to me, that I would care that he microdoses LSD, like that matters, like it’s big news. I thought it was very funny that I took something extremely insignificant and made it significant. I love this idea of “indie celebrity.” Who cares? Nobody cares in the scheme of things.
You say “nobody cares in the scheme of things” — what do you mean by that?
MICHAEL: Well, I have friends who are in the indie music world and the way they talk about it sometimes is just ridiculous. They think that they’re real celebrities. There’s just something that tickles me about that. It’s funnier when you say names to illustrate it, but I don’t want to say any names. I like the idea of feuding with Father John Misty though, like he would give a shit about me. Why would he care? I don’t know, maybe I have a skewed idea of how many people are listening. I don’t really know the stats or the numbers, I don’t concern myself with it. But, I know that there’s this self-righteousness that makes me laugh. You get out into the middle of the country and there’s barely anyone at the shows. Your reach can be far, you can get a lot of people to come to a show somewhere like France… but that’s just in the cities. In the scheme of things, there’s really not that many people who care. At this point especially, “indie” doesn’t really exist because there are labels behind everything. They call them “major independent labels.” I don’t even know why they call it that anymore. I like a lot of that genre, but looking at it as a genre doesn’t really make sense.
With Father John Misty, part of it too is that people have said so much about him. I want to be like Joan Rivers. I want to pull myself into the hipdom thing. I love that sort of thing. There’s something kinda tabloid-y about it, that I’m “outing” him for something that doesn’t matter. I’m the Joan Rivers of rock ‘n’ roll.
Listen to The Lemon Twigs’ “Live in Favor of Tomorrow” below: