Brian D’Addario is gutting a poached egg. His still-wet hair is dripping onto his shrunken moon child T-shirt. His younger brother, Michael, stalks through the too-big restaurant and takes a place on the opposite side of the room.
The Lemon Twigs are late, shower-damp and bewildered in their jet-lagged stupor. They’re apologetic, and so is their PR, though she seems, simultaneously, unsurprised by the inconvenience as she directs Brian to my table.
“It’s usually later down the line in touring or press or whatever that we get on each other’s nerves,” he intones, shifting more comfortably in his seat and consulting the breakfast menu as his brother settles in a booth out of view.
Brian and Michael D’Addario want to be interviewed about their new record ‘Go To School’ separately. They’ve been sharing a twin room somewhere above us in the East End hotel, but dividing them for press reasons is apparently necessary, as the brothers “always contradict each other” in these kinds of situations.
Unfortunately, this request combines with their tardiness unfavourably, and there’s only time for us to glean Brian’s perspective. Perhaps it’s a good thing: the new Lemon Twigs album is, after all, a rather packed hour-plus musical about a school-going chimpanzee. Named Shane. Probably best not to complicate things any further for this one.
The D’Addario’s did not intend to write a musical. Rather, the musical crept up on them, presenting itself as a challenge after six songs had already been written.
“There was definitely a moment I clicked: ‘these songs that you wrote are connected in this way, and these songs that I wrote seem connected, and they go together like this to make a story’. Some of the songs that I wrote originally were just about myself and then once we had the concept, it was clear what had to be changed.”
Their eureka moment found the brothers writing in a more conscious way than they have before, the concept of a full-blown narrative arc forcing them to consider how “every line has to carry a certain weight.”
Unlike on sprawling debut ‘Do Hollywood’, Brian and Michael found themselves becoming both musicians and directors, as they birthed a conceptual album inherently connected to the story of Shane the Chimp, whose pure-of-heart sensibilities are corrupted to violent ends.
As Brian imbibes double espresso and orange juice, presumably resurrecting himself from the sleep that made him so late, he explains how ‘Go To School’ is going to be performed live.
“Initially, we’re going to do a rock show and play the songs that seem like they’ll come off the best. Then I’d say that next year; we’ll do a couple of shows where we play the whole thing: I’d like to have more players, like a string section and a horn section.
He licks yolk off his knife, and continues.
“That’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. We’ve been doing musicals since we were kids. I tried [to write one] a couple of times then but I had no aptitude for it at that age: I didn’t have the patience to stick with a whole story. I can totally see why no one has done it like this before: it’s a lot of work.”
Despite this dedication to their concept album, The Lemon Twigs released snippets of their musical as singles ahead of its release, their preference (or, at least, Brian’s preference) to perform the entire concept from start to finish showing the gap that can sometimes exist between the artists’ intentions and the label’s needs.
“[Single] ‘If You Give Enough’ sort of exists outside of the story,” Brian insists, when asked how he intended for the album to be treated seriously as a musical, considering that the release of singles could threaten to disrupt their carefully created narrative arc.
“It wasn’t like taking something from the middle of the story and putting that out: this is the moral of the story. This is what we and the lead character gather from his experience.”
And yet, second single ‘Small Victories’ does come from the middle section of the musical, meaning that many people won’t follow the story from start to finish, as the brothers wrote it. Which is fine: there’s no shame in wanting to tease as much out of the record as possible, or for listeners to skip the meaning completely and just enjoy the music. As Brian himself says: “Certain people won’t go that far into it: I think there’s enough stylistically going on to satisfy the people who liked our last record.”
It’d be nice to hear what Michael’s thoughts are here, because Brian, for the first time, speaks on his brother’s behalf: “We always like to do what’s going to be best for the record from a promotion standpoint, because we really believe in it.”
Whether he means it or not, it’s a shame that The Lemon Twigs aren’t quite big enough to pull off a single-less album drop: though the songs are lovely in isolation, the D’Addarios worked hard to make a cogent whole out of ‘Go To School’, and to slice it up seems an awful waste of meticulous story writing. This is, after all, a complete musical. The kind that Brian used to star in as a child.
Brian swipes his hanging fringe away from his eyes, his long-nailed plucking hand curled around his cutlery, and explains how writing a musical differed from writing a simple album.
“At a certain point, we realised that we couldn’t leave things unsaid, so we had to write certain songs to bridge the gaps. ‘Born Wrong’, for example. That was the last song we wrote, and it felt like there was a gap between Shane finding out about his origin and burning down the school. There had to be some sort of emotional bridge.”
Oh yeah, it’s probably best to mention: lead character Shane – the impressionable little chimpanzee – is also a high-school murderer, setting fire to his school and slaying one hundred victims in the process. It turns out things are even worse over the Atlantic than we thought: the D’Addario’s didn’t even think about the significance of that little plot point until after it was already written.
“When we viewed it afterwards, we were like ‘man that’s so terrible’. It’s so part of daily life, and it’s such a plausible scenario that you wouldn’t even think twice about including it in your story.”
Perhaps it’s a plot point a little too close to the bone for some (we are, after all, encouraged to feel sympathy for Shane) but there are plenty of people on board with the project nevertheless. Todd Rundgren, acid god and seventies studio genius features on the album, playing Shane’s adopted father, Bill. Then there’s the nod from Arctic Monkeys, who have the brothers on tour with them this autumn.
And that’s because, despite the careless handling of high school massacres, and the gap between vision and execution, The Lemon Twigs have made something truly unique in ‘Go To School.’
“I like to draw from really old music: classical music and 1920s standards. I think that [making something different] is a matter of what you’re choosing to draw from as well as the place that you’re originally from yourself,” Brian muses, as he pushes his bacon around the plate.
Michael’s breakfast arrives, disappearing to his booth around the corner.
Brian pauses, and considers: “I don’t really feel like I’m in competition with anybody else right now.”
Taken from the September issue of Dork. The Lemon Twigs’ album ‘Go To School’ is out now.
Words: Jessie Atkinson