The Story of The Lemon Twigs: from Les Mis to Indie Rock Royalty

Another Man meets the D’Addario brothers as they gear up to release their second album – a 15-track musical about a monkey called Shane, who’s raised as a human boy. Obviously.

Musical lore is packed full of brotherly love. From the on-again-off-again soap opera of the Gallaghers to the Jackson 5, AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young, and Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb (better known as The Bee Gees), countless groups have thrived off the boisterous bond only siblings can muster. None of them, however, are as off-the-wall as The Lemon Twigs.

Since their glittering debut in 2016, the glam-rock oddities of the Long Island-born D’Addario brothers have enraptured thousands across the globe. Their debut album as The Lemon Twigs, the retro-rock Do Hollywood, was every bit the flashy, excess-driven romp that title suggests, while the pair themselves have continually courted hype and hysteria in a way reminiscent of rock and roll’s 1970s heyday. Their live shows quickly became the talk of the underground, with the duo high-kicking and split-jumping their way to indie rock royalty, clad head-to-toe in off-kilter vintage wear. As time went on, their kooky, aloof personalities soon began to precede them – something that Do Hollywood’s success only exacerbated.

As Another Man arrives in East London to meet the pair at the end of another packed-out promo day, Michael – the youngest of the two at 19 – seems weary, burying his head in his hands and sinking into the table; the arrival of a plate of oysters (very Hollywood) briefly perks him up. The brothers’ request to be interviewed separately, rather than as a pair, is perhaps surprising, but it’s actually an insight into how they’re managing that family bond: it’s an opportunity for them each to take the spotlight, without breaking out into sibling-like squabbles, they explain. Given the fact that they’ve lived in each others’ pockets for not just the last two years, but their whole lives, it’s understandable.

“We were basically a bar band when we were in elementary school and middle school,” laughs Brian who is only two years his brother’s senior, but already sounding like a rock and roll elder statesman. “We had a band called MOTP,” he laughs, “Members Of The Press was taken, so we shortened it to MOTP.” Splitting their time between performing covers at various benefit shows in bars around Long Island, New York, and building a burgeoning Broadway career (which is now on hold), the pair combined the two in their left-field songwriting, morphing MOTP into The Lemon Twigs in a haze of psychedelia and rock and roll riffing.

“We like to record what we listen to and what we feel like other people can’t do... and I haven’t heard a good classic sounding musical for a long time” – Michael D’Addario

Learning on the job, Brian says, made Do Hollywood something of a patchwork affair, with the brothers trying to cram in every wild idea they had. “I think that the live show for the first record was better than the first record itself,” he admits, “and I think that’s because we developed a lot musically between when we recorded and when we started playing the songs; we had a better idea of how to sing, and how to do a rock song. I don’t think we knew how to rock when we did the first record at all!” he adds with a laugh. Piecemeal though it may have been, Do Hollywood’s oddball approach to music-making gained them fans in their droves. “People who liked us really appreciated all those odd twists and turns that were in the songs,” says Michael. “That was something that was pretty unique and weird about it, but people seemed to think that was their favourite thing.”

When it came time for a follow-up record though, The Lemon Twigs decided to peel back some of the excess on their arrangements. Enlisting their dad to help them fine-tune their ideas – “he’s just got really great talent for arrangement and production and songwriting,” says Brian – their second album Go To School is an altogether more considered affair. Don’t let that fool you into thinking they’ve gone boring, though – it’s still a 15-track musical concept record about a monkey called Shane, who’s raised as a human boy. Obviously.

Musicals have always been a constant in the D’Addario household, Michael says, citing the likes of Assassins, The King and I, South Pacific and Oklahoma as childhood favourites, in addition to early roles in Oliver and “fucking Les Mis and stuff like that.” When it was time for album two, he noticed a schooltime thread running through many of the songs he and Brian had written. They took that and ran with it – Shane became the schoolboy, and the stories in the songs became a moral tale about “preserving your soul and spirit in the face of adversity and negativity, particularly cynicism and ignorance.”

“There’s not a whole lot of people whose sounds I love in [modern] rock music. The Cardi shit – all that shit that’s on the radio is tight” – Michael D’Addario

“We like to record what we listen to and what we feel like other people can’t do,” Michael says with a confident, cheeky grin, “and I haven’t heard a good classic sounding musical for a long time.” He’s turned off by the Spongebob Squarepants and Harry Potter pop-musicals, he admits. “There’s a 9/11 musical, which is very strange, isn’t it? I saw a commercial for it and I said ‘What the fuck?’... But the music in all of these is very kind of gimmicky and pop, so it fits what people expect to hear now.”

Go To School, by extension, is not what you’d expect – at least from any other group. In much the same way as Do Hollywood, it feels like a relic of a bygone, classic era of songwriting: polished up, tinkered with, and let loose once more. Once again, the D’Addario brothers play every instrument on the record (this time they produced it all themselves too), and if that wasn’t enough, they drafted both their own mother and their long-time musical muse Todd Rundgren in to play Shane’s parents. As such, it’s a record that – despite its unusual subject matter – feels tied into The Lemon Twigs’ own lives. “We live with our parents,” offers Brian by way of nonchalant explanation, while Michael digs a little deeper: “We kind of felt that there were roles for [our parents] on the album. There were things that they could do, and they are very talented individuals – not everyone talented is famous.” It’s a touching sentiment – testament to the heart at the core of their seemingly otherworldly music. “We like to see our parents getting artistic appreciation. They haven’t gotten a lot of that.” And Todd? “We just really wanted him on the record!” laughs Brian.

The Lemon Twigs’ return, then, is every bit as unexpected as the duo’s every move to date. If not plucked from another world entirely, it at least feels indebted to a bygone era of rock and roll oddity and excess – one where the Bowies and Pink Floyds of the world would release sprawling concept records and concoct elaborate narratives and stage shows around them. Michael is quick to dismiss the prevalent idea that they’re stuck in the past, though – it’s just modern rock music that’s stagnant, he argues.

“There’s not a whole lot of people whose sounds I love in [modern] rock music,” he says. “The Cardi shit – all that shit that’s on the radio is tight,” he adds, perhaps unexpectedly. “The new Kanye stuff sounds amazing. It’s not like I think that there’s no genius; no great modern stuff. I love a lot of stuff, it’s just rock that barely ever appeals to me.” He’s quick to clarify the apparent hypocrisy of playing in a rock band when he’s so turned off by the genre. “I like old fashioned rock – those sounds are great; those voices are great. I think it’s the modern influence. A lot of influences get in there, and a lot of that shit gets lost. I don’t know what draws us to play it – it’s just what I know. It’s rock music – it’s what I know how to do. I’m not a great rapper!” he laughs. “Well, I’m OK, but I’m not great.”

As they move forward into another weird era and prepare to hit the road once more, The Lemon Twigs are already readying yet another batch of material, with the hope of putting it to tape at the end of this year. It’s anyone’s guess where it might take them. “We don’t like to stop – we don’t like to say, ‘Oh we’ve done a record, so now we don’t have to write anymore’,” explains Brian of he and his brother’s ever-fizzing creative juices. “This is more of a lifestyle than a requirement.”

The Lemon Twigs’ new album Go To School is out August 24 via 4AD