The Lemon Twigs: Nine Songs
Growing up to a soundtrack of pop songs and musicals instilled an indelible love of music in The Lemon Twigs’ Michael and Brian D’Addario.
The influence of their parents record collection and the plays their Mum performed in at their local community theatre were pivotal in the music the brothers would go on to write themselves, provided the starting point for their encyclopaedic knowledge of music.
Michael says that when they were younger their attraction to songs was with the music rather than the words, but that’s changed as they’ve gotten older. “When I was a kid I didn’t really comprehend the depth of most of the lyrics I was listening to, that’s why a pretty melody always attracted me.”
The songs they’ve chosen, some of which they sing the words to as they explain why they love them, reflect their earliest musical memories as well as an ongoing fascination with discovering new music, but ultimately the connection they have with each of these songs is an emotional one.
As Michael puts it; “All of these songs make me feel uncomfortably emotional. If I’m in the car or I’m with the band these songs make me want to put my head down and have nobody see me reacting to them.”
Brian: “This is a more recent Bob Dylan discovery of mine, it’s a really cool song and I’m surprised it’s not a more famous song of his.
“I got into him really heavily when I was thirteen or something. I listened to all of his ‘60s records and that was the stuff I really enjoyed, I think I stopped at Nashville Skyline and I really liked that album. I was so obsessed with Bob Dylan, I had five or six albums that I was completely enamoured with and then I skipped to Blood on the Tracks and Desire and skipped over Self Portrait and Planet Waves.
“I was going into Bob Dylan’s discography and I realised I hadn’t heard A New Morning. When you read about it, it’s considered to be a return to form but not as good as Blood on the Tracks or whatever, but A New Morning is more up my alley than Blood on the Tracks, even though that’s also really good.
“It was cool to discover this song a bit later in life, the lyric is a very simple idea but articulated very well and it’s nice to hear him start off a song by singing ‘la, la, la, la, la…’ which I don’t think I’d ever heard before in one of his songs.
“I love when people that are really great songwriters, in a very ambitious way, do something that’s a little bit more simple and direct, because it always comes off in a different way and it’s always done with such craftsmanship, with not a word wasted. It’s a different feeling when Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen sing something simple than when anybody else sings something simple, it carries more weight.
“’The Man in Me’ hits home with me emotionally, it makes a good case for being in a relationship and the kind of growth that you can make thanks to another person and that’s something I’ve thought about a lot.”
Michael: “My Mum introduced me to the first John Prine record and then I listened to his other records on my own. Although she also likes his album Bruised Orange a lot, ‘Donald & Lydia’ has always been a standout song for her, that’s probably the reason why I listened to it so closely and I feel the same way about it. I assume I’d have been hearing ‘Donald & Lydia’ in the background for a long time, but it was only a year ago that I really got into it.
“All of the songs from John Prine’s first album have totally amazing lyrics but the lyrics to ‘Donald & Lydia’ are really moving; ‘There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said’, that’s so cool. In the song John Prine writes they made love in all these different places, but then he says ‘mostly they made love from ten miles away.’ He’s talking about them masturbating and it makes me cry, it’s so good man, it’s my favourite one on the list, he’s one of the best lyricists there is.”
“He’s writes totally beautiful lyrics and a lot the time they’re pretty funny, but the lyrics to this aren’t really that funny, this is a particularly intimate one and it makes me really emotional every time I hear it. His description of the two people in the song, Donald and Lydia, is amazing.”
Brian: “Assassins is just an unbelievable musical. The concept of it is telling the stories of all these assassins, Lee Harvey Oswald is the narrator and it’s kind of like he’s in the ear of every assassin that shoots or kills a President.
Michael: “They all go through these things where they want to know what the answer to their problems are and he’s with them the whole time saying ‘Do you want to shoot a President? Is that the answer to your problem?’
Brian: “And eventually they realise it’s not the answer to their problems!”
Michael: “We’ve known this play our whole lives, because our Mum was in a production of it at our community theatre, I probably saw every performance. I remember seeing the guy walking up to the gallows, about to be hanged and getting really emotional.
Brian: “We heard this song and songs from Assassins when we started doing community theatre and probably a little earlier, because our Mum was doing it before us and we’d watch the plays she was in. It was something that we took to and it was the first musical that we got into really heavily. We always liked this and Les Misérables when we were kids, we used to sing them in the car, doing all the parts.
“The vibe of this song is just so positive. I remember being really taken with the fact that it was such a happy sounding song, especially when I was young. This was the first song I heard that was about such a dark subject and had such a happy feeling in the music and I remember really loving that about it.”
Brian: “Jesus Christ, this song is so, so sad. I love how on this record Sail Away it’s like he gives us all his love in devoted songs, or like something to God, but then in this one he’s talking to his father, saying that 'he told me not to believe that lie about heaven and God' and stuff. When I first heard this, right away I was ‘Oh my God, this is a song.’
“It’s so true to life and it’s so beautifully written. You could go pretty melodramatic with a song like this, but the language is just resigned enough to be reality. There’s a distance between the emotion of it, what he’s saying is not outwardly emotional or anything, he just chooses the words very wisely, it’s like a conversation.
“There’s a string arrangement on every song on this album and most of the songs end in that classic Randy Newman way, resolving in a very final way, but this one resolves in a very different way and that was something I don’t think I picked up on until I heard it a bunch of times. You just know with the way he’s going with it that the songs’ about to end, but it ends in a really dissonant way.
“I discovered Randy Newman when our Dad played us Good Old Boys, that was one of the albums that he'd play in the car and it was a record he always loved. I initially listened just to that album, but then I listened to this one as well. Michael was really obsessed with Nilsson sings Newman.”
Michael: “It’s a Randy Newman song, but the version that Harry Nilsson did on Nilsson Sings Newman
“That whole record is really important for me, because it taught me how to sing. I would listen to it every night and sing to the whole record in my room and that song in particular taught me how to sing. He goes really big and also sings very delicately on the verse, it taught me all the dynamics and everything about singing.
“I know all of his records. He really is the only reason I have any control over my voice, before that I just sort of let it come out and I didn’t think about the tone of the voice or anything. When I heard his voice I needed to sound like it and I practiced a lot. Now if I want to sound that way I sort of can, but I just have a lot more control of my voice and that was really important.
“When people see the live show, they’ll say stuff about our singing voices, and I don’t think anybody would have said anything about how good my voice was before I started listening to Harry Nilsson.”
“He ruined his voice but he brought it back, some people didn’t appreciate the comeback record enough either, they didn’t at the time and some people still don’t. I loved Knnillssonn, that was supposed to be his comeback but then RCA got the Elvis catalogue, so they just did Elvis reissues instead of pushing Nilsson’s record.”
Michael: “I think ‘Blue Moon’ is one of Alex Chilton’s best songs. We’ve played it a few times, we like to play covers, but I’m not a person who has ever learned how to play that many guitar parts or figured out songs so that I can play them for myself. Anything that I hear that makes me feel I have to learn how to play it must really make think it’s a great song.
“His lyrics on Third can be not very innocent and after that record he can be really not very innocent you know, but this song is innocent and it shows his love for I assume Lesa Aldridge. It’s a really great vocal and I’ve been obsessed with him for a long time.
“I remember getting into Big Star and hearing #1 Record and Radio City and thinking they were great songs, but hearing Third laid the foundation for a lot of stuff. It makes you think about all the layers that don’t seem to make sense to you, when I was younger I didn’t understand how Radiohead came up with a lot of the layers that they did, but this blew that out of the water for me.
“It feels like Alex Chilton discovered those layers on his own, breaking down everything and instead of producing a song that’s like ‘this is all that it can be’ or the best way for somebody to hear the song, it’s like that doesn’t really matter. When you hear a random thing in your left ear that’s the kind of thing that’s really interesting, where you don’t know what the reason for it is.
“The Flaming Lips did that a lot and I was always puzzled by it, but then I heard this and it felt like this was the blueprint for that kind of stuff, because it’s more stripped down, so you can identify the stuff more. ‘Blue Moon’ is one of the most together songs on Third, but there are still random things on it that people wouldn’t normally necessarily do.”
Brian: “We’ve been so obsessed with a very specific way of writing and a very specific view of what’s good, which has a lot to do with chords being interesting and arrangements being really thought out.
Michael: “A good song is a good song if you like it, there’s no dumb guidelines or anything like that. I already knew that, but I maybe didn’t look at my own songs in that way and I don’t really know why. I should have maybe been looking at in terms of just doing whatever feels right. If it felt right to write a song with a bunch of weird chords or something and I felt it was a good song, then it was honest at the time.
Brian: “That’s why I chose ‘That Summer Feeling’. It’s like we’ve been writing, feeling like it has to have all this stuff thrown in to get to the beauty of a song and that’s just not true, it just has to be an honest reflection of a moment. ‘That Summer Feeling’ seems like that, an honest reflection of moment that feels really universal. It even seems aware of that fact in the song, everybody gets that feeling and it’s like he’s so sure that everybody gets that feeling.
“He’s relating directly to the listener. He describes a couple of pretty specific things, but it’s all just very kind of serene childhood moments. I listen to this song and we’re just getting to the point in our lives where we’re very consciously not kids anymore. It’s a weird realisation and you only know it when you’ve stopped having the kind of moments and feelings that are described in this song.
“I’d just never heard a song that talked about that really, or talked about it in that way. When songs make you have realisations about your own life, that’s the best.”
Michael: “I considered picking ’Families’ from The Bells, it’s something that I totally relate to, but ‘Street Hassle’ was one of those things that changed my idea of what you could do in music, in the same way that Third by Big Star did or how Nilsson changed my singing.
“The lyrics in this song are so good, they’re some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know you could say something like that, it’s crude, I didn’t know you could make that stuff so beautiful sounding.
“The first part is amazing, it’s people meeting and having a sexual encounter, but the second part is the classic Lou Reed thing where he’ll put himself in the shoes of somebody who you feel is kind of dumb or something. You can totally hear and envision that person and he somehow makes you feel for them.
“But you’re not really supposed to feel for the person in this song, there are songs like ‘Growing up in Public’ where he’ll act like a person, like John Prine does, and you think about how that person would think and that it’s a shame they have to have those thoughts, but this is more like he paints a picture of this asshole.
“It’s not that deep feeling that you get for the people on ‘So Alone’ on Growing up in Public, where he does a girl and a guy going out and they’re both sort of off, they have weird values but they’re both just really lonely. You know that some of the reasons the guy wants to be with the girl are weird and not necessarily that cool, but you still feel bad for them both.
“‘Street Hassle’ isn’t that in depth for how Lou Reed wants you to feel for this guy, because you’re not supposed to feel for him, but he’s so amazing at bringing the characters to life, specifically in the second part, I can see that person. It’s less about that for the second part, but that’s the added thing about how good Lou Reed is. The point of the second part is how vicious it is and how that’s just a situation that would happen.
“And then the simplicity of the last part, with the line ‘love has gone away’ and all the ‘slip away stuff’ is simply beautiful.”
Michael: “We used to have a compilation of The Kinks when we were kids that my Dad thought were all of their best songs. It was about thirty or forty songs and then we got into their albums when we were tweens, but when we were little the songs on my Dads’ compilation were the Kinks songs we knew and ‘Lola’ was one of them.
“I think ‘Lola’ was the first song that I ever knew what the lyrics were about. I remember that being a revelation, my Dad telling me what it was about, actually understanding what the lyrics meant and then freaking out that a song could mean anything other than just what the early Beatles songs meant.
“Almost everything about it that could mean something, meant something really heavy to me. Just the fact that it wasn’t a typical love song, and the emotion of going up to the other octave when Ray Davies is singing. The last chorus, where he sings “I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man’, where he goes up the octave is such an excellent way of expressing the emotion at the end of the song.
“I think another reason it’s important to me is that in the same way that ‘Donald & Lydia’ is about outcast love, the whole song was really eye-opening for me as a kid.
“That song has been really close to me for a long time, I kind of forgot about it I think, I’ve known that song for my whole life. Just because I don’t listen to it all of the time doesn’t mean it’s not important, I was going to go for “You Make It All Worthwhile” from Soap Opera, but ‘Lola’ is way more important to me.”